The Ani-Tsalagi People

Archaeologists and anthropologists have been trying to discover where the Ani-Tsalagi built mounds to protect their sacred item, their Atsila Galvkawetiyu. There was a simple reason for them to build their towns near rivers, for a source of ama, “water.” Water is the source of life. Plus water in some cases is a sacred thing to the Ani-Tsalagi.
Are they from the Allegany Mountain region? Some have stories from the Iroquois people who say they drove their cousins south. Then why do the Ani-Tsalagi have such mounds as the Mound People. The Iroquois people do not. Is that because they have lived among the Algonkian for so many centuries? Linguists have decided that the Iroquois and Ani-Tsalagi separated about two thousand year ago. That being the case it would seem that the seven tribes of the Iroquois, the Huron, Erie, Tobacco, and Neutral, and a group that became to be known as Seneca, Cayuga, Onodaga, Oneida, and Mohawk, were driven out of the mountains. They were driven north to split the Northeast Alogonkian tribes. The Iroquois speaking Tuscarora joined the Leauge. Both sides of the Allegany Mountains were left for use by the Ani-Tsalagi, where they used the land of present day Kentucky as their private hunting grounds.

Others have claimed that the Ani-Tsalagi came from Mexico or Central America. This is because of the gorget that has been excavated at a site in Ani-Tsalagi territory. It had the markings of American Indian tribes out of that area. One thing that some people fail to remember is the history of the American Indian and his trading habits. Items of trade could be found that came from as far away as the Great Lakes, the Southwest, and many other parts of the Americas. All American Indian tribes were a trading people and they loved to trade their goods for those made by other tribes.

We may never know where they came from as an organized tribe. We do know that they have been in the Allegany Mountains, especially the Great Smokey Mountains, for many centuries. As far back as the late 1890s, James Mooney in his “Myths of the Cherokees and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees,” stated that our people covered 40,000 square miles that includes the present state of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

There are many stories of where the Ani-Tsalagi came from and how they came to the mountains. Most of those stories have no credibility.

Chief D. L. Hicks
Ugu (Head Chief)


History Of The Ani-TsalagiFirst Town is FormedBuilding the Mound and Sacred FireForming ClansFamily DwellingsFieldsTribal GovernmentLeadersRed and White OrganizationsThe War WomenWarriorship and War TitlesDiplomacyImmunity of AmbassadorsMarriage and DivorceTobacco PipesThe Ceremonial War HatchetTake Up The HatchetBury The HatchetTraders and MerchantsCraftsmen and Industrial ArtsGamesTabooBurial




History Of The Ani-Tsalagi As I Know It

Most of these stories I have learned from Tsali Hicks, a family member who was born in the Going Snake District in Indian Territory. I learned and wrote these stories down as a boy in the 1940s. Tsali learned these stories from his grandfather, who was a novice adawehi when he came to Indian Territory over the Nvnadaultsvyi, “Trail where they cried.” When I add stories from other sources, I will give the names and dates, if I have them.

Let me be up front and say that we are Tsalagi from the Ani-Tsalagi, not Cherokee. Cherokee came from a word used by the Choctaw tribe as our name. The called us Chulaki, “People from the cave country.” The first use of the word by a European was by the Spanish explorer Desota. It is reported that in 1540 he used Chalague to name our tribe. In 1718, in English Colonial history of North and South Carolina they used the Cherikee, and also in 1747 they used Charokee. They used the r from the Eladi Anigadugi, “Lower Towns,” dialect. Over the years there have been 50 different spellings of the name.

I only use Cherokee to people who refuse to understand the difference.

My mother kept my writings on schoolboy note book paper. Later she gave them to my wife, who kept them with our household goods as we traveled in the army. I wish to keep this information for my children and later descendants of my father’s people.

I will also use the Gatusideli dialect, for that is the dialect I learned when growing up. Some of the terms are different than those used in Oklahoma and on Qualla Boundary in NC. None of the dialects of our languages is wrong, for everyone must remember that language is a living thing and changes with time.

Chief D. L. Hicks
Ugu (Head Chief)


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First Town is Formed

Men began to form towns and groups to learn a common language and to protect themselves from others. That is how the different tribes began.

A group of men banded together to call the Aninehi (A-nee-nay-hee), “Good Spirits” to assist them and to pray to appease the “Evil Spirits” to leave their people alone. These men became known as Anidawehi (A-nee-da-way-hee), the spiritual leaders of the people. These men learned how to act to live in peace with each other and in harmony with nature. All people formed together over a period of time.

The first town was on the east side of the Great Smokey Mountains, near the famous Black Mountain. They called the first town Kituwa (Kee-too-wa), and the people of Kituwa were known as Ani-Kituwagai (A-nee-Kee-too-wa-gee), People of Kituwa.

These Kituwagi people were called Ani-Tsalagi (A-nee-Ja-la-gee), “People of the ridge country,” because they lived in the mountains of the Great Smokey Mountains. When in talks or treaties with other people, these mountain people were so arrogant they called themselves Ani-Yvwiya (A-nee-Yun-wee-ya), “The Real People.” They called all other people Ani-Wuyu (A-nee-Woo-yoo), just “Plain People.”

As the town grew, people started to leave and form their own towns. But they were always tied both spiritually and politically to the town where their Atsila Galvkawetiyu, “Sacred Fire” was held.


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Building the Mound and Sacred Fire

The first Atsila Galvkawetiyu, “Sacred Fire,” was brought back to Kituwa. They built a high mound of dirt to keep the floodwaters from rain and the overflow of rivers from extinguishing the fire. This mound was called Gauwatlunehi, “Ceremonial or Town Mound.” They built a building on top of the mound called a Gaduyi, “Town House,” where they deposited the Sacred Fire. The Town House also became the Anaskahi, “Council House.”

The anidawehi directed that the mound be built on the level bottom lands near the river in order that the people might have an area near the water during dances and other activities. Ama “water,” was a sacred messenger, purifier and healer and has always been important in Tsalagi life.

First a circle of stones was laid upon the ground. Then the anidawehi brought coals from the first fire and built a fire out of the seven principal woods of the seven clans of the Ani-Kituwagi, which are ataya, “principal wood,” the oak; wani, hickory; gulasetsi, maple; guletsi, locust; dalonega ata, “yellow wood,” birch; gusv, beech; and dotsu, ash. All the wood was well seasoned and the bark had been peeled from each piece, this causing the wood to burn without smoke. Each piece of wood was prefect with no flaws, in a common size. The fire was built in the circle of stones. Near the fire they laid the Ulvsuti stone that Kanati, the first Great Hunter, had brought to them from a fight with the great animal, also a scale from the Uktena, a feather from the right wing of the great hawk Tlanuwa, and the bead of the seven colors of the Clans: red, white, black, blue, purple, yellow and brown. If a town did not have a feather of Tlanuwa, it could used a feather from the right wing of Awvhili, “Eagle.” The anidawehi conjured all of these with diseases so that if an enemy were to invade the country and destroy the Mound, they would be diseased and never return to their home.

The people would bring dirt in baskets made of split reed then built the mound. They piled dirt up around the circle of stones where the fire lay, leaving the fire uncovered. One end of a long hollow cedar trunk with the bark still on was placed on top of the fire and dirt poured around it. The cedar pole protected the fire from being smothered by the dirt. The cedar log was cut to the proper length so that it would be level with the surface of the Town House floor. After the mound was finished off smoothly at the top, the Gatuyi was built on top of the mound. The building was large enough to have held eight hundred people of Kituwa.

