North America

Part XV: The Conquest of Tlatelolco

28 February 2017 Comments (0)

After the unsuccessful night attack on Tenochtitlan described in the Tenochtitlan’s Conquests Part XIV Tlatelolco found itself in a dire dilemma: to try and fight in an open battle that they had not much chances of winning, or to crawl before their powerful but now enraged neighbors and try to make amends?

Moquihuixtli seemed to be undecided, wavering between pretty speeches full of warlike rhetoric and threats, and any lack of actual deeds, any attempt to prepare his city for the immediate invasion. Both altepetls were reported to be on guard, patrolling their streets and other mutual borders. As I mentioned before, in the preceding article, some of the ancient accounts claimed that Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco shared the same island, while others reported those altepetls to be separated by a small amount of water that had been filled later on, after the Tlatelolco had been conquered by Tenochtitlan. Either way, any possible routes to both cities were guarded at this point, while their rulers tried to decide what to do.

Diego Duran says that even after the treacherous night attack, Axayacatl did not wish to war on the neighboring sister-city, a true kin to Tenochtitlan dwellers, the same Mexica-Aztecs that Tenochtitlan folk were. It would be wrong, claimed the young ruler; and it would also look bad to the various powerful neighbors of the mainland, to see both Mexica-Aztec cities squabbling over quite pitiful dispute, warring on each other – “… shame would descend upon both when other people heard of the rancor and enmity that existed between these two groups of kinsmen…”

Thus, a delegation from Tenochtitlan set forward in order to address Moquihuixtli and try to reason with him – “…a nobleman named Cueyatzin was commissioned to take message to Tlatelolco…”, said Duran in his “The History of the Indies of New Spain.”

Whether it was a nominal gesture to make Tenochtitlan look good and not overly aggressive in the eyes of its powerful partners, the members of the Triple Alliance, or not, the words of reconciliation were spurned in an indignant manner, and so this same Cueyatzin was sent to Tlatelolco again, this time carrying appropriate weaponry and tizatl, the bright clay ointment with which the Nahua people of the entire region anointed their dead for burial. This was the customary declaration of war that Tlatelolco seemed to neglect issuing while executing their first night attack. A shameful negligence. Yet their reaction to the customary gesture managed to surpass even this.

Duran goes into great detail describing the events in the Tlatelolcan Palace. Presented with the customary insignia accompanied by the most appropriate address, Moquihuixtli was said to rise and push the messenger away with his own hands. “… Tell your master that these ointments are for him!” And while he spoke “… Teconal appeared, sword in his head, and with one blow cut off Cueyatzin’s head…” The head was reported then to be carried to Tenochtitlan, causing, as expected, a huge uproar. Duran says that Axayacatl and his advisers and warriors marched on Tlatelolco at once.

The following battle developed first on the outskirts of the city, on either the causeway or another sort of boundary, then spilled toward the marketplace, where Moquihuixtli and Teconal led the defenders, according to Duran. Even a hastily organized “squadron” of women and little boys, clad indecently and throwing at the attackers everything they had, is mentioned, again in great detail.

In contrast to this account, Chimalpahin does not mention marketplace fighting at all, but goes straight for the dramatic warring upon the Great Pyramid and its staircase. On this, both historians agree – the last stage of the drama took place on the top of the great pyramid, as was customary. Chimalpahin claims that Moquihuixtli tried to bribe Axayacatl into letting him go with “… an entire jar of green stones…”; however, when the Tlacopan ruler Chimalpopoca joined the indignant Tenochtitlan emperor in his charge up the wide staircase, demanding that Moquihuixtli should come down and fight, the defeated Tlatelolcan ruler threw himself off the pyramid’s side and died in a spectacular fashion. Duran says that Axayacatl was the one to slay both Moquihuixtli and Teconal, then “… cast them down the steps of the temple…”

And so Tlatelolco fell, to become Tenochtitlan’s tributary and then, gradually, to be absorbed into the giant city that the Great Capital of the Mexica Aztecs kept growing into. The tribute it was made to pay was heavy and strict, not only in items of food and wear but also in manpower to participate in Tenochtitlan’s building projects upon uncompromising requests. On this, every ancient source agrees.

