It’s surprisingly easy to leave all you know behind.
As you enter, a faint whiff of wood smoke greets you. You see two or three fires burning nearby. Some, just for warmth. Others, made for building and creation. In the distance, you see the hull of a canoe being formed by the burning out of a great and mighty tree. Its sacrifice will propel you and your people downstream soon.
You walk a path carved in the earth, where you are greeted by a Tribal Elder teaching a younger woman the ancient art of beadwork. Meticulously, the old woman instructs, chuckling to herself as she sees the younger woman’s mistakes and mini-triumphs. All around them, examples of their work lie nearby. The colors are dazzling; the artistry, immaculate. You see them teaching others.
Ppffffffftt. Pfffft. Pfft. Blow darts sail through the air.
One after another, right into the center of a target, impossibly far away., Young hunters, who will one day become warriors, practice the Cherokee blowgun, honing their abilities to a frightening precision.
In the distance, you hear drums. They signal a time of joy and gratitude. The hunt has been good, and the Tribe is ready to celebrate. They dance the Beaver. The Ant. The Bear. All tributes to the great animal spirits, danced in reverie and respect. There’s much laughter and joy. But then, the drums turn. Gunshots echo in the distance. The sound of swords being unsheathed is eerily close.
This is the “time of War,” when Cherokees must stoke themselves for the oncoming battle. The Village is under attack by colonialists hell bent of destruction. Surrender? Not likely. You grab spears, along with a bow and arrows. You take a position higher on the path, and wait.
And then it hits you. You’re not Cherokee. You’re just there to visit the Oconaluftee Indian Village.
Oconaluftee is a near-perfect reenactment of life, just as it was, in an eighteenth-century Cherokee village. Here, authentic Cherokee people re-create the roles their ancestors one lived in real Cherokee villages.
You wander down paths to see their historic dwellings, and learn of their ancient arts and crafts–even their weapons. The Cherokee were very accomplished warriors and hunters. History passes right before your eyes.
There is a seven-sided Council House to visit–seven-sided to commemorate the mighty clans that once were the ruling bodies of the Cherokee Nation. But the young Cherokees nearby aren’t old enough yet to enter, or to care. Their game of marbles is their only concern this afternoon.
It’s like a history book come to life. Only history books never seemed this engaging.
A nature trail beckons you toward beautiful botanical gardens, filled with indigenous plants, trees, and shrubs, many of which once helped Cherokee medicine men, artisans, and craftsmen create and cure.
Oconaluftee is a village of intrigue and action.
It teems with adventure and possibility, pulling at you to explore this, do that. As such, the savvy traveler will be sure to arrive early and plan to leave late.
You depart with a “Denadagohiyu,” or “until we see each other again.” Because that’s what the Cherokees say, and you suddenly feel much, much closer to them.