Haudenosaunee People (Iroquois nations) did not spare on festivals and thanksgiving events, ready to celebrate the beginning of each season or each new agricultural undertaking, ready to thank the Great Spirits for their generosity and their good will.
The winters were harsh, difficult to endure, especially for the people used to spend their time outdoors. Although having plenty of venting holes, one above each fireplace that dotted long corridors, longhouses could grow suffocating in the closed, smoke-filled air, when every opening was shut tight against the frequency of the blizzards, forcing people to huddle inside. The smoke spread around, stinging people’s eyes and making them cough. No wonder that with the coming of spring, many would plunge into the joys of the outside life, eager to celebrate the rebirth of the world with a beautiful Maple Ceremony.
The Maple Moon fell around the first month of the spring – early to mid March – in time for the maple trees to give plenty of the wonderful sap for the people to enjoy (Haudenosaunee people lived according to the lunar calendar, counting 13 moons of 28 days each). Some claim that the Maple Ceremony was the first official ceremony of the year, the one to start the new cycle of seasons (although the Midwinter Ceremony is more likely to contest for such title), because the returning and raising sap relayed the Great Spirits’ continues benevolence, showed that the kind deities were not tired watching over their creations, not disappointed and not aloof. Pine, hemlock, elm and basswood were esteemed; the maple trees were revered.
So, through the Maple Moon people would pour out in groups, armed with knives and carrying wooden containers, or sometimes, baskets and jars. Each tree would be cut reverently, carefully, as to not to wound the generous forest dweller, but only to let the sap trickle. The maple trees were not to be harmed. The cut needed to be two or three fingers deep and, at least, a palm long. Otherwise, the sap would be difficult to collect. Then a flat stick would be driven into the gush, directing the sticky flow into containers and tabs, collecting the sweetish liquid.
Later on, the collected sap would be boiled in clay vessels, to be used as sweetener and energizer, in all sort of cooking and sometimes, as a medicine to fortify aching stomachs. Sometimes the sap might have even been fermented and used as intoxicant according to Arthur C. Parker, who admits to only one source mentioning such use through the years of his research.
After many days of such happy activity, a Maple Sugar Festival was held in order to thank the Creators. People would perform sacred dances and the faith-keepers would give thanksgiving speeches, burning tobacco, letting its fragrant smoke rise to the world of the Sky Spirits, carrying people’s gratitude to the creators of this earthly world.
The faith-keepers were respectable people of the society, entrusted with many aspects of spiritual representation, organizing and conducting ceremonies, but these were not their primary duties. There was no equivalent of the priest title among the Five Nations. When it came to private lives, everyone thanked the Creators the way he or she felt fit, with no outside intervention or guidance, unless specifically asked for.
An excerpt from “The Great Law of Peace”, The Peacemaker Series, book #3.
“So tell me, sister,” the girl smiled, revealing a row of large, even teeth. “How long were you forced to live among the savages of the Flint?”
“Two moons.” Frowning, Onheda took the flat stick off the gash in the maple tree, making sure that not a drop of the precious sap was still seeping. Satisfied, she cleaned the stick and measured the amount of the collected liquid in her jar.
“Two moons is a long time to survive without being adopted,” commented the girl, shooting a gaze full of curiosity at Onheda. She bent to pick a greenish strawberry that hid among the bushes and eyed it dubiously before giving it a hesitant bite. “How did you manage to get away?”
“I slipped out in the middle of the night.” Absently, Onheda caressed the cut bark, muttering a silent prayer, thanking the old tree for being so generous. Pine, hemlock, elm and basswood were honored, highly esteemed, but the maple trees were the special gift of the Right-Handed Twin himself. Its returning and raising sap let people know that the new span of seasons had truly begun, with the Great Spirits’ blessing, benevolence, and goodwill.
The eyes of her companion did not stir, sparkling with expectation. The girl’s name was Hanowa, and she was a funny, restless, sweet little thing. “Weren’t you afraid to make the matters truly bad for you by running away?”
Onheda raised her eyebrows. “They didn’t seem to take it badly. It’s not like their entire warriors’ force was chasing me all the way to our lands.”
The girl giggled. “That would be a sight I could do without. And surely you, too.” Her eyes sparkled again. “But how did you manage to live there for so long without being adopted?”
“Oh, well…” She fought the urge to tell the stupid fox to mind her own business, proceeding toward the next maple tree, instead. “It was their fault, actually. They took their time. I thought I was adopted, and then, all of a sudden, that annoying women from that longhouse I lived at told me I was not actually adopted, demanding that I do things to make it happen.” Onheda snorted. “Such an annoying ground snake she was!”
“What did she want you to do?”
“Well, all sorts of things. She said I was not adapting well. She wanted me to be nice to people. But I was nice, I was! Not to all of them, but to some.” She shrugged. “They were all right, all things considered. But not all of them.”
“There are quite a few Flint people’s women in Onondaga Town,” said the girl thoughtfully, fishing a long knife from the basket she carried. “But our clan has none, so you are lucky, I say. There was this young man – a very good-looking boy at that – but he fell in love with a girl from the nearby village, and when the Grandmother of her longhouse agreed, he went to live there.”
The girl laughed. “To the deep disappointment of more than a few cute-looking foxes from all over the town, I say. He was truly good-looking and nice. I would have fallen for him myself had he not been from our longhouse.” Another bout of laughter. “I bet you would be running back to your High Springs if he were still there. You must hate them all really badly, to take such a terrible risk like running away.”
Taking the knife from her chatty companion, Onheda frowned, studying the tree.
“I don’t hate them all. I met good Flint People, too. In fact, I have a really good friend among them.” She studied the bark closely, looking for signs. “He was captured too, and he lived among the Crooked Tongues, imagine that. He ran away too, and now he is back in his Little Falls.”
But maybe not anymore, she thought hopefully, her stomach twisting. Maybe he is on his way here, he and the Crooked Tongues man, rowing against the current, hurrying to visit her people, to bring them the message of the Great Peace, hurrying to find her like he promised. What would he do when he heard that she was not at Jikonsahseh’s? Would he be disappointed? Hurt? She hoped he would.
“Among the Crooked Tongues?” cried out the girl, aghast. “Oh, Mighty Spirits! I would take my own life if captured by those savages.”
“They are no savages,” said Onheda returning her attention to the tree she was scanning. “Didn’t you hear about the Messenger?”