Storytelling of the North Carolina Native Americans


Reviewed by Nancy Sauer

This website has an attractive opening page with a stylized map of North Carolina, showing where the three tribes, the Lumbee, Cherokee, and Occaneechi, are located. The site was credited by Bryan Acree, John Ikeda, and Marcela Musgrove for a class, JOMC 125, "Cybercasting and Cyberpublishing," at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

When you click on Cherokee, you get to Cherokee Sacred Stories Sacred Rituals. These are stories from the Eastern band of Cherokees, who are descendants of the Cherokee Nation, once the largest group of Native Americans in the Southwestern United States. Most were driven to Oklahoma in 1830 by Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act, but some remained in the mountains of North Carolina and in 1848 Congress recognized them as the Eastern Cherokee band. Today there are 12,500, who live mostly on the Qualla Boundary near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The tales, according to Cherokee law, could be told only to Cherokees or other Native American peoples. But even then, the person had to be invited by the "myth keeper" or tale teller, to hear the stories. First a medicine man would perform a scratching ceremony on the person's arms with a comb made from teeth of a rattlesnake. Then a healing red powder was blown into the marks. Then the person was allowed to go to a dome-shaped earthen-covered hut to hear the stories. The storytelling session lasted all night. Then all would go down to the water, where a priest would recite prayers.

The role of the myth keeper is complex. He can become the animal he's speaking about. And he's also an actor, mime, singer, and dancer.

The two groups of Cherokee stories are (1) sacred stories, which are serious ones about how the Cherokee qcquired certain healings and songs, and (2) small animal stories about why certain animals look and act the way they do. Animals were large and could speak in the stories. According to the Cherokee, man was originally able to speak with the animals in the same language. But man became greedy and lost this privilege of speaking with animals.

Next comes a video of Eagle Woman in costume telling the Rattlesnake Story with great sound effects, but the speaking is unclear on the video.

The Lumbee tribe, at 45,000, is the largest tribe in North Carolina, largest tribe east of the Mississippi, ninth largest in the United States. Their name comes from the Lumber River, which flows through Robeson County. The tribe has been recognized by North Carolina since 1885 but is still seeking (1998) federal recognition.

The Lumbee storyteller is Barbara Braveboy-Locklear. She is interviewed on the website. She has told stories all her life. Her children heard stories from their grandparents about animals, origins, and natural phenomena, and she wanted to keep the tradition up. More recently, she has through stories encouraged pride in young people about their heritage. She gives stories in many types of settings. Most of her stories rotate around the Lumber (or Lumbee in Native American language) River. Sometimes she tells stories about the ocean at the coast. She states it helps if her audience is familiar with the geography.

Ms. Braveboy-Locklear says that storytelling is basic to all cultures, oral traditions kept alive before there was writing. Storytelling was a system of education for Native Americans because of the practical lessons, how to deal with problems, and developing self-esteem. The storytelling role is highly respected and reserved for elders. Folklore remains alive today in the Native American homes so that the culture is not diluted by modern outside influences.

Occaneechi: preserving the Old Ways:
The Occaneechi-Saponi tribe is descended from a confederation of Eastern Siouan tribes. Today most members live around the community of Pleasant Grove Township in northeastern Alamance County, with a few smaller groups at Mebone Oaks and Cedar Grove. The tribe is not officially recognized by the federal government or the State of North Carolina, but they are applying for recognition. There is a tribal center and replica of the Occaneechi Town of 1701.

Storyteller Lawrence A. Dunmore, an attorney, fills many important roles in the community and works also with other Native American groups. He comes from a long line of storytellers. He used to tell all kinds of stories to the other kids on the school bus. He enjoys using his imagination and creativity. Some of his stories come from interviews with Occaneechi-Saponi elders. Now that they have gone to the Spirit World, he tells their stories. The stories teach kids proper conduct. Some stories are from pre-Columbian times, and Dunmore updates them to fit the occasion or the audience. He feels he serves as "a bridge between the past and the present." He acts out the parts and often is interactive with his audience. A video is included of Dunmore telling The Snake-Haired Girl, but again the sound did not come out too well.

This website has links at the bottom to several other useful sites, for example The Official Page of the Cherokee Nation, which contains news stories and promotes tourism. The site is well organized and very attractive and informative.

Reviewed by Marianne Smith

This website was created by Bryan Acree, John Ikeda, and Marcela Musgrove for what seems to be a course, JOMC 125, “Cybercasting and Cyberpublishing” at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was hosted by Sunsite now called Ibiblio. Ibiblio is a collaboration of the Center for Public Domain and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Although it was last modified on12-8-98, the links and navigational tools all work. The color and graphics are simple, yet pleasing to the eye. There are e-mail links to those who created the website as well as several of the Native American storytellers. This is helpful if anyone has questions regarding their site, especially since it was last modified several years ago.

The website covers three North Carolina Native American tribes. Each tribe has a page that contains a brief historical overview of their tribe. The Lumbee tribe page contains an interview of the Lumbee storyteller, Barbara Brayboy-Locklear. The questions are worth noting because they give one insight on a Native American storyteller who tells stories outside her own tribe. Questions that were asked included: what motivated her to tell stories, where she performed, what differences existed between her tribe’s stories and that of other tribes, and what was the role of the storyteller in Native American society. The Cherokee page also contained a brief history of the tribe and an overview of Cherokee storytelling by Eagle Woman, a Cherokee storyteller. This page did not contain a personal interview, but it did have two additional Cherokee website links at the bottom. The Occaneechi tribe page was very similar to that of the Lumbee tribe page because it also contained a personal interview asking very similar questions of the Occaneechi storyteller, Lawrence Dunmore.

What makes this website unique is that in addition to the brief historical overviews of each tribe as well as personal interviews on two of the three storytellers, one can view a video clip performance of a Native American story by each of these storytellers using Real One Player. Links are also provided for low resolution and audio only. They are all of good quality.

It should also be noted that although this is a non-profit website, the partners that are connected to Ibiblio include corporations such as IBM, Red Hat, Real Networks, VA-Linux, as well as a few others.