Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Rise of the Iroquois Part III, Haudenosaunee, the People of the Longhouse

27 February 2014 Comments (0)

With the People of the Flint (Mohawks) firmly behind him, the Great Peacemaker could now begin implementing his plans full time.

First the National Council of his current hosts has to be organized, to be conducted in the way of the town councils, with its representatives being nominated by the Clan Mothers, promptly replaced should the chosen man be noticed neglecting his duties.

Next, the neighboring nation, the People of the Standing Stone (Oneida) was to be approached. Surprisingly, the People of the Standing Stone gave the Peacemaker no trouble, joining the union promptly and with great excitement. In a matter of a few gatherings the old enmity of long moons and summers was forgotten, to be replaced by a brotherhood and a firm agreement. The laws of the Peacemaker’s constitution were strong and uncompromising.

Yet, not every nation received the message of the Good Tidings of Peace with enthusiasm. The Onondaga People were still unheeding, still resentful, with Hiawatha, encouraged by the Peacemaker, back and struggling, but Tadodaho proving difficult, impossible to convince, or even intimidate, into listening.

To the west, the People of the Great Swamp (Cayuga) greeted the changes most eagerly, but their neighbors, the powerful People of the Mountains (Seneca) wouldn’t hear any of it. They were divided too, with two prominent leaders agreeing but in one thing, as it seemed – in their resentment of foreigners presuming to manage their people’s affairs. To convince the People of the Mountains another miracle was needed, but by this time the Great Peacemaker seemed to be growing impatient.

So it was August 1142, when he arrived at Genesee River, a river that crossed Senecas’ lands, making a boundary between the two parts of the nation.

The gathering was called, with both leaders coming promptly, but with their minds closed to reason. The argument that ensued must have been long and tedious. Seneca people seemed to be wary of the idea of peace and mutual management alongside with the people considered their bitter enemies for long summers that passed.

And then the sun began disappearing from the sky.

The list of fulltime solar eclipses shows that, indeed, one such occurred over this area in August 1142 (and again somewhere around 1451), according to the list displayed on NASA Eclipse Website.

Whether it was the Great Peacemaker’s doing or not, upon seeing such a terrible phenomena, the People of the Mountains brought forward no more arguments. Having recovered from their fright but awed beyond reason, they joined the proposed union with no further delays.

Which left the Great Peacemaker free to deal with the Onondagas and their difficult Tadodaho.

According to many versions of the legend, the Peacemaker and Hiawatha went to see the evil sorcerer together, armed with their words and little else.

The daylight hours passed while they talked and talked, with the evil man refusing to listen. Snakes twisted in his hair, and his body was contorted, terrible to look at.

Finally, after many persuasive speeches the stubborn leader deigned to see the reason, agreeing to join the Good Tidings of Peace. At this point the Peacemaker was reported to comb the snakes out of his difficult adversary’s hair, making the twisted limbs straight again.

Whether it was that simple, or was the Peacemaker forced to bargain, offering much in exchange for a partnership and cooperation, we don’t know. The various legends say nothing about the actual terms.

What we do know is that the Onondaga People received many concessions, having gained an advanced position in the union that was to prosper for the centuries to come.

There was no inequality in the wonderfully democratic set of law proposed by the Great Peacemaker, still the Onondaga enjoyed a very prominent position, indeed, with the gathering of the Great Council being held permanently in their lands, giving them a certain measure of power while authorized to summon the Great Council’s meetings. The closing word was always to be theirs, with the Onondaga representatives being the last to sound their opinion on any issues deliberated by the council.

It was a sort of vetoing powers, but the proceeding of the council rendered that advantage useless. With the unanimous voting being required, it came to every member of the council having a power of vetoing any decision, anyway.

And so the Great Council of the Five Nations was born then and there, to survive for centuries and to give the later-day’s European newcomers their version of the modern-day USA constitution.

An excerpt from “The Great Law of Peace”, The Peacemaker Series, book #3.

Unable to stop himself from doing so, Tekeni looked up, a stony fist squeezing his stomach. What started as the dark crack on the edge of the blazing sun was now a blot of ominous blackness, swallowing the shining deity like a snake devouring its prey, unhurried, sure of itself. He almost shut his eyes, his senses clinging to the familiar voice, so calm and well measured. Didn’t Two Rivers notice that something was amiss?

“You are the fifth family, the keepers of the western door. Without you, our longhouse will not be whole.”

