Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Last Beloved Woman of the Cherokee--Poem

"She speaks for her clan" by Dorothy Sullivan
The Cherokee, like so many Native nations, were matrilineal. The fields, homes, and children all remained with the mother and her family if the couple separated. 

Women had political influence in the councils, could negotiate with other nations, and were clan leaders. When European men first encountered the Cherokee, they were appalled at the influence Cherokee women had at a time when they kept their own women as chattel. In turn, the Cherokee men were appalled that the Europeans had no women in their councils.


The highest role a Cherokee woman could achieve was "ghi gua," Beloved Woman or War Woman. Nanye-hi, the subject of this poem, had served an apprenticeship in diplomacy with her powerful uncle, Attakullakulla, so she was well-prepared for the role she held for most of her adult life. She also saved the life of a white captive and learned from her how to weave cloth on a European loom, bringing that knowledge back to her people. It was said that, upon her death, a white light left her body and entered the most sacred mound in the Mother Town, Chota, at a time when Removal (which she had fought against for so long) was almost upon the Cherokee.

Nanye-hi was the last Beloved Woman of the Cherokee until the 1980s. 


THE LAST BELOVED WOMAN

Mother-clanned, the Cherokee towns,
farms, and orchards, before all were stolen
by those who forced the People on the long dread march west,
belonged to the women, as did the children.

Nanye-hi, in 1738 born
a daughter of the Wolf Clan,
married Kingfisher, bore two children.
During the Battle of Taliwa,
she took her dead husband’s place,
avenged his death, rallied warriors to victory,
became a ghi gua.

Ghi gua, or Beloved Woman,
title given by the seven clans
to women who had served the People
as warriors and mothers both.
Given a swan’s wing and special place in council,
the ghi gua even held a voting seat
on the Council of Chiefs. With their swan wings,
they had the final say
over whether the town went to war.

Today I watch women go to a war foolish as many,
often leaving babies behind.
Something’s out of synch, though.
It’s still old men, who’ve never set foot on battlefield
nor suckled a babe, making decisions of war and peace.

Nanye-hi married again, a white man named Ward.
Nancy Ward, the ghi gua, respected
among Cherokees and settlers,
warned settlements of impending attacks,
to prevent complete war,
negotiated treaties, all later broken.

At the end of life, settlers forced
Nanye-hi from her home to die before the Trail of Tears.
Trying to fit the white man’s mold,
the Cherokee shed their councils.
No place for Beloved Women.
Nanye-hi Nancy Ward was the last ghi gua.

We need women with swan wings.

Published in Dark Sister (Mammoth Publications, 2018)

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