Southeast: The Cherokee Dances and Sports
So I spent the last post talking a lot about the beliefs and the spirituality of the Cherokees and I would me remise if I didn’t mention the dances and ceremonies that they held to honor their beliefs. In addition to that the Cherokee also played a lot of sports which also weirdly enough were spiritually and religious based.
Like I mentioned in the last post the idea of balancing the universe was one of the main beliefs. One of the ways they would achieve this balance was to perform various ceremonies and dances. There were dances that went on all during the year that were for certain animals or plants which were performed to once again maintain the balance between the relationships.
One of the more important of these dances was actually taken from the Iroquois of New York (which if you remember from the last post are the ancestors of the Cherokee from which the Cherokee split). This dance was known as the Busk Ceremony (also known in some places as the Green Corn ceremony) and was celebrated both in August when the first maize was ripening and in September when the communities had a large corn feast. The events surrounding the Busk Ceremony were to celebrate the harvest as well as celebrate the annual rebirth of a people. In addition to rebirth the ceremony also served as a unifying ritual that would bring everyone together (Rochete 2010).
To prepare for the ceremony, families would clean their homes, prepare the ceremonial square in the town plaza and the men would fast before consuming emetic drinks to rid themselves of “pollution.” The height of the rituals would be when the new corn harvest was presented to the community and the spirits by the clans most high ranking women called the Beloved Women. This presenting though could not be done until the sacred fire was lit by a Cherokee priest who also showed the community the right spiritual way to go on living their lives (Rochete 2010).
After the fire was lit the corn was presented by the Beloved Women and the priest would throw the corn onto the flames for the feast. While all this was going on the people would confess their problems and transgressions and be forgiven for them. Of course after this the men would lead the community in dances where they sang and played music with drums and rattles made from gourds. The women would attach turtle shell rattles to their legs and dance around. Other members of the community would paint themselves with white clay which was a symbol of peace and well-being. Along with this they would also take a ritual bath in the river. These rituals were all performed to maintain that balance and keep the harmony (Rochete 2010).
Not only were the dances and ceremonies of the Cherokee driven by spiritualism and religion, but the sports were also. Now you’re probably thinking how the hell can sports be considered spiritual? Well these sports were considered more than just simple contests of athleticism they were sacred rituals showcasing the struggle between the opposing forces in the universe. The athletes then became an echo of the natural order of life, serving a higher purpose then just simply playing the game.
The one sport that the Cherokee played a lot was the game of chunky which was played on a wide plaza of chunky field. A player rolls a small, flat circular stone to begin the game and then the players throw sticks at the spot to where they think the stone will land. Then the player with the stick closest to where the stone comes to a rest wins the game.
The Cherokee also participated in many different foot races and gambled for past times. Perhaps the most popular sport though played was “stick ball” which is an early form of lacrosse. This sport became very competitive and even violent and times and fueled rivalries between different towns and clans who would face each other in the sport. The players would take it very seriously and practice for weeks, and would maintain distance from women and children during these weeks to ensure purity (Rochete 2010).
The night before the match was to take place seven women, representing the seven clans, would chant to the beat of drums while the players ran around the sacred fire. In addition the players would also be ritually scratching and given special charms by shamans. The shamans would then also call upon supernatural forces to guide the players and give them strength and endurance.
2010. Anth 146 Lecture for September 20, 2010.
The Pennsylvania State University.