WHERE DID THE CHEROKEE PEOPLE GET THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF
THE GREAT SPIRIT, GOD?
(Photo - Right)
Chief John Ross, one of the most famous mixed - blood Cherokee Chiefs,
he was 1/8 Cherokee.
One of the ancient stories tells
of a certain exemplary Cherokee man who, after having fasted for seven
days, went to the top of a high mountain during a thunderstorm and
there he saw with his own eyes the thunder beings and the place where
they came from.
From the beginning of time, God
has always had a witness in the earth. God made His presence known to
Abraham in order to make a covenant with him to have a witness in the
earth of His Supreme Glory. Abraham was an idolater when God appeared
to him to reveal His glory. By the grace of God Abraham turned away
from vain idols to walk with God, the Creator of all things, which is
also the Cherokee’s concept. The New Testament states that by faith
Abraham believed and because of his obedience to the Great Supreme
Being, God promised, “I will show you, I will make you and I will bless
you” (Hebrews 11:18, NKJV). The Old Testament gives
accounts of God appearing to Abraham again and again to build faith in
his heart, to make a covenant with him and to prompt him to obedience
to fulfill the promise even when it seemed impossible.
Another account to be noted from
the Old Testament is when God appeared to Moses face to face in Exodus
33:11, “...the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man
speaks to his friend” Moses also encountered God on a
mountain top where he received the ten commandments for God’s people.
Anyone can sit down among a
primitive tribe that has never heard of God or the teachings of Jesus
Christ, and find that they know right from wrong. You can ask a man,
“What do you do if another man tries to take your wife,” and he will
answer, “I will attack him. It is wrong to take another man’s wife.”
Missionaries have witnessed, even among the most primitive cultures on
the face of the earth, people living in a “conscience dispensation,”
which is when people feel that God is among them.
From the Scriptures in the
Christian Bible, we also learn that men know God from conscience and
creation but have refused to honor him. The greatest judgment God can
inflict on us is to let us have our own way. As we can clearly see in
Romans 1:20 26, we are called to consider the work of our Creator.
Right before our very eyes we behold nothing more obvious than the
creation of God’s wisdom and power. All of mankind is a witness to what
God has done and is doing in the earth. Every human can see afar off
the heavens in all its glory, the work of Omnipotence.
For since the creation of the world
His (God) invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by
the things that are made, even His (God’s) eternal power and Godhead,
so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they
did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in
their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to
be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible
God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four footed
animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to
uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies
among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and
worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is
blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:20.26,NKJV)
Scientists are still trying to
figure out the production created by the very finger of God. The
eternal power of the Godhead is clearly seen and understood by the
things that are made. Every person who has not received divine
revelation of Jesus Christ may see that God exists. There is no speech
or voice of a preacher not heard today (Psalm 19:13).
Creation is seen in all its glory, splendor, beauty and excellence; it
cannot be denied that this is truly the work of God, the Author of all
Although one may not personally
know God, surely we are witnesses to His power and perfection by what
we see in all creation. Greatly should He be praised and magnified and
be reverentially feared because He is the Giver of the breath of life.
The Supreme Being of all creation has all power of heaven and earth;
therefore in humility and reverence all mankind should adore and give
honor to the Great Spirit, God. He can open the windows of heaven and
cause rain to fall on the crops of the just and unjust. In the heat of
the day He can call the clouds in to perform a canopy called ‘the
spreading of the clouds’ to protect his people (Job36:24
Lucy Wahnenauhi stated, “The
Cherokees believed in one God whom they called Oo n hlah nau
hi, meaning ‘Maker of all things,’ and Cah luh luh
ti a hi, ‘The One who lives above.’ They acknowledged God as
their friend and believed He had unlimited power and was Creator of all
things made.” Wahnenauhi also stated that the Cherokees also believed
there was an Evil Spirit, whom they called Skee nah.
They believed Skee nah was malicious in influence and the cause of all
trouble, calamity and sickness. Many missionaries back then did not
believe there was such a thing as an evil spirit, devil or universal
spirit called Satan, nor was there any correspondence in Cherokee
theology. However, Wahnenauhi derived her connotation from the Cherokee
New Testament, which speaks of the Devil.
Satan had many names in the
Christian Bible that ranged from evil spirit, the devil, lying spirit,
serpent, and wicked one, to power of darkness. There are many accounts
in the Bible of the devil causing sickness, disease, trouble and
calamity. The Cherokee also attributed disease to the patient’s body
having been tricked into illness by something bad existing in the
patient’s mind or in his nutritional habits; once explained in this
manner, the patient would understand and their body would correct the
health imbalance. Correct arid clean nutrition and prevention were
FRAGMENTS OF THE CHEROKEE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
Many Mayan carvings suggest racial mixtures.
