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Old 12-28-2003, 10:33 AM   #1
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The Cherokee Syllabary

I am not certain how many of you have read the book, but I received a copy of

"Tell Them They Lie"

published by Traveller Bird, a purported direct descendent of Sequoyah who wrote his work in 1971 that was published by, I believe, Western Lore Publishers. According to the work Bird had considerable support from a rather famous Indian activist that was active during the beginning of Indigenous resistance named Clyde Warrior.

According to the book "Sequoyah" is a made up identity of a man who never existed, the true name of his ancestor he asserts was "Sogwili Gigage'i" (Red Horse Town) Sogwili or "Horse" was his name for short, he was name for the town in which he was born, and contrary to popular belief, was not a mixed blood, but a full blood Cherokee.

In addition the book makes the rather surprising assertion that, the Cherokee syllabary the "real" one had its origins in Pre-Contact times. That another tribe called the "Taliwa" was absorbed among them and they had supposedly brought "gold plates" upon which the original syllabary, known as the "gohwelodi" was inscribed.

Now, I would have to argue that this element of the story is evidence of either biblical or mormon doctrine seeping into Cherokee tradition what with the "gold plate" hypothesis and all, but there are certain aspects of Bird's book that prove compelling to the theory relating to at least an "earlier" origin of the writing system.

The accepted theory of course is that the half Cherokee man "Sequoyah" single handedly "invented" the Cherokee syllabary. And that the "original" syllabary was too complicated, that is to say to curly and expressive, to be easily turned into block print, so....at the request of Moravian Missionary Samuel A. Worcestor, this "Sequoyah" was invited to choose letters from the Latin and Greek alphabets to replace those that the missionaries deemed to difficult to print.

There is even a paper purported to show the "Original" curly and expressive characters of "Sequoyah" side by side with the syllabary that we have today. I don't remember in which collection it is however.

However, when we look at Traveller Bird's chart of the gohwelodi, there is no similarity between it and the supposed "original" syllabary of the infamous "Sequoyah", and this becomes all the more interesting when one considers the story that is presented in Bird's book in further detail.

He claims that, the real guy "Sogwili" was not an inventor of the syllabary, but rather a protector of the original "gohwelodi" and a member of the "Seven Clan Scribe Society" and that these people, in order to combat the "civilization" program of Washington DC that was intent on sending missionaries throughout Cherokee country to educate them in English only schools and perpetrate a cultural genocide against them, he got his people together and took those loyal to the traditonal ways away from those schools and taught them to read and write in the gohwelodi instead.

Then, much later, after the dissolution of the original and traditional Cherokee system of governance, in favor of one modeled after the bureaucratic US government, the "New Order" of Cherokees intercepted a letter written in the gohwelodi on corn shuck paper and were able to capture and imprison Sogwili as a result. They accused him of being a witch and cut off his fingers, nose, and ears, his wife's ears as well.

However, somehow word got out that a Cherokee had "invented" a writing system for their language. The Cherokee "New Order" could not very well send the mutilated Sogwili to Washington, because of the questions that would naturally arise about why he'd been so deformed, so they quickly "invented" a syllabary based on imperfect knowledge gleaned from Sogwili and others, replaced many of the characters with English/Latin ones. Rathern than sending "Sogwili" to Washington they sent Thomas Maw, son of Hanging Maw, in his stead and gave him the title that would go down in history "Sequoyah".

If this scenario is indeed true than it would naturally conclude that the conspirators also had to "invent" the fake "original" syllabary that is presented alongside what might arguably be called the "Sequoyan" syllabary that we have today.

The problems with Bird's work are numerous however, one is that he cites hundreds of "documents" that are said to be written in this gohwelodi and provides English translations of certain of them. He however, does not provide the original documents at all, not even photographs of them (since scanners didn't exist at the time of the publication) nor does anyone appear to know the location of said documents today.

Also, he gives a syllabary chart of the 92 character gohwelodi, but does not provide any sort of pronunciation key. He doesn't even give a side by side comparison of the current "Sequoyan" syllabary and the gohwelodi.

This, one might make the argument for, is because he desired to keep the gohwelodi secret while at the same time making it public. That is to say he wanted people to know "about" it, but not how to "use" it.

The next problem arises in that, whereas Bird argues that the "gohwelodi" which he presents is of purely Indigenous origin, when one looks at several of the characts it is clearly evident at least some of the characters are of Western origin.

If indeed the syllabary is of pre-European, or at least older origin than is presently suggested, than it would naturally conclude that, these characters within the "gohwelodi" that "look like" Western characters simply must've been borrowed from the Spanish alphabet after the voyage of De Soto through the Southeast and subsequent trading relationship developed between the Spaniards and the Inians in the region, in the bloody wake of De Soto's initial destruction.

