The students within the “Critical Pedagogy Through the Arts” course at Lesley University summarized and presented on Dr. Aziza Braithwaite Bey’s book, Culture and Nuturance: The Aesthetic Life of School Children Pre K-12th Grade. Dr. Bey’s book is divided into four sections: Kemet (Ancient Egypt); West Africans, with a focus on the Dogon; Mayan; and Tsagali (Cherokee). Each chapter focuses on the role of women through their dress and adornment, food, and leaders in their culture. In addition, each chapter also discusses the oral and written history that is currently documented within each culture such as their myths, symbolism, and the written word. Lastly, at the end of each chapter a project is outlined that can be incorporated within the classroom setting, which will broaden the student’s thinking and understanding of each culture.
Below are the summaries presented by the student in Dr. Bey’s Critical Pedagogy class this fall 2013.
Kemet (Ancient Egpyt)
The original settlers of KMT (Kemet) were Black Egyptians and native Sudanese are one of the original pigmented Arabs in that particular region (http://www.stewartsynopsis.com/black_egyptians_are_the_original.htm).
Skeletons and the skulls of these ancient Egyptians reflect that these people have the similar features of modern Black Nubians and other people of the Upper Nile and East Africa. A Eurocentric view of history has Europeanized our historic memory of Egyptians so that most people think of white skin when they think of Egyptians. This robs the historic richness of the Black Egyptians and fails to give them credit for the many, many contributions that they made to science, medicine, language, and philosophy.
The Egyptian Afterlife and The Feather of Truth
Is it possible to have a heart that is lighter than a feather? To the ancient Egyptians it was not only possible but highly desirable.
The after-life of the ancient Egyptians was known as the Field of Reeds and was a land very much like one’s life on earth save that there was no sickness, no disappointment and, of course, no death. One lived eternally by the streams and beneath the trees which one had loved so well in one’s life on earth. An Egyptian tomb inscription from 1400 BCE, regarding one’s afterlife, reads, “May I walk every day unceasing on the banks of my water, may my soul rest on the branches of the trees which I have planted, may I refresh myself in the shadow of my sycamore.” To reach the eternal paradise of the Field of Reeds, however, one had to pass through the trial by Osiris, the judge of the dead, in the hall of truth.
The Hall of Truth
In The Egyptian Book of the Dead it is recorded that the soul would be led before the god Osiris and would recite the forty-two negative confessions beginning with the prayer, “I have not learnt the things which are not” meaning that the soul strove in life to devote itself to matters of lasting importance rather than the trivial matters of everyday life. The forty-two negative declarations which followed the opening prayer went to assure Osiris of the soul’s purity and ended, in fact, with the statement, “I am pure” repeated a number of times. It was not the soul’s claim to purity which would win over Osiris, however, but, instead, the weight of the soul’s heart.
The Judgment of Osiris
The `heart’ of the soul was handed over to Osiris who placed it on a great golden scale balanced against the white feather of Ma’at, the feather of truth, of harmony, on the other side. If the soul’s heart was lighter than the feather then the soul was freely admitted into the bliss of the Field of Reeds. Should the heart prove heavier, however, it was thrown to the floor of the Hall of Truth where it was devoured by Amenti (a god with the face of a crocodile, front of a leopard and the back of a rhinoceros) and the individual soul then ceased to exist. There was no `hell’ for the ancient Egyptians; their `fate worse than death’ was non-existence.
The Field Of Reeds and Egyptian Love of Life
It is a popular misconception that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death when, in reality, they were in love with life and so, naturally, wished it to continue on after bodily death. The Egyptians enjoyed singing, dancing, boating, hunting, fishing, and family gatherings just as people enjoy them today. The elaborate funerary rites, mummification, the placement of Shabti dolls (dolls made of clay or wood, which would do one’s work for one in the afterlife) were not meant as tributes to the finality of life but to its continuance and the hope that the soul would win admittance to the Field of Reeds when the time came to stand before the scales of Osiris. Even so, not all the prayers, nor all the hopes, nor the most elaborate rites could help that soul whose heart was heavier than the white feather of Truth.