The anidawehi instructed the Gatuyi to be constructed on top of the mound in the following manner. The head adawehi marked a large circle upon the ground for the outside of the building. Logs were then sunk into the ground to the height of a tall man’s head. The logs were placed side-by-side, close enough so as to allow no space between them. If there were any cracks between the posts, they were filled with clay. One post was notched at the top, and then a space of posts were passed before another was notched and so on at an equal distance in the complete circle, beams or wall plates were then fitted into the notched posts.

Within this circle, another group of posts were placed at an equal distance apart, their tops being over the length of two men’s height. Each of these posts was notched at the top to receive beams.

A third circle of strong posts, more than three men’s height in length and seven in number, were notched for beams. The seven posts were to represent the seven clans and to section off the Gatuyi into seven parts for each clans use.

In the center, near the Sacred Fire, a huge tree trunk was placed for the central pillar, which formed the pinnacle of the building, and to which the rafters centered at the top. These rafters were strengthened and bound together by crossbeams and laths which held the roof. The roof was covered with bark of the seven woods of the Ani-Tsalagi and a layer of earth covered the bark.

There were no smoke holes or windows. One large door served as an entrance, admitting light and allowing smoke to escape. The door always faced east.

Between the second range of pillars and the wall was a range of benches, the benches forming a semi-circle behind each pillar to seat the seven clans.

Stools were placed near the fire for the Anidawehi. Another stool near the Anidawehi was for the Leader of the Women’s Council. A stool near the fire was to be used by the War Chief during the time of war, and the Peace Chief during the time of peace.

Near the center, the musicians seated themselves. All dances and other ceremonial activities were to take place in the area around the center pillar and the second row of pillars.

On the center pillar hung the Peace Pipe in the time of peace, and the War Club in the time of war. Around the beams hung eagle dance fans, sacred dance masks, and other artifacts of the town.

An adawehi was to stay in the Gatuyi at all times to tend the Sacred Fire. He was called the Atsilasvti (Fire Maker). The coals of the fire lay smoldering until needed. When there was a council meeting or dance, the Fire Maker pushed stalks of the Ihayaga (Fleabane) down through the opening in the cedar log where the fire lay smoldering. He piled lichens and punk on the Ihayaga. As the flames climbed, the weed stalks and punk caught on fire. He then placed the seven woods of the Tsalagi upon the flames. The fire would be ready when the activities began. After each activity, the fire was covered with ashes, but the fire was always left smoldering below. The fire of the Tsalagi was revered above all things, and was called Atsalagalvquetiyu (Honored, or Sacred Fire).

The Sacred Fire was never to be taken out of the Town House, neither the coals nor ashes, except by the Fire Maker. Fire could be taken out of a Town House by an adawehi who was taking fire out to start a new fire in a new Town House, or an adawehi who was going on the warpath as a Chaplin with a war part. At proper times, ashes were taken out of the Town House by the Fire Maker and placed in a mound near the river which was sacred and called Sgeona (Place of Spirits). The Sgeona was not to be approached by anyone other than an adawehi.

The Town House was open at all times for the benefit of all people. It was a gathering place for the Anidawehi, the warriors to tell their stories of bravery, for the women to hold their meetings, for the elders to talk of old times, for the young to learn of old things and new things, and for the people to hold dances to thank the Great Being Above for all that He had given the Ani-Tsalagi. All people of every age were to use the Town House.

Young boys were designated to gather wood for the Sacred Fire, under the direction and supervision of an adawehi. Only the wood which was free of blemish was then chosen by the Fire Maker to be used as fuel for the Sacred Fire. Women had the responsibility of keeping the food in the Town House at all times, for it was the civilized custom of the Ani-Tsalagi to tell a visitor after the initial greetings, “Come, we will eat, then talk.” It was so at the Town House, as it was in every house in the tribe.

There was to be no violent dissension or physical conflict in the Town House for any reason. The Town House was a place of refuge from all harm, and no one would be forced to leave the Town House. No violence could be done to them as long as they were inside the refuge. No clan vengeance would be extracted inside the Town House to disturb its sacredness and tranquility.

As the Ani-Tsalagi grew in population, other Town Houses and towns were built. All built their mounds and Town Houses in the accepted manner of the anidawehi, for none could be different than the first. Some of these towns became towns of refuge and were know as Unega Gudagi, “White Town.” The law of sanction of refuge was to cover the entire town and all were safe from retribution while within its boundaries. Kituwa was the first Unega Gudagi.

The town’s warriors carried the War Fire when they went to war. Four days before a war party was to set off to war, the adawehi, who was the Chaplin, made a fire near the house of the war chief of the party. The fire was kept burning for the four days the warriors prepared themselves for war. On the fifth day, the coals of the fire was placed in a red clay pot with a carrying handle and carried with the war party as they went forth to do battle. It was the responsibility of the War Chief and the adawehi to see that the fire was taken care of and never allowed to go out. If the fire should go out for any reason while the war party was away from their town, they were to immediately return home in defeat. If the fire went out during battle, the War Chief called a retreat and the war party returned home. If a war party was engaged in battle and their defeat was imminent, it was the responsibility of the War Chief, the adawehi, or any warrior left alive to see that the fire pot was broken and the War Fire scattered so it would not fall into the hands of the enemy. If the fire was captured, the enemy could use it to bring about bad things to the town or tribe.

When a successful war party returned from the war path, warriors went to different osi of the war party and sat by the war fire and spent four days, drinking Gvnega Adatatsi, “Black Drink,” and fasted. On the fifth day, the members of the war party went to the river and performed “go to water” as a purification and put on new clothes, discarding all that had been worn during battle. They passed their weapons through the flames of the War Fire to purify them. Thus were all of the warriors and their weapons of war purified.

The adawehi and War Chief carried the fire pot into the Town House, followed by all of the members of the war party. The War Fire was added to the Sacred Fire, adding its power to the fire.


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Forming Clans

The word “clan” came from the Scots, as many of the word definitions in the Ani-Tsalagi language. But they referred to themselves as “people.” But for simple use of words, we will also use “clan.”

As the towns grew, they decided to start a system that could be handled within a town and also within the entire tribe. Each town had clans, they chose seven clans, seven being the sacred number. It is said by some that there were up to fourteen or more clans, but no one knows for sure.

Families were assigned to clans by the adawehi. Women were the head of each clan and their children belonged to their clan, and were to continue generation after generation. All members of a clan participated in all clan activities for all of their lives. A man would leave his wife and children to join his mother’s clan at all functions. Visiting men and women would join the clan of their mothers when visiting another town, for all clan members were kin. Clan law forbids intermarriage between clan members, no matter if they were in other towns through out the tribe.

Each clan member owed loyalty to another, extracting vengeance from all outsiders who wronged a clan member. When a member of the tribe or an outsider killed a clan member, clan law demanded blood for blood. Because of the unyielding law of blood for blood, murder was a seldom seen crime among the Ani-Tsalagi.

A man never raised his hand in anger to a woman for any reason. Death was the only acceptable punishment for a man who physically injured a woman. If a woman hit a man, he was either to stand or flee from the violence. A Tsalagi warrior could kill a woman warrior in combat, but no woman was to be molested or injured after the battle. There is no record in history of a Tsalagi warrior raping a woman. A Tsalagi warrior would kill his own father, brother, uncle or son before he would let him commit such a vile act.

No man or woman gave children corporal punishment. The only punishment given was ridicule by the children’s peers and any adult in the town. The anidawehi were the only ones empowered to give any type of physical punishment. Using a fish bone scratcher on them if he broke any religious or tribal laws, or he could be doused with cold water in front of the town’s people.

