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Nvwoti Equa or Big Medicine Festival

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2007 12:18 am    Post subject: Nvwoti Equa or Big Medicine Festival Reply with quote

The New Moon of October, is the time of Nvwoti Equa or Big Medicine Festival, for those of us hailing from the Smokey Mountain area. It's also called the Cherokee New Year, because this marks the beginning of the GO-LA or winter months. This is the time of the year, when the beautifully colored autumn leaves fall into Long Man, the river. These leaves were considered medicinal, and to "go to the water" at this time
was considered to be physically and spiritually cleansing and healing. Cherokee tradition has it that the world was created at this time of the year.

As a part of this celebration, everyone gathered together on the evening of Du-ni-nu-di or the Harvest Moon. Each family brought seven or more ears of hard corn, pumpkin, beans and other crops to be put into the central storehouse.

The tongue of the first deer killed was wrapped and given to the Uku, to be used in a divination ritual. The women performed a religious dance that lasted until sunrise, and no one was allowed to sleep that night.

At dawn, everyone met at Long Man, the river, and immersed or sprinkled themselves seven times. The deer tongue was burnt by the Uku and the ceremonial crystal was used for predictions for the coming year. That night a big feast was held.

The timing of the Cherokee New Year is fluid, and not the same date every year, since it is marked by the Lunar - not the Solar - calendar.

In addition, distant Cherokee villages celebrated at slightly different times, some in early November. Remember, our holidays were connected to the land and agriculture. An exceptionally hot or cold season could cause delays or other changes in, for instance, the First New Moon of Spring. One of the harbingers of that ceremony is when the first new grass of the season is visible. And of course, we couldn't have the Green Corn Ceremony before the first green corn appeared on the stalks!

Ten days or so after the Big Medicine Festival, corresponding with the Full Moon, is Adahuna, or the Friendship and Purification ceremony. This usually took place in November, and was considered the most sacred celebration of the year.

The Council House was cleansed and purified form top to bottom; seven of the best hunters were sent out for deermeat, and a special fire-maker and six assistants were chosen to make the new holy fire.

Branches of cedar, white pine, hemlock, mistletoe, evergreen briar, heartleaf and ginseng root were gathered from the seven trees that were sacred to the Cherokee. In some towns mountain birchbark, willow, swamp dogwood and spruce pine were also considered sacred.

The town officials fasted for seven days previous to the ceremony. The Uku - who for this day was addressed by a special ceremonial name - led the people in special songs and dances of purification. Seven strings of White wampum were used to represent the seven clans in this ritual.

The festival lasted for five days, and consisted of:

The cleansing and purification of the Council House, gathering of the sacred woods and the performance of the sacred Women Gathering Wood Dance. A new altar was built, and a new fire was made.
Firemakers made the new fires. Special "Cleansers" one picked from each clan, performed a cleansing ceremony for all homes in the town.
Women put out their hearth fires and cleaned out all the old ashes from the fireplace. They then went to the Council House where they received a bit of the new sacred fire which they took home to rekindle their hearth fires.

The Uku, (addressed at this time by a ceremonial name) and his assistants prayed over several articles of purification.
A purification of the town's storehouse is done.
A special song is chanted several times, while the Uku leads the people in ceremony. They "go to the water" and then change into new clothes.
A piece of deer tongue and ceremonial tobacco is put into the altar fire, and predictions are made. At sunset, the sacred chant is sung again, and the people partake of a feast that includes deer and other meat, corn, mush, hominy, potatoes, beans and other traditional foods. The officials wait until dark to eat.

All-night vigils were held on the first and fourth nights of the festival.
The Making of Friends Ceremony is held during this time.

Every New Moon is a sacred time for our Cherokee people, and we fast until sundown. In addition to the major holidays, when Cherokee would gather at the Mother Town; Cherokees gathered in their local villages for New Moon ceremonies every month, held by their local White Chief and Clan Mothers.

Our New Moon is not the same as the New Moon listed in the almanacs, which is really the "Dark of the Moon." Our New Moon is celebrated when the first thin crescent is visible after the Dark of the Moon.
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