The Rise of the Iroquois

The Rise of the Iroquois, Part IV – back to the other side

22 October 2014 Comments (1)

The legend of the Peacemaker ends with the creation of the Great League, when the first gathering of the Five Nations and their fifty representatives were presented with the insignia of their office and told about their duties and responsibilities. There was little that the Peacemaker’s wonderfully detailed constitution didn’t cover. Composed of almost hundred and fifty laws and clauses, it gave clear direction as to the way of conducting themselves and their nations in order to preserve peace and concord.

Longhouse

So all was well among the Five Nations for the time being, but what about the Peacemaker himself?

Evidently, he didn’t participate in the government he himself has created. The names of the original founders were to be passed down to their successors in the office – this was one of the laws – however, as typically, the elected representative would stay to serve his people for life, such direction did not create a problem. For example, the person who came to succeed the deceased Hionhwatha was to be called “Hionhwatha”, inheriting this great man’s name along with the vastness of his responsibilities. This is how we came to know the names of the original founders.

And yet, the Peacemaker’s name, although passed down to us as a part of his story, was never inherited, showing that he did not sit in the Great Council he created.

But then, where did he go?

Various versions of the legend did not address this question at all, concentrating on the First Gathering and the set of great laws he had delivered to be passed on to the future generation, instead. Some do mention that this great man went back the Creators, to the Great Spirits he came to represent here on earth. Does it mean that he died? Disappeared?

Two Clubs

If allowed to question the legend and the mysterious aspect of it, I think these questions are important. People were always people, and divine intervention or not, some might have grown jealous of the power this man had wielded. Particularly Tadodaho, who according to every angle and every version of the legend was not a likeable man, not above using violence and dirty means. Hionhwatha’s family and what happened to it prior to the Peacemaker’s coming, serves as an example; them and the fact that the Onondaga People were the last to join the League, difficult to convince only because of this man’s resistance. What if he tried to get rid of the Peacemaker after the Great Council began functioning, looking as though it is going to hold on?

And there is another aspect. Wyandot/Huron People, those whom the Five Nations came to call Crooked Tongues – the Peacemaker’s original country-folk – seemed to be as busy and not idle at all. Composed of four nations as opposed to the five on the other side of Lake Ontario, they were reported to form a confederacy as well, the one that might have been functioning on the similar basis. We don’t have knowledge of when exactly this confederacy was formed. Like with the Great League, the dates are jumping centuries back and forth, with no conclusive evidence, but unlike the Five Nations we don’t have an event as the full solar eclipse to help us out. Nor do we have a recorded story. Only the repeated claim that the Wyandot confederacy of four nations did exist.

Which bring us to another question. Why didn’t the Peacemaker try to bring his own people into the Great Law of Peace of his own creation. After all, according ot his own words it was open to every person or nation with a willingness and a right set of mind “… If any man or any nation outside the Five Nations shall obey the laws of the Great Peace and make known their disposition to the Lords of the Confederacy, they may trace the Roots to the Tree and if their minds are clean and they are obedient and promise to obey the wishes of the Confederate Council, they shall be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves…”

Why didn’t he make sure his own people had a place under the Great Tree of Peace?

Or maybe he did. Maybe he did try to bring his former people, the Five Nations’ sworn enemy, in and maybe this was what served as his downfall, or made him leave in any other way.

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

And so here he was, stuck with the strenuous task of organizing this important gathering, while the three most important people in his life were threatened, dangerously exposed.

“I’m not underestimating that poison-dripping snake.” Two Rivers’ voice cut into his thoughts, not calming or reassuring, not this time. “I’m watching him as closely. Just in case. But he is not as powerful as he used to be, Old Friend. So don’t fret about him that much. He can hate us all he likes, but he can do nothing to interrupt our work, nothing at all. Mainly because it will go against him, too, if something goes wrong. Having received such a high position in our Great League, he can’t jeopardize the entire thing. He wants it working well as badly as we do.” Sucking on his pipe, the Crooked Tongues man chuckled. “It’s good to be back. Running all over those western lands reminded me of our previous Awakening Season. We didn’t get much rest back then, did we?”

“No, we did not.” Making another tremendous effort, Tekeni tried to push his misgivings aside, if only for this short part of the morning.

