New Appalachian Moments Blog Post!
By Scott Ballard
There are two prevailing views about Cherokee origins. One is that the Cherokee themselves (as a tribe of people) are relative latecomers to Southern Appalachia. The other theory is that they have been here for thousands of years…bottom line, they were probably here long before Spanish and other explorers even had a twinkle in their eyes when gazing westward across the ocean.
The word Cherokee is believed to have evolved from a Choctaw word meaning “Cave People.” It was picked up and used by Europeans and eventually adopted by Cherokees, even though they referred to themselves as aniyun-wiya, a name usually translated as “the Real People,” or “the Original People.” The fact is most early societies often referred to themselves in this way.
Cherokee has been a written language at least since 1821, when a Cherokee named Sequoyah produced a writing system. Although Sequoyah is credited with inventing the system, some Cherokees have taken exception. They maintain that the ancient Cherokee writing system already existed and was kept secret until Sequoyah made it public.
Today, the Cherokee language is still in wide use. It is used in the Indian churches and at the stomp grounds, and many children still grow up with Cherokee as their first language, learning English when they go to school.
While many of our current roads and highways follow old Cherokee paths or game trails, their language is also prevalent in our world today. Their language is…mellifluous (not a Cherokee word!)…meaning sweet or musical to the ear…take a moment to say these words out loud:
Cullowhee, Watauga, Appalachia, Yonahlossee, ontaroga…
We attribute those words to the Cherokee…and you can imagine how lyrical their language sounds…and how it still is gracing our vocabulary and our blog today…
Cullowhee…we know it as the home to Western Carolina University…to the Cherokee it meant where the lilies bloom.
Watauga means whispering waters or beautiful river…Appalachia meant endless mountain range…Yonahlossee means the trail of a bear, and Ontaroga means a place of rocks and hills…so, taking stock here…we’re surrounded by lots of Ontaroga, several spots of cullowhee and maybe even a few Yonahlossee along the Watauga here in Appalachia!
I would say goodbye in Cherokee, but the word itself doesn’t exist because it’s too final…so I’ll say…doh-dah-dah-goh-hun-I or…until we meet again!
If you’d like to hear the audio version, please click below and also please share your comments and related stories in the section below!