Most people were staring at the sky now, some gaping, some pointing, murmuring, looking around, their fear unconcealed.

“It all sounds very well,” the younger leader’s voice boomed, overcoming the growing hum. “But what happens if we refuse to join? Will the Great Spirits direct you to gather the warriors of the four nations in order to force us into your union? What will you do if we refuse to guard the western door of your metaphorical longhouse?”

Two Rivers got to his feet, looking suddenly tired, almost exhausted.

“I think the Great Spirits are not trying to conceal their displeasure,” he said quietly, his jaw stubbornly tight, but his eyes clouded, thoughtful and oh-so-very sad. “Listen to this.”

Gesturing widely, he pointed toward the forest behind their backs. Not a chirp of a bird came from between the swaying trees. Even the insects kept quieter now, as though afraid of the darkness.

“What does it mean?” the people were shouting. “What is happening?”

“The Great Spirits are displeased.” Two Rivers’ voice rang calmly, but there was an obvious tension to it now.

Unable to fight the urge, Tekeni came closer, but whether to protect his friend in case someone decided to attack him, or to seek the safety beside the man who seemed to be doing all this, he didn’t know.

The cold was growing, definite now. And so were the shadows. He noticed the flowers down the clearing were closing up, as though the night were nearing.

People were rushing about, openly afraid, peering at the sky, murmuring prayers. Two Rivers stood there alone, watching the sharpening shadows, his jaw tight.

“Your dream?” whispered Tekeni, stepping into the void surrounding his friend. Even their people kept away from the Crooked Tongues man now, stealing terrified glances.

The warm palm rested on his shoulder, heavy and reassuring. “Yes. But it is going to be all right.”

The distant shadows loomed over the western side of the lake, like a gathering storm.

“What is happening?” He swallowed, hearing his own voice husky and high, full of panic. The urge to run away welled. It was obvious that the Left-Handed Twin was coming to claim their world for himself and his underworld minions and followers, the bad, poisonous uki and the giants that were still reported to roam the earth. The cry of an owl confirmed this assumption. An owl in the middle of the day?

“I don’t know,” Two Rivers’ voice shook now too, his self-assurance gone. “I wish I knew!”

Historical fiction and the trouble in the Acolhua Capital

13 February 2014 Comments (0)

I am happy to announce the release of another new book

The Sword

Re-conquest of Texcoco, the Acolhua Capital, did not happen right after the fall of Azcapotzalco. It took nearly two years for Nezahualcoyotl, the Acolhua Emperor, to install himself back upon the Texcoco throne.

Reported as being a man of great learning and taste, he most probably accomplished it in grand style, beginning even back then to develop Texcoco into what it was reported to have become later—he cultural center of the Mexican Valley and beyond it. “The Athens of Mesoamerica” some latter day historians had called it. Maybe with a good reason, maybe not. We’ll never know.

The troubles he might have faced with his own old aristocracy and some more independent-thinking provinces are reported in quite a few sources. Some Acolhua people seemed to dislike his continuous cooperation with the Mexica Aztecs of Tenochtitlan. Whether the dissatisfaction was strong, or rather vocal enough to bring up a possible first crisis for the new emperor to face, we’ll never know.

What we do know is the fact that the Acolhua and the Mexicas, along with their third junior partner of Tlacopan, who represented the defeated Tepanecs but in a small, humble manner, continued to cooperate very closely, developing their altepetls into spectacular capitals, fighting in many mutual campaigns, expanding their rapidly growing empire.

While Nezahualcoyotl was busy re-conquering and reorganizing his capital and provinces, Tlacaelel, the Mexica Head Adviser, set to work establishing his island-city as the firm heirs of the fallen Tepanec empire, absorbing dependent or semi-dependent city-states such as altepetl of Xochimilco.

…So when Xochimilco refused to give an open battle, but chose to block every possible access to the city, making Tlacaelel irritable and deeply occupied devising his new best-fitting strategy, Tlalli surrounded herself with scrolls of amate paper and attacked her lack of ability to decipher the glyphs.

… by the time the Mexica warriors stormed Xochimilco’s walls with such vengeance, the defenders surrendered before the first of the attackers had a chance of threading the city’s stones, she had finished her first scroll, hard put not to whoop with joy.

… Thus, Xochimilco was fined with providing an extensive force of workers to speed up Tlacaelel’s numerous construction projects of rebuilding Tenochtitlan, in addition to the full recognition of the Mexica supremacy, and the unconditional agreement of a high tribute to be paid.