“He may not be as powerful as before, yes, but he is still vicious and unscrupulous. He hasn’t changed. His pride demands that he lead our union, so if he finds a way to be rid of you in order to replace you as our spiritual leader as well as the Head of the Great Council, he would do this as quickly as you can say ‘Great Sparkling Water’.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that.” Two Rivers exhaled loudly, in an exasperated manner. “Credit me with more wisdom than that. I’m not a simple-minded child.” He studied his pipe, a skillfully carved and painted affair of many patterns, another gift from this or that grateful community, probably. “I’m not disregarding your advice, Old Friend. I trust your judgment more than I trust the judgment of anyone else on both sides of the Great Lake. I know you are right about Tadodaho. I know he would have gotten rid of me if he could. But the thing is, he can’t. He needs me. After the second, and maybe the third gathering, when it all works and all the laws are firm and solid, and our union looks like the unshakeable structure that it should be, maybe then he’ll decide that I may be of no use to him anymore. Then I will keep him in my eyesight, and I will be careful not to turn my back on him. But until then, I’m safe. He is too wise not to appreciate my usefulness for now.”

“Unless the opportunity to get rid of you presents itself, too tempting not to exploit, even if it might come too early to be of convenience.”

Oh, curse this persistent bad feeling to the underworld of the Evil Twin. Two Rivers was probably right. He was the wisest man of them all. He could see beyond the obvious and above it, flying like an eagle, seeing the great picture and the smallest details at once, his eyes as good as those of that magnificent creature, and his mind as sharp as the most polished flint, the best arrowhead. Wasn’t he the man who had brought this magnificent vision to life, giving his, Tekeni’s, people so many great laws and rules?

“This Crooked Tongues delegation may be that thing, that opportunity, to tempt the evil snake into pouncing, even if your dubious trip to visit the western people did not,” he muttered, hating his gut feeling and his logic, wishing they both would go away and leave him alone, so he could enjoy the company of his friend, or the warm arms of his woman at nights, without the nagging worry.

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

27 February 2014 Comments (0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the sun began disappearing from the sky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of the Iroquois, Part II – across the Great Sparkling Water

3 November 2013 Comments (0)

It might be that somewhere around 1141 the man who would be known to us today as the Great Peacemaker crossed Lake Ontario, arriving at the lands of the Onondaga People.

On the southern side of the Great Lake he had been greeted by a hunter of one Onondaga settlement, who happened to pass by. The Peacemaker must have been surprised, not pleasantly so. After a long day of strenuous rowing, he was most likely counting on some solitude, an opportunity to rest and prepare his plans. Yet, he did not lose his presence of mind. His mission, indeed, was of the divine nature.

Among the Onondagas not all was well. Two of the most prominent leaders of this nation could not agree with each other – Hiawatha and Tadodaho, two bitter enemies, uncompromising in their struggle for domination, although Tadodaho, being a powerful if an evil sorcerer, had recently gained the upper hand by killing the entire family of his rival and driving the man into a self-imposed exile.

Some of that the hunter had probably related to the visitor from the other side of the Great Lake. Haltingly and not sure of himself, the man informed the stranger of the struggle and the troubles, while eyeing the newcomer with a certain amount of awe as the canoe of the man seemed to be made out of white stone. The first miracle.

But the conversation was difficult, with the two man speaking related but different languages, barely understanding each other, so in the end, according to the legend, the Peacemaker told the hunter to go home and tell the people of his town about the Good Tidings of Peace. While he himself went off, to visit this same Hiawatha.

On his way he happened upon the lonely dwelling of Jikonsahseh, an old woman who was feeding the warriors, no matter what nation they belonged to. This one turned to be easy to convert to his case.

Yet, Hiawatha was proving more difficult. A weathered warrior and leader, deranged with grief at the loss of his family – his beloved wife and three cherished daughters – he wasn’t prepared to listen too readily.

The Condolence Ceremony that was born out of this encounter served the Five Nations Confederacy proceedings for many centuries to come. “Wipe away the tears, cleanse your throat so you may speak and hear, restore the heart to its right place, and remove the clouds blocking the sun in the sky.” Apparently, the Peacemaker had found the right words to say in order to ease the pain of the grieving man.

Having secured the help of the Onondaga leader, the Peacemaker proceeded into the lands of the Flint People (Mohawks), where he has been required to prove the divine natures of his mission by climbing a tree for it to be cut, falling straight away into the worst of the waterfalls. If on the next morning he was to return, he would be listened to, had promised the local leaders.

And so it was.

The Crooked Tongues man had climbed the tree, which was chopped promptly, to disappear into the roaring mists. Fascinated and saddened, the people watched for some time, then went back to the town with their hearts heavy. They too had craved the changes, and the death of the courageous man robbed them off this sparkle of hope.

Yet, the smoke climbing from behind the nearest field on the next morning told them that the foreigner was not gone. As instructed, he had come back, to be listened to this time. Like he had been promised. After such miraculous survival, how could they not to?

