It has dawned on me that many people in this wonderful country of ours may not know its deep, deep roots. Perhaps I should say that I didn’t learn about these fascinating men (and women) until I started doing research. So I thought that perhaps we might have a look at some real Native American heros. Now, I was going to try to put them all into one post and that became impossible. There’s just too much to say, too much history to cover to try to do it all in one post. So let’s start with what we know — I’m certain there were many other American heros before these next two men that I’ll bring to your attention. But we don’t know about them. There is no written record of them. Of these two men that I’m about to discuss, there is a written record — written in wampam belts.
Come with me back in time to around the early 1400’s or 1300’s (the date is not clearly known — it could be much earlier), to a time before the white man stepped foot on the soil of North America (it may be true that Vikings had come here by this time, but again, if this is so, we don’t have a clear written record of it). At this time, there were two men who lived who changed the whole course of a country. Those men were Hiawatha (the real Hiawatha, not the Hiawatha of Longfellow’s poem) and Deganawida (known as the peacemaker to the Iroquois). It’s pronounced De-gan-a-wi-dah.
It was a time of strife. The world of the American Indian was disturbed by tribal wars with the Algonquian and the Alligewi (Allegheny). It was also a time of strife between clans and families of the Iroquois, themselves. A man was expectetd to take justice into his own hands, and once the killing started, there seemed to be no end to it. Clan against clan, brother against brother.
Deganawidah, or the peacemaker, was Huron and was inspired by spiritiual forces. Legend tells us that he was born to a virgin mother. He left the Hurons, however, to venture south into Mohawk territory, where he was welcomed as a great sage. It was his vision that the Iroquois would live in peace with each other. It was his vision to “establish a univeral peace based on harmony, justice, and a goverment of law. ” The Mohawk embraced his teachings, but the Peacemaker had a problem. According to legend, he had a lisp, and so he could not speak well for himself or for the peace that he envisioned.
Hiawatha was Onondaga. By the way, the Iroquois Confederacy consisted of five and later six tribes. They were: the Cayugas, Oneidas, Onandagas, Senecas & the Mohawk. Later they were joined by the Tuscaroras in the early 1700’s. Hiawatha was a chief of some rank. He was a little past middle age when this all took place. What apparently happened was the Peacemaker left his home in Huron country because he could not adequately bring about his vision of peace for all nations. He began his journey in a canoe of white stone., telling of his message of “Good News of Peace and Power” to anyone who would listen. He met Hiawatha, who was then known as “a man who eats humans.” However, so taken was Hiawatha with the message of the Peacemaker, he immediately saw the error of his ways and joined forces with Deganawidah. What Hiawatha brought to the vision was his eloquence of speaking, as well as his influence among his people. But there was another problem. While the people readily embraced the message of harmony and peace, there was a terrible tyrant living amongst the Onandagas, Atotarho. He ate human flesh and his hair and mind were so twisted, that it is said that his hair was nothing but snakes. This man stood in the way of the Great Peace.
Both Hiawatha and the Peacemaker visited Atotarho, but the man would yield to nothing. Twice Hiawatha sent out runners to bring people in to tell them of the vision of harmony. Twice Atotarho came, his appearance forbidding, frightening all the people away. A third time Hiawatha sent out runners of a meeting, but no one dared show up. Now it was during this period that Hiawatha’s three daughters became ill and died. His wife was also killed. The deaths were attributed to the magical and evil powers of Atotarho. Overcome with grief, Hiawatha disappeared into the forest where he had many adventures. However, in the meantime, the Peacemaker had succeeded with the Mohawks, who readily embraced his vision.
Although Hiawatha traveled far and wide, no one came to ease his suffering or pain. Then one day, his journey brought him into Mohawk country, where he camped outside their village. It was by a beautiful lake that Hiawatha gathered shells to make them into wampam belt. It was beautiful and its purpose would be that of easing the pain of anyone suffering from grief.. The strings of the rushes would “become words,” and he determined to console others who suffered. The Peacemaker heard about Hiwatha’s presence in Mohawk country, and came that night to comfort him. And it is reported that these were his words to Hiawatha. “I wipe away the tears from thy face….using the white fawnskin of pity…I make it daylight for thee… I beautify the sky. Now shalt thou do thy thinking in peace where thy eyes rest on the sky, which the Perfector of out Faculties, the Master of All Things, intended should be a source of happiness to man.” So are the Words of the Requickening Address of the Iroquois.
So powerful were the Peacemaker’s words, that Hiawatha’s mind wa freed and together, the two men eventually brought peace to the entire tribe of the Iroquois. They had to conquer the bad mind of Atotarho and according to legend, it was Hiawatha who combed the evil thoughts of this chief from his mind. They also gave to him the power of absolute veto of any law which he did not deem worthy. But after Hiawatha and the Peacemaker spoke to him and his mind was changed, he joined the Confederacy. This was quite a feat in Native America. Five nations aligned together to bring about peace, harmony and liberty. There is a great deal more to the story, but this legend stands almost alone in its vision. The Confederacy was not formed to rule over others. Others were to have complete freedom of their own lives. And the delegates to the confederacy were responsible to the people. It became a government of, by and for the people, truly. In fact, it inspired Benjamin Franklin, who had an idea of using its model for our own government. It also inspired Thomas Paine, who is reported to have spent time living amongst the Iroquois. It also inspired Thomas Jefferson.
There truly was a spirit of freedom and independence that filled Native Ameria long before the white man “discovered” America. This was so much the case, that it was unwittingly written into James Fenimore Cooper’s books. In fact, if one were to watch Michael Mann’s most recent rendition of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992), and listen to our hero, Nathaniel, one can hear him state that he is not subject to much at all. Such was the attitude prevalent throughout Native America. America was a country of free men and free women, and no “subjects” were to be found.
Such was the legacy left by the great Peacemaker and Hiwatha…a legacy that greeted the people who first came here seeking religious and political freedom. A legacy that we share to this very day. I thought — and hope I succeeded in doing so — that you might find this fascinating. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please come on in and let’s talk — I should also tell you that because I am taking a very demanding course at the moment, I’ll be answering your comments during my lunch and dinner hours. But I will be coming onto the forums to look and see and respond to what your say. So come on in and let me know your thoughts.