I've read contemporary Cherokees today, lend credence to the idea that the syllabary might have ancient origins and the one that we use today may not be entirely the original, Wilma Mankiller for exmaple, spoke of such things.

When I asked Durbin Feeling about it, he said he'd always heard, among some people, the story of a more ancient origin for the script, even prior to the publication of the book. I had always wanted to contact Traveller Bird, if he is still living, but Feeling told me that many have attempted just that and failed. Nobody seems to know where he's at, if indeed he's still living, nor who and where his descendents might reside.
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Old 12-29-2003, 02:29 AM   #2
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I've read that book. ;)
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Old 12-29-2003, 04:55 AM   #3
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According to the LDS churches, Joseph Smith, Jr. was led by the angel Moroni to a hill in New York state, where he found thousand year old gold plates. Given the Urim and Thumim in the form of a mystical pair of glasses, Smith translated the gold plates into the Book of Mormon. According to some, Smith actually stole his ideas from a fantasy novel that was written with a religious undertone. If the latter is true, the story of the gold plates would have to be from the 1800's. The Urim and Thumim (literally Orim v'Tumim in Hebrew) is translated "lights and perfections" and although there is not a physical description of them in the Torah, they were objects that the Israel high priest kept in the pocket behind the jeweled breastplate of his garment. Rabbinic tradition tells us they resembled gambling sticks, so they were probably not unlike the bones used in NDN stickgames. These devices were used to discern G-d's answer to a given prayer.

One thing that is interesting, though, is Smith's apparent interest in Diffusionism in the writing of the Book of Mormon. There is a small series of books by linguistic anthropologist Barry Fell describing correlations between some of the NDN languages and ancient languages once used in Europe and North Africa. He does not imply that we came from there, but he does strongly indicate there was peace and international commerce between our ancestors and wasicu's ancestors long before Europe experienced its Dark Ages. The controversial Bat Creek Stone is said to have been found in a Cherokee burial mound in Tennessee and on it is the inscription, "Kadosh L'YY" in a paleo-Hebrew script used around 2,000 years ago. It means "Holy unto HaSHEM (Y-H-V-H, G-d)."

According to Fell, nearly 300 Algonquin words share meanings and have similar pronunciations to their equivalents in Koine', an ancient dialect of Greek many Bible scholars believe the New Testament was originally written in (I personally believe much of it was Aramaic, aka "Chaldee"). He also claims that a sacred Creation story enchanted to him by an elder from one of the SW tribes was understood by a scholar of ancient Phoenician, and that a Shoshone man travelling in the Army recognized words in Basque as being from his own tongue. Alot of today's historians guffaw at Fell's theories, but only because they oppose the common belief that Columbus was our first European visitor. But then that wouldn't explain all the blonde haired, blue eyes fullbloods that could possibly be descended from Leif Eriksen. ;)
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Old 12-29-2003, 08:33 AM   #4
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I've read Barry Fell,

I started contacting all my e-mail buddies whom I know are linguists and they discounted a great many of Fell's ideas based on an imperfect knowledge of linguistics inherent within his work.

One assertion that a linguist gave me was that his notion that Paiute I believe, was in any way related to Arabic, as Fell at one time suggested, was patently absurd. And there is an article which I know of, that I can't recall where it was published, by a reputable linguist that the Bat Creek Stone was a clever forgery.

I will concede however, that the science of linguistics has definitively concluded that there were at least four "stocks" of people from which modern Amerindians originated and the notion that there was absolutely no pre-Columbian contact between the "Old" and "New" Worlds is being regularly disproven.

The problem arises when suggests abound that all of the great monuments and civilizations of Indian people were built by someone other than themselves. These theories abounded in the 19th century, under the fundamentally racist suggestion that "Pure" Indians were simply far to incapable and downright stupid to have built the great cities of the Maya, Aztec, and Inca.

Once again, modern linguistics, archaeology, and very careful study of skeletal remains found at the respective sites proves definitively that it was Indian people, not Vikings, or aliens from another galaxy, nor Phoenicians etc. who built Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, Cuzco, Mach Picchu, and the like. It was indeed real live, brown skinned Indians that built those places and their ancestors occupy the same general area today.

One extraordinarily frustrating theory that has been posed today concerning the Olmec is that their ancestors were Black. Now, don't get me wrong there's nothing wrong with being Black and there is a possibility mind you, that Black West Africans may have traversed the Atlantic in Pre-Columbian times, but the theory of the African origin of the Olmec Civilization is just as racist in its implications as the theory that the Norse built the Mound Builder cities.

