Monthly Archives: October 2015

Huitzilihuitl – the second ruler of Tenochtitlan

27 October 2015 Comments (0)

His name was Huitzilihuitl, which meant Hummingbird Feather (huitzi(lin)=hummingbird, ihuitl=feather). He wasn’t the oldest son of his father, the first Tenochtitlan’s ruler, Acamapichtli, but according to the council of the city elders he was the most fitting.

Acamapichtli died without naming his heir, leaving it to the council of the districts’ elders to decide. The procedure, already instituted by this time, made it possible for the ruling nobility to choose the most capable among the royal progeny, so they did just that. His mother was not the impeccably Toltec Chief Wife of the First Tlatoani, but there are sources that claim that the Culhucan princess raised Huitzilihuitl along with his real mother, a woman of local nobility.

It is said that the year was 1397 or Chiconahui Calli-Nine House, when the city elders convoked a massive congregation. All four districts of Tenochtitlan were called to vote. People of Moyotlan, Zoquipan (or Teopan), Atzacoalco and Cuepopan listened to the passionate speeches that were given by the elders and the priests before agreeing to accept Huitzilihuitl as their next ruler.

Some sources are in disagreement with the mentioned above date. The claims vary from him inheriting the throne as early as 1391 to as late as 1404.

On his glyph, Huitzilihuitl is depicted like a typical tlatoani, sitting on the reed mat, wearing a royal headband, with a speech scroll coming out of his mouth. Attached to his head by a thin line is his name’s glyph, a hummingbird’s head with five feather down balls – Hummingbird Feather.

Huitzilihuitl got to the task of maintaining and expanding his city with great zeal worthy of his glorious father. Very capable and as committed as the First Tlatoani, even if maybe not as dynamic and forceful, he dedicated much energy to the further expending of the city, vigorous building and lawmaking, enforcement of customs and religious laws. He wanted to build a construction what would bring fresh drinking water into Tenochtitlan all the way from the mainland, provided their Tepanec overlords gave their consent, but the council of Tenochtitlan’s nobles and the city elders was reported to refuse to let him commence this project due to the prohibitively high cost.

One political move promoted his altepetl in the way his father never managed. Gathering courage or just acting shrewdly, he had applied to Azcapotzalco with a request to have one of Tezozomoc‘s daughters for a wife. The Tepanec Emperor had those aplenty, presenting many neighboring rulers, vassals and allies, Acolhua Texcoco among those – the indirect cause of the following Acolhua-Tepanec war – with this sort of a generous gift that also helped him to keep an eye on his rapidly growing empire. So the Mexica royal house was granted Ayauhcihuatl, Tezozomoc’s daughter, now a wife of the second Mexica ruler and the mother of the future tlatoani as well.

The ties with the royalty of Azcapotzalco were strengthened. But more than this. Ayauhcihuatl turned out to be a clever lady who cared for her new homeland, as it seemed. Upon the birth of her son, the heir to the Aztec throne, she had pleaded with her powerful father, apparently charming him into reducing Tenochtitlan’s tribute into a third, or even fourth, of what used to be demanded. Tenochtitlan began to prosper like never before, gaining more respect from the neighboring altepetls and other regional powers as well.

Huitzilihuitl’s additional wife was reported to be a princess of Tlacopan, another influential Tepanec city, and a few representatives of the Acolhua highest nobility adorned his wives collection as well. Later on he had acquired a princess of Quauhnahuac, a mother of Moctezuma I, another future tlatoani to be, but this match didn’t come easily, several sources claim, starting series of wars between Tenochtitlan and the towns of this fertile valley to the south.

Many of Huitzilihuitl’s offsprings left a serious print upon the following Tenochtitlan history, listing quite a few future rulers, not to mention Tlacaelel, who is still held to be the architect of the ‘Aztec Empire’ to come. His mother Cacamacihuatl, of a local nobility as it seemed, was another to adorn the Second Tlatoani’s wives quarters.

During his reign, Tenochtitlan held its first grand-scale New Fire Ceremony, a celebration that signified the end of what we might call a century and the beginning of the new one.

Such ceremony was to be held every fifty two years, when two calendars, xiuhpohualli, the Sun Calendar of 365 days, and tonalpohualli, the traditional calendar of 260 days, became synchronized in a natural manner. Then Xiuhmolpilli, the Binding of the Years Ceremony, or what we came to know as New Fire Ceremony was held, a very important event that made sure that our current World of the Fifth Sun did not end like the previous four before that. Complicated rituals were observed for the last five days of the year – nemontemi, the artificial addition to the 360 days divided in 20 months – involving “… abstinence from work, fasting, ritual cleansing, ritual bloodletting, destruction of certain old household items and observance of silence…”.

Then, on the last day, all fires in the city were extinguished, and the attempt to ignite the new fire in the old traditional way and a very complicated manner was made by the priests, to mark the new count of cycles, or a new ‘century’ would begin, to last another 52 years, until the two calendars synchronized again.

In 1403 or Ome Acatl-Two Reed, Tenochtitlan was reported to celebrate its own New Fire for the first time in a truly grand style. Another evidence for the neighboring powers – Tenochtitlan was not an upstart village, not anymore.

To continue with his father’s policies of participating in the Tepanec wars while waging some smaller scale independent campaigns, Tenochtitlan’s warriors raided towns of Toltitlan, Quauhtitlan and Xaltocan, alongside their Tepanec overlords.