The women of the clan elected a clan member as their leader. There was a leader for each clan in each town. A woman, who was usually a War Woman, was elected as the leader of the Women’s Council. The seven clan leaders made up the town’s Women’s Council. The Women’s Council, with much discretion, over ride the decision of any chief. Any member of the town had the right to speak before a Women’s Council, but only a woman of the town had the right to vote. The leaders of each leader of a town’s Women Council represented her town in all National Councils. The leader of each Women’s Council elected a leader to lead all the women of the nation. The National Women’s Council was the most powerful group in the Ani-Tsalagi.

The Ugaya, “Seven Clan Society,” made up the clan system of the Ani-Tsalagi:

Ani-Waya — Wolf People
Ani-Awi — Deer People
Ani-Gadogewi — there is no literal translation and has been lost in antiquity.
Ani-Gilohi — abbreviation of Ani-Gitlvgvnahita, “Long Hair People.”
Ani-Sahohi — no literal translation.
Ani-Tsisqua — Bird People
Ani-Wodi — Paint People

There has been an addition of new clans in modern times that had never been heard of in the old day:

Ani-Gadutwi — Kituwa People
Ani-Gilogi — Panther People
Ani-Gitlahi — Long Hair People
Ani-Godagewi — Wild Potato People
Ani-Sohoni — Blue Holly People

There are other clans that has formed in different areas: Bear Clan, Blue People, Blue Paint People, Hair People, Red Paint People.

Use of “people” and not “clan” does sound better and more like our people.


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Family Dwellings

The main house of a family was a compact, sturdily built dwelling. The average ehu, “dwelling,” or gotsadi, “house,” was about twenty feet long and twelve feet wide. It was constructed by placing a row of spaces between the posts close to one another. The spaces between the posts were filled tightly with small tree limbs and vines. The entire wall, inside and out, was then plastered over with mud and grass. When the plaster dried, both sides of the walls were whitewashed. The gabled roof was covered with bark. The interior of the house was furnished with couches and stools covered with animal hides. Rugs of woven hemp, painted on both sides with figures of birds and animals, covered the dirt floors. The house was used to store personal equipment, extra clothing, pots, baskets, bows and arrows, blowguns and other items. The house was seldom used by the family during good weather. They preferred to remain outdoors during the day and sleep outside at night. Many referred to the main dwelling as their winter house.

The Ani-Tsalagi was a matriarchal people and women owned all of the real goods. The woman’s brothers and mother’s brothers built the houses.

Each family had an asi, named after fire, in which the family used for family gatherings. The asi was also used for sleeping during the coldest nights. The asi was a circular structure about ten to fifteen feet in diameter. The floor was dug down about two to three feet and the walls made of upright logs buried into the ground. These were then plastered with clay. The roof was made with smaller logs and covered with bark. Dirt was piled on top of the roof. The ceiling was not high enough for a person to stand upright. There were no windows and only a small door was made facing the south. It was through this door that light and people entered, and smoke and people exited. A fire was in the center of the asi, and when not burning brightly, it was covered with ashes and left to smolder.

Couches were arranged around the walls in the asi with animal skins for bedding. During cold weather the asi was the favorite place for the old men to gather and tell stories and give lectures to the young.

The third building to make up the family complex was the unawadali, “storehouse” where dried produce and dried meat was kept. Farm tools were also stored in the unawadali. Each family had their own storehouse to store the food they raised or hunted. There was also a larger town storehouse to store food to be used by the entire village in case of need. All families gave a portion of their food to the storage system, its contents to be used by any person or family who became poor and destitute for any reason. No person was assigned to receive, or to distribute the food. A person had to share. A person took what they needed.

To round out the family home place was a large lean-to with open walls and a roof covered with bark and grass. This was the cooking area. The oven for cooking was just outside the lean-to. This was an area used most by a Tsalagi family, especially during the summer and good days of winter. Alisdayvdi gasgito, “table and benches and furniture in general,” were located in convenient places to conduct family business. This furniture could be moved under the lean-to during inclement weather.


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An important part of family facilities was the tlogesi, “field,” where their crops would be raised. Only women had field rights. Ownership was merely a “right to use” a certain section of the town’s field. Those rights were passed down from mother to daughter. Men had no rights to the land, only to help his wife and his mother to work the fields. His rights came by his wife or mother cooking the food for him to eat. These rights came from the female line for the Ani-Tsalagi was a matriarchal society.

Near the lagesidv, “edge of field,” of the family there was located a small tool storage shed. These sheds dotted the rest of the town fields.

The main tools were the galagadi, “hoe”; agodesdi, “spade”; agodea, “shovel”; dagalosti, “stick,” with a uilata, “sharp tip of a stick.”

The main crops that were grown were selu, “corn”; duya, “bean”; iya, “pumpkin”; watsigu, “squash”; duta, “potato”; and duyvsti, “peas” to name a few.

The most important crop they grew was selu. From corn they made some of their most important meals. The use of corn and how it was prepared would make a book. Kanaheni, “sour corn mush”; seludadu, “corn bread”; kanahena, “corn gruel”; seluesi, “corn meal”; selugusesa, “parched corn”; gahawesita, “parched corn meal”; uganasta, “corn meal pudding”; selu asugeda, “corn dough”; and tsalugi, “corn roasting ear.” Gahawesita was the foodstuff that warriors took on the warpath with them. They added water to the corn meal and drank it.

Agiwela, “The Old Woman,” was corn used in prayers. This term alone gives the importance of the crop.


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Tribal Government

After towns had been formed, a system of consolidation was devised so that all the towns were brought under one head. This tribal government was a very loose confederation of towns at best. The one thing that kept the towns under the control of the Ugu was the Atsila Galvkawetiyu, “Sacred Fire.” All knew that the Sacred Fire was located where the power was, no matter where that town was located.

The towns sent their delegates to elect an Ugu, “Head Chief,” of all the chiefs. The tribe was divided into Red and White Societies, each having a chief, the War Chief for the Red Society and the Peace Chief for the White Society.

To aid the Ugu, that was an anaska, “council,” to assist him, which were made up of seven counselors, one elected from each of the seven clans in the tribe, a council of elder men and elder women, the tribal Women’s Council, the Greatly Beloved Woman, a Speaker of the Tribal Council, a judicial system of elders elected by the people, seven messengers, and several Anidawehi as advisers and conductors of religious ceremonies.

The Tribal Council met in the principal town where the Sacred Fire was located. The first town was Kituwas, located on the east side of the Great Smokey Mountains. The last great town was Itsati, located on the west side of the Great Smokey Mountains along the Little Tennessee River.


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Leaders in the Ani-Tsalagi were not called “chief” in the old days. That came primarily from the Scots, who had chiefs among their clans and towns. There were no “kings,” for all of our people were elected into office and held it at the pleasure of the people.

It is reported in history that the English tried to appoint a headman to the role of “emperor” or “king.” The leader of the people was called the ugu (oo-koo), which could be translated as “head man.” The ugu was a man named Moytoy from the Gadusideli town of Tellico. The English were disgusted with the republic type government of the Ani-Tsalagi because they could not find one leader to deal with. John P. Brown, in his book OLD FRONTIERS, reported that Englishman, Sir Alexander, started referring to Moytoy as the Emperor. The other leaders and warriors didn’t much care what the English called him. He was still just an elected ugu, not a king. When Moytoy died in 1730, his son, Amausga Osdv, “Bad Water,” written by the English as Amo-Sossite, said he would follow his father and demanded he now be called the “Emperor.” the men laughed and said he could call himself anything he wanted. They went on about their business and elected Kanagatoga, “Standing Turkey,” as the ugu.

“Chief” will be used at times. It also should be remembered that it is difficult to impossible to literally translate some things to English.

As the towns grew, new leaderships had to be formed. Towns were formed with a leader in each town. They were called vganuweuwe (v-ga-noo-way-oo-way), which was the abbreviation of asgaya yvwiyvwi, “very important person.” They also elected a danawagaweuwe, “war chief.”

