The Cherokee

The Cherokee is only one of many Native American tribes that lived in what is now the United States of America for hundreds of years. We can learn how they live, study their customs and find out more about their way of life. 

Cherokee Shelter and Village Structure

The Cherokee were a tribe that populated the southeastern part of the United States in what is now South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. The Cherokee lived in so-called Wattle and Daub houses that typically provided shelter for 5 people. To build such a home the Cherokee weaved wooden stakes into horizontal twigs or branches. Then the wall was constructed out of either clay or mud, lastly, the roof was assembled out of tree bark or out of thatch. All Cherokee families had their own summer and winter home, each located in separate villages. The winter house had a round shape, while the summer house was a lot bigger and rectangle-shaped.

The Cherokee lived in villages that were inhabited by about 400 to 500 people which equaled about fifty to sixty houses. The village also provided a council house (that was big enough to hold all villagers), a town square, and a plaza.  Each village had its own government system with two chiefs to lead it: The white and the red chief. The white chief ruled the village when there was peace, he had a personal speaker, an assistant, and a council containing six men (and later also women) at his side. The red chief stepped in when the village was at war, he trained his soldiers year-round so that if there ever were an attack, they would be ready to fight.

Cherokee Culture and Way of Life

To get ready for a battle the soldiers ate nothing, drank a special tea, took a warm bath, and danced in what was called a booger ceremony. The Cherokee also used traps and had a combat technique referred to as hit and run, where everyone would throw their spears and then run in different directions so that the enemies could only follow a couple of soldiers at a time.  At first, enemies fell for their trick, but after a while, they just learned not to run after their attackers. A unique fact about the Cherokee warriors was that not only men fought to protect the village, but also women could also become soldiers.

Cherokee National Penitentiary Building
Cherokee National Penitentiary Building

The Cherokee were hunters, gatherers as well as farmers. They grew squash, pumpkin, sunflower, tobacco, beans, and most importantly corn. The woman made sure to have enough crops to last at least two years so that the village won’t starve. The Cherokee were excellent hunters, they hunted only as much as they needed to feed their families. All parts of the animals were used. The most important animal for them was the deer, but they also killed other animals like turtles, turkeys, and bears. The Cherokee fished with nets instead of using fishing rods like the ones we have nowadays. They typically ate simple soups or stews, but on ceremonial occasions, they feasted meat and fish.

The Cherokees made their clothing out of deerskin, women wore tops and skirts with flip flops while men dressed in a loincloth and extra layers such as leggings in the winter. Men liked to decorate their bodies with paint or tattoos, and women made Jewelry out of painted clay beads, shells, and even silver. The Cherokee mostly lived in places where the climate wasn’t very harsh, in contrast to other tribes that lived farther in the mountains or (like the Inuit) farther north their clothing didn’t require heavy furs or big snow boots.  

The Cherokee strongly believed in the deer god, which (or so they thought) had control over all the deer that lived on their land. They believed that if they made the deer god angry, he would make all deer disappear forever, which is why they were always careful not to hunt too many animals and always made sure they only killed what they really needed. They also thought that all animals and everything in Nature had spirit, which is why they sometimes wore animal costumes. As for celebrations the Cherokee held a Festival called the Green Corn Festival to celebrate, thank and pray to the gods for good luck. 

The Cherokee were a very interesting tribe with a fascinating background. They didn’t only manage to survive in the wild but also created their own beliefs and culture. They are part of American history and lived on this continent way before European settlers did, they deserve to be remembered not only as Indians but as the first Americans.