Monthly Archives: November 2015

Itzcoatl – the fourth ruler of Tenochtitlan

20 November 2015 Comments (2)

His name was Itzcoatl, which meant Obsidian Serpent – izt(li)=obsidian, coatl=serpent – and he came to succeed his nephew, the Third Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan, in 1428 or One Flint Knife/Ce Tecpatl. Most sources agree with this date, even though a few claims vary from as early as 1425 to as late as 1435.

He has reigned for thirteen years only, but the changes he brought to the balance of powers of the entire Mexican Valley/Anahuac were more than profound.

On his glyph he appears in the regular ruler’s fashion, seated on a reed mat-petatl, wearing a noble headband-xiuhuitzolli, with the customary scroll coming out of his mouth. His name is attached to his glyph, depicting a red and yellow serpent with black obsidian spikes.

He was one of the several illegitimate sons the First Ruler of Tenochtitlan Acamapichtli has sired, therefore his way to the throne was not an easy one. He came to rule as a mature man in his late-thirties, after serving Tenochtitlan in Chief Warlord’s capacity-tlacochcalcatl-under its Second Ruler, and as the Head Adviser-cihuacoatl-under the Third. In this time Tenochtitlan seemed to need desperately the sort of a leadership Itzcoatl was offering, a tough, hardened, experienced warrior of formidable disposition and little fear.

The death of Chimalpopoca, the Third Tlatoani, cast the island city into its worst crisis, ruining its relationship with the powerful Tepanec capital beyond repair. The entire region was in a terrible turmoil, with Tenochtitlan’s sister-city Tlatelolco situated on the nearby island at loss at the death of its own ruler, and Texcoco, the Acolhua capital on the eastern shore, torn between their quest for freedom from the Tepanec yoke and its resentment of the Mexica islanders who contributed to their earlier defeat. The Acolhua heir, Nezahualcoyotl, a staunch Mexica ally after many summers of exile spent in Tenochtitlan, has been forced to flee back into the neighboring Highlands, to gather support and reinforcements there hopefully, but until he reappeared Tenochtitlan was on its own, facing the Tepanec rage all alone.

Indeed, the new Tepanec ruler, Maxtla, did not make his former tributaries wait. The offensive he launched against the island city resulted in a siege that was lifted only when Nezahualcoyotl came down the eastern Highlands, followed by thousands of local warriors, very fierce people who, for their own reasons, decided to get involved in the Lowlander’s political upheavals.

This turned the tide of the war most decisively, as instead of heading westwards and toward his beloved Texcoco in order to liberate it, the Acolhua future ruler opted for crossing Lake Texcoco straight away into the Tepanec heartlands, gathering thousands of his former Acolhua subjects into his already formidable highlander force as he went.

That made the frightened Maxtla lift his short-lived siege off the rebellious island and rush back toward his own capital, anxious to stop the invaders. Which heartened the besieged Mexica enormously, as they poured out of their city and into the mainland in more thousands, hot on the retreating Tepanecs’ heels. Their eagerness and organized manner with which they invaded the Tepanec side of the Lake testifies for Itzcoatl’s war readiness. Evidently, the new ruler did not waste his time on idle wait for reinforcements.

The war on Azcapotzalco lasted for more than a month – 40 days according to some sources, 114 to others, less than a market interval to some – and it ended with such resounding Tepanec defeat that Azcapotzalco was no more, just a cite of smoking ruins, or a huge slave market according to some claims.

The Triple Alliance that was formed shortly thereafter included Tenochtitlan with Itzcoatl in its lead, the reinstalled Acolhua ruler Nezahualcoyotl, and the minor partner, not an equal to the other two – Tlacopan, a Tepanec city that apparently wasn’t as happy with Azcapotzalco’s switching rulers as it might have seemed in the beginning. When the Mexica, the Acolhua and the Highlanders washed the western side of the Texcoco Lake, Tlacopan had chosen its side wisely.

The rest of Itzcoatl’s reign was spent in ‘inheriting’ the crumbled Tepanec Empire, subduing towns and cities who didn’t understand very well what happened in the Mexican Valley at first. A decade spent in consolidating the Triple Alliance’s power around Lake Texcoco was well spent. Codex Mendoza shows twenty four conquered towns and settlements, even though some of the conquests seemed to be nothing but reestablishing of the Mexica rule, already listed under the conquests of the previous tlatoaqui as well.