The Ani-Taslagi at one time had towns on both sides of the Allegany Mountains, from north of present day Georgia and Alabama up to Virginia. When the English came, the tribe had lost hundreds of thousands of their people to European diseases. They had been reduced to both sides of the Great Smokey Mountains. By the time the English started writing the history of the Ani-Tsalagi, their main groups of towns were Gatusideli Anigadugi, “Over-the-hill Towns,” located on the western side of the Great Smokey Mountains in present day Tennessee; uwatladi Anigadugi, “Valley Towns,” located in the lower part of the mountains of present day North Carolina. There were other smaller groups of towns scattered throughout present day Tennessee and Kentucky.

All towns had an vganuweuwe, who was called a “Town Chief,” and a danawagaweue, “war chief.” The true leader of the town was whoever was the stronger of the two.


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Red and White Organizations

Each town was divided in two groups, Talalewequa, “Peace,” called Unega, “White,” and Danawa, “War,” called Geigagei, “Red.” The White group was to argue for peace in councils at all times. The Red group was to argue for war at all times. Both groups would pursue the edict they were to promote with all the passion they could muster. Whenever the vote called for war, the people making up the White group would stop all talk of peace and join their brothers to support the war effort. If called to war, the warrior of the White group went to war. Some of the greatest warriors on the warpath were members of the White group. If the vote was for peace, the Red group would cease talk of war and put up their atsa, “war clubs,” and join the White warrior in a peace dance. Each group would follow the edict of the council.

Each town had two leaders; a Tlalequanuguweasu, “Peace Chief,” or “White Chief,” and a Danawanuguweasu, “War Chief,” or “Red Chief.” Usually the Peace Chief was an older, more mature man. He was also considered the Civil Chief and handled the day-to-day problems of the town. But the chief with the strongest personality became the dominant leader. The members of their town, both men and women voting, elected both of the chiefs.

The position of War Chief was the hardest to keep. When the warriors went on a small warpath, they would elect a war chief for that attack. If the warriors on the warpath felt a War Chief had done wrong and gotten too many of his people killed, they would kick him out of his office on the spot and elect a new War Chief. He was forced to give up his war drum and whistle. The warriors could, without fear of clan reprisals, kill the unlucky chief in a fit of anger. They would elect a new war chief and continue the mission. The Ani-Tsalagi was noted for their outstanding War Chiefs. Only the best survived. The War Chief was also charged with handling all foreign diplomacy.

The clans of each town send a delegation, elected by the people, to the National Council. These delegates elected an ugu for all the people. The ugu was the head chief of all the chiefs. Some later recorded him with a new title of Nuguweasu Yvganuweuwe, “Principal Chief.” It meant the same thing, only the English word “principal” seems to have more meaning of power, which is a little naive. The delegation also elected the Nation’s Peace Chief and War Chief. All citizens who wished to come and vote with the elected delegates could do so. No one could deny a Tsalagi man or woman the right to choose their leader.

Although the entire tribe elected the Ugu, Tribal War Chief and Tribal Peace Chief, there was no absolute authority for the Tsalagi. The independent people had one of the purest democracies with an elected representative republic in the history of man. All people, men and women could vote on any and all things dealing with their tribe. There were no slaves: tribal law forbade it.

Each town was governed as a city-state with its loyalties centered first and foremost on the the Sacred Fire in its own Town House. Yet each town was always loyal to the Sacred Fire for the tribe, no matter which town it was located. The tribal Sacred Fire could never be denounced. The first Sacred Fire was located in Kituwa. It was moved west, across the Great Smokey Mountains as the Europeans encroached on Ani-Tsalagi lands. There was great fear that the white people would put out the fire. The Sacred Fire was brought to Itsati, which the English called Chota, which was located on the south bank of the Little Tennessee River.

A town voted as a body whether it wished to participate with the rest of the Tribe. Each individual decided for himself whether he would participate with the rest of the town. No one ever thought of calling a fellow Tsalagi a traitor to his people because he didn’t go along with the rest of the people, for the Tsalagai were the most patriotic people who ever banded together to form a nation. Great warriors did not go in a war because of some personal reason.

There were two tribal Council of Elders, one made up of women and one made up of men. These tribal Elders were advisors to the Ugu and his staff. Each town had a Council of Elders. The Ani-Tsalagi had a great respect for age, the age of experience being considered as wisdom.

Elections were held on a regular basis. Chiefs who held their positions for many years did so because of their ability and the respect of their people. There were no hereditary positions in the Ani-Tsalagi tribe. There are no indications that there ever were any.

One title, which was given by the people, could be held for life. That title was Agigaue, “Beloved Woman.” The title could be earned by a woman who, over the years, had done great things for her town, people or tribe. The second way for a woman to earn the title was as a reward in battle through bravery in battle as a War Woman. No matter what the official status in other positions, as a Beloved Woman, she was at all times the most powerful and respected woman in a Tsalagi town. Her title was respected in every town she visited. She had the deciding say over the status of all captives, giving directions of who would die, by knife of the gauntlet, who would be ransomed and who would be adopted. She could override any decision made by anyone in her town. She usually used the veto power with much restraint and discretion, for those who gave the title could also take it away.

A higher title of Agigaue was Chigau, “Greatly Beloved Woman,” who was the Beloved Woman of the entire tribe. She was the leader of all the tribe’s Beloved Women, and she sat in the National Council. No Ugu, or any other man, had the power of a Greatly Beloved Woman in her many powers in Tsalagi life. She could personally veto the decisions of the Tribal Council, which she did not often do. Usually when she was upset by a decision, a Greatly Beloved Woman, to keep from causing dissension among her people, would go her own way, as was her right.


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The War Women

There was an Ani-Gitlugvhita, also called Ani-Gilahi, “Long Hair Society, or War Women,” in every town. These War Women could join a war party if they so wished. A young war woman would go to war with the same articles of clothing as the men, front apron, moccasins, put on war paint, and carry her favorite weapon. The only way to distinguish a War Woman at a distance was by her hair which grew full and long.

Women who had so much power in the tribe were denied some rights. A woman, no matter her position or titles, could be an adawehi, a War Chief, Peace Chief, or the Ugu.


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Warriorship and War Titles

A boy was trained to the hunt until he reached puberty. Most of his training on the hunt in his early years was given by his mother. It was for her and the family cooking pot that they hunted in the inagei, forest” for tsisqua, “birds,” saloli, “squirrel,” tsisdu, “rabbit,” and other food stuffs such as, wadulsi, “honey,” and tsahi, “nuts.” They could catch unoga, “bass fish,” tsulistanuyi “catfish,” and tsunaga, “trout, out of the equani, “river.” Of course, what boy could not help but have fun in the family tsiyu, “canoe” when fishing.

After a boy past puberty his training became more in the line of warrior ship. He took from his childhood what he had learned about hunting, tracking, marksmanship with weapons, and all his experiences and used them in a new hunt for men and war titles. This was the time he learned to hunt larger game animals, yona, “bear,” awi, “deer,” and yvsv, “bison.”

Becoming a warrior was the foremost thought in every Tsalagi boy’s mind. He may become an adawehi, or a galotsadi, “bow,” guni, “arrow,” maker, or learn some other craft or trade, but he would always become an ayasistigi, “fighting man, or warrior.” The Ani-Tsalagi was not a tribe who lived for war. They were rather a tribe of warriors whose greatest profession in life was that of warrior hood.

Every man would die, and many did, to attain the rank of Ayastigi. A boy who refused to become a warrior, and there were not many, was called Usgianu, “Woman Like,” and was banned from the tribe. His life was in danger from his clan members for him to dishonor them so. A man may not become anything more than just a good warrior, because not many men could be a master of all things, but as long as a man tried to be a warrior, he was fully accepted by his people.

