Two cultures, both rich in heritage and seemingly completely different, will come together in Rome for one day, each bringing its own unique traditions to an all-inclusive festival.
The Chieftains Cherokee and Celtic Festival takes place June 25 and combines the myths, legends, folklore and crafts of the Cherokee with the high spirited music and games of the Celts.
“A lot of people don’t realize that there is a connection between the two cultures,” said Debby Brown, programs director at Chieftains Museum. “Many of the Cherokee in this area had Scottish ancestors. Both cultures had that clan mentality. There’s more of a connection than meets the eye.”
While the festival will feature food, vendors, storytelling and music, the highlight of the event will be the fabled Highland Games.
Chattanooga’s River City Dreams will be bringing the competition to the festival and will feature kilt-clad athletes competing in seven traditional Highland Games events.
The athletes will be competing in the Stone Put or Braemer Stone which uses a 22-pound stone in an event similar to the modern day shot put.
The Open Stone competition uses a 16-pound stone in a similar fashion.
The Weight for Distance event sees competitors hurling weights made of metal. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. Usually a spinning technique is employed. The longest throw wins.
Athletes in the Caber Toss hoist a long, tapered pole or log and balance it vertically holding the smaller end in their hands. The athlete then runs forward, attempting to toss it in such a way that it turns end over and with the larger end striking the ground first. Competitors are judged on how closely their throws approximate the ideal 12 o’clock toss on an imaginary clock.
In the Hammer Throw, a round metal ball is attached to the end of a shaft about four feet in length. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about the athlete’s head and thrown for distance.
Weight Over Bar competitors attempt to toss a 56-pound weight over a horizontal bar using only one hand. Each athlete is allowed three attempts at each height. Successful clearance of the height allows the athlete to advance into the next round at a greater height. The competition is determined by the highest successful toss with fewest misses being used to break tie scores.
Perhaps the most iconic of Highland Games events, the Sheaf Toss, features a bundle or sheaf of straw wrapped in a burlap bag which is tossed vertically with a pitchfork. The sheaf is tossed over a raised bar. The progression and scoring of this event is similar to the Weight Over The Bar. There is significant debate among athletes as to whether the sheaf toss is in fact an authentic Highland event. Some argue it is actually a country fair event, but all agree that it is a great crowdpleaser.
“All Highland games are traditional games that people have been participating in for hundreds of years,” said Rob Hatch, president of River City Dreams who is also a Highland games competitor in the master division.
Hatch will be joined by other male and female athletes competing in the various events. Some are traveling from as far away as Sarasota, Fla., to attempt world record performances in their particular discipline.
“So you’ll be able to see some top athletes performing but some festivalgoers can also participate,” Hatch said, added that there will be a portion of the competition reserved for visitors who want to try their luck at the various events.
But the festival is about more than just the Highland games. Celtic music will be provided by Rome’s own Ceilidh Celtic Ensemble. Cherokee dancers will perform while Robin Jumper of the Cherokee nation will relate stories and the history of his people.
There will be demonstrations of old skills including blacksmithing and spinning.
Various vendors from across the region will be selling Celtic- and Cherokee-inspired art and clothing.
Kids can also participate in the activities by way of a mini-Highland games competition as well as facepainting and crafts.
Area storytellers will spin tales throughout the day and those who think they fit the bill can participate in a “Bonnie Knees” and “Bony Knees” contest.
“This is such a unique event,” said Hatch, who will also be an announcer during the festivities. “It’s not your typical Celtic festival. It’s a big deal. We’re bringing together these two cultures in a really fun, entertaining way.”
The Chieftains Cherokee and Celtic Festival takes place Saturday, June 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Chieftains Museum/Major Ridge Home, 501 Riverside Parkway.
Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children under 12. Wear a kilt and get in for free.