Cherokee Language & Culture
Student in Laura Pinnix’s Cherokee language class
Traditional Cherokee society is a matrilineal clan system, meaning that an individual traces his or her clan membership through the mother. The most important man in a child's life is the mother's brother who is responsible for discipline. There were seven clans in Cherokee society and you couldn't marry anyone within your clan. Cherokee people were encouraged to marry someone within the maternal grandfather's clan or the paternal grandfather's clan.
Traditional Cherokee beliefs were based on nature and in many of the oral histories animals take on the roles of deities. As LeAnne Howe relates in Spiral of Fire, the Great Buzzard formed the earth by flying over the land, flapping his wings and making it dry and mountainous where the Eastern Band has lived for generations.
There were six traditional festivals or religious observances throughout the year:
Today, there are 26 Baptist churches alone in the Cherokee's Qualla Boundary. There are also Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians and Mormons. Yet, the stomp dance, stick ball and other festivals continue to be performed.
There is a traditional Cherokee concept that still holds great power. It is expressed by the Cherokee word "Duyukdv" and is usually translated into English as 'Truth' or 'Dignity.' But it means more than that. It embodies the idea of balance, to be living your life "the right way" by traveling down a straight path. Duyukdv means balancing the rights of the individual with the good of the whole. It offers personal freedom within the context of responsibility to the family, clan and tribe.
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