The first title an Ayastigi received was Dayugidasgi, “Captive Catcher.” This was the ultimate for a warrior and considered higher than one that atsisti, “killed,” an enemy to become an asgayadihi, “man killer.” Every warrior was supposed to kill the enemy. When the Europeans arrived and started paying for scalps, a new title was formed called Uskanigaludi, “Taking his blood head,” or “Scalping.”

Other war titles were elected or appointed titles or positions. A war party of a large size was quite an elaborate organization. The town’s War Chief, or the war party could elect a War Chief, led the operation. Second in command to the War Chief was Utsidihi, which is an old term alluding to Asgayadihi, “Mankiller.” Only a warrior who was Asgayadihi could be a war leader of any kind. An adawehi, acting as Chaplin and Keeper of the Fires, was part of the staff. The others were a Katata Genetsi, “Standard-bearer,” a Dunigoti, “Surgeon,” and Datsidahi, “Runners, or Messengers.”

The War Chief of the Tribe had a large staff. The Head War Chief of the Tribe was called Equayastigi, “Great Warrior.” His staff consisted of the Utsidihi, seven Counselors of War, made up of women and men warriors, several members of the Long Hair Society as advisors, who may or may not go on the warpath with the army; an Adawehi, “Chaplin,” a Dunigoti, “Surgeon,” with three assistants, several messengers, scouts, and the Etsisu, “Quartermaster,” who was in charge of all rations and also carried the sacred War Pack of the Ani-Tsalagi.

A warrior who betrayed his men or did anything to get someone killed, was usually executed on the spot. If it was the War chief, he was deposed of his position and stripped of all titles, his war drum and war whistle were taken from him, and he was given a boy’s name. If this happened to any warrior, he had to rise in standing again, starting below the Ayastigi rank. Only the best dared to become a leader.

The women of the Ani-Tsalagi were as proud as their men. A Tsalagi mother would rather see her son brought home dead a hero than alive as an Usgianu, “Coward.”

When a war chief wanted to go to war, he marched three times around the Atadedawasdodi, “War Pole.” After the dance, the warrior went into the asi of the war chief, or asi surrounding it of other members of the war party. The men remained for four days, abstaining from sex and all food, drinking only Gvnega Adatasti, “Black Drink,” prepared by an adawehi. The black drink, made of leaves of yupon, was used as a purger. It made the warriors immune to arrows and increased their bravery. At the end of the fast, the warrior put on the danawa wodi, “war paint,” the War Chief got his adasqualunesdodi, “war stick, or staff,” another dance was held and they took to the danawanuehi, “war path.”

The only food carried by a warrior was a leather bag of gahawistia, “corn that had been soaked, parched, and pounded into a meal.” A warrior added water to the gahawistia and drank it. For the rest of his food, the warrior lived off the “fat of the land.” A Tsalagi warrior was a tall, lean fighting machine.

The warrior performed Idigawesdi, “War Song,” before he went into battle. He sang it aloud or under his breath, according to the situation. He might symbolically amiayi dilatiyi, “the act of going to water by splashing themselves seven times” by applying his own saliva to his face, chest and upper body if no water was available. A personal charm was carried to ward off the enemy gani, “arrow.” All warriors wore Danawa Wodi, “War Paint.” All wore an ataga, “medicine bag,” taken from the mythical Medicine Lake, Atagahi. War Paint was made from many things, many different colors of paint from different sources, the juice of fungus, from the neck gland of a lizard, from a species of butterfly that flies fast, grease fat from animals and birds a warrior thought might have qualities to aid him in battle. An adawehi was always called upon to aid in the selection of the proper wodi. This was a personal moment and each warrior held the mix to the rising sun, recited his favorite saying four times and blew his breath on the wodi. One color was always used by a warrior, gvnega, “black,” the color of death and defeat. Gigagei, “red,” was for war and victory. Red was usually the base for all danawa wodi.

When a war party returned, their first act was to see that the war fire was disposed of properly. Captives were turned over to the women of the town, who had control of all prisoners. Then the warriors removed any clothing they wore on the warpath and spent four days drinking black drink in an asi. On the fourth day, all would atawetiyi, “go to water” by dipping under seven times. They would destroy all clothing worn on the warpath by fire. In this manner they purified themselves of all disease and aggression picked up on the warpath and while in foreign countries. The Ani-Tsalagi believed that other tribes also had anidawehi who had the power to infect their tribe with diseases to befall raiding enemies.

On the fourth day after they returned from war, there were several dances in the Town House. The dancing may last for several days and nights. They started off with the Unikawi Vlasgita, “Town House Dance,” and then have a Dalenaheda Vlasgita, “Victory Dance.” There was always a Danawa Vlasgita, “War Dance,” for all of those who could not get the war out of their blood. There was a Utsinaga Vlasgita, “Scalp Dance.” The warrior who brought back a scalp for his mother, wife, sister, or sweetheart would mount the scalp on a forked stick. The skin of the scalp would be painted red. The woman would hold the scalp up on the stick as they danced.

During the dances, each warrior danced out an act of his part in the battle. It became the burden of the head singer to come up with a song. At this time, many warriors were given a new name. The warrior may ask for a new name or he may be given one. This would be done in a Dudoa Vlasgita, “Naming or Named Dance,” for those who were given new names for some event that happened during a battle. A Tsalagi warrior may have as many as five or six names in his lifetime. Names were important to a Tsalagi and were an extension of himself. As he changed, so changed his name.

A Tsalagi warrior would travel over a thousand miles, suffering all kinds of deprivation, to gain a new name or do battle for the love of fighting. He would go on the path or war, suffering hunger and cold for weeks to right an injustice done him or his people. This warrior, who never struck his woman or any other woman, his child, who was never known in history to have raped an enemy’s woman, and went out of his way to keep from hurting a man’s feelings, was one of the most ruthless and feared men to ever go upon the warpath. He practiced victory cannibalism in his moment of might over his enemy, eating a piece of heart or liver, adding the power of a great warrior to his own. He gave no quarter. He asked no quarter.

The women decided the fate of each captive, the Beloved Woman taking charge of the activities. She would have the last say, no matter who was chief of the Women’s Society or chief of the Long Haired Society. The captives were placed in three categories; for ransom, for adoption, or for death. Ransom was the most profitable and the manner in which most captives were handled. Adoption replaced lost sons and daughters. Most American Indian tribes knew nothing of discrimination. Those adopted people, once they had stayed with the tribe for a long period, was allowed to come and go as they pleased, and given the rights and privileges of a Tsalagi. Some returned to their original tribe, and some remained to be Taslagi for the remainder of their lives.

Death satisfied the vengeance-loving Tsalagi, who were great believers in blood for blood. Death meant torture. Women and children were never tortured or burnt at the stake. The honors for Oyohusa Atsila, “Death by Fire,” at the stake was left to adult male warriors.

A male prisoner was called Dahugi. The prisoner condemned for death was stripped of all clothing, marked upon his chest with blue stripes and given bearskin moccasins with the hair turned out. He was then painted black, the color of death and defeat, from head to foot. With all of this accomplished, he was ready for his trial as a warrior.

Before a captive warrior made it to the stake where he was tortured and then burnt to death, he must run the Ayelti, “Gauntlet.” Forming two lines of people facing each other made the gauntlet. The people mainly women and children, armed themselves with sticks, whips of rawhide or any other weapon was used without killing the man. At the end of the line stood the stake. When a captive finished his run of the gauntlet, he was taken to the stake and his hands tied behind his back. A rawhide rope was tied around his neck and to the post. He was allowed enough slack to move about. While the captive was tied to the stake, he was forced to suffer the most horrible kinds of torture. The women did most of the torture, aided by young boys at times, to fulfill their vengeance against the enemy for loss of some member of the family. The captive was tortured until he died. When he was pronounced dead, wood was piled around the stake and he was given Oyohusa Atsila, “Death By Fire.”