When the Tepanec-Acolhua war broke in 1415, Tenochtitlan managed to remain neutral at first. The Tepanecs’ first attempted invasion of Texcoco repulsed decisively, with the Acolhua going so far as to take the warfare back into the Tepanec side of the Great Lake, the Mexica island watched warily, doing nothing but benefiting from the state of neutrality, enjoying more trading routes opened through their growing city instead of the war-torn western and eastern side of the Great Lake.

However, such blissful condition could not last. Long ties with the Acolhua the Mexica might have, still the Tepanecs were closer to Tenochtitlan now, holding much power over the island-city, the Tlatoani’s Chief Wife and her connection to the mighty Tepanec ruler notwithstanding. After close to two years of fence-sitting, Tenochtitlan joined, or maybe was forced to join, the most important regional war with vigor. Acolma, Otumba, Tulanzinco and the last Texcoco itself fell to the combined Tepanec-Mexica forces.

However, by this time Huitzilihuitl’s rule has ended as well. It is said that he has died of natural cases, even though he was still a relatively young man, probably in his late thirties or early forties, even though there is much discrepancy in the dates the various sources state. The accepted date of his death is the year 1417, or Yei Calli-Three House, but some argue it might have happened as early as 1410 or as late as 1422.

An excerpt from “Currents of War”, The Rise of the Aztecs Series, book #4.

“Easily, girl.” The pretty noblewoman laughed again. “I’m not as young as you might think. The Warlord took me when I was quite young, but it happened more than twenty summers ago.”

The smile playing on the full lips was dreamy as the large eyes clouded, wandering the mists of the past.

“It was the New Fire ceremony, the first New Fire ceremony Tenochtitlan was celebrating. We’d been living in Tenochtitlan for some summers by then, and I was not missing Culhuacan as badly as in the beginning. I was fifteen, and my father wanted me to attend this ceremony as it was the biggest celebration this altepetl would have for another fifty-two summers. And who knew if I would live long enough to attend the next one. So, in spite of my mother’s protests, he let me come, and was I excited!”

Her favorite drink forgotten, the woman shook her head.

“Oh, it was such a beautiful day. You should have seen it, girl! The music, the crowds, the colorful processions, the ceremonies in the temple atop the Great Pyramid. So many sacrificial offerings! I haven’t seen so many offerings ever since.” The gaze of the woman focused, as though remembering her audience. “We were invited to join the royal family upon their dais. The First Emperor had been dead for some summers, and his successor, Revered Huitzilihuitl, was very young and very nice. My father hoped that I would catch his eye. We were of a royal family ourselves, even if Culhuacan was subdued by then, defiled by the vile Tepanecs.

However, a Toltec princess is always a welcome addition to any Emperor’s household. She makes it shine brighter. And I was held to be a beauty, too.” The woman straightened up, filling her cup. “Well, Huitzilihuitl was attracted, of course. I could see that, and I was flattered. He was just a little older than me and very nice looking. But then, as the priests were offering the last heart, and the last body came tumbling down the stairs of the pyramid, the Chief Warlord came up the dais, to talk to the Emperor.”

The dreamy grin widened, became mischievous.

“Oh, girl, you should have seen him back then, the way he came up, ignoring the stairs, mounting the dais in one powerful leap, a mighty jaguar, his spotted cloak swirling. My heart stopped, slid down my chest, to flutter somewhere in my stomach. All I wanted was to be seated urgently. I was afraid I might faint. My legs had no strength in them. But do you know what the most beautiful thing about all this was?” The dark eyes bore into Dehe, shining triumphantly. “He took one look at me, and he almost fell off the dais. I’m telling you, girl! He was about to talk to the Emperor, but all he did was stare. He just stood there, peering at me, as though he had seen a ghost, enthralled but scared too, his eyes wide and his mouth gaping.” The woman laughed. “Oh, girl, it made me feel powerful. The famous First Chief Warlord, the conqueror of so many places, the closest adviser and the most trusted man of the First Emperor, Revered Acamapichtli, the most influential, dangerous, powerful person in Tenochtitlan was afraid of me. Oh, gods! But I still needed to sit down, because my legs were shaking.”

“And then what happened?” asked Dehe, fascinated, when the woman fell silent, lost in her memories.

“Oh, then some time passed. Only a few moons, but it felt like a long time, ten, twenty seasons maybe. My father still wanted to give me to Huitzilihuitl, but then our Emperor acquired his Tepanec Chief Wife, so my father agreed to give me to the Warlord.” She shrugged. “You see, the Warlord was a noble-born Tepanec himself. Otherwise, his multitude of titles and achievements would not have been enough. Culhuacan princesses are a treasure not to be distributed lightly. After the New Fire ceremony half of the noble-born in Tenochtitlan were besieging my father with requests on my behalf.” Shaking her head, the woman grinned. “Oh, how worried I was that he would give me to someone else.”

“But he is so old!” exclaimed Dehe, unable to hold her tongue.

The woman’s laughter rang out, full of mirth, unconcerned. “Oh, he is old now, girl. But it happened more than twenty summers ago. He had seen about two times of twenty summers by that time, and he was so incredibly handsome! I promise you that half of the female population of Tenochtitlan would have loved to see me drop dead on the day I was given to him. They all wanted to be in my place.

Acamapichtli – the first ruler of Tenochtitlan

21 October 2015 Comments (0)

The name Acamapichtli – Aca(tl)=reed, mapichtli=handful – meant ‘a handful of reeds’, sometimes depicted as arrows with blunted tips, has carved itself into Tenochtitlan’s history as one of the corner stones, or the true Tenochtitlan’s beginning.