An excerpt from “Across the Great Sparkling Water”, The Peacemaker Trilogy, book #2.

Kahontsi was the first to see the tree coming down.

The thundering of the falls above their heads did not let them hear a thing, but she saw the shadow flying across the spraying mist, saw the dark silhouette cutting the air.

“It’s coming down,” she screamed, but the boys needed none of her precautions, paddling vigorously, to avoid the crushing touch should the tree make it all the way toward their relatively calm hideaway.

“It’s not coming our way,” called Tsitsho, ceasing to paddle, but just stroking the water now, making sure their canoe did not sweep into the second rapids.

Relieved, they watched the old tree hitting a rock, jerking aside, changing direction, bouncing against other protruding obstacles. Then the realization dawned.

“The foreigner,” she gasped. “He fell into the falls!”

Frowning, Anowara shouted to his friend and began paddling more vigorously again.

“We’ll get as close as we can, and see.”

However, the spitting torrents revealed nothing but more of their usual white foam and some split branches, carried into their pool now.

“Oh, Great Spirits,” whispered Kahontsi, her chest squeezing with fright. “Please don’t let this man die, please keep him safe, please.”

She should have offered a gift to the spirits, she knew. Or maybe a really decent prayer, accompanied with tobacco offering on the night before, or when the dawn just broke. Hastily muttered words when it was already too late were of no help. They would only serve to offend the Spirits.

“Look there!” Tsitsho’s scream tore her from her reverie, making her gaze leap.

“Where? What?” Anowara was asking.

“There, by that rock, behind the second waterfall.”

She shielded her eyes against the splashing sprays, leaping to her feet, making their canoe nearly tip. The both youths glared at her direfully, but she didn’t care, her eyes searching the sleek rocks and the swirling water around them. The second waterfall? By the large rock?

“Get the boat as near as you can, and we’ll take a look,” shouted Anowara, assuming control. “Kahontsi, for all spirits sake, sit down already!”

But she ignored what he said, as her eyes caught the movement – a head coming up, struggling against the current, to be pulled back again.

“There, there, I saw him,” she screamed, then realized that they were paddling in that direction already, with Anowara leaning forward, scanning the water, ready to dive.

The Rise of the Iroquois, part I – In the lands of the Crooked Tongues

14 September 2013 Comments (2)

The most recent studies place the formation of the Five Nations’ Great League, people whom we know today as Iroquois, at around 1142, basing their conclusion on the oral tradition, archaeological evidence, and specific events such as full solar eclipse that was most clearly mentioned to occur above a certain area on either August 1142, or somewhere around 1450.

At this time the lands of today’s upstate New-York and southeastern Canada were torn by ferocious warfare, with many nations fighting each other, relentless in the mutual hatred, swept in the ever-rising tide of revenge and retaliation. A murder has to be avenged by murder, an attacked by a counterattack. There was no safety anymore, and not even a resemblance of peace.

People lived in well fortified towns and villages, surrounded by a double-row of palisade fence and sometimes even protective ditches. To wander the woods, in order to seek privacy, make love or just meditate, was absolutely out of the question, with people venturing beyond the safety of their palisade only in large, well organized groups. Women in the fields were working carefully, allocating enough fellow workers to climb the high platforms erected for this purpose on either side of the field, to watch the surroundings, to sound the alarm should the enemy warriors be spotted. Men were hunting in large groups, ready to fight the enemy, not always to return.

Slowly but steadily the situation had worsened, with bad harvest being a more frequent occurrence than not, with famine threatening toward every coming winter, and the deceases spreading.

The Harvest Ceremony was nearing, usually one more happy celebration, but this time the amounts of the harvested corn were pitiful, creating a problem. Reasons and explanations kept mounting, as they did now in the beginning of every fall, plenty of reasonable excuses, but their mutual nature was difficult to overlook. It towered menacingly, indicating the farmers’ state of mind and even the lack of manpower. Women in the fields were busy keeping their watch, ready to sound alarm at the sight of approaching enemy, so the rest could make it safely behind the town’s fence. However, for every justified warning, there were quite a few false ones and those pointed at the disoriented state of the people’s minds. Nervousness and lack of confidence had been mounting for decades, reaching for all aspects of life, growing with every summer, steadily, if imperceptibly.

Every town struggled as best as it could, trying to work the land and to harvest the forest fruit, to dry enough meat and fish, to collect enough firewood for the winter to pass on comfortably; yet their main resources were still turned to warfare. To equip as many warriors’ parties was important because there were always neighboring nations and settlements that needed to be punished and made to learn a lesson, and the town’s defenses always needed to be strengthened, because the neighbors were expected to retaliated, never failing this particular expectation.