On the southern shore, the Tepanec Coyoacan fell next to Azcapotzalco, with the fleeing ex-emperor Maxtla being caught and executed there (according to other sources, he might have escaped Coyoacan as well, spending the rest of his days in exile, never to be heard of around the Mexican Valley again).

Then came the turn of Xochimilco, Mizquic, Cuitlahuac and Quauhnahuac (the last one being listed in several codices as a conquest of Huitzilihuitl as well). Similarly, Quauhtitlan seems to be nothing more than a reestablishment of the Mexica power over that region.

Texcoco and its provinces are listed as Itzcoatl’s conquests too, but those were probably just an aid the Mexica might have given to its Acolhua allies, the full-time members of the Triple Alliance, helping Nezahualcoyotl in re-conquering his former domain.

With the Mexican Valley being reasonably under control, shared between the Mexica and Acolhua, with the junior member Tlacopan holding to its smaller share of conquests, bereft complains, Itzcoatl moved to the south, subduing modern-day region of Guerrero, more former Tepanec provinces. Codex Mendoza claims towns of Cuecalan, Caqualpan, Yztepec, Yoalan, and Tepequacuilco. Another campaign against Quauhnahuac and Ziuhtepec followed.

This is the point that is generally held as the change in the Mexica history, when Tenochtitlan became not only totally independent entity, taking control of its destiny, but also began its ascendance toward the great regional power it had eventually became, with Itzcoatl being the man credited with the change of its status from subservient to that of an immanent dominance.

Inside Tenochtitlan, the political power became even more centralized, with the noble class gaining more and more distinction in the form of additional lands of the inherited Tepanec domain. It was distributed mainly among the nobles of the upper class, with other the prominent city representatives, the heads of the districts and others receiving considerably less, thus strengthening the power of the aristocracy as opposed to the traders and other wealthy elements of the city.

Backed by the two most prominent men of this time, his nephew Tlacaelel and Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, both very formidable still relatively young men, his Head Advisers and his Chief Warlord, Itzcoatl encountered no difficulties in pushing his social reforms while pursuing military expansion.

He vacated his throne in 1440 or 13 Flint Knife/Mahtlactli omei Tecpatl, but even though both his followers were very powerful and legitimate to claim the throne, Tenochtitlan was not about to repeat Azcapotzalco’s mistakes. Tlacaelel and Moctezuma were to rule in tandem for the next three decades to come, with Moctezuma receiving the office but not trying to assert his ascendance over his wise, powerful, extremely experienced half-brother, his Head Adviser.

An excerpt from “The Fall of the Empire”, The Rise of the Aztecs Series, book #5.

“The manners of my leaders are immaterial,” he heard Nezahualcoyotl saying. “This is a war council, and we invited our warlords to join it for a reason. We want to hear their opinions.”

Itzcoatl’s eyes blazed murder, but before he could open his mouth, whether to cut the impudent Acolhua to size with more condescending, icily-spoken words, or to burst out with unrestrained anger, Tlacaelel raised his hand.

“May I ask your permission to speak my mind?” Now all eyes were upon him, expectant. He knew he didn’t really have to ask for permission.

“Yes, you may speak, Tenochtitlan’s Chief Warlord,” growled Itzcoatl between his teeth.

“Thank you.”

He liked the way they all looked at him, expectant, trusting him to solve the problem. Even the foreigners, even that impressive Tenocelotl. The man had spent only a market interval with the Mexica forces, but somehow, Tlacaelel knew he made the correct assessment of his new allies’ qualities.

“I tend to agree with the Acolhua Warriors’ Leader as to the statement that we had reached an impasse. Today’s battle, although partially won, did not change that. We made the Tepanecs retreat behind their walls, but we did not break their spirits. Not even by killing their most trusted leader.” He encircled them with his gaze, pleased with their undivided attention.

“The Tepanecs are still strong, still battle-hungry, and the location of their walls is giving them a clear advantage. This, and the fact that they are fighting on their land, pressed against their own walls, defending their homes. To fight on and on may cost us more than we are prepared to pay and may not give us the final victory.” He paused, knowing that Itzcoatl would be furious now. “Therefore I, for one, would be willing to learn the nature of the unusual solution the Acolhua Warlord is willing to share with us.” Itzcoatl’s eyes were as dark as the ponds on the moonless night, and as cold, while the Highlander’s gaze sparkled with the well familiar, amused twinkle. These two had had a history, remembered Tlacaelel, preferring not to think about it.