The gauntlet and stake served two purposes. It allowed the people, mainly the older mothers and fathers who could no longer go to war, to vent their anger and passion out on a hated enemy. The second function allowed the captive warrior, who had not a chance to fight back, to show his warrior hood by reacting bravely to the pain and fear of the certain death he had to face. They were expected to conduct themselves as such. A man, who stood singing his death song, and who showed extraordinary bravery was talked about in story and song for years.


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When a Tsalagi dealt in an act of diplomacy, he became very deliberate, grave in his dealings and courteous. The ambassador appeared before the council and presented greetings from his people to the other tribe. He smoked a pipe of tobacco with all assembled, and then informed the council he would come before them at a certain time to discuss a certain matter of importance with them. This would give the council time to discuss the matter with their people and among themselves. Unless it was extremely urgent, no business was ever discussed the first day.

The ambassador went before the council and presented the council with a white wampum. Strings of white beads were attached to a belt used as emphasis for each important point to be discussed. No matter what the decision of the two tribes were to be, the white wampum was left as a token of friendship and trust to the visited tribe.

White wampum was usually made from small cylindrical beads made of white polished shells.


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Immunity of Ambassadors

The immunity of ganuseda, “ambassador,” was held sacred. Any ambassador was free to travel through Ani-Tsalagi country on a mission, even if that ambassador was from a country at war with the Ani-Tsalagi. His passport was his white Peace Pipe or black War Hatchet and his wampum belt. No ambassador was to be slowed or stopped on his mission. An ambassador could travel freely without fear of harm or of being robbed of his valuable wampum, or of being held captive for ransom. The penalty for molesting or delaying an ambassador in any manner among all tribes was death. A white pipe or black hatchet would gain an ambassador entrance into any Town House for food and rest.

Wampum was a valuable article among every tribe. Wampum was used as history beads, as a measure of trade, and between tribes to conduct business.


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Marriage and Divorce

Marriage was a simple affair. A man would bring firewood to a prospective bride’s home and leave it beside the oven. If the woman accepted the marriage, she cooked a meal with the wood and invited him to eat. He then moved his personal belongings to her home and they set up housekeeping. If it were a young couple, the man would take the wood to her mother’s home. After four days the womans’ family would cook a feast and invite the new husband’s family to dinner. Men would marry around fourteen to sixteen years and girls around fourteen years of age. It did not matter about the age of either mate, for younger men married experienced women with property.

If the new bride had no home of her own, her brothers and uncles would build her one on land assigned by her mother. The man could help, or go off hunting or to war. It was not his responsibility to provide her a home.

All children of a family belonged to the mother’s clan. The husband did not concern himself with his wife’s children, whether he fathered them or not. He served as father figure to his sister’s children, as his wife’s brothers did for their sisters’ children. The original word for uncle in Tsalagi is Edutsi, an abbreviated form for “mother’s brother.” When a mother did not have a brother, then other male members of her family or clan acted as a father figure. If a man and his wife’s son became friends, it was not forbidden for the husband to help train or fight along side the son in battle or along the hunt.

To the Ani-Tsalagi, marriage was a contract between a man and a woman, not made in Heaven or in the Tribe’s name.

Divorce was even less involved than marriage. When a husband and wife decided to part company, the man merely took his personal belongings and departed. If the wife became angry, she could, without any discussion with her spouse, place all of his belongings outside the door and the marriage was terminated. A newly divorced man could go to the home of his mother or to one of his sisters. He would remain there, helping them in any effort they requested, until he found another mate. A man and a woman averaged five or six marriages in a lifetime.

Under the strict matriarchal system of inheritance of property, women and children in the Ani-Tsalagi society were always taken care of no matter what happened to the men in their lives. Men did not concern themselves with the fact that they were aiding a woman with children not his own. To a Tsalagi man, all children were his to protect and provide for during their childhood. All men knew that while he was taking care of another man’s children, someone else was providing for his.

A child’s uncle was his or her most important contact with a man. No one denied a man contact with his own children. In a society as close as the Ani-Tsalagi, a man and his son could not help but be together during their lives. It just meant that sometimes they lived in different houses, or even in different towns.

Incest was strictly forbidden. No member could marry any blood relative down to and including second cousins. It was considered incest for members of the same clan to marry. Incest could cause death to the parties involved.

No man would physically abuse a woman for any reason. To do so meant his death, either by her brothers or by the men in her clan. Her brothers belonged to her clan. If a woman became angered at her husband or any other man, he was to stand and take the beating without injuring her, only raising his hands in personal defense. If she was stronger or as strong as he, the man had better hope that he could out run her and stay out of her way until she cooled off.

Rape of any woman, in their own tribe or that of an enemy, meant a man’s death. There was no question asked, there was no response given. It would be done.


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Tobacco Pipes

One of the most sacred messengers up above to Unequa, “great Being,” is tsolv, “tobacco.” This was literally called Tsunalugi, “Rising Smoke.” Tobacco grew wild in the Ani-Tsalagi area and there were special men and women who could gather the crop. This tobacco was called tsolv agayvli, “old tobacco.” It was against tribal law for a Tsalagi man or woman to grow tobacco. They could either gather wild tobacco or trade it from a tribe that had the power to grow such a sacred item. Without proper powers there were many things that an Ani-Tsalagi member was not allowed to do.

Tsolvgayvli, “Ancient Tobacco,” was used in prayers. There were two important pipes used for tsolv and Tsolvgayvli, the Gununawa, “Ceremonial Pipe,” and the Dayohi Gununaway, “Peace Pipe.”

The women in the Ani-Tsalagi had much power and many privileges. Two privileges they did not have was to use the Ceremonial Pipe or the Peace Pipe. I was taught that if a woman touched a pipe, she had killed it and it was to be taken in the forest and buried, never to be used again.

The pipe for all people, both men and women, was the usvdoni gunanawe. Both men and women in healing ceremonies or just to relax and send smoke up to Unequa could use this pipe.

There were many things sacred to the Ani-Tsalagi, but not many things were as sacred as tobacco and pipes. The pipe was used to settle war. The pipe was used for ceremonies to send up prayers to Asgaya Galvlati, Unequa, “Man Above, Great Being.”

The pipes were made from soapstone, gathered from the mountainside, and a highly prized stone from west of the Great Lakes. The stem was of ataya, “oak,” the principal wood, or atsina, “cedar.”

The Peace Pipe hung in a prominent position on the center pole of every Gaduyi, “town house,” at all times when the people were at peace. The pipe was taken down and encased in white deerskin when the people were at war. Then the Danawa Ahi Galuyasti, “Ceremonial War Hatchet,” took its place on the center pole.


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The Ceremonial War Hatchet

The Danawa Ahi Galuyasti, “Ceremonial War Hatchet,” was black, the emblematic color of death. The stone head was usually made of obsidian or other black stone, and the handle was of black wood or painted black. There are stories that some war hatchets, head and handle, were made completely of obsidian. The Ceremonial War Hatchet was a symbol of war and was never used as an ax for any reason.

When the people were at war, the Ceremonial War Hatchet hung on the center pole in place of the Peace Pipe.


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Take Up The Hatchet

If the matter of diplomacy concerned war, the ambassador or War Chief of a town or the tribe, would list the many acts of aggression of the offending tribe. He would also point out the kindness his tribe had shown the other people, and how they had been rebuked and abused for their goodness. When the ambassador felt he had gotten his points across and had done all the good possible, he would end his presentation by placing the war hatchet and black wampum belt in the center of the assembly. His job was finished. All he could do was seat himself and wait.

