Monthly Archives: June 2014

Atenaha, the Seed Game that even the deities played

15 June 2014 Comments (0)

So, you are a man and had a busy day behind you. Not something as demanding as trailing along with your peers on a hunting expedition – such enterprise could take days – but just a regular daily activity, clearing a new field at the demand of your Clan Mothers, or chopping firewood, or working on a construction of a new longhouse. Enough activity to make you tired physically but not mentally; not enough to make you sneak into your longhouse’s compartment to catch a good nap on one of the lower banks.

As the Father Sun would be rolling down, progressing toward his resting place, you might get start enjoying this well deserved rest, engaging in throwing games with your equally tired but restless peers. After all, you all have already completed your chores, washed in the nearby stream and ate the warmed meal prepared by the women of your family in the morning. So it might be the time to have some idle fun.

Atenaha – a seed game – required little accessories and not much preparation or skill. Like dice it was a game of luck, mainly, to pass an idle afternoon. With blanket, folded and thoroughly smoothed, acting like a game-board, eight small wooden, or carved out of elk horn, disks, burned or blackened on one side each, and a pile of seeds or beans, forty in amount , you and your friends were set to go.

The first player would grab the stones, shake them thoroughly, then throw, making sure none slipped between his palms while mixing them vigorously (such misfortune could see the player losing his round no matter what his throw brought).

The array of the dice upon the blanket would determine the players’ achievement per round. If the stones spread out displaying their blackened sides, all eight of them, you would whoop with joy and earn twenty points, sweeping twenty seeds/beans out of the central pot and into your private stockpiles. This was the luckiest throw.

Still, if your discs would spread on the blanket all displaying their unpainted sides, you would probably not be heard complaining. Ten points such throw would earn you is not likely to see you desperate.

Seven painted/unpainted sides would give you four points, and six would still see you collecting two seeds out of the pot. Nothing to boast about, but not the total failure, either. Any less than that – five painted as opposed to three unpainted, or the other way around, and so on – would earn you nothing, but the loss of your round. Not the end of the world, but you might still get thoroughly angered.

So at this stage the players would be fully engaged, enjoying themselves, most probably ignoring the ominous glances of the passing-by ever-busy Clans Mothers – the elderly women who ran the council of each longhouse and who were bound to frown on such idle pastime. Yet, the players would be too busy for that now, using one hand to throw, and the other to hide their winnings. In many versions of the game a lucky throw would earn the participants another round ahead of his peers.

And so the game would continue until the pot with the seeds empties. By this point some would have hoarded high piles of beans, while the others would sport smaller heaps, or nothing at all. A player without earnings could continue but usually not for long.

Because at this point the game changes.

If before each earned point was compensated out of the central pot of seeds, now it would have to come out of the piles owed by the fellow players. So if you had nothing left but it was your turn to throw and you were lucky enough to earn a point or two, you would be off for a passable re-start.

But if it was someone else’s turn, you would be very likely kicked out of the game the moment your companion earned even the minimal amount of points, because everyone was required to cache in. For example, a throw of all-whites – worthy of ten points as you remember – would require the remaining players, say three of them, to give the lucky winner each three or four seeds. If you have nothing to give, you were out. But the game would go on. Also if you had two seeds instead of the required three, out you would go as well, bankrupted, with what you had left behind divided between the rest of the players.

This is the point when the game turns into a race against one another, with the ultimate victor being the person who remained in possession of all seeds.

The end of the game.

Time to collect the bets, if anything was wagered against the victory, to go home and store your newly acquired goods. Or to engage in a new round of game. Like anywhere else around the globe, the People of the Longhouse (the Iroquois) were fond of gambling.

An excerpt from “The Peacekeeper”, The Peacemaker Series, book #4.

Are you going to fall asleep on us, you vigorous player?”

His companions’ laughter made Hainteroh concentrate.

“Didn’t notice it was my turn.” Collecting the marked stones, he smoothed the surface of the folded blanket, making sure it was ready for his throw.

“Of course you didn’t notice. When one is staring into thin air the way you were, one is prone to missing the goings-on. What were you dreaming about?”

“Nothing. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Their renewed laughter did not make him angry, not like it would have only a few seasons earlier, in his previous life, when unimportant things had mattered. Back then he would have challenged anyone who dared to laugh or tease him, especially in front of his peers. Today he just shrugged, shaking the stones briefly, throwing them over the smooth surface, watching the marks, his heartbeat not quickening. The outcome of the game did not matter either, any more than their amusement with his wandering attention did.