Brief History of Hapshetsut
Hapshetsut is unique in that she is one of the only known women to have ruled as Pharoah of ancient Egypt. Hapshetsut became Queen at the age of 12 when she married her half brother, a practice that was common at that time to ensure the purity of royal bloodlines. As was also typical, when he died she became co-regent, ruling in the stead of her infant stepson, Thutmose III. The uniqueness of the situation played out when Hapshetsut declared herself sole ruler and Pharoah. To establish herself in this position, despite opposition, Hapshetsut had herself painted in the traditional portrayal of a pharaoh, wearing a beard and with a man’s body.
In another political maneuvering, she sent the army off on an expedition to search for rare goods in the land of Punt. This served to get the heir for pharaoh, her stepson, out of the way. It also had the added advantage of keeping him out of harm’s way. Sending him to war, she feared, would be viewed as a deliberate effort to eliminate him.
Hapshetsut undertook many building project during her reign, the most noteworthy was the Deir el-Bahri. After her death, she was succeeded by her step-son, who took great effort to erase her memory and from the collective history of ancient Egypt.
“Hatshepsut” (n.d), http://www.history.com/topics/hatshepsut
“Egypt’s Gold Empire, New Kingdom, Hatshepsut” March, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/empires/egypt/newkingdom/hatshepsut.html
“Hatshepsut.” (n.d.). http://www.biography.com/people/hatshepsut-9331094.
Stewart, M. “The Black Egyptians–Original Settlers of Kemet.” November, 2013, http://www.stewartsynopsis.com/black_egyptians_are_the_original.htm
The Dogon People of West Africa
The Dogon people live in one the most remarkable mountain areas in Africa. These peasant warriors were one of the last known people to lose their independence and come under French rule. After researchers traveled and studied with this humble tribe for 15 years they have come to the conclusion that they are the best known tribe in all of western Sudan. The perception of these African people was based on fear due to their complicated but orderly ritual systems. They have more than shown the primary importance of a person, his relations with society, and with the universe, all with care. First recorded in 3000 BCE – 1000 BCE migrating from Egypt, they settled in what was then called northern Ghana, which is in the eastern part of present- day Mali. They began to seek refuge in the cliffs around 500 hundred years ago as they sought to escape pressure from Christians and Muslim in the north to leave their ancestral religion and traditions to convert. The Dogon spoke and wrote one of the oldest written languages, Mende which found its way to the Americas during the Pre-Columbia era.
Mythology and Astrological Genius
“Myths are stories, the product of fertile imagination, sometimes simple, often containing profound truths. Most myths tell how something came to exist: man, the world, certain animals, and social affairs. The myths make a sacred history of the people”(Parrinder, 1967). Some common themes of traditional West African myths are: The Creator, God leaves the word, The first men, The mystery of birth, The origins of Death, Gods and Spirits, Witches and Monsters, and Animal Fables.
One of the most fantastic mythologies is the Dogon’s myths and traditions surrounding the stars Sirius A and B. “According to their traditions, the star Sirius has a companion star which is invisible to the human eye. This companion star has a 50-year elliptical orbit around the visible Sirius and is extremely heavy. It also rotates on its axis” (MUNM, 2013). The Dogon recognize these stars as myths about their people’s creation and scientists have been baffled as to how people with no telescopes were able to discover this Sirius B. There are celebrations each time the two star’s paths cross, approximately every 50 years.
Living Arts & Craft
The Dogon culture, such as many other ancient civilizations, used myths and storytelling as a method of preserving their culture and explaining the unknown. The difficulty that arises when studying African mythology is that the stories were not written down due to the fact that the art of writing was not familiar or common to many African tribes. Instead, they used art and sculptures as a means of expression. Since African art is the only form of un-translated documentation, it is used to interpret the life and culture of the Dogon people. “African art provides a sacred literature, giving beauty and solemnity to the face of man. Art shows man in the stages of his existence, birth, life and death” (Parrinder, 1967).