“Thank you for your trust, Honorable Leaders,” began the Highlander brightly, as though no problems had arose from his unwarranted bursting into the impeccable noblemen’s discussion. “I’m aware that it is not our custom to conduct any sort of night warfare. Yet, in this situation, we may change our tactics to that extent. If we attack Azcapotzalco now, we will achieve the element of surprise, while our disadvantage will be less prominent in the darkness, fighting against the shaken, unbalanced enemy. If we are careful in organizing our forces, we may approach their walls unexpected, with their hastily organized resistance easy to overcome.”

“Our warriors are tired. They have been fighting since midday,” said Moctezuma, another prince to Tenochtitlan’s royal house, a very promising young man, one of Tlacaelel’s multitude of half brothers and Itzcoatl’s half nephews.

“Yes, I’m aware of that. My people and our highlander allies have been fighting since the high morning, taking the worst of the impact.” The twinkle was gone from the man’s eyes, replaced by the solemn thoughtfulness. He had always taken his duties of the warriors’ leader seriously, the only thing he had taken seriously, as far as Tlacaelel knew. The rest he had breezed through, trusting his luck, which usually, indeed, would not disappoint, to help this man to achieve the best of the best, from women to positions. “Yet, my men would be willing to make another effort. They are hardened warriors, and their morale is high. I’m sure the same can be said about the renowned Mexica warriors, as well.” His gaze encircled them, keen and sincere. “I’m aware that we may do better with more time to prepare for this unusual sort of attack. Yet, we could not have too much of that. Azcapotzalco should be taken tonight. Another day of fighting may prove disastrous, as we don’t know what additional surprises those people might have at their disposal, from reinforcements like the one who nearly surprised us this morning, to all sorts of traps in the hills. They know the terrain too well for us to feel confident about it. The Tepanecs are very good warriors, and their leaders were clever enough to conquer the whole valley and to hold it for twenty upon twenty of summers. However, here we might surprise them too thoroughly.” He glanced at Tenocelotl. “Our Highlander allies may agree to take upon themselves the first part of the attack, having more experience and an appropriate equipment to climb the walls, backed by their archers and our slingers. In the darkness, the defenders would not be able to use their slings and bows properly, while our shooters would find it easier to pick their targets, outlined more clearly against the sky.”

They all stared at the man, the rulers and the warriors’ leaders, the best of the four nations, some frowning, some doubtful, some managing to keep their expressions impassive. Only young Moctezuma looked expectant, and something close to an amused grin twisted the lips of the usually unperturbed Tenocelotl.

“How long will it take you to organize your warriors, including the time you would need to make them understand what sort of warfare is expected from them?” asked Tlacaelel.

The Highlander glanced at the sky. “My warriors will be ready some time after midnight.”

Tlacaelel nodded. “If we are to use our surprise to the best of our abilities, we should approach their walls in the darkest of the night, when the moon fades and the watchers are sleepy. Then we could shoot their guards, and that would give us enough time to let the first waves of our warriors get through before the enemy understands what happened.”

“Unless they are not as sleepy as you presume,” growled Itzcoatl, sounding more amused than angry now, back in control.

“They are tired no less than we are and distraught by the loss of their leader. And they are not expecting this sort of surprise.” The Highlander’s eyes lit suddenly, almost sparkling in the darkness. “And while we are on surprises and unusual sort of warfare…” His voice trailed off, as his gaze drew away, concentrating.

“What else can be done in the darkness?” asked Nezahualcoyotl, grinning.

Chimalpopoca – the third ruler of Tenochtitlan

10 November 2015 Comments (1)

His name Chimalpopoca meant Smoking Shield (Chimal(li)-shield, popoca-smoke/smoking), and he came to succeed his father, Huitzilihuitl, in the year of 1418 or Four Rabbit-Nahui Tochtli.

Some sources claim different dates, varying from 1414 to 1424, but most agree on 1417-18.

