Cumberland Academy

Cherokee Clans

Cherokee Clan System

Cherokee Clans were extended families that lived in the same area, clans were historically matrilineal and taken very seriously. Cherokee’s considered it as we would think of consanguinity (one cousin to another) today. A clan was given at birth (through your mother) and kept a lifetime. A man and woman were not allowed to marry if they were of the same clan as that was disgraceful (not only to them but their clan as well) considered incest and punishable by death. When a couple married the man joined the woman’s family (as opposed to the European tradition of a woman joining a man’s family), by moving with or nearby her family. Marriage was also forbidden in your father’s mother’s clan. Maternal and paternal grandfather’s clan marriage may have been encouraged.
The whole clan was your family, if a child was orphaned, another clan member’s household would take them in. If a woman who was not Cherokee had borne a Cherokee child and was married to a Cherokee man, she could be adopted into a new clan by a clan mother (not her husband’s clan). Her husband was required to leave his clan and live with her in her new clan. Men who were not Cherokee and married a Cherokee woman had to be first be adopted into a clan by a clan mother; he could not take his wife’s clan. A child’s clan was responsible for him/her, in that respect only his/her fellow clan members were considered kin. The most important male in a male child’s life was his maternal uncle (as they were the same clan), not his father, same with a girl and her maternal aunt, this is not because their mother or father didn’t care but because the child and maternal uncle/aunt belonged to that clan, who’s responsibility the child was.

The clan system also operated on the “blood law” or clan revenge meaning if someone harmed a member of another clan it was their (the wronged) clan’s responsibility to take revenge on the other clan (not just the individual), in most cases the punishment was death. This was considered equalization, not retaliation. If a non-Cherokee person became a captive (of war or a battle) they were, more often then not, adopted into a clan by a clan mother, to be without a clan was considered to be a “slave” and was without rights (even the right to live), by all accounts this was rare. There was no stigma in adoption and the clan became responsible for their misdeeds as much as any other clan member.

Though there is said to have been as many as fourteen clans in ancient times, now only seven are recognized. Seating in ceremonial grounds was determined by clan as well:

a-ni-gi-lo-hi (also a-ni-gi-la-hi) or Long Hair Clan:

The Long Hair clan, who’s subdivisions are Twister, Wind, and Strangers (possible separate clans combined), where known as a very peaceful or peacemaker clan. Peace Chief were often born of this clan and they represented them in the times of War/Peace Chief government. Prisoners of war, orphans of other tribes, and others were often adopted into this clan. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Long Hair arbor is on the East side, and also houses the Chiefs and other leaders of the ground.

a-ni-a-wi (also a-ni-ka-wi) or Deer Clan:

The Deer Clan were known as the fastest runners and hunters, even though they hunted game for subsistence, they respected and cared for the animals while they were living amongst them. They were also known as messengers on an earthly level, delivering messages from village to village, or person to person. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Deer arbor is to the left of the Wild Potato arbor.

a-ni-sa-ho-ni or Blue Clan (also Blue Holly Clan):

The Blue clan, who’s subdivisions were Panther or Wildcat and Bear (which is considered the oldest clan), likely two or more clans combined. Historically this clan made many special medicines for children. It is said the blue plant, from where the medicine came is how the got their name. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Blue Clan is to the left of the Long Hair arbor.

a-ni-tsi-s-qua (also a-ni-tsi-s-wka) or Bird Clan:

The Bird Clan, who’s subdivisions were Raven, Turtle Dove, and Eagle, were historically known as messengers between heaven and earth, or the People and the Creator. Earn feathers were originally presented by members of this clan, as they were the only ones that could collect them. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Bird Clan is to the left of the Deer arbor.

a-ni-go-te-ge-wi (also a-ni-ga-to-ge-wi) known as the Wild Potato Clan:

Though the name cannot be confidently translated this clan is known as the Wild Potato Clan, or it’s subdivision the Blind Savannah Clan. Historically members of this clan were known as gatherer’s or keepers of the land. The wild potato was a main staple of life in the Cherokee’s southeast homeland (Tsa-la-gi U-we-ti). At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Wild Potato Clan is to the left of the Wolf clan arbor.

a-ni-wo-di or Paint Clan:

The Paint Clan, sometimes called the Red Paint Clan were historically known as prominent medicine people. Medicine is often ‘painted’ on a patient after harvesting, mixing and performing other aspects of the ceremony. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Paint arbor is to the left of the Bird clan arbor.

a-ni-wa-ya or the Wolf Clan:

The Wolf has been known throughout time to be the largest clan. During the time of the Peace Chief and War Chief government setting, the War Chief would come from this clan. Wolves are known as protectors. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Wolf arbor is to the left of the Blue clan arbor.

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