The proponent of the theory, Clyde Winters, was proven to have his own self-interest behind advancing the theory. The area in Mexico in which the Olmec lived, he owns property there, he wishes to start a tourism enterprise and was hoping that the theory he was advancing would encourage black people from the US to emigrate to the area.

One completely preposterous suggestion that Winters makes, is that the Olmec writing system had African origins, and points to the Vai script of West Africa, but linguists and historians and most of the Vai people themselves will attest to the fact that the Vai script did not originate until the 19th century and was the invention of one man who is said to have seen it a vision/dream.

Whereas the Olmec script is deeply rooted in the symbology of early Indigenous civilizations in the region. And the language in which the texts are written, such as on the Tuxtla Statuette and the La Mojarra Stelae are written in Mixe-Zoquean, NOT in any recognizable African language. Indeed, linguists will assert there is no identifiable relationship between the language of any group of West Africans and those of ancient Mexico. If indeed the progenitors of the Olmecs were Black Africans, they would've at least retained some borrowed vocabulary, but such is not the case.

One prime example would be English, 60 percent of English vocabulary is borrowed from Mideval French because of the Norman Invasion. Words like "garage" and "carriage" and the like still retain a very apparent French form. No loan words like this are found in the Mixe-Zoquean of the Olmec inscriptions.

Another example of the extraordinarily racist ideology behind the African origin of the Olmec people is that now, a large number of them argue that the local Indigenous population "Thought they were gods" and worshipped them. Why is it that every time an encounter is suggested between Indians and non-Indian people in history it is always assumed that the non-Indians were viewed as "gods"? What is the deal with this extraordinarily inferior status repeatedly attributed to Indigenous people?

What is even more frustrating for me with this African theory, is that in advancing and already debunked theory Winters has denied his people the right to express pride in the real history and culture of their West African ancestors who were NOT the savage and barbaric cannibals in European legend. They were in fact some of the wealthiest and culturally advanced civilizations on the continent. There are plenty of excellent books out examining the cultures of not just West Africa, but the whole of the civilizations of the subsaharan continent. These would be a far mor excellent resource for African Americans wishing to study their history and learn of the contributions of their people to the art, science, history, literature and culture of the world (that is prior to their having been kidnapped and forced into servitude throughout the western hemisphere, europe and the mideast).

In any event, when exploring the possibility of pre-columbian trade, contact, even intermarriage between Indigenous peoples and those of the other continents, one must exercise great caution. When one encounters a story that exhibits racist ideology behind it, one should begin to view it with the scrutiny that it most assuredly deserves.
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Old 12-30-2003, 08:31 AM   #5
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In my previous posts.....

I didn't mean to imply that there were no writing systems, I'm fully aware of the Maya script, as well as the Zapotec, Mixtec, and "Aztec" codices and ideography, the Inka "quipu" system and of course wampum and wintercounts, petroglyphs and the like north of Mexico.

As for the Mayan script, I used to want to be an epigrapher (one who deciphers writing on stone monuments) so I know plenty about the Maya script.

The Maya script is whats known as "Logo-syllabic" that is, some characters represent whole words or ideas, some represent individual syllables in the "CV" or consonant-vowel combination that the present Sequoyan syllabary uses.

In all, epigraphers have cataloged and determined the meaning of most of the approximately 600 glyphs in the system.

As for the manuscripts or "codices", they were all taken by the Maya to their Post-Classic cities in the Yucatan of Mexico, which is where the genocidal maniac Bishop Diego de Landa later gathered them all up in a big pile in the plaza of Chichen Itza and burned them all stating "Finding in them nothing that was not superstitious or of the Devil, we burned them all, which caused them great suffering".

De Landa, that ignorant *******, did one good thing unconciously though, before he destroyed them he had created in his book a "pronunciation key" of Spanish letters and Mayan syllabic glyphs which greatly aided later generations of epigraphers to "break the Maya Code" which, contrary to much outdated literature, has been broken for quite some time now.

Shortly following the destruction of Maya literary knowledge another overzealous maniac, Father Juan de Zumarraga destroyed all the Aztec manuscripts in what had been a great library in the Aztec city of Tetzcoco.

Today there are only 4, well technically three, its just one is split in half and at different locations, Maya codices that have survive, and not a single "preconquest" Aztec manuscript exists, all the ones they currently have were written or painted after spanish conquest and under the direction of the Spaniards, (since they are such and were written centuries after the conquest, they must be deemed worthless as sources of accurate ethnographic evidence)

The only non-Maya preconquest Codex still in existence is a Mixtec manuscript that is the chronicle of a warrior named "Eight Deer" or so we are told by the anthropologists/archaeologists, I would like to know what the Mixtec have to say about it.

