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Did You Know: Cherokee Alphabet

Cherokee Syllabary

on June 1, 1986

Originally published in Creation 8, no 3 (June 1986): 24.

Did you know that the first material printed in the Cherokee Indian alphabet was a translation of the first five verses of the book of Genesis?

This work was published in the Missionary Herald in December 1827. What makes this so unusual is the fact that the Cherokee alphabet was the invention of an American Indian who could neither read nor write, when he commenced his task of bringing the Cherokee nation to literacy. He invented a written language to do this. His name was Sequoyah. He was born between 1760 and 1770 somewhere in Tennessee. His people migrated to Arkansas under a treaty of 1817, and there Sequoyah sought to interest his people in his dream of putting their thoughts on paper as the white man did with his ‘talking leaves’ (books). This colourful illiterate genius succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. Never in the history of man, as it is recorded, has one individual brought a whole nation out of illiteracy. Within 10 years the Cherokee alphabet was being used to print books. In 1829 a newspaper was printed in the language called the Cherokee Phoenix and in October 1843, the Cherokee National Council authorised the publication of the national newspaper to be called the Cherokee Advocate. It was published in both English and Cherokee. The paper finally ceased printing in 1906 and remains a monument to both Indian culture and the genius of Sequoyah.


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