Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April Flowers

Osiyo, digusdi!
It's good (to be with you), cousins!

Ko'iga tsoine-iga, kawoni igvgai.
Today is Third Day (Tuesday), April first.

Ko'iga atsilvsgi-iga, dohiyi gesesdi.
Today is a Flower day, may there be peace and harmony.

It's the month of blooming flowers, and here in west Kentucky, what trees remain after the devastating winter storm are sprouting blossoms.

It's fitting that the first day of the flowering month should also have the day-sign Flower.
This is the final sign of twenty, and is considered to hold in its blossom the seeds of the next twenty-day cycle.

The Elders have asked us to mark each Flower Day with additional prayers for peace, healing , and reconciliation.

A quick scan of the recent news reveals an alarming rise in mass murders here in the US.

One stressor has to be the economic uncertainty, even panic, in many homes.

To help, "Speak Cherokee" will continue it's family member special: If you are subscribed for the course, a family member can join you, complete the tests and eventually receive a certificate of completion. We already Have one husband and wife team taking advantage of this.

By The Way: The Cherokee word for money, adelv, originally referred to beadwork sections or 'wampum' formerly used for exchange.

CONGRATULATIONS to Van Bevil of Alabama. After a week in the course, he aced the first test. He's also an amazing talent as an artist and craftsman, and we may be showing you some of his work shortly.

Another one of the students, Edinburgh-based singer Talitha Mackenzie, has scheduled appearances here in the US starting in late spring... we'll have details.

LAST CHANCE: The 2009 Cherokee Calendar will remain on sale for instant download only until Tuesday, April 7.
It's a great way to become familiar with the names of the months, days, and day-signs.

And remember, there's more on the blog:

To all

PS: Ever notice how some men in the South or Southwest address each other as "Goose"? Strange nickname?
Not really. Look at my opening line. Digusdi is plural for gusdi, "cousin". Since the final vowels are often dropped, it sounds more like "goosd". It's old Cherokee custom to address a Cherokee you've never met before as cousin, to acknowledge some possibility of blood kinship. It simply sounds like the English word for a big loud bird.

Until next time!

Brian Wilkes

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Definition of Powwow

Hello again!

Two weeks ago I promised to give you the literal meaning of powwow. There have been some interesting opinions, but in fact, it's a Narragansett word meaning "he dreams" or "dreamer". In parts of New England and as far south as Virginia, some languages use the spelling pauwau. The New Jersey city of Mahwah, usually translated as "meeting place", takes its name from the same root.

Centuries ago, people who had dreams that might be important visions went to elders to have the dream interpreted. This review session evolved into an annual or semi-annual group event. As people were waiting to have their dreams interpreted, they had to eat. As long as people were gathered together, might as well get some trading done. And while the elders heard the dreams and visions out of sight of the crowd, this was also an opportunity to conduct ceremonial and healing dances.

Some say the term dreamer refers equally to the person having the vision, and to the person interpreting it, and so another reasonable definition is "a gathering of spiritual leaders and/or spiritual seekers." One anonymous reader suggested "gathering of spirits," which isn't far off.

While our Cherokee ancestors traditionally held six annual public ceremonies, these were not powwows. It has been suggested that the Stomp Dance is predecessor to the powwow, but that's quite a stretch. So no, there is no Cherokee word for powwow.

What we call a powwow today developed at the beginning of the 20th century, and really took hold in the 1950's. After the misunderstanding of the Ghost Dance that led to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, Indians were forbidden to gather to dance and sing... except to educate or entertain white people. What evolved was a combination of elements drawn from genuine tradition, circus, traveling carnivals, minstrel shows, and the famed Wild West shows. Indians both pandered to and lampooned white pre-conceptions.

Today, powwows can be roughly divided into traditional gatherings, which may even avoid the use of the word powwow, and competition powwows, which are centered on dance competitions, often for cash prizes. If you see dance outfits made of day-glo yarn and lamee cloth, good chance you're not at a traditional event!

Brian Wilkes

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wolves and Coyotes

Osiyo, nigada!  Greetings, all!

Ko’iga Unadodaquinvi, Anayilisv taline, Iga Kanati
Today is Monday, March 2nd, Day of the Wolf

Some have asked about these words that open many of these mailings, so I’ll break it down for you:

"Osiyo" is the traditional Cherokee greeting, “It’s good (to see you).” According to some fluent elders, it’s really the ONLY Cherokee greeting. Constructions such as “Osda sunalei” good + morning, are actually statements rather than greetings. But a truth about any living language is that it changes.

Oh, one thing that annoys me is when people insert an apostrophe in osiyo, making it o’siyo. This may have come about because the first widely available book on the language, “Beginning Cherokee,” used a typeface in which the apostrophe and accent mark were identical. Apostrophes are used to show where letter have been intentionally dropped, such as “don’t.” Osi is the root for “good”, so nothing has been dropped between the “o” and the “si”. If you drop the first syllable, then ‘Siyo is fine.

I’m also annoyed by people who hyphenate powwow, but I regard that as advertising misuse like Krispy Kreme. Public praise to the first person who can tell me what the word ‘powwow’ means.

Ko’iga is contracted from kohi iga or now + day, today.

Some of you have noticed that the word Kanati is not the more common word for wolf, waya or wahaya. Kanati is a proper name, usually translated as lucky or fortunate hunter. It is the name of the day-sign symbolized by the wolf. Several of the 20 daysign names are not literal.

Wolves have made their presence known recently...

At the end of January, my region of Kentucky suffered a devastating ice storm that’s being called the worst disaster in a century. The entire power grid was knocked out in one night, and some people were without electricity for weeks. The rain froze on the trees, creating hundreds of pounds of weight that brought limbs crashing down on utility lines, roads, and even buildings. We’re still digging out.

So is the wildlife. Recently, I’ve heard many more wolves and coyotes near my windows at night. Their winter dens were destroyed, and they are struggling to find food and new lodgings. Turf wars are brewing, all the lines are being re-drawn. It’s denning time in advance of the birth of the wolf and coyote litters. They are preying on the newborn fawns and anything else they can find.

For those of you more familiar with the urban life, wolves don’t tolerate coyotes in their territory. Wolves are about three times their size, so smart coyotes flee, and dumb or slow coyotes die. The result, as Darwin would tell you, is smarter and faster coyotes. Perhaps this is the origin of their “trickster” status… they had to be faster and smarter to survive.

I live in a very rural area. My friends around the country sometimes wonder how I can live in a place with no movies, theaters, art museums, bookstores, shopping malls.

I wonder how they can live in a place where they can’t hear the choral song of the wolves in the night, even if the wolves are arguing with the coyotes. As one of the medicine people says, "How lonely is the night without the song of the wolves.”

Brian Wilkes