He was the son of a prominent Mexica warrior who had married into a noble family of Culhuacan. Back in those times, the mid to the end of the 14th century, Culhuacan was still highly prestigious, imposing, influential altepetl (city-stated) located on the southern side of Lake Texcoco. Equal to the Tepanec Azcapotzalco in its dominance and influence, both altepetls were poised as a sort of friendly rivals, competing but not in a hostile way.

Still, for some reason, Acamapichtli wasn’t brought up in Culhuacan but rather grew up in either Texcoco or Coatlinchan, among Acolhua people who populated the eastern shores of the Great Lake. It is there, where Tenochtitlan’s elders, heads of various city districts and clans, came in their search for the legitimate ruler.

An imposing young man, with a list of achievements already behind him, added to such satisfactory lineage, Acamapichtli was offered the job, invited formally by Tenochtitlan founders’ council.

The year was 1376 or Ce Tecpatl-One Flint Knife by the Mexica Calendar count.

Arriving at his new realm, Acamapichtli, being a vigorous, dedicated, still relatively young man, got to work at once and with great enthusiasm. The island-city, more of a town back in these days, needed to be organized, regulated, invested, given sense of belonging and destiny, a project the young ruler, apparently, did not found repulsive or daunting.

Roads were stretched and paved all over the island, canals for easier transportation of goods in and out of the city dug, residential areas regulated, divided into more defined districts, extensive building projects commenced. Taking no break between this flurry of activity, he enacted new laws, regulating the growing altepetl’s life, putting it on the regional map with great determination. Everywhere around the island chinampas were spreading, the floating farms the lack of agricultural land dictated.

During the time of its first ruler’s reign, Tenochtitlan was of course nothing but a vassal of the powerful Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco. The tribute the Tepanec Capital demanded was high, sometimes even outrageous (one of the sources reports a one-time demand “… of a raft planted with all kinds of vegetables, along with a duck and a heron, both in the process of hatching their eggs…”).

The Tepanec Empire, expanding by leaps and bounds themselves, overshadowing Culhuacan and other regional powers rapidly, eyed the growing island-city with wariness. Tenochtitlan’s desire to have a ruler of noble blood – not the supreme ruler tlatoani but a governor, cihuacoatl – was met with reserved approval, and it did not decrease the amount of goods demanded to be send to Azcapotzalco with every new moon.

Hence the first ruler of Tenochtitlan was not a supreme ruler – Tlatoani or Revered Speaker – but just a governor, Cihuacoatl, an office that in the later-day Tenochtitlan would become the second most powerful position, equivalent to a Head Adviser.

It was only after seven years passed, in 1383 or Chikueyi Acatl-Eight Reed, with Azcapotzalco relaxing its watch and Acamapichtli doing nothing to provoke his city’s stern overlords, that he might have been anointed with the ultimate title of Tlatoani.

Sources like codex Mendoza state it most clearly, by two different glyphs (glyphs were the original Nahuatl writing system) depicting Acamapichtli’s changing statuses. In both glyphs he is depicted in a traditional way of Tenochtitlan rulers, sitting on a reed mat, wearing turquoise headpiece with a red back-tie, his mouth emits a speech scroll – a typical tlatoani, revered speaker’s, glyph.

But in the first drawing he is also crowned by a glyph of a snake with a woman’s head – cihuacoatl/governor symbol (cihua=woman, coatl=serpent), while in the later glyph he appears wearing a ‘pillar of stone’, a diadem of tlatoani, the supreme ruler.

In both glyphs his name is drawn most clearly by a drawing of hand grasping a bundle of arrows or reeds – Aca-mapichtli.

Well, being the first, his ascendance to the throne must have been rather sporadic, not through the customary way as with the later-day Tlatoanis.

So he did nothing to provoke Azcapotzalco into ruining the painfully maintained status-quo, while developing his island-city, biding his time, preparing for every eventuality.

Not allowed to campaign independently, the Mexica-Aztecs participated in the Tepanec wars with zest, pleasing their overlords and themselves. The spoils were not great, as most of it went to enrich Azcapotzalco, but the exercise must have been good for their spirits if not for their warriors’ prowess.

Still, while participating in raids on far removed places like Quahuacan and Chimalhuacan, venturing alongside their Tepanecs overlords into the fertile valleys of Quauhnahuac, Acamapichtli kept trying to gain at least semblance of independence, at least while raiding the neighboring southern chinampa zones of the Great Lake, namely Mixquic, Cuitlahuac and Xochimilco. It is unclear if he managed to gain the permission to do that or not, or even how successful he was raiding those contested areas, independently or not, because later all three were recorded to be re-conquered by Itzcoatl, the forth Tenochtitlan ruler.

All in all, Acamapichtli’s reign was reported to be peaceful and rewarding, a definite step on the path of Tenochtitlan’s future independence and glory.

It was during his reign that the city was divided into four neighborhoods or calpulli – Moyotlán in the southwest; Zoquipan in the southeast; Cuecopan in the northwest; and Atzacualco in the northeast. Houses of adobe and stone began replacing cane-and-reed dwellings. A great temple, teocalli was also constructed and many laws formed and enforced, even if partially.

To maintain the exalted blood of the future royal density, he had acquired a very exalted Culhuacan princess name Ilancueitl to be his Chief Wife. Yet, this woman, while being reported dutiful and good, bore him no children.