In the Codex Mendoza, Chimalpopoca is depicted in a typical way of Tenochtitlan’s rulers: sitting on a reed mat, petatl, wearing a headband, xiuhuitzolli, and carrying his role of a tlatoani-revered speaker with a speech scroll coming out of his mouth. The depiction of his name is added in the form of a Mexica shield with blue rim and seven feather down balls, with curls of smoke surrounding it.

Being the son of the Second Mexica Tlatoani and his Tepanec Chief Wife, the daughter of the mighty Tepanec Emperor Tezozomoc, who by this time ruled all the lands around Texcoco Lake and the Mexican Valley, Chimalpopoca enjoyed Azcapotzalco’s continues favor, and so did Tenochtitlan alongside with him. The tribute remained greatly reduced, and the revenues from the newly acquired Acolhua provinces, including Texcoco itself, which the Mexicas received probably as a prize for their active participation in the Acolhua-Tepanec War, added greatly to Tenochtitlan’s well being.

The city continued to prosper, the buildings being further rebuilt or extended. The markets filled with luxuries along with plenty of other necessities, offering cotton clothes and precious stones, something even in Huitzilihuitl’s times was not readily available.

The first construction to carry fresh water to Tenochtitlan was finally commenced, not an overly impressive structure made out of clay and limestone, breaking down too often for anyone’s liking. Still it was better than no aqueduct at all. The water on the eastern shore of the island was brackish, good for washing but not consuming. Only the western side of the island offered readily available fresh water, and it was not as sweet tasting as the water of the mainland. Tenochtitlan people grew picky about what they were expected to consumed.

Chimalpopoca’s reign was relatively short, lasting only ten years, his military activities mainly inherited – Tenochtitlan’s participation in the Tepanec-Acolhua War, as much as the long-years’ hostilities against altepetl of Chalco, located to the south of Lake Texcoco, on the shores of Lake Chalco. Codex Mendoza lists Chalco among Chimalpopoca’s conquests, but so it does when dealing with the military efforts of his father, Huitzilihuitl, or his uncle-successor Itzcoatl. Which might indicate the long-standing hostility and raids, rather than an ultimate conquest.

Chimalpopoca died in 1427 or Thirteen Reed-Matlactli Ei Acatl and his death was not as natural as this of his predecessors. The glyph attached to his year of death in the Codex Mendoza depicts him still sitting on a mat, wearing the royal headband; yet there is no speech scroll coming out of his mouth, and his pose is slopping, eyes closed. Some sources argue about his time of death being as early as 1424 or as late as 1432.

The upheavals in Azcapotzalco’s royal house sent huge waves of unrest throughout the entire Tepanec empire, hitting Tenochtitlan’s shores with a great strength. Tezozomoc, the man who had ruled the Mexican Valley with a stony fist for quite a few decades died in 1426, leaving two dominant heirs among multitude of eligible sons.

Tayauh, or Tayatzin as most of the records tend to add the honorific ‘tzin’ to this man’s name, was the son the dying emperor named for a successor, but his brother Maxtla thought he would do better occupying Azcapotzalco’s throne.

Chimalpopoca, still a young man of barely twenty, acted unwisely by supporting the legitimate heir vocally, openly, with great zeal. It is said that both his half-uncle Itzcoatl, his Head Adviser at this time, and his half-brother Tlacaelel, the Chief Warlord, advocated Tenochtitlan’s neutrality in this matter, advising to leave the Tepanec heirs sort their differences between themselves. However young and probably impressionable Chimalpopoca did not heed his wise supporters’ advice. Tayatzin was a lawful new Tepanec Ruler and that was that. Tenochtitlan would side with this good man, would benefit from its continued support in the long run.

A good strategy, maybe, but for the discontent Maxtla resorting to less lawful means. Only a few moons into his reign, Tayatzin died, by poison applied by his brother Maxtla, or so many have assumed. Tenochtitlan found itself facing hostile Tepanec Capital led by the man Chimalpopoca was heard declaring openly against on more than a few occasions. Not the best of situations, as the Mexica Island was still no match for the powerful Azcapotzalco, rich with tribute and teeming with warriors forces.