A vicious circle that kept ruining people’s lives. A vicious circle that needed to be stopped, somehow. There were probably enough people who saw that something was wrong, that something wasn’t working, but they either kept silent or simply weren’t listened to.

“The enemy grew too bold!” exclaimed the Wolf Clan’s man. “The People of the Hills grew too bold. They should be punished for their brazenness.”

Some heads nodded in agreement, while others just shrugged.

“To ensure our well being through the upcoming winter, we will have to send out as many hunting parties as we can organize,” said Atiron, taking the pipe in his turn. “The men will have to leave their clubs in favor of their bows and their fishing spears. We have close to two moons to do as much hunting and fishing as we can.” He let the smoke linger in his throat, enjoying the sensation. “The women will finish their winter preparation sooner than usual, due to the small amounts of corn to grind, and so they will be free to gather more of the forest fruit, and plenty of firewood.” Passing the pipe on, he sighed. “Our duty is to ensure the well being of this town, so the Frozen Moons will not prove as terrible as two winters before.”

They fell silent, remembering the terrible winter when the illness spread like a lethal storm, killing people in its wake, unmerciful, oblivious of the identity and the age of its victims. All due to the lack of food and firewood, Atiron knew. Not to the displeased spirits as many chose to believe.

The Great Peacemaker came from across the Lake Ontario. He belonged to none of the five powerful nations of the modern-day upstate New-York. His foreignness might have been one of his greatest advantages because as a person belonging to neither side, he could be expected to have a measure of objectivity when no one trusted the other. On this, the other, southern side, of the Great Lake his people were called Crooked Tongues, because they talked in a language that was difficult to understand, regarded generally as uncouth foreigners, also an enemy but not as bad as the local foe.

By crossing the Great Lake he gambled mightily, with his life and not only his status as a person who had left his own people for the sake of the unknown. In those times the death was quick to come upon a lonely man who could not even speak in a proper, not-crooked sort of a way.

So why did he do that? Was his own country folk proving too stubborn, refusing to listen?

It may have been the case. The Huron/Wyandot people on the northern side of Lake Ontario were in a somewhat similar situation. They were divided in four different nations, and they had probably warred against each other as zealously, as relentlessly, unforgiving of offenses, imaginary or real.

Maybe they didn’t trust a person of their own, having difficulties to see beyond the obvious strangeness of his ideas. Maybe they needed an outsider to come and tell them that.

But no outsider was heading their way, while one of their own seemed to be on his way out.

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

To leave or not to leave? The question kept circling in his head, examining all the possible angles, arriving at a dead end, always. To stay was fruitless, to leave was insane. The town of his childhood offered nothing but frustration, boredom, emptiness. But so did any settlement of his people. His reputation would go with him wherever he went. They all knew about the prophecy and about the strangeness and unacceptability of his ideas.

To leave it all behind by crossing the Great Sparkling Water, on the other hand, was tempting but plain insane. He had nothing to seek among the enemies of his people, nothing to ask, nothing to offer. Nothing but a spectacular death that they would be sure to inflict upon him. That might give them an interesting diversion for a day, but he would gain nothing but a painful end. Even taking the boy along might not solve the problem. The promising youth was nothing but a child when he had left his people, with no influence and no weight. A son of a War Chief, admittedly, but still just a child. No one would probably remember him at all.

No. The attempt to cross the Great Lake was the worst idea of them all. And yet…

The scattered drops of rain sprinkled his face, waking him from his reverie. Time to go back, back to suspicious glances, hatred, and mistrust. He shrugged. The hatred was new, all the rest – not so much.

Hesitating upon the top of the trail, he watched the woods to his left, his instincts alerting him for no apparent reason. He scanned the open patch of the land, all the way to the clusters of trees that began not far away from his vantage point. As though unwilling to disappoint him, a figure sprang from behind them, progressing in a funny gait, seeming like running upon an uneven surface.

Puzzled, he watched her for another heartbeat, then rushed down the cliff, his heart beating fast. Something was amiss. Even from this distance, he could see that it was a woman and that she had been in some sort of a trouble, with her hair flowing wildly and her dress askew, but mostly because of the desperate way she ran. Were enemy warriors spotted in the proximity of their woods?

He hastened his step, but the girl must have been running really fast, as she was close by the time he reached the flat ground. Close enough to recognize her. The pretty Beaver Clan girl. His heart missed a beat.