To correct that as much as to maintain closer ties with the city’s council of elders, heads of districts and other nobility, he had taken more wives, daughters of prominent men from each district. It is reported that he has as many as twenty wives, by whom he had sired many sons and daughters. The most prominent and well known, aside from his Culhuacan royal princess, was Tezcatlan Miyahuatzin, a daughter of the most prominent district’s leader and one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Tenochtitlan, Acacitli. This lady had mothered the next Tenochtitlan’s ruler, Huitzilihuitl. It is said that she lived in harmony with Ilancueitl, the Chief Wife.

Which isn’t to say that Acamapichtli did not fancy women outside his large collection of wives. Itzcoatl the forth Tenochtitlan’s tlatoani, was his son by a Tepanec slave woman, reported not to be the only son at that. This particular progeny was frowned upon, but not enough to prevent, at least, Itzcoatl’s climbing the social ladder right into the highest of offices a few decades later.

Acamapichtli’s reign ended in 1396 or Chikueyi Tecpatl-Eight Flint Knife with his death, a peaceful affair according to all sources. He has died of natural cases, not naming his successor, but leaving it to the council of the districts leaders to decide. Their choice fell on his son, Huitzilihuitl and it seems that it turned out to be a good decision on the part of the wise islanders bent on putting their altepetl on the regional map.

An excerpt from “The Jaguar Warrior”, Pre-Aztec Trilogy, book #2.

Acamapichtli sat upon his reed chair and watched the representatives of the four districts, all of them elderly men of great reputation, all related to him through this or that female relative.

To strengthen his ties with the city he had taken a wife from the most influential clans of each district, in addition to his pure-blooded Toltec Chief Wife. By now, he had fathered several heirs, but the most exalted of his wives had disappointingly borne him no sons.

He shrugged as it didn’t matter. The gods were mysterious, and she was still of childbearing age. A Toltec heir would fit perfectly on his father’s throne, would adhere to the rich legacy he intended to leave after him, but he has enough heirs as it was.

He listened absently as one of the elders complained about the water supplies in his district. The less appealing aspect of being a ruler was the necessity to listen to nonessential information that should have been making its way into his advisers care. However, this man was the leader of his district since before Acamapichtli had come to power, so he listened patiently and promised to take care of the problem.

Water, he thought as he strolled toward the terrace after the elders were gone. It could be wonderful to have it supplied from the springs on the mainland. The landscape around their shores inclining favorably, suggested a stone construction to run the water straight to the island’s pools and ponds. He would have to remember to talk to his engineers about it.

Bitterly, he snorted. What a dream. A futile, meaningless daydream. Azcapotzalco would never allow such construction; they would never stand it if Mexica people enjoyed fresh water. Had they only been able…

The thought about the Tepanec Capital brought the pressing problem of their delegation. He could not let them go, not yet. He signed to a slave who lingered nearby.

“Summon here Huacalli, the leader of the warriors,” he said.

The wild Tepanec, the leader of the delegation, he thought painfully. There must be a way to use him, to turn him into his emissary. Tenochtitlan’s people needed to raid the neighboring settlements independently. This matter had to be solved now that the southern shores of the Great Lake were weakened and ripe for conquest. His growing altepetl needed their floating farmlands.

That, and a foothold on the piece of the mainland. Otherwise it could not continue to grow. In that matter his time was running out, and the son of Azcapotzalco Emperor’s adviser might be a part of the solution.

He frowned. There was something about this young man, something that gave the Aztec ruler inkling. He needed to understand this man better. Accustomed to using people, his leader’s instincts told him that this hothead had more to him than he had cared to display; perhaps even to himself. There had to be a way to turn this one into a useful tool. The show of the cheerful troublemaker with not a thought in his head was just that – a show. For some reason this talented warrior had decided to waste his life on meaningless mischief. Why?

He narrowed his eyes against the glow of the setting sun. What had his Chief Wife told him about this man? He was a troublemaker at school, finally expelled from his calmecac. Then, he had made it into the elite warriors and stayed there, allegedly, with the help of his powerful father.

Ah, a powerful father, a great warrior, a Chief Warlord of many summers, the conqueror of Culhuacan. That could explain some things. How could a son compete against such a father? No, he could not, unless one was exceptionally gifted or exceptionally diligent, and the young Tepanec was neither.

Historical Fiction and the Long Tails or Erie People

18 October 2015 Comments (0)

The first serious military clash between the Great League of the Five Iroquois Nations and the Erie People (Erielhonan/Long Tails) is relatively well-documented. In his History of Ashtabula County, Ohio, written in 1798, Rev. S. D. Peet dedicates more than a whole chapter to the battle that might have shaped the following history of this entire region, taking place centuries ago.

Long Tails/Erie were a prominent nation who, until up to the 16th were reported to occupy the southern and eastern shores of Lake Erie, spreading as far out as Ohio River Valley. Having been an inseparable part of the Great Lakes’ demography, they played an important role in local politics and developments, a people that no one made the mistake of overlooking or omitting taking into account. Neither the Great League, not the Wyandot People confederacy, nor various smaller nations around both great water bodies made this mistake.

According to the reports, furnished mainly by the Great League and recorded by the wandering French missionaries centuries later—not perfectly reliable sources, the first having no objectivity in the story, obviously, and the second having no understanding of local mentality and cultural traits—the Erie People were powerful and warlike, feared by their immediate neighbors, even the members of the Great League, at least prior to its creation. Or so the story goes.