A Bologan, or a mudcloth, is a handmade Malian fabric woven by the men and carefully dyed by the women. The women soak the woven fabric in a dye bath composed of mashed and boiled leaves of the n’gallama tree, which dyes the cloth yellow. Next, the women paint the garment using mud that has been collected from the riverbeds and allowed to ferment in a clay jar for up to a year. Women wear Bologan as a rite of passage, showing their development from adolescence into adulthood; it is also worn immediately after giving birth. Men wear Bolgon as a form of camouflage during rituals and as a symbol of status.
Sculpture is an extremely important art form found predominantly in West Africa. The tribal people of West Africa are settled agriculturalist and do not roam the land like nomadic cultures. Having one set land to call home is conducive to creating such large and permanent forms of art. Sculptures are created out of rocks, wood, and metal. They are used during religious ceremonies, as well as used to tell stories, and to illustrate the values and morals of the tribe. Popular wooden sculptures are: masks, heads, dolls, head-rests, stools, pipes, bowls, pots, drums, divining trays, screens, and doors. Each piece is hand carved and tells a unique story. The seemingly ubiquitous seated couple sculpture represents the symmetrical responsibilities of both men and women in Dogon life.
Masks are used most importantly during a ceremony of the dead. But the Dogons believe that a man’s soul often leaves him long before his death. Therefore, great quantities of food and drink are provided and masks are made. The number of masks made is determined by the number of relatives the man who died had. A masked dance is then performed on the flat roof of the dead man’s house. The whole series of masks represents the world of animals and men. Social function, crafts, and neighboring people draw the soul of the dead man into a pattern of its action and leads it away beyond the domain of earth.
The jewelry made by the Dogon people is deeply rooted in mythology, ritual and tradition. “Their creations are not merely symbolic of their beliefs but are part of them, as the objects themselves are often believed to be inhabited by spirits” (Fisher 1983, 108). The python represents the celestial twins that gave life to the Dogon people and is especially important. Fetishes made from clay or iron beads may be worn or are also frequently hung outside granary buildings to keep the grain safe and healthful.
Community & Tradition
When weaving fabrics together women will weave stripes six to seven inches in width and sometimes eight. Mineral and vegetable pigments are also applied to create patterns. In rural areas this technique is passed down from mother to daughter through observation and apprenticeship to the elders. (Rovine, 2001; Griaule, 1965). Religion is an important key to the African people’s culture. The repository of its past and future spiritual technologies (Olomo, 2002), throughout rituals and ceremonies religion is the unifying factor that maintains the peace within the group (Bey 2010). In African tradition the extended family is the foundation of the family and community life. During the rites of passage term, which is selected by their elders, these candidates are lavished in style. They are able to drink beer and chicken while in a camp for 2-4 weeks. During this time they are taught the treasures and secrets of their community (Bey 2010).
The origin of the ritual dance goes back to the first days of the world, when the incest of the earth changed into an ant and gave the jackal possession of the fibre skirt. “Clothed in a skirt,” said Ogotemmeli “the jackal went up on the rooftop to mourn the death of his son” (Griaule, 1970). This was the essential story of why men wear animal masks during burials and funerals. They are symbolizing the jackal during his mourning, which is why they also perform the dance upon the roof tops. In various rituals, dancing, with or without masks, was often the central liturgical action. They were mostly performed in the funeral and burial ceremonies but not uncommonly seen at the ending of the period of mourning. This is overall an extremely significant gesture.
Architecture & Village Design
A traditional Dogon village consists of a collection of houses and granaries all crowded together—flat roofs of clay with cone shaped roofs of straw. Between the houses and granaries were rectangular columns. While everything is mottled by various weather conditions, mixed all together by rain, mud, and then melted by the heat of the sun. You might see fowls, dogs and sometimes great tortoises within the courtyard under the floors of the granaries.
Roles of Women
Spinning is considered women’s work and is done with a spindle, which consists of a thin rod with one end inserted in a thick lump of dried earth. “A woman spinning,” said Ogotemmeli, “is the seventh Nummo. The ginning iron, like the smith’s hammer is a symbol of the celestial granary and this is associated with seeds” (Griaule, 1970). Women were known to be great potters. “The mat,” said Ogotemmeli, “on which the woman works is symbol of the first human couple. In molding the clay the woman is imitating the work of God when he molded the earth and the first couple” (Griaule, 1970). Women taught men how to weave the cloth but later divided the work (Griaule, 1965). They have taken on the role of cleaning, carding, and spinning the cotton, while men perform the weaving (Bey 2010).