An excerpt from “Heart of the Battle”, The Aztec Chronicles, book three

“What is the news?” he demanded from the group of boys who seemed to be out for some time, crowding the spacious yard, breathless with excitement.

“They brought the head here! Just like that. Carried it on the litter!”

He cursed the insistent teacher some more. “Who? Did you see it?”

“No! Old Yaotzin kept us in.” One of the boys swore quietly but colorfully. “But Ihuitl was out there, and he saw it all. All of it! Even the head!”

“How?”

“They were sent out to work in the round temple,” burst out another boy. “So when the commotion began, they sneaked out, said that they had to return to school.”

“Clever bastards.”

They all snickered.

Necalli felt his envy rising to dangerous levels. “Whose heads did they see? How many?”

“Only one, Ihuitl said. It was in the litter the warriors carried, open curtains and all. And they were covered with blood too. The warriors, that is.”

“Where is Ihuitl?”

“Sneaked back out. Said they wanted him back in the round temple.”

“He made it up. I know he did.”

“No way! The priests would know.”

“Who cares if he could get out there?”

“No, it was Etl who got out. Ihuitl is in here, see?”

They were crowding the open grounds next to the fence, the commotion coming from behind it deafening, gushing like the Great Lake on stormy nights of the rain moons. Another group centered around the taller boy Necalli knew well from quite a few mutual adventures. Neither closest of friends nor rivals, they had happened to wander away on various afternoons if thrown together in the same class or a temple duty. As he began making his way toward the additional crowding, his current companions trailing after him as well, his eyes picked out Acoatl’s broad frame among those listening to Ihuitl’s stories. Damn it. On an eventful day like this and with everything he wanted to know, he didn’t need his filthy enemy’s banter and needling.

“It was the head of the royal guards’ leader himself, I’m telling you!” Ihuitl was claiming, waving his hands in agitation, anxious to convince. “I saw it with my own eyes!”

“It can’t be. They wouldn’t send the leader of the royal guards on such a mission,” protested one of the listeners. “It’s beneath someone of such high status.”

“No, it’s not.”

“And I saw it with own eyes,” cried out their only witness, momentarily out of the limelight and evidently not liking that. “Etl saw it too. We were very close at some point. When they had to squeeze through beside the ball court.”

“They can send the leader of the royal guards on such a mission,” contributed Necalli. “It’s not a small village they are declaring war on.”

“So what?” As expected, Acoatl, who had been surprisingly quiet until now, came to life all at once, his face looking the worst, all blue with bruises, one eye almost closed, swollen badly

The sight pleased Necalli, but made him wonder too. What happened to that one? Acoatl never looked so beaten before. Only his occasional victims did. “Tlatelolco is not the capital of the world. They are nothing but a stinking town stuck in our backyard.”

“They are the same people as us and deserve a worthy declaration of war.” He didn’t feel like defending the annoying neighboring island, but Acoatl always did it to him, made him wish to argue and claim the opposite.

“And see what they did with it!” someone ventured, yet before they could dive into a heated argument, one of the boys appeared from behind the outer building.

“They sent the priestly apprentices out there into the temples and most of the priests left as well.”

They looked at each other, aware of the possibilities.

“If we sneak out, they’ll know,” someone muttered.

“Unless we go to the temples too, ask if they need any help.” Out of habit, Necalli glanced around, looking for worthwhile company to take along. “Who is to know what answer we got?”

They murmured in consent, still undecided, most of them. Resolutely, he began working his way toward the opening in the fence. There was no one whom he might wish to take along. Both the workshop boy and Axolin were not even around, let alone available and ready. Damn them both into the lower level of the Underworld, traitorous pieces of rotten meat. Especially Miztli, scampering away as he did, stupid villager with no basic loyalty.

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?

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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