To the north and west, where the famous Onguiaahra/Niagara Falls are cascading today as spectacularly as they did centuries ago, Attiwandaronk People populated the land, a small confederacy of various sub-nations that were later recorded and known to us today as Neutral People. The Wyandot had mistakenly lumped them together with their Long Tails neighbors, even though those people were no Erie. However, the two powers would unite from time to time, enjoying a complicated relationship, especially in the face of the growing confederacies all around—the Wyandot and the Iroquois, in particular. It must have been unsettling, to watch such dominant neighbors uniting into powerful alliances. Not an occurrence farsighted people would choose to ignore.

So in this last book of the People of the Longhouse series – or rather the Great Peacemaker’s saga – I wanted to explore such a development, a large-scale war that might have defined the Great League’s path from those relatively early days, as judging by the later centuries, its political and military dealings and the vastness of its influence, the pattern of its expansion has been set for the earlier times.

The Peacemaker wished to have more people and nations sharing in the union of his creation; the various clauses and laws of his constitution, the detailed and very minutely documented Great Law of Peace, make it perfectly clear.

Yet only five original nations remained the members of the exclusive union up until very late post-contact times. Why? A fair question, as the neighboring people were not so dissimilar to the Five Nations, neither culturally nor linguistically. Still, something prevented even the Peacemaker’s native Wyandot from joining the Great League. Early military clashes? Well, it is one of the possibilities. The documented oral tradition supplying accounts such as the one I based The Warpath on suggests this direction.

Other challenges that the creators of the Great League or those who inherited this responsibility might have been facing were as interesting. At some point, they might have come to realize the possible flaws in their unheard-of political body, long stretches of peace as opposed to the threateningly uniting neighbors, lack of readily available warriors’ forces in case of emergency—no standing army, not among the Great Lakes’ dwellers—or even a certain lack of discipline and organized way of fighting among those who were used to raiding in small groups and in a sporadic manner.

All was not well in the lands of the Erie/Long Tails People, on the western shore of Lake Ontario and around Niagara Falls. Tucked between two growing unions, the mighty Great League and the newly formed alliance of the Wyandot to the north, the Long Tails tried to remain neutral, playing for time, doing little while earning no respect from their powerful neighbors on either side. However, there were some who were enraged by the shameful neutrality. Although Aingahon was not one of those. His reasons for hating the Great League were personal, his desire to take the warpath originating in a thirst for revenge. Leading a serious faction of rebellious elements from his town and its surroundings, he was determined to make the enemies of his people pay; still he got nowhere, until Tsutahi, the mysterious girl from the woods, had crossed his path, changing his world in ways he could never have foreseen.

Back in the lands of the Great League, the generation of younger leaders, Ganayeda and Okwaho – not to mention Ogteah, the newcomer facing new troubles and challenges – sensed the winds of change as well. The relationship between the Five Nations, conducted just like the Great Peacemaker’s legacy prescribed, wasn’t enough, not anymore. A closer cooperation between the nations might be needed, a mutual help and support, even if it came to sending reinforcements and fighting in wars that were not strictly theirs.

The War Chief’s sons’ way of going about pushing their plans was as unconventional as it was forceful and decisive. To bend laws and customs was not the same as breaking them.

Or so they thought, heading toward the inevitable clash with the notorious Long Tails from the west, a clash of proportions neither side could have foreseen or foretold.

An excerpt from “The Warpath”, People of the Longhouse Series, book #4.

“The Great League is not a stone giant,” he said, holding their gazes, sensing their need to hear more. “They claim they are one and many at the same time. One longhouse, five families, they say. But it is not possible, not on such a large scale. What works for clans and towns, doesn’t work for nations.” Taking a deep breath, he hurried on, feeling their attention almost physically. Even the strange girl stopped her knife-throwing exercise and was staring at him through her narrowed, nicely tilted eyes. “We’ve been warring against the Mountain People for many summers, long before their League was born. And even though the warring slowed down through the last decades, we’ve still raided an occasional village of theirs, while they raided ours.”

Another glance at the girl confirmed what he always suspected. Her darkening face and glazing eyes were an indication. Was her entire village destroyed, or only her family, he wondered, then forced his attention back to his audience. “And what happened through all these last summers’ warring. Did the Onondagas come to their fellow members of the Great League’s aid? Did the Flint People from the far east? No! None of them joined this war, just like these same Mountain People don’t travel to join the wars in the lands of the rising sun.”

The memory of the cheeky, violent, bubbling-with-life fox from that hilly Onondaga town made his stomach shrink like it always did, every time he remembered. That familiar mix of anger and warmth. She was such a strange-looking thing, a total foreigner, not even pretty or sweet, not feminine, not attractive in the usual sort of way, even though he did fancy her.

Had he wanted to take her away when the chance presented itself? He didn’t know, didn’t bother to face this question. The following events erased any such thoughts from his mind. The disastrous consequences, the pain of the failure.

“You say that if we start warring on our neighbors in force, their so-called allies would not come to their aid?” The voice of one of the men cut into his flow of thoughts just in time, before his anger turned difficult control.

“Yes, I say that, and I say that with a good reason. The Great League would not join our unworthy neighbors in their war, just like these same Mountain People do not go to war in the east.” He encircled them with his gaze, glad to put his mind on something he could deal with. “The Flint People, whom they call the Keepers of the Eastern Door, are warring against fierce savages from the lands of the rising sun. The Onondagas are dealing with the Wyandot, their recently ridiculously temporary peace agreements notwithstanding.