The assembled chiefs considered whether they wished to lead their town or tribe to war or not. If any chief wished to go to war, he would pick up the black war ax and black wampum. No words were needed, the act saying it all. Each chief wishing to go to war followed the chief with the black wampum. Chiefs whose people voted against war remained seated. If the entire tribe voted for war, the Great War Chief would take up the emblems of war. If no one wished to take up the hatchet and wampum, the ambassador or War Chief retrieved his badges of authority and returned to his own tribe or town.


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Bury The Hatchet

To end a war, an ambassador came before the Tribal Council and placed the white peace pipe and white wampum in the center of the assembly. If peace was accepted, the chiefs picked up the pipe and white wampum. The pipe was then smoked, each smoker blowing a puff of smoke to the four winds, up above, down below and here in the center.

The War Chief would take down the war hatchet from the center of the Town House, wrap it in black skin and bury it in the Town House floor. It would remain there until war was again declared. To the Ani-Tsalagi, when the hatchet was buried, war was buried as well. The hot tempered young aniyastigi, “warriors,” could go off and vent their spleen on the other young warriors of other tribes if they so desired, not involving their tribe or town in such acts.


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Traders and Merchants

Traders and merchants traveled afar, using the many paths that crisscrossed the Indian nations. Like the ambassador, the trader’s right to travel unmolested was sacred. No matter what the political situation, the economy could not be disturbed any more than necessary because the entire people could suffer. An enemy’s traders were allowed to pass through the Tsalagi Nation. Any person who hindered their travel or did them harm would have to answer to his clansmen.

Most roads used for long distance travel were ancient animal trails. Anywhere the great bison could travel, man could traverse with ease. The main trade route on the western side of the Allegheny Mountains was called the Great War Path. The trail ran north and south through the Tsalagi Nation. This high road to adventure was used more often as a trade route than a path for men on their way to war. Over this trail came the red pipe stone from the north. Also from the north, around the Great Lakes region, came copper to make earrings and nose rings, bracelets, and arrow points. Conch shells came from the coast, and cotton from as far as the plains region west of the Mississippi River.

Traders ranged far and wide, using trade jargon or sign language to communicate. In the area of the Ani-Tsalagi, the trade language was called Choctaw Trade Language, a Muskogee language. When the language could not be spoken, the trader switched to the universal sign language. The barter system or strings of wampum were used as the most prominent medium of exchange.


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Craftsmen and Industrial Arts

Craftsmen were held in high esteem. Amateur craftsmen joined experts in producing crafts to learn a chosen craft. Each craft was protected by tribal laws and customs. A bow maker made only the bow. An arrow maker made only arrows. Crafts and labor was divided among many, there never being an over abundance of members of one craft and the lacking of another.

One of the chief means of transportation of the Ani-Tsalagi was by canoe. Each town had hundreds on the river banks near their town. It took about six months to make a canoe. The favorite tree to use making the Tsiyu (Jee-yoo), “canoe,” was the tulip poplar tree. Tsiyu is also the word for the tulip poplar tree.

Galvna (Ga-lv-na), “gourds,” made containers for carrying and storage, and were easy for most amateurs to prepare.

Women wove feathers into beautiful cloaks and skirts. All men and women were good at curing and preparing skins for use in clothing.

Dolvtsa (Daw-lv-ja), “baskets,” were made from split cane and morning glory vines. The Tsalagi made their baskets double walled, making them stronger than normal. Waterproofed baskets were also made for cooking and carrying water. Tar from natural sources and tree sap were used to waterproof the baskets.

The rivers in Tsalagi country had some of the best clays for making pottery. The potters used the coiled clay system. The color of the pot was determined by the type of wood used in firing as well as color added to the clay.

Bows were made from locust wood. Oak, ash, and hickory were also used. The Galotsadi (Ga-law-ja-dee), “Bow,” was from five to six feet long. Strings made from the gut of bear, buffalo, elk and woodchuck hide were among the favorites. Some string was also made from wild hemp. A good bow would pull about fifty to seventy-five pounds and send an arrow about two hundred and fifty yards.

Dagaledati (Da-ga-lay-da-tee), or Gvni (Gv-nee), “Arrows,” were made of cane or sour-wood. They were about thirty-one inches long with fletchings made of two turkey feathers laid on the opposite sides of the shaft.

The Tugawesiti (Too-ga-way-see-tee), “Blowgun,” was made from cane. The solid sections were removed by splitting the cane and then gluing it together, or it was burned out by using a rod or hardwood and a coal from a fire. Tugawesiti Gitsi (Too-ga-way-see-tee Gee-jee), “Blowgun darts, or arrows,” were made of sour-wood or locust and were about twelve inches long. They were fletched with thistle down.

The favorite weapon of the Tsalagi, the Atasi (A-ta-see), “War Club,” was made of hickory or oak. The Tsalagi did not make their war clubs in the manner of their Iroquois cousins, but made a shaft of wood and used a stone head.


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The Tsalagi, male and female, young and old, were avid gamesters and gamblers. They would wager on any contest. Since games were so important in the everyday life of the Tsalagi, most of the major games were controlled by the Anidawehi. There were important religious rituals before each game, some were simple, short ceremonies, and others were long, involved ceremonies that took days to accomplish.

The most important game of the Tsalagi was Anetsa (A-nay-ja), “Little brother to war,” the ball game. Anetsa had a long, involved religious ceremony that all players were required to follow. It had a vigorous physical training program, which was coached by an adawehi. The game had three important functions. One, it was played for sport. Two, it was used as a toughener for war. Three, it was played as an arbitrator between towns of the Tsalagi Nation, and even towns of other tribes.

Anetsa was also used as a training ground for the art of hand-to-hand combat. The Tsalagi warrior preferred the war club and close with the enemy over all other ways of fighting.

The game was dangerous and rough, hence its name. Men were killed in the games, and men suffered broken limbs and skulls in every game. Each town in the Nation had at least one team.

The field of play for anetsa was about one hundred twenty yards long and seventy-five yards wide. The object of the game was to carry or throw the ball the length of the field and place it through a goal marked by two poles at the end of the field. There were goals at each end of the field, one goal defended by each team.

The male players used two hickory Anetsa Tagalode (A-nay-ja Ta-ga-law-day), “Ball Sticks.” Each were about twenty-four to thirty inches long, a hoop at one end, about hand size, strung into a net with a leather thong or hemp. The sticks were used to carry the ball or to be used in any manner the player desired. A male player could not touch the ball with his hands. Women played the game with the males. A female player did not use ball sticks and was allowed to touch the ball with her hands and use them in any manner she wished. The ball was hand size, made of a small leather pouch stuffed with deer hair or feathers of birds.

Each team had two drivers who made sure the few rules were not violated. They carried long hickory switches to help enforce those rules. No player would dare object to the use of those long switches, either during the game or seek vengeance later. Betting on the games was a heavy and serious matter. Sometimes a disappointed or angered bettor was known to kill all of the losing players. A game seldom ever passed that as many spectators were injured or killed as were the players. Anetsa and betting had nothing to do with honor, only with winning! Let those who would bet or play in a game beware.

The score of the game could be set as low as ten points or as high as one hundred. There was no time limit. It has been reported that there have been games that lasted as long as two days and nights with no outs or pauses. There were no substitutes in the game and if a player took a break, the team must play on without him. If a player was taken out by an injury, there was no one to take his place and his services were lost.

