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Cherokee Legends Come To Life At Cultural Eclipse Celebration

Davin Eldridge
Cherokee tribal member Garrett Wildcat performs the flute before several thousand at the Tribal Fairgrounds just an hour before the eclipse.

The Great American Eclipse proved to be a profound moment for many people across the country, including in Cherokee.

In the hours leading up to this year’s total solar eclipse, the ancient customs and rich culture of the Cherokee came to life on the Qualla Boundary.

 “The frog has great significance to our people," that’s Mike Crowe, of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, telling the story of how the frog swallowed the sun. It’s a story that’s been told to children on the reservation to explain eclipses for untold generations. “The frog came up from the underworld, and said that he would slowly take bites from the sun, until he'd eaten the entire sun. When this happened, the people would come out and they would bang the drum, and make loud noises."

As Crowe told this and other stories, hundreds of visitors gathered from all around the festival in the 80 degree weather.

And as the frog began to slowly devour the sun, the temperatures slowly began to sink, and the tribe began to drum and make loud noises.

Host: “It’s almost time. I’ve been saying that since 10 o’clock this morning. It really is this time. Once it gets to 100 percent totality, once it’s covered- everybody make a lot of noise. We wanna bring that sun back out.”

And then, for less than three minutes, day became night.

“Let’s start getting loud, let’s see how loud you can get!," and the crowd screamed.

But just as fast as the frog began its meal, it fled away once more from all the noise. For many there, the experience proved to be transformative.

Mary-Francis Moriarty, 87, came from Virginia with her daughter's family. She is still pondering the mysteries of the heavens.

"Once in a lifetime. I’m so happy I could be here, I really am it’s wonderful. It was a spiritual experience. We’re part of an immense reality that nobody ever pays attention to. But somebody’s in charge, and somebody made it happen, and it’s all in order and it’s all organized. Somebody made it happen a long time ago, and did a good job.”

For Keya Kai Guimaraes, who came with her husband and kid from Silver Spring, Maryland, the experience was transformative.

“First and foremost, being able to come to a native land and indigenous people’s property is such a privledge, at a time to see something that’s in the cosmos... For me, the connection and the Cherokee story about the eclipse had a special and profound draw.” “It was profound. I was overcome. I started to cry. It was seeing your place in the cosmos, in a really serious and humbling way. The drumming that lead up to it, and the ritual that’s transformative, seemed to set you up to have an ‘ah-ha’ moment.’”

For tribal members, it was just as profound, if not moreso. Members like Bo Taylor, also of the Cherokee museum.

"We’re not that bad. We come together, we shared a moment. We danced together. God was here. It was an amazing thing. A snake will shed its skin, crawl off and be a new snake. That’s what we need to do today, is think about that.”

"We all shared something very significant that likely none of us will witness again in our lifetimes," says Crowe. "And also the cultural aspect, the connection to our ancestors with this occurence. It is of the utmost importance to educate ourselves and the world also, so that our stories are our language, our dances, our culture at large are never forgotten and don’t fall by the way-side. It’s on our shoulders now to pick these things up and to carry them into the future.”

For event organizers like Lisa Frady, all her hard work paid off.

“It was a neat experience to see the excitement on everyone’s face. When it happened, it was just unique to experience that with everybody. I feel like we brought that legend to life. I felt like we relived it.”

According to Frady, the reservation sold several thousand tickets, and local vendors did very well. One vendor even sold out all 25 pounds of frog legs in a few short hours. But most importantly, in the span of those hours, the tribe invited the world at large onto its land, and into its history.

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