Hunting and fishing



When young men wished to be hunters, they had to talk to the priest, who was in charge of training them. On the appearance of the first new Moon in March, the priest gave the pupils an emetic purifying drink and had them wash their bodies with it. The drink was a tea made of cedar boughs, horsemint, cane and old tobacco.  Once purged, they were going to the river where they immersed seven times, then put on clean clothing. Once they killed the first buck, they took the tip of the tongue to the priest to offer as a sacrifice.

The same ritual was rep
eated at the appearance of the first new moon in September. For four years thereafter, the candidates were consigned to the care of the hunting priest, and during this period were not allowed to have sexual relations with women. The priest taught them the sacred formulas for hunting (see below) and everything about the animals. He also taught them how to made the special calls that imitated nature to draw the animals closer. He helped them to make the masks for hunting, that never failed to bewitch the game and which allowed hunters to easily get within killing distance. The hunters were told how to give proper thanks for success and how to conserve enough game to assure a supply for future years.

At the end of the 4 years, the priest prepared on the bank of the river an "osi" or  tent for sweating. As soon as the pupils were in a profuse sweat, they were ordered to plunge in the river and immerse themselves seven times. After this purification ritual they were free to have sexual relations with women.

The hunting priest sometimes accompanied the specialist on expeditions, and the first buck killed belonged to him and he offered also the tip of the tongue as sacrifice, burning it in a new fire that he had brought along with him. When he couldn't accompany the hunters, he authorized the chief hunter to offer sacrifices instead.

The rites concerning hunting seem involved and time consuming, but the dependence of the ancient peoples on game made them understandable. Hunters specialist were called on to supply the deer meat and skins needed d for the rituals that accompanied the great festivals, and as such held a holy office that demanded a close association with the "above powers". The meat foods were as much a gift from the above powers as the cultivated and wild plant food, and to forget this was to ensure failure.

Men that were not specialists could also ask the priest to prepare them. They were taken to the "osi". Each man had for a seat a deerskin. They did not sleep the first night, and at intervals the priest sang the hunter's song. A short while before daybreak the men left behind all the clothes but for the breechclouts and went to another tent for sweating. After that they had to go to the river and immerse themselves seven times. Once dressed, they drank the purification medicine and bathe with it. It made them to throw up and thus cleanse the interiors of their bodies. On that day, they fasted until afternoon.

On the next day, they drank the mixture again, but the fasting period was shorter. The ritual was repeated for seven days, and on the seventh day, the first meal was eaten early in the morning. On the night of the seventh day everyone stayed awake while at intervals the priest sang the hunter song. Just before daybreak they went in the sweating tent and at daybreak immersed again. Then, carrying a new fire in a ceramic vessel, the priest had supplied, the men went on a hunt. On killing the first deer they took the meat and offered it to the fire for sacrifice. If a puff of wind came out of the meat while it burned, or if the meat popped throwing pieces toward the east, the sign was good, and the hunt would be successful, but if it popped towards the west, it wasn't a good sign.

During a prolonged series of winter hunting expeditions, when the need for food was very severe, the specialists were not permitted to have intercourse with their wives. It was the ultimate form of self-denial, and one the above powers could not fail to respond to favorably. Some years, the rule would remain in force for 6 months.

A special Hunter's Feast took place in September, when the buck flies first made their appearance. The rituals of drink, immersion and fasting were repeated, and on the fourth day, the priest would check his crystal to see if the hunting was going to be successful. That night the hunters were honored guests for a huge banquet where the village shown their appreciation for their efforts throughout the year.

Hunting was a laborious exercise. Men often walked 30 miles over rough ground, fasting themselves and purifying often. The animals shot with the bow and arrow were buffalo, deer, opossum, squirrel, turkey, partridge and pheasant. To kill rabbits and small birds, the blowgun was used. The blowgun was a seven or eight-foot-long hollow piece of cane through which, by means of blowing, a six-to eight-inch dart was projected. The darts were carried in quivers made of a section of large cane, and hollow gourds was used to store the cotton like thistledown plant fibers that the darts were stuck through to seal them in the blowgun and give them greater velocity.


Fish were caught with bow and arrow, water traps, spearing, bait and hook and dipping out with baskets. Some fishing was doing from canoes fashioned from large pine or poplar logs, as much as forty feet long and two or more feet wide. The bottoms, sides and ends of the canoes were flat, although the ends were slanted to give less resistance to currents. Some of the canoes could carry fifteen to twenty men, yet were so light and maneuverable that the could be forced upstream against a strong current.

On occasion, the Cherokee used walnut bark to poison small areas of streams or ponds; the poison temporarily stunned the fish for easy gathering. Pounded walnut bark is thrown into small streams to stupefy the fish, so that they may be easily dipped out in baskets as they float on the surface of the water. Should a pregnant woman wade into the stream at the time, its effect is nullified, unless she has first taken the precaution to tie a strip of the bark about her toe.

Hunting and fishing prayers

Fishing prayer:

"Listen ! Now your settlements have drawn near to hearken. Where you have gathered in the foam you are moving about as one, You Blue Cat and the others, I have come to offer you freely the white food. Let the paths from every direction recognize each other. Our spittle shall be in agreement, Let them be together as we go about. The fish have become a prey, and there shall be no loneliness. Your spittle has become agreeable. Yo!."

Hunting prayer

"Give me the wind. Give me the breeze. Yu! O Great Terrestrial Hunter, I come to the edge of your spittle where you repose. Let your stomach cover itself; let it be covered with leaves. Let it cover itself at a single bend, and may you never be satisfied. And you, O Ancient Red, may you hover above my breast while I sleep. Now let good dreams develop; let my experiences be propitious. Ha ! Now let my little trails be directed, as they lie down in various directions. Let the leaves be covered with the clotted blood, and may it never cease to be so. You two (the Water and the Fire) shall bury it in your stomachs. Yu!"

Hunting birds prayer

"Listen! O Ancient White, where you dwell in peace I have come to rest. Now let your spirit arise. Let it (the game brought down) be buried in your stomach, and may your appetite never be satisfied. The red hickories have tied themselves together. The clotted blood is your recompense. O Ancient White, *** Accept the clotted blood. O Ancient White, put me in the successful hunting trail. Hang the mangled things upon me. Let me come along the successful trail with them doubled up (under my belt). It (the road) is clothed with the mangled things. O Ancient White, O Kanati, support me continually, that I may never become blue. Listen !"


The information on this page, as well as the illustrations have been extracted from

 "The Cherokee People" by Thomas E. Mails. The prayers have been taken from "History, Myths and sacred formulas of the Cherokees" by James Mooney. The piece about the walnut bark extracted from Sacred texts