“Your throw.” Indifferently, he pushed the stones toward the man to his left, collecting the dry seeds out of a large bowl, the four seeds that his throw had earned him.

“Don’t you care if you win or lose?” asked one of the others, a tall man with a spectacular scar running down his left cheek. “You will fall asleep on us for real in the end.”

Hainteroh shrugged. “No, I don’t.”

“What do you care about?”

“Other things.”

“Like what?”

He stifled a yawn. “Important things.”

The stones landed upon the folded blanket again, some rolling outside it, some slowing among the wrinkles. Two painted, six unpainted. The man beside him cursed. His stack of seeds was meager, and the addition of only two more did nothing to encourage his spirit.

“So what are the important things you do care about?” insisted the man with the scar.

Hainteroh fixed his gaze on the rolling pebbles, the throw of a youth to his left forceful, making the stones scatter outside the blanket.

“Same as yours.”

“How do you know what I deem important?” The man was watching him, challenging, not about to give up.

“I don’t.” He shrugged again, not feeling threatened. “For myself, I want to kill as many of the filthy lowlifes from across the Great Sparkling Water as I can.” He met his interrogator’s gaze. “I want to burn down their towns and villages and make them suffer for real.” Shrugging again, he narrowed his eyes. “Don’t you want that, too?”

The youth’s curse distracted them as the stones came to a halt, displaying five painted against three unpainted sides. No seeds were to be collected for such a throw.

“Bad turn.” The fourth player grabbed the throwing stones. “But it’s your fault. You don’t toss the poor stones with such violence. One needs to give them proper time to mix between your palms, to feel your warmth. That will reassure them, make them feel calm and unthreatened. Then they will roll and try to do their best for you.” As they listened to the pleasantly monotonous rustling, the man grinned in a slightly condescending manner. “As for the enemy from across our Sparkling Water, you all may need to gather your patience and hold onto your temper as best you can.” A glance shot at Hainteroh was openly amused. “Which won’t be easy for some of you, young hotheads that you are.”

“What do you mean?” He didn’t watch the pebbles as they spread upon the blanket, in a neat pattern, as though prearranged, but the gasps of the others told him the throw was good, maybe too good.

The Maple Ceremony

2 June 2014 Comments (0)

Haudenosaunee People (Iroquois nations) did not spare on festivals and thanksgiving events, ready to celebrate the beginning of each season or each new agricultural undertaking, ready to thank the Great Spirits for their generosity and their good will.

The winters were harsh, difficult to endure, especially for the people used to spend their time outdoors. Although having plenty of venting holes, one above each fireplace that dotted long corridors, longhouses could grow suffocating in the closed, smoke-filled air, when every opening was shut tight against the frequency of the blizzards, forcing people to huddle inside. The smoke spread around, stinging people’s eyes and making them cough. No wonder that with the coming of spring, many would plunge into the joys of the outside life, eager to celebrate the rebirth of the world with a beautiful Maple Ceremony.

The Maple Moon fell around the first month of the spring – early to mid March – in time for the maple trees to give plenty of the wonderful sap for the people to enjoy (Haudenosaunee people lived according to the lunar calendar, counting 13 moons of 28 days each). Some claim that the Maple Ceremony was the first official ceremony of the year, the one to start the new cycle of seasons (although the Midwinter Ceremony is more likely to contest for such title), because the returning and raising sap relayed the Great Spirits’ continues benevolence, showed that the kind deities were not tired watching over their creations, not disappointed and not aloof. Pine, hemlock, elm and basswood were esteemed; the maple trees were revered.

So, through the Maple Moon people would pour out in groups, armed with knives and carrying wooden containers, or sometimes, baskets and jars. Each tree would be cut reverently, carefully, as to not to wound the generous forest dweller, but only to let the sap trickle. The maple trees were not to be harmed. The cut needed to be two or three fingers deep and, at least, a palm long. Otherwise, the sap would be difficult to collect. Then a flat stick would be driven into the gush, directing the sticky flow into containers and tabs, collecting the sweetish liquid.

Later on, the collected sap would be boiled in clay vessels, to be used as sweetener and energizer, in all sort of cooking and sometimes, as a medicine to fortify aching stomachs. Sometimes the sap might have even been fermented and used as intoxicant according to Arthur C. Parker, who admits to only one source mentioning such use through the years of his research.

