Hello, all! So I am slowly consolidating my blog onto my website for ease of access. Some of these posts are repeats since they are moving to their new home. (I also know it’s not Monday, but there will be posts every Monday from here on out!) Kicking off the segment, we’re going for a throwback to The Moon-Eyed Ones and its namesake, The Moon-Eyed People from Cherokee myth. Let’s get started!
The Moon-Eyed People were first mentioned in Western records in 1797, but the best Western source can be found in James Mooney’s 1902 book, Myths of the Cherokee, though Mooney notes that while the tradition of the Moon-Eyed People isn’t extremely detailed, it’s a consistent tradition based on the idea of predecessors in Appalachia before the Cherokee arrived or made their presence dominant in the Southern Appalachians. Western sources disagree as to who these people may have been, as Cherokee descriptions of them mainly note that this group was called “moon-eyed” due to their blue eyes that caused them to see poorly during the day. The Moon-Eyed People were said to be nocturnal due to this, and some ancient stone structures in Tennessee and Georgia are credited to their civilization by the Cherokee. But the question remains: Who were these people?
Many Western sources say the Moon-Eyed People were early white or European settlers, such as the Welsh, who may have found their way to the Americas before other Europeans began to settle the Appalachians in the 1700s. Other early sources say they may have been Indigenous people with a form of albinism, some say they were a separate tribe who assimilated with the Cherokee, some even say that the Moon-Eyed People were a mythical race of supernatural humans, similar to the Nunnehi (lit. “The people who live everywhere”). Every source does agree, though, Cherokee included, that whoever they were, the Cherokee expelled them from their mountain homes and wiped them out either through war or through cultural assimilation. Still, no one knows for sure who these people were, but theories abound even to this day as to who, or even what, built the stone structures and mounds that populate the forests of Tennessee and Georgia. So how do they tie in to The Moon-Eyed Ones, which takes place in the 1830s, well after the Moon-Eyed People had disappeared?
Silas is often called “Moon-Eyed” by the Cherokee characters throughout the book, and he is first introduced to the myth through Waya, Amadahy’s brother-in-law. The Cherokee name Amadahy gives him, Nvdodikani (pronounced Nuh-do-di-kahn-i), even means “sun/moon-gazer,” as nvdo is the Cherokee word for both the sun and moon, the only difference is that one is the nvdo for the day, and the other is nvdo for the night. As Silas speaks to Waya and Inola, the matriarch of the Kingfisher family, he asks if he is one of these Moon-Eyed People, because while the myth is vague, it fits his family’s history: the Vanovers and the other Melungeons of Hawktail Ridge were driven from their home to hide in the mountains where no one could find them, not by the Cherokee, but by the settlers of Ellistown.
Silas also mentions in the book’s opener that his family had been in the mountains after the Cherokee, but before the other European settlers came in from the colonies according to the stories passed down to him by his parents. Either way, Silas also fights the myth of all Melungeons having vivid blue eyes and inhuman traits, something that was used to other Melungeon people from both the whites and Natives of the Appalachians, and is still even used today. Despite the blue-eyed myth being true in his case, the Moon-Eyed People of the book’s universe were an indigenous group, not necessarily foreign settlers from a European expedition. It is hinted that the Cherokee of Cedar Hill often considered their Melungeon neighbors to be descendants of this mysterious tribe, while also recognizing that they were mixed-race individuals that didn’t quite fit in anywhere.
As far as the title is concerned, it also references the literal meaning of “moon-eyed,” meaning “having eyes wide in wonder,” as Silas and Amadahy go through learning experiences throughout the entire book. Still, no one in Cedar Hill can answer who the Moon-Eyed People really are, and whether Silas and his family are descendants of this group remains a mystery.