In John Payne’s writing of the
Cherokee beliefs, he also included extensive duplications of the first
five books of the Bible, which caused readers to conclude that early in
the historic period the Cherokees began to weave the newly learned
Biblical materials into the origins of their legends. Nevertheless, the
ancient beliefs and stories vary slightly, perhaps because they were
not rewritten so much, to some instances in the Christian Bible.
Regardless of Payne’s study, the Cherokee people attributed their
existence to the Creator. They built their religious belief upon
foundations and pillars built by the express creations of God and not
of men, and they were reserved as such.
The Cherokee people did hold on
to the fragments of their beliefs for many centuries. The Chief Supreme
Being believed in by the Cherokees of the eighteenth century was the
same “Mysterious Being” or “Being Beyond Human Comprehension” (which
would always be a mystery to man), (Ye ho waah),
whom the more ancient Cherokees had said was both God and King,
appearing sometimes on earth as a man.
Ye ho waah
taught the first hymn called Yo wa to the first Cherokee priests or
ministers, known as the office of the Uku. Over time the song was
described as being part of the old language and was no longer
understood. Some of the old language words were still employed in the
song in the nineteenth century. Only those chosen by the Uku could
perform the song after undergoing rigorous testing, which included
abstinence from food and sex and the fulfilling of special observances
of prayer, purification and vigils.
The Christian Bible warns, “Gather
up the fragments that remain, so nothing is lost.” (John
Fragments represent the evidence
of the awesome miracles that our Creator has performed on behalf of His
people. They are the glorious things God has performed in our lives.
The Cherokees had a Sacred Ark
that carried the sacred fires and other Holy things, which were the
fragments of their religious beliefs - fragments that represented the
everlasting bond between the creator and the Cherokee people.
During the time of Moses, it is
recorded that ancient Israel had poor memory and often forgot about the
great works of God and would not wait for His counsel. (Psalm
106:813, Psalm 78:38 42)
Like ancient Israel, over a
period of time the Cherokees slowly began to forget the fragments of
their ancient religious beliefs. There were many accounts and revisions
to the Mortality Story. One could only speculate that, through time,
the Cherokees’ memory became poor and much of their ancient beliefs
were lost. Modifications to the stories over the years have lead to
doubt and confusion. The Christian Bible says that God is not the
author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).
The Creator made it clear to the
Cherokee people that changes or modifications of the ancient beliefs
were only profitable if they were progressing and continuing in their
beliefs. However, if the modifications were attempts to conform to
popular belief, they would experience disastrous results in their
religion and government.
Over time the Religious
Festivals of the Cherokee people became obsolete. The festivals showed
their devotion to the Creator and the keeping of His commandments. It
was a time where they fasted, prayed, and gave thanksgiving offerings
of the first fruits to the “Maker of all things”; a time of cleansing
and purification from the old so Ye ho waah could
bring in the new. The old fires were put out and new sacred fires were
placed in every home. The new fires represented cleansing, rebuilding
Ancient tradition also says that
Ye ho waah commanded the people to rest from all work on the seventh
day and to show their adoration for him by holding their hands entirely
still while they rested with their palms open and upward on their
knees. The people were to confine themselves to talk about the Supreme
Being that dwells on high on the seventh day.
A traditional seven sided house. Seven is a sacred number for the
Most historians tend to deal
with the political aspects of the Cherokee culture. The white men
recognized that religion, or wanting to live good lives, rather than
politics, was at the core of the ancient Cherokee life.
In time the fragments of the
Cherokee ancient beliefs would be lost as the whites cunningly planned
to pierce the Cherokee religion so erosion would set in. White men
wanted to capitalize on the Indians. The Cherokees had become a grand
and glorious people of influence and prosperity. They knew nothing
about the outside world or what was going on in it, and they decided
they wanted to learn what they could from the white men’s ways. What
started out innocently, turned out to be a conversion to the whites’
manner of life. Soon the fragments of their ancient beliefs would be
lost in the transformation of their culture.
Although the whites enjoyed
trade with the Cherokees, conflicts over land and money would occur.
Eventually the Cherokees became outnumbered and outgunned, and they did
not have any other alternative but to accept what came their way, due
to the fact that the old religion was practiced by only a forty percent
minority; a larger consensus would have equaled power to resist
negative changes. They became a people of uncertainty. In doubt and
confusion, some of the clans began to let the whites guide them as
trusting children. Some Cherokees did not permit their clans to marry
outsiders. The full bloods began to be persuaded by the whites and
mixed bloods, which caused the altering of their festival procedures,
and more importantly the practical training of these procedures. For
example, the green corn festival originally taught young men to
publicly proclaim their work for and support of their mothers
(remember, this was before social security or government support).
