Confronting the Consequences of Cultural Exchange: Post-Contact Oral Histories among the Kiowa and the Cherokee

Amanda Wilkerson


The Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache have little in common culturally with the Cherokee, yet the oral traditions of each group include stories that were likely the product of contact with Europeans. From the Kiowa-Apache tradition comes "The Underwater Village," a story which shares an emphasis on smallpox and isolation from white influences with the Kiowa tales "The White Man's Gift" and "Saynday Sends Smallpox Away." Though the oral history of the Cherokee does not feature the same focus on smallpox, stories like "The Removed Townhouses" and "Kăna'sta: The Lost Settlement" both demonstrate similar themes of isolation as the best way to avoid damaging contact with a newly approaching enemy. Apart from the fact that they both developed post-contact tales, the Kiowa and Kiowa- Apache and the Cherokee had different behavioral responses to whites. The Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache cultures were in many ways built upon the exchange brought by contact, resulting in a nomadic, male-oriented and horse-centric lifestyle. The Cherokee, by contrast, slowly altered their loosely-governed agricultural and matrilineal traditions in order to assimilate and adapt to European ways. This suggests that the commonalities between the oral histories of each group arose from similarities between the Kiowa and Cherokee experiences with whites. Both groups were geographically located so that they likely heard of Europeans before they physically met any, both were transformed by the cultural exchange, and both suffered horrific negative consequences of contact, in the form of epidemic disease and removal.


Kiowa; Cherokee; Oral Traditions

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