The Mayans were a diverse group of indigenous people who lived in what is now modern day Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. They can be credited for one of the most sophisticated and complex civilizations of the ancient Western Hemisphere.
The Mayans can be credited for their achievements in farming, building without modern- day machinery, development of the first written language, and most importantly, astronomy.
- Astronomy and Calendars of the Mayan Culture
○ The Mayans strongly believed in and incorporated the cosmos in their daily lives. They used astrological cycles to plan when they would plant and harvest their crops.
○ Two calendars were developed by the Mayans: Calendar Round and Long Count
■ The Calendar Round – two over-lapping annual cycles, a 260-day sacred year and a 365-day secular year. Each day was assigned four pieces: a day number and a day name in the sacred year as well as a day name and day number in the secular year. This system looped for 52 years (a single interval). Due to its length, it was difficult to fix events, which led to the development of the Long Count.
■ Long Count Calendar – counts days from a mythological starting point. The date is comprised of five components that combine a multiplier times 144,000 days – Bak’tun, 7,200 days – K’atun, 360 days – Tun, 20 days – Winal, and 1 day – K’in separated, in standard notation, by dots.
- Pyramid at Chichen Itza – in Mexico is placed in such a way in relation to the sun for the spring and fall equinoxes. On these two days, at sunset, the pyramid casts a shadow on the head of a carving of the Mayan serpent god. The shadow forms the serpent’s body and as the sun proceeds to set it seems as though the serpent is slithering into the earth.
○ Created looms for weaving.
○ Paints derived from mica, a mineral still used today
○ Can be credited with the invention of vulcanization – combining rubber with other materials to make it durable. It is believed this happened by accident during a religious ritual. However, when the Mayans realized how strong the material became they continued to add the rubber-tree to materials.
Similarities Between Cultures
The Mayan and the Dogon
Both the Mayans and the Dogon had complex civilizations that were considered the apex of knowledge and wealth. The Mayans had schools, libraries and judicial courts. The Dogon had the University of Sankore located in Timbuktu. The Mayan had groups of writers known as u tzib and they held high positions in their society. What is most impressive about both cultures is that they have close relationships with nature and their environment and transferred their knowledge to modern-day cultures. They both studied astrology; the information obtained by the Dogon is very impressive since they were able to discover the Sirius a and Sirius b. The Mayan also followed astrology closely; they followed the Mayan calendar, which is more accurate than more modern calendars. They used the equinoxes to know when to start planting their corn. They followed the weather patterns, and followed the star Sirius to know when the rains would fall. They built using all natural materials, yet their architectural techniques are considered amazing achievements even to this day. There are many similarities in the creation stories between the Mayas and the Dogon. They both mention the birth of twins, the first rainfall or flood, and use animal symbolisms to describe the battle between good order and disorder.
The Mayan and the Kemetian
The Mayans and Kemetians have several striking similarities. Both the ancient Mayan and Kemetian cultures used Hieroglyphics, a form of writing using picture symbols. In fact, when Mayan “hieroglyphs” were discovered by Europeans they were named such because of their resemblance to what had been seen in Kemet.
Another obvious similarity between the two civilizations is the presence of pyramids. While these pyramids bear an undeniable architectural resemblance, their function/purpose of construction is different. Mayan pyramids were built in the center of their cities, and were used as temples and in ceremonies. Kemetian pyramids essentially functioned as tombs, meant to house important deceased and their belongings for eternity.
An additional commonality becomes apparent when exploring the roles of women in both cultures. Both the Kemetians and the Mayans believed that men and women were equals. Women held positions of power, as queens or rulers in both societies. The Kemetians and Mayans both had female deities, including Isis in Kemet and Tlazolteotl in Maya (again showing that females could be viewed in a position of power). Women were also responsible for teaching tradition/oral history and were often the creators of “art” and utilitarian objects.
