Sequoyah The Cherokee Warrior
Sequoyah is the only known individual in five thousand years of recorded history to have developed a complete writing system in 1821 without being literate in a language. Within six months, more than 25% of the Cherokee Nation learned how to read and write. The 85 characters represent all the combinations of vowel and consonant sounds that form the Cherokee language. However, there is controversy concerning the syllabary, its creation amongst the progressive, and also, the traditional Cherokee. "Sequoyah has been given credit for devising a written language for the Cherokee. He is one of the few Indian 'heroes' mentioned in American textbooks and is usually described as being a 'credit to his race.' Most Indian people that white Americans depict as heroes are often heroes to whites, but not to Indians. Sometimes a person or event is changed over time to accommodate the values of American society and lessen the original impact, especially if white Americans or the American Government have been unfair, unkind or even cruel."
(The following is an excerpt from, "Tell Them They Lie" by Traveler Bird. Traveler Bird's information is from his family's oral history, U.S. Government documents, missionary records and Sequoyah's 600 documents.)
"For a quarter of a century Sequoyah's name appeared intermittently in the missionary tracts and local national newspapers throughout the United States and Europe. His life had, in the press, the beat of a spectacular serial story. Over and over again, the discovery of the Cherokee Syllabify by the American press and public proclaimed Sequoyah a Cadmus and bastard son of a white man. He was neither of these things.
'Like sainthood stories, nothing about Sequoyah's life was truly known to the public, except for the 'made up' information that the missionaries and the 'progressive' leaders desired to become known. They tagged their fake name 'Sequoyah' to a full-blood fighting warrior-scribe known to his Cherokee tribesmen by his real name of 'Sogwili,' and to Americans as 'George Guess.'
'Indian Sequoyah was unable to challenge the press, missionaries and the Cherokee leader’s fallacy, since non-conforming Cherokee were considered savages. For encouraging his dissident tribesmen to flee west, Sequoyah, in 1816, was tried before a council of mixed-blood judges, Cherokee police, and warriors chiefs, in the New Order of the Cherokee Nation. Convicted of witchcraft and treason, he was branded on the forehead and back as was his wife. His fingers on both hands were chopped off between the first and second joints. His ears were cropped-the mark of a traitor.
'His violent lifelong struggle to aid his people does not fit the myth. He did not invent the Cherokee Syllabify, although he was skilled in its use. The Cherokee were writing and reading it decades before Sequoyah was born. The story of this revolutionary is far more real and interesting than the synthetic role the white man has given him."
Traveler Bird's research, the Cherokee got their gift of written language from a relative group of Taliwa Indians, who sought refuge with the Cherokee. Less than 25 Taliwa survivors, originally from the Plateau area, travelled a year to reach the mountain valley of Sogwiligegagihiyi. The great, great, great, great grandfather of Sogwili went out to welcome the Taliwa into the village. Although the Taliwa were hurt, humiliated and broken, they brought one great gift--the thin gold plates of their written language. Young people chosen for the Seven Clan Scribe Society, which kept written tribal records, usually had some Taliwa ancestry. In Sogwili's time, the scribes spoke at least 7 other languages including Spanish and English which they hid from the Anglos.)
The Cherokee Language
The Cherokee language is spoken by approximately 10,000 people in the Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma), Tribal members of the Cherokee homeland, Jalagiwetii (North Carolina), may not have as many speakers. The western and eastern accents are different in many ways, but mutually intelligible. Within the eastern and western Cherokee language there are many different accents as well as slang and curse words (This came about as a result of Cherokee exposure to other languages). Many Cherokee, and others, use the English alphabet to write Cherokee as they have no knowledge of, or cannot use the Cherokee syllabary. Language is very important to preserving a culture as many words are descriptive of culture, events, and ceremonies that are only identifiable in the native tongue. English may have no comparable words.
The language is "updated" every decade or so as more words become available, and others fall into disuse or become archaic. The Cherokee Syllabary shown below is the latest version released by the CN of Oklahoma.
We do hold (northeastern) accent Cherokee language classes at the Urban Rez when at least 8 people show interest. We ask that a small donation be made for the study materials given out each class. Please check the "Events" page for the class schedule.
This is a chart of the Cherokee Syllabary
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