Sequoyah: inventor of the Cherokee script
They all laughed at him mockingly, his fellow people from the Cherokee tribe. But Sequoyah, son of a white father and a Cherokee mother, continued on his project rigidly, with success: he ultimately presented the Cherokee syllabary, making it possible for Cherokee to write and read in their language for the first time.
Sequoyah was born a son of an unidentified white (or half-white, as sources differ) father and a Cherokee mother around 1770. The young boy was raised by his mother alone, didn’t go to school and never learnt English. He spent time farming and tending cattle before he was injured and lamed, making it impossible for him to be a successful farmer or warrior. When he came in contact with white men, he learned the art of forging jewelry and became to work as a silversmith. Later he took on the profession of a blacksmith as well, repairing iron farm implements in his village.
As jewelry was popular among whites, Sequoyah stood in regular contact to them. He was impressed by their ability to transmit information to people in distant places: by letters. Among Cherokees, people tend to believe that writing was sorcery, and weren’t much interested in doing it themselves. Sequoyah, however, set a goal: he wanted to be able to write down his Cherokee language.
He started his project around 1809. For us, being used to a Latin alphabet, it is hard to consider other kinds of writing systems, but Sequoyah was a blank paper. He first tried to create a character for each word in the language and worked on developing a system devotedly, neglecting his daily work on his farm. His friends and wife thought he had become insane, but he was unstoppable. After a year, he realized a character for each word would require too many characters to be practical, and changed his plan. Then, he decided to create a symbol for each syllable. He was inspired by Greek and Latin script he found in his copy of the Bible, and created his own letters based on those (the symbol-sound relationship between his Cherokee and Latin letters was different, though).
After a month, a set of 86 characters was finished, but his friends were not very interested in learning it. He therefore first taught his syllabary to his little daughter and then demonstrated to leaders of other Indian Reserves how the written language worked. He asked one of the leaders to say a word, which he wrote down and then asked his daughter to read the written word aloud. Though skeptical at first, the leaders accepted that Sequoyah taught his syllabary to a couple of people. Beyond that point, spreading went fast: Cherokee from all over the continent began to learn and implement the writing system. The people who had called him insane now awarded Sequoyah with a silver medal.
In 1825, the Cherokee writing system was officially adopted and still is in use. After slight modifications of the script in 1828, the first issue of a Cherokee-English bilingual newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, was published. Though it ceased publication in 1834, the paper is now revived and is again being published both in print and on the web.
Cherokee language (Brittanica)
Geo Epoche – Der Wilde Westen
Cherokee Phoenix online