The Mayan and the Tsalagi
There were many areas of comparison between the Maya and the Tsalagi. The political system of the Maya and the Tsalagi shared a similar structure – both consisted of a loose set of states or clans united by trade and kinship. Mayan men wore loincloths with an apron in the front in the same manner as Tsalgi, Kemet, and Dogon men. The cloth produced by the women in ancient Mayan culture was woven on a Backstrap loom very similar to that used by Tsalagi and other ancient North American Cultures.
Tsalagi temple mounds such as Monks Mound, and their mythological stories of Ukdena show their connection to the Mayan Snake culture which featured similar architecture and the protective powers of the feathered or plumbed serpent. Games played with balls were also socially and politically important in both cultures; the Tsalagi version was referred to as ‘the little war’ and provided an opportunity for warriors to prove themselves.
However, they differed somewhat in their systems of justice. The ancient Tsalagi system of justice relied on the blood–revenge principal. The eldest son of a person injured or killed by another person took revenge on the offender or a member of the offender’s clan. In Mayan culture, the justice system involved similar retribution methods, however, there was a distinction placed on accidental versus intentional wrong-doing. In cases of murder, rape, incest, treachery, arson, and acts that offended the gods, the perpetrator was put to death, unless the infraction was accidental. In accidental cases, monetary retribution, the surrendering of slaves, or the enslavement of the perpetrator or a member of their family replaced the death sentence.
Today the Mayans are fighting to keep their traditions alive. The Mayans of today have many hurdles to overcome, such as poverty, racism, and displacement. In the U.S.A there are several large Mayan communities in California and Georgia. They have immigrated here from Guatemala during the Civil Rights War. These several wars were used to take lands away from the Mayas and perform genocide on Mayan communities throughout Mesoamerica. Many of them speak very limited Spanish and no English. Their language is Mayan, which is difficult for them because it is hard to find translators when it comes to asking for or receiving services. They are also afraid or ashamed to admit that they do not speak Spanish because throughout history, the Spaniards and other non-indigenous groups would humiliate them and treat them as ignorant people for speaking their native Mayan language. There are about 6 million Mayan speakers in the world. There are about 30 different Mayan languages. Most speakers come from the sub-family group Nahuatl, spoken in general Aztec. The other major areas that Mayan is spoken is in Guatemala with 5 sub-family language groups; the Ch’ol-Tzotzil subfamily, Huastecan subfamily, Yucatecan subfamily, Chujean-Kanjobal subfamily, and Quichean-Mamean subfamily. Although the languages are different, certain words that are the essence of Mayan culture can be understood in all the languages. These words are corn, sky, sun, time, mother, and house. They convey the love of family and the constellations. Farmers continue to follow their knowledge of the sun to farm. Many continue to use their calendars, and traditions of weaving, keeping time, and rituals to this day. Although, many young Mayan men have to leave their communities to find work because they are responsible for the family. When they send money back to their country it helps to support their whole family and their communities. Mayans are realizing that they are stronger as one and have joined forces with each other to keep their traditions going and their population is growing. They continue to fight tourism of their ceremonial sites and the exploitation of their lands.
“2012 the Mayan Word” February, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwvpsVsawMg
The Tsalagi (Cherokee)
The Seven Clans
The Cherokee seven clans had their own symbol that represented the strengths and rights allowed to members of that tribe. Clan affiliation was inherited through the mother’s line and membership was determined at birth. The clan provided child care for orphans, hospitality for visiting clan members from other towns and the avenging of wrongs committed against the clan members.
The Wolf Clan (AniWahya) is the largest clan. They were known for a tendency to act as protector and so were chosen to be War Chief. They act in cooperation with the Peace Chief. The Clan color of the Ani Wahya is Red.
The Blue or Panther Clan (Ani Sahoni) was a clan of medicine-people or healers. The members were known for their ability with herbs and medicinal plants. They were also known as the Wildcat Clan. The Clan color for the Ani Sahoni is Blue.
The Long Hair Clan
The Long Hair Clan are also known as Twister Clan, Hair Hanging Down Clan or Wind Clan (AniGilohi). They were the peacekeepers and it was from this tribe that Peace Chiefs were chosen. The AniGilohi Clan color is Yellow.
