Cherokee Calendar: June, the Month of the Green Corn Moon

Dear Readers,

June for the Cherokee is de ha lu yi, or ᏕᎭᎷᏱ in the Cherokee syllabary (to hear it pronounced, please click here and then type in "June" in the translation tool).  This was the time of year in the southeastern United States (the native home of the Cherokee) when the corn crops would just begin to ripe in the fields.  According to the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, 

The Green Corn Ceremony was traditionally celebrated during late June or early July for about four days. The dates scheduled for the celebration depended upon the time the first corn ripened. The ceremony was held in the middle of the ceremonial grounds. Included in the rituals were the stomp dance, feather dance and buffalo dances.

At certain points of the ceremonies the people fasted, played stickball, had corn sacrificing and took medicine. Then after the ceremonial fasting they would feast. Another ritual observed was rinsing themselves in water and having prayer.

It is believed when you recieve a cleansing it washes away impurities or bad deeds and starts a new life. The cleansing ceremony was performed by a priest which was followed with fasting and praying and other sacred practices.

Frank G. Speck, an anthropologist who studied the Cherokee closely in the first decades of the 1900s, provides us with more data about how dances of the Green Corn Ceremony were performed in his book, Cherokee Dance And Drama (1951).  Here is one of the diagrams from the book, which shows one of the movements of this complex dance:

The male figures in this diagram are shown carrying guns on their shoulders, and the leaders/singers are shown with rattles ("calabashes filled with small stones," according to an eyewitness in 1803).

This ceremonial dance, stretching back hundreds of years or more (accounts of where the Cherokee came from, and how long they were in the southeastern US prior to contact with Spanish explorers in 1540, are murky at best) was described by Chief Charles Hicks in 1818 in the following account:

This is held when the corn is getting hard and lasts four days, and when the national council sits—a quantity of venison being procured to supply the dance. It is said that a person was formerly chosen to speak to the people on each day in a language that is partly lost—at least there is very little of it known now.
— Cherokee Dance and Drama, page 52

Celebrating the Month of the Green Corn Moon with this elaborate series of dances, feasting, and ceremonial rituals of cleansing continued among the Cherokee in North Carolina (according to Frank G. Speck) and the Cherokee in Oklahoma through the late 1880s.  By then, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs was getting so perturbed about the spiritual revival going on among many Native American tribes (the so-called Ghost Dance moment) that they called out the military.  The resulting massacre of peaceful South Dakota Lakota tribal members at the "Battle of Wounded Knee" effectively brought an end to any full-scale ceremonial gatherings of Native tribes.  The US Government would later invent "Wild West Shows" in the 1950s, to attempt to make a tourist attraction out of what had once been a gathering of deep spiritual and cultural significance to Native tribes across North America.

Dancing was the way the Cherokee celebrated their culture, and the season of the new harvest that came in June.  Here in the Virginia Tidewater, which would represent the very northernmost boundary of historical Cherokee territory, I watch the lush green fields of corn growing, and can almost hear the chanting of the dancers and the clattering of their ceremonial rattles.  As one awe-stricken Moravian eyewitness described the dance in 1803, 

The female leader of this dance wore leather shoes with turtle backs fastened thereto with which she mightily rattled!

Yours Truly,

Sarah