Uncanny Georgia: Tsul ‘Kalu

Judaculla Rock, photo by Onmountain [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Judaculla Rock, photo by Onmountain [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tsul ‘kalu is a Cherokee word that roughly translates as “slant-eyed.” In the singular, the word refers an individual, a “lord of the hunt” in the spirit of “master (or mistress) of animals” figures in many world mythologies. He is said to live in Tsunegunyi, on the Tanasee Bald in Jackson County, North Carolina. European settlers sometimes garbled Tsul ‘kalu to Judaculla, from which the mysterious Judaculla Rock in western North Carolina gets its name.

The Cherokee of northern Georgia no doubt would have also been familiar with Tsul ‘kalu. But this “lord of the hunt” was not merely an individual. The plural form, tsunil ‘kalu refers to a race of mythological giants that live in the far west. According to James Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokee (1900),

James Wafford, of the western Cherokee, who was born in Georgia in 1806, says that his grandmother, who must have been born about the middle of the last century, told him that she had beard from the old people that long before her time a party of giants had come once to visit the Cherokee. They were nearly twice as tall as common men, and had their eyes set slanting in their heads, so that the Cherokee called them Tsunil’kälû’, “The Slant-eyed people,” because they looked like the giant hunter Tsul’kälû’.… They said that these giants lived very far away in the direction in which the sun goes down. The Cherokee received them as friends, and they stayed some time, and then returned to their home in the west.

In Children of Pride, my protagonists pass by Judaculla Rock on a couple of occasions, although I don’t bring up its associations with Tsul ‘kalu. In Oak, Ash, and Thorn, however, I did manage to find room for a slant-eyed giant as a secondary character.

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