The mixed bloods began to out
number the full bloods. As they increased in number, the power of the
Cherokee religion declined. The mixed blood parents convinced the young
Cherokees that the old ways, of which they themselves were ignorant,
were heathen. Without even knowing that they were rejecting a legacy of
direct contact with God, the children soon began to stray away from the
ritual lifestyle, while the full blood held on to their personal
convictions, even though diluted and fragmented. Ultimately, everything
about the Cherokee people became so modified and confused, the old ways
began to lose their appearance of having any effectiveness whatsoever.
In 1736, a Jesuit named
Christian Priber spent 9 years with the Cherokee people. His mission
was both political and religious. He gained great favor and influence
with tribal leaders. Priber became an unofficial secretary to the
principal headman. Nevertheless, he served both the church and French
government. His primary goal was to disrupt tribal relations between
the Cherokees and the English traders and colonist. Eventually he was
captured and imprisoned by the English.
Later the Catholic Church made
attempts to work as missionaries among the Cherokee people. Their
efforts to convert and educate were unsuccessful until more
In 1740, Cherokees obtained
their first horses and a trail was opened between Augusta, Georgia and
the Cherokee Country. Twenty years later, the Cherokees possessed large
herds of horses. By 1775, each Cherokee man owned anywhere from two to
twelve mounts. They obtained cattle, hogs and domesticated bees. The
Cherokees were already farming many European fruits, vegetables, and
domesticated potatoes and trading for coffee.
In the late eighteenth century,
the English brought over spinning wheels and looms, along with farming
tools. Gradually the Cherokee people were becoming a part of the white
To the east of the Cherokee
settlements were the English, to the west were the French and to the
south were the Spanish. All three competed for trade advantages and for
every piece of land on which they could get their hands. Finally the
cooperative trading efforts of the Cherokees became obsolete. Skins and
textiles were no longer excepted as exchange for goods. The whites now
had currency. Not long afterwards the economic system of the Indians
Mr. Ridge was very typical of Cherokees with European admixture.
All wild game began to disappear
as the whites grew in population and power. Even fishing became subject
to strict restrictions set in motion by the whites. The Cherokees
efforts to raise livestock became limited by regulations. The whites
began to take charge of lumbering the forests, mining the land,
excavating the ground for chemical interests, and taking charge of the
water streams and lakes by building dams across the valley where the
Cherokee homesteads had stood.
The white men’s government began
changing as well. The clan tribal loyalty was compromised by the
demands of a newly formed republican government. The French and the
English became rivals. Immediately both sides acted to pull the
Cherokees apart. Although the French were diplomatic, the English were
able to supply guns and ammunitions, as well as other militant
resources the Cherokees desired.
In the mid 1700s, the French
were losing control to the British and the Cherokee leaders of
Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia were being pitted against one
another. Some Cherokees did discern what was happening and sought to
turn the tables on the foreigners.
In the last half of the
eighteenth century, the whites began a rivalry for tribal control
between the leaders of the towns of great Tellico and Chota. The
Cherokees were kept in a constant state of turmoil and their ways of
life became forever interrupted by the ways of the new world.
Throughout the late eighteenth
century, tribal leader Attakullakulla controlled tribal policy by
learning the import ways of the white colonization and began guiding
tribal policy away from the old ways of Cherokee life. He encouraged
the Cherokees to cooperate more closely with the white settlers. During
Attakullakulla tribal reign, farming replaced hunting as the dominant
economic factor. The wars between tribes stopped. He also bargained for
colonial forts and military garrisons to protect the Cherokees from
warring neighbors. None of Attakullakulla efforts resolved the
Cherokees problems. Their settlements were always in the way of
relentless white settlers, which resulted in waves of wars from 1756 to
1794. Much of the Cherokee settlements were annihilated.
Tame Doe, the sister of
Attakullakulla, gave birth to a daughter named Nancy. Nancy grew up and
married the noted war leader Kingfisher of the Deer Clan. She was at
his side in 1755 when he was killed by the Creek warriors at the battle
of Taliwa. Nancy immediately picked up his weapons and gathered the
Cherokee warriors to an overwhelming victory. Chota chose her to
fulfill the vacant position of a Beloved Woman.
The Cherokees believe that the
Supreme Beings spoke to the people through Beloved Women. They were
also given the power and authority to make decisions on what to do with
prisoners of war.