The ideographic systems of the Aztec and Mixtec are relatively well understood, but that of the Zapotec, in the numerous inscriptions at sites like Monte Alban, still remains quite a mystery but appears to follow the more ideograph principle of the Aztec system than the syllabic one of the Maya.

Another perplexing but recently deciphered script was that of the Epi-Olmec, found on both the Tuxtla Statuette and the La Mojarra Stelae dating to around 150 BCE. It chronicles the life of "Harvester Mountain Lord" and Olmec King. The language of the Olmec was thereby proven to have been "Mixe-Zoquean" and the Zoque Indians still live in the same general area where most of the Olmec monuments have been found.

Anyway, Inka quipus were more like wampum cuz they weren't syllabic or phonetic like what Europeans generally consider "True Writing" they were a system of knotted and colored cords used for record keeping, contrary to popular belief they weren't just for numbers and inventory, ample evidence suggests they could be "read" as well, but nobody remembers how, or so we are told.

We all know, or should at least, what wampum and wampum belts are and how they work. Then you have the "Wintercounts" of the Plains peoples and the pictographic records of the Ojibwe that (I've been told at least) wrote their pictographs on birch bark papers kept in small birch bark containers.

So when I spoke of the Cherokee records, if they are real, being the only major body of Indigenous literature prior to European arrival, i was a little hasty. What I meant was, the only major body written in a syllabic script rather than a pictographic/ideographic record (that we know of at least)

An interesting story regarding the Mayan writing system was that, one Cherokee whom I spoke to, the same man who told of the word "Cherriakitarghe" seemed to believe that the "real" Cherokee "gohwelodi" was adapted from the Mayan script. Now, when comparing both this seems highly unlikely, but if such a system did in fact exist, it is not altogether improbable that some sort of Mesoamerican influence was involved. And I must confess there are at least a few characters in Traveller Bird's "gohwelodi" that look suspiciously similar to characters on the La Mojarra Stelae in the Epi-Olmec script.

It might be of interest to many of you, that in a legend collected among the Cherokees by Alexander Long as early as 1725 the Cherokees of the time mentioned they'd had a writing system that they wrote onto white deerskins prior to European arrival. However, Long's informants believed that the script had long since been lost
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Old 04-19-2005, 10:25 AM   #6
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I am a Cherokee, over 1/2, as a matter of fact. I've not ever of this Bird man. For all I know he may be trying to be something he isn't. alot of people seem to be doing that today. Anyway, learning from my Grand mother, who was a full-blood Cherokee, she told me that "Sequoah" in English meant "Pig foot" or "Club foot". the sequoah who wrote the syllabary wasn't a full-blood because one of his parents were of European descent. Let me do some more research and asking my elders and I'll be back with more info.
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Old 01-13-2008, 09:13 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kituhwa View Post
I am not certain how many of you have read the book, but I received a copy of

"Tell Them They Lie"

published by Traveller Bird, a purported direct descendent of Sequoyah who wrote his work in 1971 that was published by, I believe, Western Lore Publishers. According to the work Bird had considerable support from a rather famous Indian activist that was active during the beginning of Indigenous resistance named Clyde Warrior.

According to the book "Sequoyah" is a made up identity of a man who never existed, the true name of his ancestor he asserts was "Sogwili Gigage'i" (Red Horse Town) Sogwili or "Horse" was his name for short, he was name for the town in which he was born, and contrary to popular belief, was not a mixed blood, but a full blood Cherokee.

In addition the book makes the rather surprising assertion that, the Cherokee syllabary the "real" one had its origins in Pre-Contact times. That another tribe called the "Taliwa" was absorbed among them and they had supposedly brought "gold plates" upon which the original syllabary, known as the "gohwelodi" was inscribed.

Now, I would have to argue that this element of the story is evidence of either biblical or mormon doctrine seeping into Cherokee tradition what with the "gold plate" hypothesis and all, but there are certain aspects of Bird's book that prove compelling to the theory relating to at least an "earlier" origin of the writing system.

The accepted theory of course is that the half Cherokee man "Sequoyah" single handedly "invented" the Cherokee syllabary. And that the "original" syllabary was too complicated, that is to say to curly and expressive, to be easily turned into block print, so....at the request of Moravian Missionary Samuel A. Worcestor, this "Sequoyah" was invited to choose letters from the Latin and Greek alphabets to replace those that the missionaries deemed to difficult to print.

There is even a paper purported to show the "Original" curly and expressive characters of "Sequoyah" side by side with the syllabary that we have today. I don't remember in which collection it is however.