What’s more, having discovered the delightful ease with which one could get rid oneself of his rivals with no intricate politics involved, Maxtla didn’t even try to make it look legal. Next to die was the ruler of Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan’s sister-city located on a neighboring island. Then Nezahualcoyotl, the exiled Acolhua heir whom Tezozomoc allowed to live in Tenochtitlan and even in the former Acolhua Capital through the recent years, was forced to flee back to the Highlands, after a failed attempt on his life.

Chimalpopoca found himself isolated, threatened openly. And so did Tenochtitlan, unpopular now in the new royal house of Azcapotzalco.

Itzcoatl and Tlacaelel began preparing for war. Tlacaelel, the Chief Warlord was reported to be “… seen everywhere around the city, fortifying it against the possibility of a siege, strengthening people’s spirits as well…”. The island’s location was offering an advantage for a change. All the Mexica Capital needed to do was to block the causeway leading to the mainland, and make sure enough war canoes patrolled Tenochtitlan’s waters.

And then, Chimalpopoca died. Various sources disagree on the matter. Some said Maxtla has had him killed by sending assassins into Tenochtitlan’s palace. Some said he had lured the young ruler to Azcapotzalco under the pretext of an imperial feast, then took him prisoner and executed. Given the political climate of these times, the first version makes more sense.

Additional hunches pointing the accusing finger at Iztcoatl, of all people, Chimalpopoca’s Head Adviser and the man who was destined to become the next Tlatoani; the man who had the necessarily amount of royal blood, even if inherited from his distinguished father only, and no lack of other great qualifications, a hardened warrior and politician who had seen more than forty decades of life. At such time, facing the most serious crisis, about to engage in the largest military confrontation since its creation, Tenochtitlan could certainly do better with a tough leader of great clout, experience and determination. So there are scholars who suspect Itzcoatl at having his own nephew killed, the only person with a clear motive.

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

Iztac felt her heart missing a beat.

“Oh, the Tepanecs have no honor at all!”

“No, they have none. Apparently, they think many of the cities and altepetls should change their rulers along with their policies.” The thickset man shrugged. “I shall double the amount of warriors guarding the Palace.”

This time Chimal jumped to his feet, unable to remain seated anymore. “They would never dare!” he cried out. “It would make the war inevitable, and they would never succeed in removing a lawful ruler of an independent altepetl, never. We are not a village!”

Itzcoatl shrugged once again. “Maxtla has no honor. He can try anything, and I don’t want to see him succeeding, even if it won’t achieve the results he might wish to achieve. Tlacateotl, the ruler of Tlatelolco, was also a lawful ruler of an independent city. Nezahualcoyotl is also not an outlaw for them to try to hunt him down the way the despicable Tepanec tried. Tayatzin was a lawfully appointed successor to the Tepanec throne, but he is dead now, and no one dares to ask questions. I don’t want it happening here in Tenochtitlan. I don’t want to see you dead, Nephew, even if your death would not make Tenochtitlan into a tributary of the Tepanec Empire.”

Not daring to breathe, Iztac listened, her heart beating fast. Oh, no, they would never dare. Never! And yet, Itzcoatl might be right. Dirty Maxtla had dared to do many things no one assumed he would do. What was there to stop him from trying to murder Chimal, whom he hated openly, whose delegation he had just refused to receive? Oh, gods!

She watched the impartial face, a stone mask once again. Did this man have Chimal’s interests in his heart, after all? Were her suspicions, her unexplained dislike of this man, wrong and unfounded?

“I appreciate your concern for my safety, oh Honorable Uncle,” she heard Chimal saying, his voice warm and heartfelt. “But I would give my life away gladly if I were required to do so for the benefit of Tenochtitlan.”

“Yes, and I believe you, Nephew. Yet, my mission is to ensure your safety for the greater benefit of Tenochtitlan.” But again, the man’s eyes flickered darkly, making Iztac shiver. He knew something Chimal did not, she realized suddenly. Something ominous and dark. Something that would scare her beyond any reason.

She shut her eyes, wishing the ominous feeling to go away. It was all her imagination. Recently, she’d had too many things to worry about, too much danger to cope with. People she loved were in trouble, all of them – Coyotl, the Highlander, and now Chimal. No, she should calm her nerves and should not let the stupid sensation of knowing the future ruin her life. She would not be of help to any of them if she turned into a quivering shouter of doom.