Those won’t last. We all know they won’t, and they know it too. So they must be busy watching the shores of their Sparkling Water.” He paused, but only for a heartbeat, eyeing them one by one. “No one will join our wars in the west. They will be too busy or too indifferent to do that.” Shrugging, he let his smile of contempt show. “Their Great League is nothing but a sham. It helps them avoid the opening of their old squabbling between each other, but it does little else, no matter how they try to make it sound like a great union of one people.”

They nodded thoughtfully, offering little in the way of an argument. But, of course. They weren’t his adversaries, all these hunters and warriors whose pride the current stance of uncertain neutrality hurt. These men were various and many, from all over the region, curbed by the councils, mainly the Town Council of Tushuway, Aingahon’s own town. Such a major settlement, led by cowards. Only a handful, one or two of the more careful elders, but those were influential people. And very headstrong.

The girl was still watching him, staring with her strangely tilted, disquieting eyes. There was something about her gaze, something ominous. The closeness, he knew. It was unsettling enough before, when she would gaze at nothing in particular, but now, filled with concentration, with an obvious thought process, it made his skin prickle. Like facing an animal, he reflected, a forest creature of unknown quality. Smart, dangerous, dedicated to purpose, some purpose.

Never leave in hunger

14 October 2015 Comments (0)

One of the sturdiest pillars of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) society was the tradition of hospitality, the warmest welcoming a visitor was to receive, whether a friend, a clan/family member or a total stranger, even an enemy or a captive, it didn’t matter. The law of hospitality was as firm as the frame of the longhouse, and as unwavering.

Not that it was as simple as knocking on a door and asking if anyone was in, of course. That would be terribly bad manners on the part of the visitor to display, unacceptable really.

What a person would do while approaching a town or village, or just a cabin in the woods, is to halt his steps and pause, choosing a good spot to rest his limbs, because the waiting might be a long one. The invitation to come in would arrive inevitably, but one was to let it be ensued. So usually a visitor would find a prominent, easily observed spot, arrange a fire, staff his pipe and make himself comfortable, while leaving it to his prospecting hosts to make the next move. Which would eventually be made, always. The hosts knew the protocol as well as their guests.

The hospitality of the Longhouse People was exceptional, as was their cooking. No one left a longhouse hungry, or even just unsatisfied with the meal. Even the captured warriors expecting their ceremony of execution would be spoiled rotten by good meals and warmest accommodations until the time of their trial came. Let alone peaceful visitors.

Anyone was at liberty to enter a house at any time, if the occupants were in, made welcome and offered food. If he was hungry, he would eat heartily, with no reservations. If not, he would sample the food as a compliment to the giver. A refusal to do so would be construed as terrible impoliteness.

Such custom steamed from the firm belief that the Right-Handed Twin and the other creators made the earth and everything it contains for everyone to share and enjoy “… they stocked the country with plenty of game, that was not for the benefit of the few, but for all…” This is reflected in most basic of many Haudenosaunee laws. “… As air and rain were common, so was everything else… whatever liveth on the land, whatsoever groweth out of the earth, and all that is in the rivers and water, was given jointly to all…” Everyone was entitled to their share.

People of the Longhouse had but one regular meal a day that was prepared through the mid morning and eaten somewhere around that time. This of course was not to say that the people were required to do with one single bout of eating. Nothing prevented a person of every age or gender to pass through the communal storage rooms in the back and front of each longhouse, or climb the upper banks of one’s compartment in a hunt after a juicy snack.

The food was always available, readily warmed too; it’s just that the serious cooking was done in the morning only. Haudenosaunee women were not the kind of females to be pushed into slaving inside the house day and night. They had work to do, from keeping their nation’s entire agriculture enterprise alive and kicking to choosing reliable elders to represent their towns and villages in the Great Council to the best of their interests; and yes, to advise the government on an occasion. So no excessive cooking, and only one family meal to start the day with.

The food would be removed from the pot or kettle to bark or wooden dishes and then handed over to the recipients, who would either sit on the floor or remain standing along the walls as was more convenient to them. Men were served first. Then women and children.

Made from maize alone the variety of food was staggering, but of course the Longhouse meal included many more ingredients besides the precious three sisters – corn, beans and squash. Those three main staples were venerated, grown lovingly and always together, complimenting each other nutritionally while providing helpful support – “…a corn having a natural pole for the bean vines to climb while the bean roots improved the overall fertility of the plot, helping stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind, and shallow-rooted squash vines becoming a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years…”

So the corn formed the main part of the menu and was represented in almost every dish and meal. All sorts of bread and pastries, baked, fried and boiled, with nuts or berries, sweetened with maple syrup or flavored with meat and salt; great variety of hominy, pottages and puddings seasoned with everything from sweeteners to grease and meat; endless list of soups offering everything from meat to mushrooms and onions; hot drinks and snakes such as roasted cobs to nibble or even a sort of a pop-corn – all this and more would enliven people’s menu as seasons would change and days passed, along with variety of bean soups and puddings, squash dishes, multitude of different berry treats from drinks to porridge and snacks, nuts’ flavored meals, and so on and on. The menu was endless, rarely repeating itself. The Longhouse women knew how to spoil their families and guests.

In the end of such family meal the diners would say Nyawe which meant the thanks are given, while the hostess would reply Niu which meant it is well. This was the custom, to thank the creators for bestowing this food on the people as much as to appreciate the hostesses’ trouble in preparing it.

