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Shoshone Indian (sic) Smoking by Alfred Jacob Miller (courtesy the Walters Art Museum)

The Walters Art Museum http://art.thewalters.org/ (Baltimore, Maryland)
http://art.thewalters.org/detail/37886/a-shoshonee-sic-indian-smoking/ (description)

This is a brief note. I am working on The Song of Hiawatha (1855) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (27 February 1807 – 24 March 1882), but every Sunday I share brunch with a friend. I was in the kitchen.

About Amerindian tales

I have read several Amerindian “fairy tales.” Shapeshifting is a recurrent motif or “constant” in Amerindian tales. Shapeshifting is often a trickster’s device, but also an attempt to discover the truth and to protect oneself. It is survival through deceit, such as playing dead.

There are numerous Creation myths. They are listed in Wikipedia.

Sequoya's Syllabary

Sequoya’s Syllabary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sequoya’s Syllabary

Before Sequoya (1770 – 1840), the gifted Cherokee who created a syllabary, it is reported that Amerindians could not write. Once Sequoya invented his syllabary, literacy among the Cherokee surpassed the rate of literacy among the white. Sequoya, who may have been a Métis, developed 86 syllables, borrowing from several alphabets.

According to Wikipedia, in order to convince other Cherokees to use his syllabary, he wrote down what they were saying and called his daughter, to whom he had taught the Sequoya syllabary. She read her father’s text, and Cherokees recognized that it was what they had said.

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John Ross, Cherokee Chief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sequoya moved to Oklahoma and may have done so voluntarily. But Scots-Cherokee Chief John Ross left Georgia unwillingly. Yet he organized the removal, at least part of it. He bought 12 wagons, the same wagons as the ones used to carry the white west, but each of which carried a total of 1,000 persons. I do not understand the full logistics of the removal. Some Cherokees travelled by boat, but many also walked during part of the 2,200-mile journey (3,218 km). It was a true “trail of tears.” Reports vary, but it appears 6,000 Cherokees died on their way to Oklahoma, one of whom was Chief John Ross’ first wife.

According to James Mooney, 4,000 lives were lost. (See Myths of the Cherokees, Gutenberg [EBook #45634].) In all, the population was “16,542 Cherokees, 201 inter-married whites, and 1592 slaves (total: 18,335 people).” (See Cherokee Removal, Wikipedia.)

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American Indian oral tradition (kids.britannica.com)

The Formulaic “A long time ago …”

Let me return to the Cherokee’s account of a deluge. It begins with the formulaic “A long time ago:”

(A long time ago a man had a dog, which began to go down to the river every day and look at the water and howl.) This formula tends to reinforce the fictional character of a story. It happened a long time ago and, if possible, elsewhere.

The formulaic “A long time ago… ” may be James Mooney’s wording. He is the person who took the tale away from an oral tradition to insert it in a learned, i.e. written, tradition. Yet it could be that storytellers have long used this kind of wording, if only to get attention.


“House [below] built in early 19th century by John McDonald, maternal grandfather of John Ross. Now called the ‘John Ross House,’ it was occupied by Ross’ daughter and her husband, Nicholas Scales. It is located in Rossville, Georgia.” (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Ross House

Rosshouse

© Micheline Walker
23 August 2015
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