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March 26, 2007

Dancers share ancient Cherokee traditions

People who expected to sit in the bleachers watching an exhibition by the Warriors of AniKituwa Friday night at the old Sequoyah High School gym received a surprise.

Many of them became part of the show.

The Warriors of AniKituwa, an eight-man group sponsored by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, are cultural ambassadors for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The ensemble, which has been together three years, performs ancient Cherokee dances as described by Lt. Henry Timberlake in 1762.

Timberlake described the dances in his Memoirs, published in 1865. It is regarded as the most detailed description of Cherokees in the 1700s.

“These are dances that were done by the Cherokee people for hundreds of years,” said Dr. Barbara Duncan, education director for the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C.

She helped research the dances.

“We found music on old wax cylinder recordings,” she said.

The visit by the Warriors of AniKituwa was another way to establish bonding between the Eastern Cherokees and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

“The Eastern Cherokees are really doing it right because of their research and study,” said Shelly Butler Allen, director of Cherokee Nation education here. “I think it’s very important that we see these ancient traditional dances of the Cherokee people.”

“We are eastern Cherokees but we are Cherokees the same as you,” said Bo Taylor, master of ceremonies for the Warriors of AniKituwa.

The Warriors entered the gym with a yell as they began to perform the welcome dance.

“We found that the welcome dance also was a war dance,” Duncan explained.

The dance was performed when people visited Cherokee villages.

Standing in line, the dancers crouched low as they looked for the enemy. They moved forward slowly, beginning to swing their war clubs and yell.

Clad in breechcloths and leggings, their bodies painted red with an authentic mixture of ochre and bear grease, their faces painted in different designs, they were indeed a fearsome sight to any foe they might encounter.

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