Religious ceremonies in preparation of anetsa were very serious and strict rules of ritual were followed. The night before the game, the players gathered in different osi in the town, fasting and drinking Gusga Adatatsi (Goo-s-ga A-da-ta-jee), “Black Drink.” The following morning at dawn, all of the players would go to the running stream where they would be scratched on the legs by an Anidawehi with fishbone scratchers or bone scratchers. Since the scratching was not for some religious remembrance or religious violation, the snake-tooth scratchers were not used. After the scratching, such severe blood was drawn, the players waded out into the stream where they performed Amawetiyi (Go to Water) by dipping themselves under seven times while facing the rising sun.

When the players returned to the river bank, they were painted with charcoal from a tree that had been struck by lightening. This charcoal could be gotten only by an adawehi, for anything struck by lightening was sacred and a fearful place. This paint gave the player the ability to strike their opponents with the force of a thunderbolt. Some of the players would rub turtle meat upon their legs to assure them of strength and stamina in their legs. All players would abstain from touching or eating rabbit meat, which caused confusion when running, or any other food that might cause them to have bad qualities for playing ball.

Tsvge (Jv-gay) prounced Tsunge by the whites, taken from the word Tsugayuyi (Joo-ga-yoo-yee), “They are running,” was one of the most popular games of the Tsalagi in which individuals competed against each other. The tsvge yard was called Tsvgeyi (Jv-gay-yee). The game was played by men and boys using a tsvge disk of stone and a tsvge casting spear.

The tsvge stone was a work of art that might take a man years to make to his satisfaction. A warrior would make at least one in his life time for a son, or a favored nephew. The stone was five to seven inches in diameter, one to one and one half inches thick, and concave on both sides. It was perfectly smooth, shaped to fit the palm of the hand, and balanced and rounded to roll on the smooth tsvgeyi. The casting spear was about seven feet long, marked in spaces for measuring throws and pointed so that it would stick in the ground.

To play the game, the tsvge stone was rolled in a straight line or a wide circle. Two or more players ran after the stone disc and cast the casting spear near where they thought the disc would stop. The spear nearest to where the disc stopped won the game.

The importance of the tsvge can be determined by the fact that the tsvge yard was the first project of building a new town after the Mound and Town House were finished. Also the tsvge stone was one of the few personal objects that was free from the custom of burial with its owner, stones being passed down from father to son, generation after generation.

A legend says that the inventor of tsvge, who was also an avid gambler, once bet his wife on the results of a throw. He lost.

One myth states that a group of stars were formed when eight brothers were playing tsvge. The boys started floating to the sky, but they were so interested in the game they did not notice what was happening to them. The mother of the boys ran and grabbed the youngest boy by the ankle and pulled him back to earth. He landed so hard that he disappeared beneath the ground. Where the mother’s tears watered the spot on the ground, there sprung an evergreen, the Tatsi (Ta-jee), “Pine,” and it grew straight and tall, trying to reach his brothers. The seven boys formed one of the great constellations in the sky.

Digayi (Dee-ga-yee), “Hands,” was played by all. Digayi was a favorite around the campfire by hunters, warriors on the warpath, in the home or any place where people gathered. The game was played with several marbles of clay that had been hardened by fire, or with a stone or bead. The object of the game was to guess which hand held the largest marble. The holder of the marbles placed both hands behind his back, and transferred the objects in his hands if he wished. It was fair for the holder of the marbles to distract the others by singing, talking, dancing in place or any other antic to disrupt the thought of the other player while changing the marbles around in his hand. When a player decided to choose the hand that he thought the largest marble was being held, he gave a pre-arranged signal and the marble holder immediately had to hold out his hands. The player pointed to a hand without further hesitation and the marble holder was obliged to instantly open his hand.

Tagu (Ta-goo), “Beans,” was a popular indoor game. This game was a favorite of boys and girls during the winter, and a good inside game.
There were two teams divided equally in any number. Six half-beans, twenty-four corn kernel counters and a basket about eighteen inches square and two and a half inches deep were required. The six halves of beans were placed in the basket and flipped in the air to be caught. Only three combinations of how the beans landed were counted. First, when all flat sides landed facing up, it was counted as six points. Second, when all round sides landed facing up, it was counted as four points. Third, when a single round side or single flat side landed facing up, and five other opposites landed facing down, it was counted as two points. The game started with all counters in a neutral pot. The game ended when one of the teams got all the counters.

Tsalagi loved their games. They were a people who were ready to pay the price for any involvement they were in, be it at play or war. Therefore, most all games became embroiled in controversy by angered players or losers. Death and injury resulted from almost all of these confrontations they called games. But there was never any cheating, just misunderstandings and disappointments.


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Gaduga ~ Taboo

A Gaduga (Ga-too-ga), “Taboo,” was a very powerful restriction. The gaduga could be evoked for a number of reasons. It could be a personal thing, or it could be determined by an adawehi. Most taboos came from the interpretation of a dream or by customs. If a warrior or woman felt they were under some form of a gaduga, it behooved them not to do anything to break the injunction placed upon them. To do so was to invite disaster upon themselves and all concerned, for the Spirit between a person and their gaduga was all powerful and absolute.

Once a taboo was set for a person, not even the most powerful adawehi could set it aside. No adawehi would dare test his strength against it! Through prayers and formulas, the adawehi could determine its duration and what should be done to please the Spirit. The only thing a person could do to prevent himself from coming under the power of a gaduga was to abstain from a certain thing. A taboo can be broken knowingly or unknowingly. If a cornflower is taboo to a man, and he eats some unknowingly, he has still broken his gaduga.

An animal could cast a taboo, as well as Uvwi Tsvsdi (Oov-wee Jv-s-dee), “Little People,” and Awi Usdi (A-wee Oo-s-dee), “Little Deer,” chief of Awi (A-wee) “Deer”. Some taboos were established by custom or cultural law. Incest between family and clan members is among the strongest social gaduga. It is taboo for people of the same sex to have sexual relations.

No one knows exactly how a person got a taboo. A Tsalagi seldom went through a day that they did not have some type of taboo. When a taboo was broken, a person might as well have resigned their self to death or other disasters. No one could run or hide from their Tsigategu (Jee-ga-tay-goo), “I am under a taboo”; the taboo would either kill them or run its course.


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Tsalagi bury their dead in the ground, not using cremation or scaffolding type burials.

Small children and babies have been buried in clay pots and bowls. Adults have been buried in the fetal position, reclining position or sitting position. Most of the time the person was facing east toward the rising sun.

When a great warrior or leader died, he was stripped of his clothes and bathed with water. He was then dressed in clothes that had been purified by passing them through the flames of the Sacred Fire. He was placed in a grave in a sitting position, a robe draped across his shoulders and a buffalo robe as his seat of honor. His war club, knife and bow and arrows were passed through the fire and placed in the grave with him. All of his other personal possessions were placed with him. It was not known by the living what a man may need in the After World, so he took his belongings with him.

It was the custom, when a warrior fell on the trail, that his companions bury him in the proper manner. They then piled a small stone cairn over his grave. A traveler might add a stone to the pile as he passed. Members of the dead man’s family and his friends have been known to have traveled hundreds of miles to add a stone to a grave marker.

A cairn was never touched by any American Indian tribe, not even if he were an enemy. Thousands of burial cairns dotted the Tsalagi Nation at one time.

A woman was buried in the same manner as a man, her personal items being placed in the grave with her: a favorite bowl, farming tool, jewelry and other favorite items. A War Woman had her weapons of war placed in the grave with her.

When Tsalagi Oyohusi (Ja-la-gee Aw-yaw-hoo-see), “Tsalagi Died,” their souls went back to Usvhiyi (Oo-sv-hee-yee), “Dark Land in the West,” where they joined Black Man, who took them to the After World.


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