What Gives Appalachia Its Unique American Charm?
It’s hard to get more “American” than the Appalachians, a mountainous region of the northeast and southeast steeped in mystique and timeless traditions.
In fact, most of those traditions have been passed down from generation to generation. It comes alive through the music, crafts, cuisine and everyday way of life.
If you dig into the culture, you can get some insight into how the early settlers adapted to the challenges of mountain living and created rich traditions that still thrive today.
Who “Discovered” Appalachia?
You probably guessed it: The Native Americans settled in Appalachia more than 16,000 years ago. Back then, the area was largely inhabited by farmers and hunters who used the rich resources of the land to support themselves and their tribes. The Cherokee Indians were a dominant force in the southern parts of this area and competed with the northern Algonquians for territory in the Appalachian Mountains. European settlers did not arrive in this area until the late 17th and early 18th centuries and soon supplanted the native inhabitants as the dominant group in the area.
Use It Up, Wear It Out
Many aspects of Appalachian culture evolved to compensate for the lack of finished consumer goods and the difficulty in acquiring these items in this mountainous region. The scarcity of store-bought blankets, for example, led directly to the practice of quilting. By using scraps of material to create block-based designs, quilters could reuse worn-out articles of clothing to provide added warmth on cold winter nights.
Celebrating Mountain Music
The joyful music of the Appalachians originated from the cultures of European settlers who arrived during the initial settlement phase and of African-American slaves who brought their own musical traditions and styles with them to the area. Fiddles, banjos and dulcimers were prominently featured in many of the compositions and folk songs created or adapted by Appalachian musicians. These instruments were portable and easy to repair; many were passed down through generations of musicians and became more valuable due to their history and the stories associated with these iconic musical instruments.
Working for a Living
The coal mines and logging operations that dominated the Appalachian job market in the late 19th and early 20th century brought added income into this region of the U.S. and allowed many families to escape poverty for the first time.
However, these jobs also entailed significant risks for workers and resulted in the early deaths of many wage earners in Appalachian families. One side effect of these untimely deaths was the increased importance of mothers, aunts and grandmothers in the family hierarchy. In fact, matriarchal arrangements were common and accepted as part of the overall culture of the Appalachians and helped to instill spiritual and practical attributes that have carried on for generations.
The culture of the Appalachians resembles the patchwork quilts crafted with care by its residents. Elements of many different cultures have contributed to the music, the food and the atmosphere of this region.
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