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.