It was important to make the former Tepanec provinces understand that they were to pass into the custody of the new overlords. It required plenty of careful planning and work, aside from the extensive warfare, of course. Still relatively young men in their prime, Nezahualcoyotl and Tlacaelel worked hard to adjust their altepetls to their rapidly growing importance and riches, each in his own way.

In the re-conquered Texcoco, the young emperor is preparing for the Great Ceremony, eager to ascend the throne that was taken from him more than ten summers ago by the now-defeated Tepanecs. Visitors from the provinces and other city-states are flooding the decorated capital, making it gush with activity, buzz with celebrative feasts and preparations.

Yet, not everyone is happy with the newly anointed emperor and some of his policies, namely his close contacts in the neighboring Mexica-Aztec Capital. Some nobles even think they would be better-suited to occupy the Texcoco throne.

When mysterious black-clothed killers sneak into the Chief Warlord’s house on the night of the celebrative feast, stealing the carved sword, the most precious weapon in the entire capital, a weapon that is believed to hold magical qualities, the troubles in the capital escalate, taking matters out of the hands of even those who paid for this crime to take place.

An excerpt from “The Sword

… “And we still have a lot of work ahead of us.” Stretching, Tlacaelel eyed the hubbub in his turn. So many people, and still the marble-lined hall didn’t look cramped or overcrowded. “Coyotl finally got what is rightfully his, against all the odds, eh? This man enjoys benevolence of the gods, but he had to work hard to achieve his ends. His struggle changed him in many ways.”

“Coyotl will make a great emperor. Texcoco and the Acolhua provinces will prosper like never before.” The Highlander’s face held none of his usual light-hearted mischief. “He has so many projects, so many ideas. It would make your head reel.” The mischievous spark was back. “All right, maybe not your over-busy head, but that of any other ordinary person.” Another assessment of the glittering eyes. “You have even more plans buzzing around that stubborn skull of yours. I’m prepared to bet my newly acquired wealth on it. Even the great house by the Plaza that is yet to be rebuilt for me to show it off and make my wives happy.”

Receiving a friendly nudge into his ribs, Tlacaelel grinned. “I’m glad to have your faith in my abilities, old friend.”

“So what are you up too, old fox? A causeway to connect Coyoacan with Tenochtitlan, I understand. A sound, good idea, especially if built at the expense of Xochimilco. I do see why you had to make this altepetl submit. But why are you eager to head farther to the south?”

Against his will, Tlacaelel frowned. “Your spies are good. I hadn’t talked about it to anyone of importance yet.”

“You mean Itzcoatl doesn’t know?”

“He knows, of course he knows. There is little that escapes our revered emperor’s squinted eyes.” He measured the Highlander with his gaze, taking in the rough handsomeness of the broad face, the newly acquired scar running down the high cheek, the tough spark to the widely spaced eyes. “Won’t you join us in that campaign?”

“Well, yes, maybe. I haven’t talked to Coyotl about that yet.” The man narrowed his eyes. “I can see what’s for you there in the south. You need to make your point, establish yourself as the firm heirs to the Tepanec Empire, before anyone foolish enough to assume otherwise does something silly.” A shrug. “But us? I don’t know. What will we do with Cuauhnahuac or the surrounding towns?”

Lacrosse – the sacred game to please the creators

4 February 2014 Comments (0)

Wandering around upstate New York early in the previous millennia, you might have enjoyed hospitality of many towns and settlements spread all over the land.

Haudenosaunee people, whom we today know as various Iroquois nations, lived there for centuries, growing crops of maize, squash and beans, farming, hunting and fishing, while maintaining one of the worlds’ earliest democracies through a remarkable set of laws that, centuries later, was used as an inspiration for USA modern-day constitution.

Their towns and villages were not excessively large, usually up to a few thousand or less citizens, dwelling in several longhouses – a sort of apartment buildings – hosting up to ten and more families belonging to the same clan.

The system worked well, leaving people with much time for entertainment, from betting games to various contests, with lacrosse being the most prominent and demanding, a very serious competition.

Originally this sacred ballgame was designed to please the Creator, the Right-Handed Twin himself. According to the legend it was played for the first time before the earth as we know it was created, in order to determine who will control the world, the good Right-Handed Twin, or his negative Left-Handed sibling. The good won, as always, and people never forgot, recreating the game to honor their benefactor, giving thanks to their benevolent creator.

