Sunday, May 10, 2015

Strong Female Characters

The stories I had been told about an Irish trader, James Adair, and his unusual adventures among the Native American tribes in the 1700s had so intrigued me I could hardly wait to start writing a fictional account of just such a man. I knew the woman to steal his heart had to be special. She had to be strong and determined. She had to be brave, firm in her believes, and she had to be a match for him.

I knew very little about the Cherokee woman of that time. Let’s face it, a historical romance can be a bit fantastical, but I wanted the Cherokee woman that would steal James Fitzgerald’s, my fictional James Adair character, heart to be true to the culture of the Cherokee people. In James’ own writings, I soon learned the Cherokee woman and the place she held within the Cherokee culture was one of  great respect and honor. Here are some interesting facts I learned not only from James Adair’s writings, but from numerous other sources.

Cherokee women, it seems to me, were the core of the village. Women in Cherokee society were equal to men. The highest rank a woman could earn was the title of Ghigau, “Beloved Woman”, also translated  “War Woman”. The Beloved woman sat in council as an equal. She had a voice and could vote in the General Council. As Beloved Woman she held a place of leadership for the women’s council. She prepared and served the ceremonial black drink, and held the duty of ambassador of peace-negotiator. She could also save the life of a prisoner already condemned to be executed.

Though Beloved Woman was the highest position a woman could hold, all women were respected as equals as they carried out their duties within the tribe. They took lead in the execution of prisoners, which was their right as mothers. They had the right to claim prisoners as slaves, adopt them as kin, or condemn them to death.

Clan kinship followed the mother’s family and it was the duty of an uncle on the mother’s side to teach a son how to hunt and fish and perform certain tribal duties. Children were born into the mother’s tribe, not the father’s.

The clan, in Cherokee society, was your family. Marrying within your clan was strictly prohibited.  However, outside of her own clan a Cherokee woman had full right to marry any man she chose, be he Beloved Warrior from her tribe, a warrior outside her tribe, trader, or frontiersman. Women were totally free to choose.

Women owned the home and the furnishings. If the man she married turned out not to be the man of her dreams she was free to divorce her husband by placing all his things outside the house.

Also on her list of duties,  women cared for the young, cooked and tended the home as well as the fields. She wove baskets, tanned skins and some even went on the warpath with their husbands.

Wilma Pearl Mankiller, principal chief for ten years from 1985 to 1995