No, she decided. Today she would not worry, and she’d do nothing but spend a quiet day with Citlalli, her daughter, the way she sometimes liked to do. They would draw pictures and chat and laugh, and they would gorge on sweetmeats, too.

She opened her eyes in time to see Tlacaelel coming in, tall and imposing, his paces wide, his face sunburned, his cloak creased, his whole being radiating purposeful energy, smelling of lake, campfires, and adventure.

“I beg to forgive me my neglected appearances,” he said nearing the throne, not paying attention to the slaves who hurriedly prostrated themselves. “I came as soon as I could, as soon as I heard you wished to see me, Revered Brother.”

“I’m so glad to see you back, well and unharmed!” exclaimed Chimal, jumping off his throne once again. “What happened?”

“Oh, filthy Maxtla was up to his tricks again!” Tlacaelel’s nostril’s widened as he took a deep breath. “This man is the most despicable half person that has ever been born.”

“You should be flattered, Warlord,” said Itzcoatl grimly. “He seems to be concerned mainly with rulers or would-be rulers.”

But Tlacaelel just shrugged, unperturbed. “He didn’t try to dispose of me for being me. He wanted to create a problem between Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan, so that city would be the first to join the war against us.”

Throwing Spears

2 November 2015 Comments (0)

With the Cold Moons safely gone and the spring taking over for good, the women of the longhouses were hurrying out to start preparations for the new planting season. The winter time of the dried-meat-and-fruit diet would have everyone starving for fresh, juicy treats, from sweet maple syrup to fresh strawberries and anything else the generous earth was willing to offer at this time of the year, until people managed to make their crops grow anew. So the Maple Moon, the first moon of the spring, would be spent on collecting wonderfully sweet, highly nutritious maple sap, to celebrate, gorge and store for the year-round use.

However, before this moon’s activities were done with and the next Thundering Moon took over, the men would be hastened out there, lazy males that they were – or so some Clans Mothers would have claimed – to engage in the fields-clearing activities. Fallen trees, broken bushes, stones and other hurdles, the remainders of the fierceness of the winter moons, would require a male strength to be removed. This was the only part where women had shown tolerance to the male intervention in their business, the agriculture being solely female task in the Longhouse People’s society, their duty and their responsibility, the equality of genders those people knew centuries before other cultures were to discover such thing.

But politics aside, when the old fields were cleared or maybe a new one reclaimed from the surrounding forest, the men would not miss the opportunity to use the newly flattened ground for their own entertainment before the women got around planting their crops through the following Planting Moon. A spear-throwing contest required a perfectly flattened ground, just the one the newly cleared field was offering.

The game would start with the players dividing into two teams of various sizes, depending on the amount of the willing to participate. From a small group of men, or youths, or even just kids armed with sharpened sticks, playing in pairs, to teams as large as fifteen to thirty warriors displaying their skill on the Thunder Ceremony through the moon that bore the same name, preceding the Planting Moon, spear throwing contest was a popular way to display one’s expertise and skill.

The players goal was to fit one’s spear through a hoop that was rolled over the flat ground at a fairly removed distance from the thrower. As with teams, those came in various forms and sizes. Some hoops were simple, made out of a branch bent as a circle, tied at its edges with a leather strip. Others were invested devices, made out of bundled cornhusks wrapped in a rawhide. Those would usually sport a web of leather strips inside the ring, to assist in determining the score in the way the spear went through it.

The spears were varying in their appearance as well. From sharpened sticks to exclusive javelins to professional gaming spears with forked ends to catch the hoop so the spear wouldn’t go all the way through, the spears would pierce the hoops in their perfect middle, or anywhere near it, or maybe just push until it feel, cutting its flight over the field short – anything that made the hoop fall was declared a good throw. Only the clear miss would cause the player lose his pride together with his spear that was to be handed to his contester as his rightful spoil. Otherwise the teams would go on, hurling their spears until reaching the agreed amount of points, or until all spears changed their hands, sometimes accumulating in the possession of one good player or several.

Either way no onlooker would be left feeling as though they had wasted their time watching the game and cheering, or sometimes even betting on the possible winners, adding more items to the spears that were destined to change hands.

Sometimes the contesting team would throw their javelins all at once, displaying their superior skill and organization. More often though, the players would hurl their missiles in pairs, each representing the rival team, trying to pierce the hoop in his turn.