After many days of such happy activity, a Maple Sugar Festival was held in order to thank the Creators. People would perform sacred dances and the faith-keepers would give thanksgiving speeches, burning tobacco, letting its fragrant smoke rise to the world of the Sky Spirits, carrying people’s gratitude to the creators of this earthly world.

The faith-keepers were respectable people of the society, entrusted with many aspects of spiritual representation, organizing and conducting ceremonies, but these were not their primary duties. There was no equivalent of the priest title among the Five Nations. When it came to private lives, everyone thanked the Creators the way he or she felt fit, with no outside intervention or guidance, unless specifically asked for.

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

“So tell me, sister,” the girl smiled, revealing a row of large, even teeth. “How long were you forced to live among the savages of the Flint?”

“Two moons.” Frowning, Onheda took the flat stick off the gash in the maple tree, making sure that not a drop of the precious sap was still seeping. Satisfied, she cleaned the stick and measured the amount of the collected liquid in her jar.

“Two moons is a long time to survive without being adopted,” commented the girl, shooting a gaze full of curiosity at Onheda. She bent to pick a greenish strawberry that hid among the bushes and eyed it dubiously before giving it a hesitant bite. “How did you manage to get away?”

“I slipped out in the middle of the night.” Absently, Onheda caressed the cut bark, muttering a silent prayer, thanking the old tree for being so generous. Pine, hemlock, elm and basswood were honored, highly esteemed, but the maple trees were the special gift of the Right-Handed Twin himself. Its returning and raising sap let people know that the new span of seasons had truly begun, with the Great Spirits’ blessing, benevolence, and goodwill.

The eyes of her companion did not stir, sparkling with expectation. The girl’s name was Hanowa, and she was a funny, restless, sweet little thing. “Weren’t you afraid to make the matters truly bad for you by running away?”

Onheda raised her eyebrows. “They didn’t seem to take it badly. It’s not like their entire warriors’ force was chasing me all the way to our lands.”

The girl giggled. “That would be a sight I could do without. And surely you, too.” Her eyes sparkled again. “But how did you manage to live there for so long without being adopted?”

“Oh, well…” She fought the urge to tell the stupid fox to mind her own business, proceeding toward the next maple tree, instead. “It was their fault, actually. They took their time. I thought I was adopted, and then, all of a sudden, that annoying women from that longhouse I lived at told me I was not actually adopted, demanding that I do things to make it happen.” Onheda snorted. “Such an annoying ground snake she was!”

“What did she want you to do?”

“Well, all sorts of things. She said I was not adapting well. She wanted me to be nice to people. But I was nice, I was! Not to all of them, but to some.” She shrugged. “They were all right, all things considered. But not all of them.”

“There are quite a few Flint people’s women in Onondaga Town,” said the girl thoughtfully, fishing a long knife from the basket she carried. “But our clan has none, so you are lucky, I say. There was this young man – a very good-looking boy at that – but he fell in love with a girl from the nearby village, and when the Grandmother of her longhouse agreed, he went to live there.”

The girl laughed. “To the deep disappointment of more than a few cute-looking foxes from all over the town, I say. He was truly good-looking and nice. I would have fallen for him myself had he not been from our longhouse.” Another bout of laughter. “I bet you would be running back to your High Springs if he were still there. You must hate them all really badly, to take such a terrible risk like running away.”

Taking the knife from her chatty companion, Onheda frowned, studying the tree.

“I don’t hate them all. I met good Flint People, too. In fact, I have a really good friend among them.” She studied the bark closely, looking for signs. “He was captured too, and he lived among the Crooked Tongues, imagine that. He ran away too, and now he is back in his Little Falls.”

But maybe not anymore, she thought hopefully, her stomach twisting. Maybe he is on his way here, he and the Crooked Tongues man, rowing against the current, hurrying to visit her people, to bring them the message of the Great Peace, hurrying to find her like he promised. What would he do when he heard that she was not at Jikonsahseh’s? Would he be disappointed? Hurt? She hoped he would.

“Among the Crooked Tongues?” cried out the girl, aghast. “Oh, Mighty Spirits! I would take my own life if captured by those savages.”

“They are no savages,” said Onheda returning her attention to the tree she was scanning. “Didn’t you hear about the Messenger?”