When distinguished guests came to the community, a great feast was laid in their honor. Not to mention the days of great ceremonies! Through those celebrations, the ceremonial grounds or the adjacent valleys if the settlement was too heavily populated to conduct their ceremonial activities inside the fence would turn into a large bowl overflowing with food. In such cases Clans Mothers would combine their efforts, having every longhouse contributing from its supplies and manpower, or rather womenpower, in order to prepare and serve everyone.

An excerpt from “The Foreigner”, People of the Longhouse Series, book #2.

She shrugged, shaking the longing off. She could have participated in the dancing even now; she was not that old. For the duration of the opening Feather Dance, wearing only a few rattles or no rattles at all, she might have managed but for her duties as the Clan Mother. Those were what kept her from dancing.

“The food would be served after the second Thanksgiving Address and the Women Song,” one of her fellow Wolf Clan Mothers was saying. “I suggest we start organizing it once they finish the Feather Dance.” She was a stocky woman, good-natured and prone to laughter, unless pressed with work. Too anxious to get everything done, when too many matters attacked at once, this peer of hers was losing much of her good humor.

“It might be too early for that, Sister,” said another woman, the head of the third and the smaller Wolf longhouse of the town.

“It won’t. We need time to make fires and spread the ware. Also to send for the missing items and foodstuff when we spot their lack. The girls would be useless, busy dancing or staring, so it’ll leave us with less women to work and still hordes of hungry people to face. So many visitors this time. And the Long Tails foreigners!” The round face turned to Seketa, glaring with unhealthy red. “Tell her!”

“Calm down, Sister.” The arm she placed on her companion’s shoulder was supposed to soften the amused quality of her smile. She was such a worrier, that peer of hers. “It is going to be well. I checked and rechecked all our supplies that were brought here, and they are enough. Didn’t you see me counting all those people, then spending half the morning around our piles? There would be no missing items, no need to send reluctant girls in their festive attire. We have all we need here.” The wink of the third woman made her smile widen. “We received the honor of hosting the first day of the ceremony, and we will not make the Wolf Clan look bad. Trust us on that.”

A dubious head shake was her answer. “If you say so, Sister. But let us hope you are not mistaken. It would be embarrassing to run out of food or utensils. Our clan will be a laughingstock for many moons to come.”

“It won’t be.”

Turning around, she watched the dancers and the fire, this vantage point even better than her previous one. The girls of the Wolf Clan were easy to pick out, the decorations of their festive attire different than those of the Turtle, Heron, or Bear Clans, or any of the others. Without noticing, her eyes checked their motions and regalia again, making sure all was done as it should be.

“In need of some help, girls?” The Turtle Clan’s head woman neared with some of her fellow elderly friends in tow, all smiles. “Think we will be eating well this first day of the ceremony? Must impress the foreigners, mustn’t we?”

“I think our guests are suitably impressed as it is,” said Seketa, seeking her husband with her gaze, his tall, broad-shouldered figure easy to pick out and not because of the magnificent headdress he wore for the occasion.

Such an imposing man, even when surrounded by his fellow dignitaries and other prominent people of the town, faith-keepers and members of the council—a very colorful group, their headdresses and regalia shining brilliantly in the early afternoon light. Some of the foreigners were near him too, as expected, decidedly different and strange in their long-sleeved shirts, the fashion her former people followed these days, she had heard. Her former people!

She suppressed a grunt. He was heard speaking about the possibility of opening the negotiations again, claiming that it must be the time to do it now, when the Crooked Tongues were united and easier to communicate with. There had been a heated argument, she had been told, on the evening before. Not many people were prepared to go against him. Still there were such, some of them growing more vocal, gathering courage now that the foreign delegation brought unsettling news of the enemy’s unification.

Her heart squeezing with worry, she didn’t dare to ask him about it when they had retired to sleep on the night before, not wishing to bring up the subject she knew they would not agree upon. He had had enough as it was, without her turning against him as well.

So she had just hugged him and snuggled against him, instead, and when he enveloped her in his arms and whispered that he missed her and that if the accursed politics came between them once again, he would be terribly put out, she listened to the silence and the even breathing of their numerous guests, then let her hands wander, reassured. Lovemaking inside a longhouse was usually a quiet, careful affair, strangled under the furs and the blankets, unlike the beautiful playing around the couples engaged in out there in the woods. Even respectable Clan Mothers. Or maybe not. Maybe it was only her. Living with such a man, how could she not?

“What is the meaning of that smile, Sister?” The Turtle woman’s voice brought her from her pleasant memories, made her aware of her twisting lips.

Historical Fiction and the Wyandot

12 October 2015 Comments (2)

The alliance of the Wyandot People from the northern side of the Lake Ontario—Huron as we came to know them in the modern recorded history—got significantly less attention than the famous great League of the Five Iroquois Nations.

In fact, the little that we do know about these people, seems to come to us through their relationship with the Great League—a troublesome relationship at that—and their role in the later-day struggle for power between the English, French, and Dutch newcomers.

Not much information, and certainly with no detail that is unrelated to the mentioned struggle of powers, or the earlier times.

The mainstream notion places the formation of the Wyandot union somewhere around the 15th century, with the first two to join the forces being Attignawantans/People of the Bear and Attigneenongnahacs/People of the Cord. Probably larger and more dominant, these two nations might have initiated the union, with the remaining Wyandot, Tahontaenrats/People of the Deer, and Arendarhonons/People of the Rock joining somewhat later, either on equal terms or as ‘younger brothers.’