The Bird Clan (AniTsisqua) are the Keepers of the birds and they are the messengers. They were the Cherokee people that were allowed to hunt Eagles and Owls for their feathers or wings. The Clan color for the AniTsisqua is Purple.
The Paint Clan (AniWodi) was a clan of sorcerers and medicine men. Its members were responsible for painting the skin with medicine colors during different stages of life and also preparing special paints for ceremonial use. The Paint Clan made red paint. The Clan color for the AniWodi is White.
The Deer Clan (AniKawi) are the Keepers and the hunters of the Deer, and are known as fast runners. The Clan color for the AniKawi is Brown.
Wild Potato Clan
The Wild Potato Clan are also known as the Bear clan, Raccoon Clan or Blind Savannah Clan (Anigatogewi). They were known to gather the wild potato plants. They were the gatherers of food and often were referred to as keepers of the land. The Clan color for the Anigatogewi is Green.
“Native Americans in Olden Times” (n.d), http://www.nativeamericans.mrdonn.org
“Cherokee Seven Clans” (n.d.) http://www.native-american-market.com/
“Cherokee History Timeline” (n.d.), http://www.wsharing.com/WScherokeeTimeline.htm
Dream Catcher Summary
Cherokee believe that the night air is filled with dreams both good and bad. The dream catcher when hung over or near your bed swinging freely in the air, catches the dreams as they flow by. The good dreams know how to pass through the dream catcher, slipping through the outer holes and slide down the soft feathers so gently that many times the sleeper does not know that he/she is dreaming. The bad dreams not knowing the way get tangled in the dream catcher and perish with the first light of the new day.
History of the Dream Catcher
Long ago when the word was sound, an old Lakota spiritual leader was on a high mountain and had a vision. In his vision, Iktomi, the great trickster and searcher of wisdom, appeared in the form of a spider. Iktomi spoke to him in a sacred language. As he spoke, Iktomi the spider picked up the elder’s willow hoop which had feathers, horsehair, beads and offerings on it, and began to spin a web. He spoke to the elder about the cycles of life, how we begin our lives as infants, move on through childhood and on to adulthood. Finally we go to old age where we must be taken care of as infants, completing the cycle.
But, Iktomi said as he continued to spin his web, in each time of life there are many forces, some good and some bad. If you listen to the good forces, they will steer you in the right direction. But, if you listen to the bad forces, they’ll steer you in the wrong direction and may hurt you. So these forces can help, or can interfere with the harmony of Nature. While the spider spoke, he continued to weave his web.
When Iktomi finished speaking, he gave the elder the web and said, “The web is a perfect circle with a hole in the center. Use the web to help your people reach their goals, making good use of their ideas, dreams and visions. If you believe in the great spirit, the web will filter your good ideas and the bad ones will be trapped and will not pass.”
Socia, P. “Welcome to My Tsa-la-gi (Cherokee) Page” 2003-2007,
“Understanding the Dream Catcher” (n.d.), http://www.dream-catchers.org
The Tsalagi syllabic writing system was created by Sequoyah in 1815, and was finished in 1821. This writing system is in a chart format and contains 84 characters, each representing a syllable that ends in a vowel. The vowels consist of a, e, i , o, u and v, a nasal sound like ‘huh.’ Sequoyah was initially tried for witchcraft when he began teaching his daughter the writing system. Once the tribe leaders were convinced that his writing represented spoken word, literacy quickly spread throughout the people. The syllabary was very easy to learn and soon the Tsalagi people were more literate than the white settlers. The Cherokee Phoenix, or Tsalagi Tsulehisanvhi, was published in Cherokee and English in February of 1828, it was the first newspaper published by a Native Tribe in a Native language. Sequoyah, the man who single-handedly created this system of power for his people perished on a voyage to Mexico in 1843. Today, it is unclear exactly how many Cherokee people still speak the language; however the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, the Kituwah Preservation and Education Program, The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and Western Carolina University are working to teach the young members of the community the language.
