BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Cherokees have long had origin stories to explain natural phenomena that happen in the world, including in the water, the earth and the sky. As we prepare for the upcoming solar eclipse, we are teaming with NASA for an exceptional opportunity to revive a Cherokee story that explains why the sun was covered up.
Traditional Cherokee tale of the frog who swallowed the sun:
Long ago there lived a giant, hungry frog. Sometimes the giant frog would come out and swallow the sun. When that happened, it got very cloudy or even looked like it was getting dark when the sun was swallowed. Sometimes the frog even swallows the moon. The wise, old men hate this giant frog. Whenever the wise men would find out it happened, they would shoot guns and beat a drum or rattle turtle shell rattlers. The women would bang pots and pans together, scaring the giant frog away that was swallowing the sun up, so that the sun would shine again.
Cherokee Nation is working with the Indigenous Education Institute, which is producing a video for NASA on various Indigenous perspectives of what eclipses are and how they have been interpreted over time. Our eclipse origin story of the giant frog swallowing the sun has now been recorded in Cherokee and will be featured in NASA’s film for the Goddard Space Center in Maryland.
The Cherokee Nation Language Department didn’t just coordinate the video; a new children’s picture book in Cherokee syllabary is also being produced that will be used by the tribe’s Immersion School. An older version of the book was created about 10 years ago, and only one copy remained.
I am proud of the work our Language Department put forth in updating the book and helping produce additional copies, so future generations of Cherokee people will always be able to share it. Our language staff have embraced this opportunity to share the Cherokee language and heritage in a fun and educational way.
David Crawler translated and recorded the Frog-Eats-Sun story in both Cherokee and English, while Roy Boney, Jeff Edwards and Zachary Barnes illustrated the film and book.
On Aug. 21, according to scientific reports, a total solar eclipse will be visible across the entire contiguous United States. It is expected to be the largest and most visible eclipse in America since 1918.
At Cherokee Nation, we will have a watch party with employees and utilize the 500 safety glasses issued to the tribe from NASA as part of our unique partnership to celebrate this day. At Cherokee Nation’s One Fire Field, we will watch the eclipse and share traditional Cherokee storytelling.
– Bill John Baker is principal chief of the Cherokee Nation