Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Great American Communicators: Sequoyah

Great American Communicators
Sequoyah: Inventor of the Cherokee Syllabary

Sequoyah, born in the 1770’s, was a Cherokee Indian. His mother was full blood Indian, and his father was probably at least half-white. His English name is Geroge Gist or Guess. Sequoyah became an excellent blacksmith and silversmith and operated a trading business. He also had a drinking problem, but he gave up alcohol when he saw how it was ruining his life.


Sequoyah wanted the Indian people to have a way to read “talking leaves” like the English speaking people did. He never spoke English, and he never understood how the English alphabet worked, although he had seen some books. Facing much opposition and taking 12 years away from his business, he invented the Cherokee syllabary. This is like an alphabet, but there is a character for each syllable, not for each individual phonetic sound. He had originally tried to do a character for each word, like in Chinese. Sequoyah used 85 characters in his syllabary.

In order to prove that his syllabary worked, he taught his daughter, Ah-yo-kah how to read. Word spread quickly of Sequoyah's invention. In 1821, the Cherokee Nation adopted Sequoyah's alphabet as their own. Within months thousands of Cherokee became literate. Thousands of Cherokee began to use Sequoyah's invention on a daily basis and the syllabary gave the nation the ability to create the first American Indian newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix.

By 1825, the Bible and numerous religious hymns and pamphlets, educational materials and legal documents and books of every description were translated into the Cherokee language.

Read more about Sequoyah here: Sequoyah Birthplace Museum

"Sequoyah"
by David J. Brown (a Cherokee)


Thou Cadmus of thy race!
Thou giant of thy age!
In every heart a place,
In history a living page;
The juggernaut chariot time,
May crush as she doth give;
But a noble name like thine,
Shall ever with Kee-too-whah live.


Orion-like thou dost stand,
In any age and clime,
With intellect as grand,
As ever shown by time,
'Twas thy hand lit the spark
That heavenward flashed its ray
Revealing the shining mark
The straight and narrow way.


Ignorance and superstitious awe
From high pedestals toppled o'er
When as the ancient giver of law,
Smiting, thou mad'st the waters pour;
Stand thou didst on Pisgah's height,
And gazed into the future deep.
But day was ne'er unclasped from night
E'er thy spirit silently fell asleep.

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