The player who pierced the hoop while his rival missed, would be declared the winner and the new owner of the loser’s spear. However if both players managed to make their spears go through, they would go on throwing again for an agreed-upon amount of tries, then the contest would be transferred to the next teams’ representatives.

The Thunder Ceremony was held in April, a Thunder Moon, celebrating the return of the Thunderers, who would come from “where the sun sets”, bringing back rains and replenishing the water life. According to the Creation Story, during the time when everything was new and the Celestial Twins were still struggling, Heno the Thunderer helped to drive many of the Evil Twin’s creations back into the earth with his mighty lightening, frightening and suppressing ferocious animals with it to these very days “… it’s been told that if the Thunderer were to cease, these animals would emerge and cause a lot of suffering… so, whenever we hear them, we are to make an offering to them of the real tobacco so that they will continue with their responsibilities…”

The War Dance, performed on this ceremony by men alone, was followed by the hoop and spear game, the spear throwing contest, played as the part of the ritual – not just a wonderful entertainment, but also the representation of the symbolic contests between the good and dark sides of the human nature, the Good Right-Handed and the Evil Left Handed Twin Brothers and their eternal struggle. This was the most official contest, played by large teams, owners of professional hoops and spears.

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

“Are you ready, mysterious non-Onondaga man?” The Flint was back in his good humor, balancing his precious javelin in his hand, playing with it, displaying his skill.

“Who throws first?”

“You. The host has the honor.”

“My pleasure.” Swinging his spear in his turn, Ogteah strolled toward the nearest spot that had less chances of the sun glowing directly in his eyes. The Flint man, he noticed, skipped quite a few tens of paces away, his limp again barely noticeable. Was he pretending to have this liability?

Ogtaeh pushed a new wave of misgivings away, sensing the eyes of the woman, the lively chatter of her companions distracting.

“Ready?”

The shout came from far enough, making him wish to grind his teeth. From what distance was this man intending to have them aiming? With this smaller hoop, and now from farther than customary, was he planning to have them both missing the target?

“Go on.”

Deciding to brazen it out rather than spend his time worrying over something he could not prevent at this point, Ogteah focused, measuring the distance, guessing the possible path of the ring with his eyes. There was no need to concentrate on the starting point. A veteran of many such contests, he knew that a brief glance in the hoop-thrower’s direction was more than enough. Those who studied the man, trying to predict his movements, missed half of their chances to hit the target before the ring rolled its course.

The deepening silence of those who watched warned him, heightened his awareness, made his muscles tense, his body tilting, the hand holding the spear only a part of the effort. As did the swish that his ears didn’t miss.

The hoop shot forward, like a pouncing predator, pushed with enough force to make it almost fly. At the same moment, Ogteah’s entire body came to life, his instincts deciding for him, as they always did.

Another swish, this of his spear, was louder, resonating in his ears. He could feel the force of the throw, the unerring path of the lethal weapon. It wouldn’t miss, he knew. It couldn’t. Indeed, the hum of the air released from quite a few chests at once told him that the target was down, before his eyes confirmed that. The women behind his back giggled as one of them shouted too loudly, not quick enough to hide her admiration.

“Not bad.” The Flint man didn’t bother to retrieve the fallen hoop, letting one of his friends rush along the tramped-on grass. “Impressive, really.”

But there was no real appreciation in the warrior’s voice. Or maybe there was, but his eyes flickered amusedly, unconcerned. It took the edge off Ogteah’s sense of victory.

“No sweat,” he said lightly, heading toward the man with the hoop and his own spear. “Show us what the Flint can do from such distance.”

“Quite a lot, mysterious local. Quite a lot.”

Rolling the ring was never his favorite part of the competition. He did not do it well, not like some others, who could send the hoop practically flying. Like the annoyingly self-assured Flint.

“Ready?”

He just shoved it forward, in no showy manner, not surprised when the colorful spear pushed it violently, made it fall before it reached the middle of its journey, losing no momentum. Worried a little, he rushed forward, to see that the missile did not go through the perfect middle.

“Not bad as well,” he called out, relieved. The spear didn’t even stick in the web, but was lying quite a distance away, having probably hit the outer ring. A near miss, he thought, smirking. Why did he let stupid misgivings bother him at all?