However, when we look at Traveller Bird's chart of the gohwelodi, there is no similarity between it and the supposed "original" syllabary of the infamous "Sequoyah", and this becomes all the more interesting when one considers the story that is presented in Bird's book in further detail.

He claims that, the real guy "Sogwili" was not an inventor of the syllabary, but rather a protector of the original "gohwelodi" and a member of the "Seven Clan Scribe Society" and that these people, in order to combat the "civilization" program of Washington DC that was intent on sending missionaries throughout Cherokee country to educate them in English only schools and perpetrate a cultural genocide against them, he got his people together and took those loyal to the traditonal ways away from those schools and taught them to read and write in the gohwelodi instead.

Then, much later, after the dissolution of the original and traditional Cherokee system of governance, in favor of one modeled after the bureaucratic US government, the "New Order" of Cherokees intercepted a letter written in the gohwelodi on corn shuck paper and were able to capture and imprison Sogwili as a result. They accused him of being a witch and cut off his fingers, nose, and ears, his wife's ears as well.

However, somehow word got out that a Cherokee had "invented" a writing system for their language. The Cherokee "New Order" could not very well send the mutilated Sogwili to Washington, because of the questions that would naturally arise about why he'd been so deformed, so they quickly "invented" a syllabary based on imperfect knowledge gleaned from Sogwili and others, replaced many of the characters with English/Latin ones. Rathern than sending "Sogwili" to Washington they sent Thomas Maw, son of Hanging Maw, in his stead and gave him the title that would go down in history "Sequoyah".

If this scenario is indeed true than it would naturally conclude that the conspirators also had to "invent" the fake "original" syllabary that is presented alongside what might arguably be called the "Sequoyan" syllabary that we have today.

The problems with Bird's work are numerous however, one is that he cites hundreds of "documents" that are said to be written in this gohwelodi and provides English translations of certain of them. He however, does not provide the original documents at all, not even photographs of them (since scanners didn't exist at the time of the publication) nor does anyone appear to know the location of said documents today.

Also, he gives a syllabary chart of the 92 character gohwelodi, but does not provide any sort of pronunciation key. He doesn't even give a side by side comparison of the current "Sequoyan" syllabary and the gohwelodi.

This, one might make the argument for, is because he desired to keep the gohwelodi secret while at the same time making it public. That is to say he wanted people to know "about" it, but not how to "use" it.

The next problem arises in that, whereas Bird argues that the "gohwelodi" which he presents is of purely Indigenous origin, when one looks at several of the characts it is clearly evident at least some of the characters are of Western origin.

If indeed the syllabary is of pre-European, or at least older origin than is presently suggested, than it would naturally conclude that, these characters within the "gohwelodi" that "look like" Western characters simply must've been borrowed from the Spanish alphabet after the voyage of De Soto through the Southeast and subsequent trading relationship developed between the Spaniards and the Inians in the region, in the bloody wake of De Soto's initial destruction.

I've read contemporary Cherokees today, lend credence to the idea that the syllabary might have ancient origins and the one that we use today may not be entirely the original, Wilma Mankiller for exmaple, spoke of such things.

When I asked Durbin Feeling about it, he said he'd always heard, among some people, the story of a more ancient origin for the script, even prior to the publication of the book. I had always wanted to contact Traveller Bird, if he is still living, but Feeling told me that many have attempted just that and failed. Nobody seems to know where he's at, if indeed he's still living, nor who and where his descendents might reside.
I also have heard of this story before,
But there is no mention of the original 124 characters that was reduced to 86 and now 84, this was done because the typsetters thought 124 was too many
But here is the thing, the words are still there you just have to know the meaning by the context
Winter and bone is a prime example
They are both written the same way but pronounced differently
go-la winter
ko-la bone
The whole second row of our sylabary each letter can be pronounced with a g sound or a k sound but the letter is the same for each sound
Same with the 9th row

I know that it has been said before that some of the Lettering looks like english letters or numbers
But that is also been explained, back when they were trying to print our language in books the typesetters did not want to recarve each letter from scratch so they took letters they already had that looked similiar to the syllabery they had and viola!






From the John Howard Payne papers collected at the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The photograph from which the illustration above is taken is copyrighted by the Gilcrease Museum.
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Old 01-15-2008, 04:42 AM   #8
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Blackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond reputeBlackbear has a reputation beyond repute
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Alaska
Posts: 9,817
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Quote:
Originally Posted by traci_m View Post
I've read that book. ;)
OMG THERE"S A FACE FROM TEH PAST!!! HOW YOU BEEN WOMAN??? Good to see you again!
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Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.
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