Based on what has been written about the colonists, white traders and the Indian representatives who had the opportunity to examine the Native peoples, the women in this community were considered, whores, beasts of problems, servants or just without any description. The history about women gained a lot of popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. In this case, Theda Purdue gives a sketch on her theory about the history of Native women of Cherokee. The tale has been put together in the manuscript “Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835.”
In her outline, Purdue centralizes women of her narrative about the history of Cherokee unlike other previous historians in the field. She is aware of the risks in her work. In her study, she indicates that the Anglo-American and the European men who had recorded about the lives of women in Cherokee society lacked contact into what was a culture of the foreigners and was found to be a different sphere in that culture. Purdue has made use of previous materials for her work. She at times faces some dangers head-on forcing her to broaden her method by using Ethno-history which allows her to use both historic and anthropological systems. On some point, she discusses the pregnancy beliefs or the menstruation rituals using the accounts about the Anglo-American men.
Other than the problem with the sources, Purdue also faces challenges in dealing with other scholars who have placed the history of Native women in one dimension and a rigid way. She indicates that before the European invaded their communities and taught men about sexism, men and women were equal. This is called ‘declension model’ which shows that the native people had a stagnant life until the European came and colonized them, with native being the recipients of the Anglo world on gender while women got little representation with the whites. The more common theory indicates that women suffered traditional perseverance somewhat as well as the cultural erasure when the European invaded their land. Purdue also attempts to explain how Native women persevered the oppression and colonialism. In her book, she has taken a postulate between these two challenges in her version on the Native women of Cherokee and has often succeeded on the same. Her conclusion confirms her method: “The story of Cherokee women, therefore, is not one of declining status and lost the culture, but one of persistence and change, conservatism and adaptation, tragedy, and survival” (p. 195). Her history about Cherokee women encompasses two main themes, arguments, and two concurrent realities rather than just presenting normal history. Cherokee women changed and adapted to the new life as well as maintained their cultural ways.
Purdue’s book focuses on the history of Native women of Cherokee and the gender associations between the people of Cherokee and the Europeans. It is also a study of the history of Cherokee Nation from 1700 although it focuses mostly on the history of women. She gives a story about the deviations that have occurred as well as the cultural continuity. Her study has been organized in a chronological way, it first describes the community and gender associations in Cherokee Nation, to war and trade in the setting of the growth of foreign colonies and finally the response of Cherokee on civilization. Due to the range, style and focus on gender, this is a revised book of the previous work as well as an introduction to the history of Cherokee society.
The approach of Purdue begins with a description of how Cherokee Nation viewed circa 1700 which she says was vital in understanding how Cherokee society handled gender relations. She shows how they sought to have harmony and balance in all areas of life, such as the way men and women related with one another by using the myth of Kana’ti the hunter and Selu, the corn mother in the aim to show the understanding of Cherokee community on gender roles and expectations.
She has challenged some myth, for example, she has shown that women were not beasts of burden. In her story about hunting and gathering, women are gatherers making them the primary food providers, homemakers who maintained their household items, they did all the cooking, a collection of woods and made all the household items. This shows that women-owned all the things in the house. Another myth that she has challenged is the menstrual blood. She says that Cherokee viewed any fluid that escaped from the body as powerful and dangerous.
The book also analyzes how men and women of Cherokee reacted and acted when faced with the pressures and encroachment of the whites. Here, she discusses this point based on the impacts of trade, civilization, and increased warfare programs on status, ethics, and culture of women in Cherokee. She says that the power of men in Cherokee improved since trade and hunting became the center of survival during the mid-1700s. She also argues that women may have experienced more power on their side since men could live their home for extended durations making the woman the head.
During the 1800s, which is the period of the civilization of Cherokee Nation, she says that the status of women became tense and she explains that men continued to be more powerful while women’s voice in politics decreased and they lost access to the market. However, Trade and politics did not define the culture Cherokee society making her fail to acknowledge that commerce and politics were growing at a faster rate.
Her history is therefore very complex given that she contradicts her statements in the later chapters. She has faced some challenges when keeping a double framework of both change and continuity as well as the tension that comes with it. This, therefore, reveals of her inherent contradictions in her book.
Theda Perdue. Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln and London. 1998.