The Fourth Estate

Beaded Bandolier Bag By Martha Berry

Title: The Fourth Estate - Beaded Bandolier Bag by Martha Berry

Materials: Czech glass beads on wool stroud, cotton.

Commissioned:2009 by the Cherokee Phoenix, Bryan Pollard, Editor

Editor Bryan Pollard commissioned this bandolier bag for the Cherokee Phoenix in 2009. The Fourth Estate pays homage to the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, as well as to past and future forms of communication between Cherokees. The design incorporates both ancient and very modern icons.

On one end of the strap we see seven versions of the ancient Cherokee symbol for both sun and fire. They are all variations of an equilateral cross inside a circle. All of these symbols appear on pre-European contact pottery found in the mounds of the Southeastern United States. These icons had great meaning for our Cherokee ancestors and, along with many other symbols, were used as a form of communication.

Across the shoulder of the strap is a symbol created by Martha Berry to represent DNA. In this instance the symbol denotes the time in Cherokee history when we first encountered Europeans and their culture. It was a time of merging and blending every aspect of our culture, from housing construction and governmental organization to family structure and even our blood. The symbol on this bandolier bag starts with a drop of blood, then travels through five generations of DNA and ends in another drop of blood.

The other end of the strap spells out “Cherokee Phoenix” in the Cherokee language syllabary characters created by Sequoyah. He was a brilliant Cherokee man who created an organized written syllabary with one character representing each syllable in the Cherokee language. It was an amazing feat that enabled the entire Cherokee population to learn to read and write in only a few short years. It dominated Cherokee communications beginning in 1821 and lasted well past the Removal to what is now Oklahoma. It was the language of the Cherokee Phoenix and parts of the newspaper are printed in both Cherokee and English even today.

Coming around the bag to the bottom of the pouch, we see two very modern Internet icons that represent a wireless network connection and “play.” These icons represent the ability of the Cherokee Phoenix to keep up with the peoples’ need for news using the latest technology. They indicate that the Phoenix is as resilient and tenacious as the Cherokee people.

If you view the strap and pouch icons in chronological order, your vision will take you around the bag in a counter clockwise direction. This is important because Cherokees dance in a counter clockwise direction during ceremonial stomp dances.

Finally, most important of all, we see the flap of the bag. The centerpiece of any Cherokee bandolier bag is always the flap. Not only does the flap naturally draw your eye due to the construction of these bags, the triangular shape of the flap is a very Southeastern tribal devise. Although there were versions of bandolier bags made and beaded over much of North America, only the descendants of the Mound Builders (including the Cherokee) used this distinctive triangular design element. It is an accessory style that we see on ancient shell and stone carvings, and an element that evolved into 19th century beaded bandolier bags.

The design on the flap is a beaded version of the phoenix bird seen on the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper masthead. We decided to use it to represent two things. First, it represents the newspaper and its resilience and survival through two fires and the Removal. It is even surviving the transition to the modern world of the Internet.

Even more importantly, this beaded phoenix bird represents the Cherokee people. At Cherokee Phoenix editor Bryan Pollard’s request this motif is beaded in greens, blues and brown. These colors represent the colors of the trees and rivers of the Eastern Woodlands and remind us that the Cherokee people are Woodlands people. Much of our medicine and many of our folklore heroes come from the wooded areas of the southeastern U.S., our ancestral homeland.

More than the ink and paper, more than the little ones and zeroes that put the Cherokee Phoenix on the Internet, even more than the Phoenix staff and the Cherokee newsmakers upon which they report, it is the readers who make this and every newspaper. It is those who hunger for the news of the Cherokee that make the Cherokee Phoenix so important. And so, this bandolier bag celebrates both the Cherokee Phoenix and the people who savor it. The Phoenix enriched the lives of our ancestors, it enriches us today and will continue to enrich our descendants well into the future.