Monday, January 19, 2015

The Moon-Eyed People

A request was made, once upon a time, that we include articles about lore, folk tales, and the extra disturbing ghost stories that our grandparents swore were true.  So, here we go with our first Matter-of-Fact Monday devoted to anthropology (of a sort)!

In the Appalachian mountains that range from Kentucky down to Georgia, there are strange formations in the rock.  Fortresses have been carved into the pre-existing features of the stone, and rocky walls dating back to 400 B.C. snake their way through the trees.  When Europeans began to sweep across the hills, they marveled at the ruins.  They asked the local Cherokee: Who built these structures?  The answer was not "We did." but rather "The Azgen.  The Moon-Eyed People."

The story goes that long ago, when the Cherokee first traveled to Southern Appalachia, they met a race already living among the mountains.  Their skin was the purest white, and their hair yellow.  They had beards, and large eyes that allowed them see well at night, but blinded them during the day.  They were so sensitive that they were even hurt by the glow of the full moon.  In some places, the story says it was the Creek that murdered the Moon-Eyed People, in others, the Cherokee themselves claim to have wiped them out.  The lone survivors were driven underground to live in subterranean tunnels, far from light and war.  The ghosts of the murdered still haunt the hills to this day.

In Ohio, the Shawnee refused to settle in Kentucky.  Despite it being prime hunting grounds, they claimed that if they set up their permanent dwellings there, they would be killed by the ghosts of the dead Azgen.

In Georgia, just over the North Carolina border, the Fort Mountain State Park preserves one of the most impressive ruins attributed to the Moon-Eyed People.  Massive stone fortifications towering several stories high have stood for thousands of years.  A historical marker is even dedicated to the 'legend' of the Moon-Eyed People.

It is said that on the darkest nights of the new moon, the Moon-Eyed People still venture out to steal livestock, property, or women and children.

There are several theories as to what may have inspired these tales.

1) The Welsh:

In 1810, John Sevier, former governor of Tennessee, wrote that he'd been told by the Cherokee leader Oconostota that the Moon-Eyed People were, in fact, Welsh.  There was a popular theory that noted how well the stories about the Moon-Eyed People lined up with the legend of Prince Madoc.  Madoc was said to have sailed across the ocean long before Columbus, and may well have settled in the New World with a band of his countrymen.  This would explain the pale skin and yellow beards.

Though this seems to be the most popular theory about the Moon-Eyed people on the internet, there is also the criticism that this account is more a testament to white colonial influence than historical fact.  Aside from these testimonials, and wild conjecture, there is no evidence that the Welsh traveled to North Carolina and became The Moon-Eyed People.

2) Albinos:

The Guna, an indigenous people of Panama, exhibit extremely high rates of albinism.  More common in males, albinos are treated as a different race and traditionally honored with a crucial task: protect the moon.  At night, they are sent out with special bows and arrows to shoot at the dragon that attempts to swallow the moon during lunar eclipses.  This keeps the moon safe and keeps the tides in check, a particularly important concern for people who live on an atoll.

It is not assumed that the Moon-Eyed People are a branch of the Guna.  But rather, the Guna are an excellent example of how an indigenous race could be a natural explanation for the Moon-Eyed People.  Through intertribal marriages, it is possible that a race of pale, yellow-haired people could have emerged organically, without an infusion of European genetics.

3) The Lost Tribes: 

After the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C., ten of the twelve tribes of Israel disappeared.  It is commonly assumed that they were assimilated into the surrounding nations.  However, there has long been the hope that the ten tribes would one day be rediscovered, and reunited.  A theory common among Mormons is that the Native Americans are, in fact, one of the lost tribes of Israel.

In this theory, the Moon-Eyed People are jews, instead of welshmen or indigenous albinos.

I personally ascribe to the albino theory.  The other two simply don't sit well with the accounts of the Azgen, or common sense.

If you'd like to read more about the Azgen, including multiple citations of primary sources, take a look at this snarky, in-depth article by a real anthropologist: The Moon in Your Eyes.


P.S. Hope you don't run into any Moon-People if you visit home, Laura.  Enlist a war-possum if you get in deep.

1 comment:

  1. I grew up listening to stories of the Moon Eyed People, so I love this article. I was the kid that always looked for them whenever I was out in the woods at night.