The Tsalagi people used beadwork to decorate and tell stories with their clothing for centuries before the arrival of the white settlers. Elements and central characters of their myths appear in their beadwork like the spider and turtle. Before trade began with Europeans in the 1600s, the Tsalagi tribe used nuts, shells, quills, copper, turquoise and other gemstones for their beautiful beadwork. After the 1600’s they began incorporating glass beads, silver, iron and steel into their work. Their beaded work became prized possessions for European traders throughout the 1700’s, and especially from 1800-1840. The devastating Trail of Tears during the 1840’s marked a low point in the art form and it took several years for the people to begin making beaded work again because of the horrific events, death, and starvation they had endured to arrive in a barren foreign land. The hardships of the journey did inspire the rose design and corn teardrop that began appearing in Tsalagi beadwork after their removal.
Symbolism is an essential part of Cherokee culture. Animals, colors, symbols, and numbers all hold importance. Nature holds special significance in Cherokee culture and the presence or appearance of certain animals in one’s life brings certain omens or signs. Each animal is characterized by particular qualities and meanings. Animal symbolism is an important part of daily life. An “animal totem” may play a role over someone’s lifetime and when a different animal shows up with a message it is called “animal medicine.” Each animal may carry a message or lesson for a Cherokee person and for this reason they are paid close attention to.
The Medicine Wheel symbolizes for the Circle of Life, the year and all times throughout creation. It embodies the 7 directions (4 cardinal directions and 3 sacred directions). Each of the directions has a related color and meaning. The cardinal directions also have a respective season as well. North is winter and is represented by the color blue; East is spring and represented by red (where the sun comes up); South is summer and represented by white; and West is autumn and represented by black (where the sun goes down). The 3 sacred directions are Up Above (Yellow), Down Below (Brown) and Here in the Center (Green).
The numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7 are considered symbolic because many plants with multiple leaves and petals have them in groups of those numbers. 7 is considered the most sacred because it was the highest level of organization in nature. In Cherokee culture the number 7 is found in the levels of spiritual growth, the number of clans, and the number of sides of their council buildings. The numbers 5 and 7 are also present in the Legend of the Cherokee Rose.
The Cherokee were driven from their homelands in North Carolina and Georgia when gold was discovered in their land. The journey was known as the “Trail of Tears.” It was a terrible time for The People – many died from the hardships and the mothers wept. The old men knew the mothers must be strong to help the children survive so they called upon the Great One to help their people and to give the mothers strength.
The Great One caused a plant to spring up everywhere a mother’s tears had fallen upon the ground on the journey. He told the old men that the plant would grow quickly, then fall back to the ground and another would grow. The plant would have white blossoms, a rose with five petals and gold in the center for the gold the white man wanted. The leaves would have seven green leaflets, one for each Cherokee clan. The plant would be strong and grow quickly throughout the land along the Trail of Tears. The thorns on the stem would protect it from those who try to move it, and it would spread and reclaim the Cherokee’s homeland.
The next morning, the women saw the beautiful white blossoms back on the trail. When they heard what the Great One had said they felt their strength return and knew they would survive and their children would grow and create a strong Cherokee Nation (Cherokee Symbols, n.d.).
“The Cherokee Language” September 2008,
“Cherokee Language/ Syllabary with Sound” April 2010,
”Cherokee Symbols” (n.d.), http://www.native-american-market.com/
“Translating Cherokee Names” 19998-2013,
Comparative Analysis of the Four Cultures
Kemet (Ancient Egypt) and Tsalagi (Cherokee):
These cultures are similar in that women have a large role in the community and are allowed power and property. Both cultures also invented alphabets and were interested in keeping written records.
Mayan and Tsalagi (Cherokee):
Art is a big area where these cultures are similar. Weaving and jewelry were special to these people. Again, females could be seen in a position of power. In the Tsalagi culture the clan of a child was determined by the mother’s clan. They also shared a system of justice or revenge for wrongs done to someone in their clan.
Dogon and Tsalagi (Cherokee):
These cultures shared a deep appreciation of nature and symbolism. They were very interested in knowledge and were very interested in studying the world around them. The Tsalagi found relevance in everything from numbers to animals to colors and took their strength and individuality from what they found in nature.