The game of lacrosse demanded a great skill and lasting endurance. In order to score a goal you needed to catch the ball, a heavy affair made of wood or stuffed deerskin, into the net at the edge of your playing stick, carrying it to the other side of the field, against the attempts of the rival team to stop you or make you lose your cargo. Like in the Mesoamerican ballgame, one were not allowed to touch it with his hands.

The game was fairly violent, sometimes causing serious injuries, even though in the official games the players would wear a protective gear of additional clothing and padded baskets as helmets. Still one was expected to play fearlessly, displaying one’s stamina, strength, courage and quick thinking.

If you were lucky to catch the ball firmly, preventing its slipping from the basket-like net on the end of your playing stick, you then would dash for the other side of the field, hoping to score. Or you may try to pass it on to the other members of your team, if your rivals were truly determined to prevent you from doing that.

And yes, your the opposite team would be desperate to stop you or make you lose the ball before reaching the boundaries of their marked goal posts, which could be of various sizes, sometimes quite a vast space, or sometimes just a simple mark of a rock or a tree. But large or small, the ball should have been landed there, between the marked boundaries, in order to win a point.

To participate in such game was an honor, and a privilege. To watch it was equally thrilling. The power of this competition, which has various names throughout various Haudenosaunee-Iroquois nations, with the word “lacrosse” being the most incorrect one, a mistaken term invented by French missionaries of 18th century, was a vigorous contest beyond being simple entertainment. It was believed to purify the soul and the body, testing its limits, pushing to exceed, bestowing gift of healing upon those who came to watch and cheer. This game made the creators smile.

Official contests could be held between towns and nations – solemn affairs of thanksgiving speeches and tobacco offerings, strict rules, hundreds of players and the dignity of the involved nations at stake. But as often, spontaneous games would break on the sunny afternoon, played at the open grounds of a town or a village, a friendly competition accompanied by almost no formalities. Life was not always stern and Haudenosaunee men, like anyone else on earth, welcomed the opportunity to exercise and relax, to show their skill or impress the girls.

An excerpt from “Two Rivers”, The Peacemaker Trilogy, book #1.

Pushing another player out of his way, Tekeni leaped ahead, seeing the momentarily clear path. His shaft shot forward, as his eyes estimated the distance. Oh, yes, he was going to trap this ball, to catch it safely in his net, to make a run for the opposite team’s gates, and maybe, with a little luck, to score.

Racing on, oblivious of the cheering crowds, he turned sharply without slowing his step, catching his balance, ready to face the descending ball. It was coming down fast. For a fraction of a moment, he could see it clearly, a coarse, round thing made out of a stuffed deerskin, heavy enough to inflict damage if one wasn’t careful.

Blocking the sunlight, it made its way toward his outstretched arm, making it unnecessary to get into a better position, not even to tilt his body. It was going straight for his shaft. He caught his breath and felt the silence as the watching crowds went still, holding their breath, too.

Then, as the ball was about to land in his net, his arm shot sideways, driven away by a force he could not comprehend for a moment, the pain in it paralyzing, making him gasp. As the heavy body of another player slammed into him, he felt the grass slipping under his feet, jumping into his face, revoltingly damp, permeating his breath. From the corner of his eye, he could see the ball crashing into the earth just outside the field, cumbersome, powerless upon the ground.

“You will be out of the game before you know it!” shouted someone angrily.

Recognizing the voice of Ogtaeh, a player from his team, Tekeni wiped the mud from his face, blinking to make his vision focus.

“It was an accident,” answered Yeentso smugly, a thin half smile twisting his lips.

He was a tall, broadly built man of twenty or more summers, the best player of the opposite team.

“It was no accident!” fumed Ogtaeh. “I saw it all!” He turned to the surrounding players. “You all saw it, didn’t you?”

“Well, it might have been an accident,” murmured someone. “The slippery ground and all.”

“The slippery ground in your stupid dreams.” Spitting the remnants of the earth from his mouth, its taste mixed with the salty flavor of blood, Tekeni came closer, trying to pay no attention to the pain rolling up and down his arm. “He collided with me on purpose!” He took another step, glaring at Yeentso, seeing the hated face so very close, every scar, every speckle, every bead of sweat upon it. “And you hit me with your shaft to make sure I did not catch this ball, you dirty piece of excrement.”

The high cheekbones of the man took a darker shade.

“You better watch your tongue, wild boy,” said Yeentso, leaning forward.