In the Cherokee matriarchal nation, men hunted and women worked the fields. Men prepared for hunting by purifying themselves in a sacred ritual before the hunt. Cherokees traditionally hunted in Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas. As a resourceful people, Cherokees, like the majority of native American tribes, respected nature and used every part of the animal after a hunt. Ancient techniques combined with folklore and polytheistic religion led to a highly distinct set of hunting traditions among the Cherokee.


Only priests or shamans would hunt the rattlesnake, a sacred animal and chief of the legendary Snake Tribe. They would use the parts of the rattlesnake, the flesh, fangs and rattles for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Shamans would ask for forgiveness and pardon for killing the rattlesnake by conducting religious rites and ceremonies in a specific order.

Hunting Rituals

The Cherokee incorporated religious rituals into their hunting traditions. Hunters would abstain from sexual intercourse four days prior to and four days after a hunt in a form of purification to please the spirits. The two great gods of hunting were Nû'ntâ, god of fire or the sun and the Long Person, the name for the river or water god. Before a hunting expedition, a hunter would dip in a pool of water at sundown while singing an ancient chant. He would fast the next day and, again at sundown, dip in water while chanting. On the second night, he would cook a meal, eat, and then spread the ashes from the fire across his chest. On the third morning, after pleasing the fire and water gods, the hunters would begin the hunt.

While hunting, Cherokee hunters would pray to the wind, rivers and mountains for success. After killing an animal, Cherokee hunters would ask the gods' forgiveness for taking the animal's life. After killing a deer, the hunters would throw the tongue and some of its meat into the fire as a sacrifice.

Group Hunting

Hunting in groups, a band of Cherokee hunters started in the morning to look for game. A hunting expedition often lasted several days but rarely longer than a week. Unlike the plains Indians, the Cherokee lived in woodlands where animals were bountiful. They hunted a variety of animals including deer, turkey, fox, rabbit, elk and bear. Deer were especially important for the Cherokee lifestyle as they used every part, including the hides for clothing and tent-making.

Skilled With Weaponry

Cherokees were skilled craftsmen and used a variety of weapons for hunting and warfare. The Cherokees used the familiar bow and arrow as a long-range weapon to take down big game, such as deer. Cherokees made bows and arrows using flint, feathers, cane shaft, sycamore, hickory and bear oil. Small game, such as bird and rabbit, was often taken down with blowdarts made of locust and thistle. Cherokees had other hunting tools to choose from including spears, used for fish, and axes, used for small game and warfare. Each weapon was prayed over and blessed before it was used in a hunt.

Sacred Animals

Religious beliefs led Cherokee hunters to observe certain taboos to avoid when hunting. For example, wolves, eagles and rattlesnakes were considered sacred and not to be killed. On rare occasions, a tribe would need parts from these animals for ceremonial use. In these special instances, a special pack of hunters were sent to hunt and kill these sacred animals. The sinews, or hamstrings, of deer were not to be eaten. When a deer was killed, the hamstrings would be left on the remains of the body as a sign of respect to the animal's spirit.

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