Yet, there are sources that dispute this claim. The greater reach of the modern-day’s science, archeological studies, and deeper cultural research already moved the date of the famous Iroquois Great League a few centuries earlier, from the same 15th century accepted until some decades ago all the way to the August of 1142. The evidence like the exact location of a certain key event combined with the NASA records of full solar eclipses of the area provided us with definite dates, as opposed to the earlier less definite hunches. When it comes to the Wyandot, though, the concrete evidence is harder to find, as no records of their earlier times seem to be available. All we know is the fact that they did have a union and that their enmity with the Great League of the Iroquois seemed to go back centuries and more.

No political body, this alliance might have been lacking in mutual government, but their largest settlement Ossossane was recorded to be ‘boasting’ its status as a capital of all Wyandot People. So maybe they were united more closely than we came to believe they were.

In this novel, the third book of the People of the Longhouse series, I wanted to explore the possible causes of this union’s formation and possible difficulties its founders had to face. Due to the glaring lack of records, some literary license has to be taken, sometimes lavishly—not a problem when it comes to a hardcore historical factionalist only too eager to welcome such challenge—but sincere efforts have been made to keep as close as possible to every available record or documentation, along with the historical and cultural traits of the nations involved and the general history that has been retold.

The question of who his mother was puzzled Ogteah, but not to the extent of bothering him for real. His other troubles, the results of his life as a gambler and a lightweight, breezy and free of responsibility, were the ones to land him in trouble time after time. The people of his own hometown frowned, more and more direfully as the summers passed, until his mounting transgressions made him leave for good, mainly to stop embarrassing his father.

A great leader and a very dedicated person, his father was working hard to create an alliance between their own people and their various neighbors, an alliance that was supposed to keep their side of the Great Lake safe from the traditional enemy, the notorious Longhouse People and their Great League’s threatening presence. Concerned with none of this, Ogteah wandered far north, settling in the lands of the people his father wanted an alliance with. Only to run into more trouble.

Gayeri wasn’t concerned with political developments, powerful leaders, or their less successful sons, either. No troublesome newcomers entered her thoughts or caught her attention, certainly not a good-for-nothing gambler with a mysterious past. Having survived a brutal kidnapping but determined to forget all about it, she was busy carving a new life in her new surroundings, set on ensuring that it would shelter her from any more dangerous happenings. Protection was her first priority, and keeping away from men was a large part of it. Large-scale politics were of no consequence, whether those of her former Longhouse People or her new Crooked Tongued countryfolk. Her personal safety was most important, at the expense of everything else. .

And yet, the formation of the four Wyandot nations’ union was to interrupt their lives, to demand their involvement and participation, causing them to influence each other’s lives more than any of them could have imagined or foreseen

An excerpt from “Troubled Waters”, People of the Longhouse Series, book #3.

“The gathering of our nations will be held with the coming of the new moon. It will not be delayed, and it will not be put off.”

Encircling his audience with a piercing gaze, Hainteroh fought the urge to lick his lips, his mouth dry, craving a gulp of water. He had been speaking for too long by now, orating, then answering people’s questions. So many of them, coming from far and wide, listening avidly, but with enough doubt clouding their faces.

His venture into the Deer People’s lands was not proving worthwhile, not yet. Maybe not ever. These people, enemies of his people until not long ago, were wary of their enterprising neighbors. The offer to stop warring was one thing. No one hesitated for too long to accept the temporary cease of hostilities. But a union, an actual union that should make their leaders meet on a constant basis, oh, that smelled of dependence to this smaller nation, he knew. They did not trust, neither his Bear People nor the powerful dwellers from the shores of another Great Lake, the People of the Cord.

“We should all join in this union, an alliance of brother-nations. We are brothers, and we belong together, not apart.”

From his elevated position, he could see them, a lake of faces, crowding the hill, pushing closer, trying not to miss a word. A good thing. The Deer People may have been a smaller nation, but their location made them important, their presence in the projected alliance imperative. Also, they didn’t look too small and insignificant when touring their forests, visiting their settlements. The town he had been trying to convince, the place who were ready to offer hospitality, was as large as his own, with as many longhouses and a sturdy palisade. Yes, better to have these people on their side.

“Like our longhouses, with our families living together, sharing much, yet maintaining their independence, having each a fire of its own, so will be our union, an alliance of nations, tied by mutual management, yet independent, accountable first of all to their own leading people, towns, and clans councils.”

He encircled them with his gaze again, seeking out faces of those who stood closer, seeing their interest, their attention, but their wariness as well. They weren’t ready to trust an outsider, a leader of the neighboring people, with a long history of violence and half-hearted agreements. His being neither one of theirs nor a total foreigner made him lose on both counts.

It would have made them listen more readily had he been a savage from across the Great Lake, or maybe a dubious ally like the Long Tails People from the mists of the southwest. The Peacemaker was right. No one was ready to trust one of their own. But for this man still being around! He pushed the irrelevant thoughts away.

“No nation will be forced into our alliance, or threatened into doing this. And yet, why not elect a representative, even of your town alone, to travel to Ossossane, to witness our gathering, if not actively participate? The Deer People will benefit from joining our union. They will not regret listening to our proposals.”

More humming voices, more fascinated murmuring. He suppressed a shrug. After addressing this crowd since the sun was high in the sky, he was beginning to repeat himself. Time to break the meeting.

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