Nancy also headed up an
influential women’s council that consisted of a representative from
each Cherokee Clan, and she sat as a voting member of the council of
the Chiefs. Later she married a white leader named Bryant Ward, but
after 10 years of marriage, he returned to his white wife and children
in South Carolina.
Numerous settlements had been
made in Cherokee land, which was a direct violation of the royal decree
of England. When the Revolutionary War broke out the Cherokees sided
with the English They attacked the frontier settlements of Virginia,
the Carolinas and Georgia. Seven hundred warriors attacked the settlers
Chief Rogers performs the peace pipe ceremony with the noble governor
of Coahuila, Sr. Enrique Martinez y Martinez.
Nancy Ward helped Isaac Thomas
and two other white men escape from Chota to warn the Watuga area. Soon
after she obtained the reputation of being a friend of the settlers.
In 1776, Colonel William
Christian led two thousand troops in a horrific raid against the
Cherokee towns. Out of respect to Nancy Ward, Chota was spared. In
1780, the Cherokees again prepared an attack on the Watuga settlements
while the men were away. Nancy Ward once again warned the whites, but
when the soldiers returned from King’s Mountain and learned of the
threat, they set out to teach the Cherokees a lesson they would never
Despite the pleas of Nancy Ward
for mercy and friendship, Chota was destroyed along with other Cherokee
towns. Afterwards, she and her family were placed into protective
custody. Once Nancy was released, she returned to help rebuild Chota.
On July 20, 1781, she was the featured speaker for the Cherokees that
brought about a peace treaty between the Watugans. She continued her
mission to make dramatic pleas for peace between the Indians and the
whites. After the war years ended, Nancy Ward settled in Chota, which
was no longer the Capital of the nation, but was still a city of
refuge. For years she took orphans into her home. Nancy died in 1822 as
a woman of honor among the Cherokee and white history.
TRADITIONAL FAITH SHAKEN
From 1794 to 1836, the Cherokees
fled to hill country to build a thriving community that was run by
mixed bloods. Change after change kept coming to the tribe as a whole
that eventually shook their traditional faith and beliefs.
In confusion and doubt the
Cherokees became more open and responsive to the missionary efforts of
the Moravian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Quaker Churches.
During the next thirty years, the Cherokee nation underwent many
changes and moved their tribe closer to the whites to become more a
part of their civilization. They began to learn the ways of the white
men. The Cherokees wanted to learn to read and write. The full bloods
did not welcome the change and considered it bad.
The Presbyterian Church
established a mission in Hiawassee, Tennessee in 1803. Their school
opened in 1804 with twenty to thirty Cherokees in attendance. The
students learned the Bible and how to pray, and to read, spell and
write. Due to the cultural differences and the fact the students could
not speak English, the first conversion did not take place until 1810.
Domestic and religious changes,
intermarriage, loss of confidence, whiskey, contributions of the mixed
bloods and the mission schools all took their toil on the Cherokees.
They began to wear the white men’s clothes and adapt to their
lifestyle. The Cherokees had their own cabins and all other amenities
just like the white settlers.
Chief Jahtlohi Rogers asks the one Creator for blessings upon the
Nation of Mexico & it’s families. Pictured are 3 Mexican
Governors of Coahuila (our home state), Tamaulipas, and Nueva Leon.
The Green Corn Festivals had now
become corrupted with guns and whiskey. The priests became known as
conjurers, which caused this once great ancient religion to struggle
and waver in what they once believed.
Payne believed the changes were
caused by the influx of pagan worshipers. It was a sure sign these were
a people in exodus because of the ways of foreigners, both Native
American and European. Sickness and tormenting evil spirits now haunted
the Indians. The new conjurers were unsuccessful in helping the people
spiritually. What once were sacred holy festivals were now tainted with
new customs and beliefs from many religious and pagan beliefs.
Before 1750, the Cherokees had a
core group of families from which came the Cherokee leaders. These
families would also supply the ministers or priests of the Cherokee
religion. This system is found in Semitic tribes and some other Native
American tribes (Caddo, for example). The thinking or reasoning was
that the youths of these families were trained from an early age
because the amount of training was considerable by any standards of
modern professions; leading families were responsible for training
leaders. But as the old religion slipped away, and these families acted
in irresponsible, oppressive, and self serving ways, things fell apart;
the last trained Uku to come from a “leading family tradition”
surrendered his position and it never existed again. However, these
truths live on, smoldering, perhaps someday to flame again. Somewhere
in time, these Cherokee Native Americans integrated with or were
themselves originally a people in exodus; either way, each group became
the other. All Cherokees are their descendants.