(Means: People of the Longhouse)
Dreams were the principle guide to how individual and collective life
was governed. To disregard the dream world was to bring disasters such
as insanity or death. The Haudenosaunee did not believe, in other
words, in tempting fate because it was thought that dreams could also
cure illness of the body and mind. They believed strongly in
listening to the songs of the soul for these messages impacted on daily
life. This sacred power was known as
Decisions regarding war, marriage, fishing, hunting, war, and other
significant life events were based on information obtained from the
dream world. For example, a war party would retreat if one of its
members dreamed of failure immediately before or during the hunt or
their very nature, masks are empowered the moment they are made. The
image of the mask is sacred and is only to be used for its intended
purpose. Masks do not have to be put through any ceremony or have
tobacco attached to them in order to become useful or powerful. Masks
should not be made unless they are to be used by members of the medicine
society, according to established tradition." (Haudenosaunnee
Confederacy Policy on Masks, 1995.)
Face Society: It
is said that the masks contain supernatural powers to cure disease which
will be conferred on the person who made the mask.
the mask (honouring it with tobacco), invoke
its help while
burning tobacco and singing a curing song.
The Medicine People of the
False Face Society performed an important function because they
attempted to protect the Haudenosaunee people by warding off
sorcerers responsible for disease and infertility in their
The good ones were a group of medicine people who wore frightening masks made
of wood. They were thought to posses special powers when they put on
their masks. An injured or ill person would sometimes ask the False Face
Society to drive away the spirit of the illness or injury. After a new
member joined the False Face Society he had to make his own mask. The
most traditional of these masks were painted red and black. Horse hair
used to create the 'hair'. Mask on
left is called a
Red masks were thought to have more power because red attracted the
Ancestors. There was also a divided mask, painted half red and half
black, for a being whose body was torn in two. The Healer wearing this
mask, would stand at the middle of the sky looking south; the red cheek
facing to the east (which meant good life) and the black side faced the
divided body of the afflicted person who, for example, may have been
paralyzed, or suffered from a mental breakdown.
right is a
Husk Society: The Origins of the Cornhusk Mask
"Before the creation of man, Creator realized there were other
things that would harm (or interfere) with the ways of the living. The
people also knew there were two powerful forces: good and evil.
Grandfather, Hatówipromised the people that he would guard and
protect them as deep as the roots of the mighty hickory.
In the surrounding villages there were many gathering places where the
people held councils and sacred ceremonies. By the time another
meeting came around, the people noticed one or two people were missing
as it seemed they never returned. Was it because of sickness? or death?
For this reason, a woman was wondering what was happening. Then, it
happened to her family and she began to wonder even more on the
whereabouts of her lost one. when she retired for the night, it seemed
to her that she was not awake, nor asleep; out of nowhere
appeared an image of a man.
He said, "To your disbelief I have appeared before
you because your thoughts are
on the people missing when you attended the meetings. Now, one member of your family is missing. Your thoughts are on the
whereabouts of your lost one. This is the reason I have appeared before
you, I am here to help you and those who live here, as it has also
happened to the people in the surrounding villages. Many people have
deep and sorrowful thoughts and everyone is thinking the same, what has
I am the whirl-winds that circulate the earth with the purpose of
helping your people. I am here to tell you that there is something that
dwells beneath your gathering places. You have no knowledge of this
unknown evil which is taking your people from you. If you do not guard
and protect yourselves, it will take all the people and destroy the
surrounding villages. This is what's on its mind.
has been here prior to me, promised to guard
and protect your people. So it shall be, I shall work with him. I also
have strength and power that equals his strength.
It shall be the men who belong to the medicine mask society that I shall work with, and they shall uphold and
preserve my rituals. You shall choose some men from the medicine mask
society who are the healthiest, able-bodied, and the bravest men with
hard-tempered minds to represent me.
Creator has given you, the white-corn
(symbolizing life), the second layer of cornhusk shall be taken, split
into strands for braiding, sewn together in coils to represent my
features, It shall be called the Katsisa'
This is what they shall use to compare me to the whirl-winds that
circulate the earth. This will also be worn by the men of the cornhusk
mask society. You must always be prepared. The largest red-whip staff shall be gathered, one
end shall be burnt to a point and it shall be used by the cornhusk mask
society. They shall move about as swiftly as a blink of an eye. Now, I
shall no longer be seen. It shall be the ones that I work with who shall
use my strength and power.
My food shall be prepared from the white-corn which shall be made into
flour and then made into small round corn-bread, and boiled in cooking
pots. This shall be a binding promise between me and the members of the
medicine mask society(s) for the good of all people. This is the way it
shall be known for time to come. This shall give you happiness and
At the gathering place when all the preparations
have been completed, one person will speak on behalf of your people. As
soon as the cornhusk mask society arrives, immediately you will burn the
sacred tobacco to communicate with me for the strength and power to help
your people. The cornhusk mask society will pierce the earth with their
burnt pointed red-whip staffs in search of the unknown evil to drive it
deep in the ground. For each one that pierces the earth, it will
penetrate so deep that it will interfere with the comfort of the evil
that lingers beneath the surface of the earth that has been destroying
the people in the surrounding villages.
Two men shall be chosen to stand guard and watch at the mouth of the
river. As the river turns red, it will carry the unknown evil downstream
where the current flows swiftly into rapids and that shall be the end of
evil's (or large serpent's) existence. Now, you will continue
to live happily ever after in your villages.
There are many variations to represent my appearance but all have the
same strength and power and all require the same type of food. In
future, if the preparation of Native food (the corn-bread) is lost then
the wheat-flour may be used and made into round scones (or fried-bread).
If that is the only way they know how to prepare the food when their
thoughts are of me then that is the way it shall be known for time to
They shall be a company: the medicine mask society and the cornhusk mask
society. From this time on, the fastest runners will pierce the earth as
they go with the burnt pointed red-whip stalks to keep all evil
creatures deep down underground below the surface of the earth. This
company shall stand before all harm which could cause suffering to the
people in the surrounding villages. They, Hatówi and
have strength and power to protect the members of the medicine mask society(s) for time to come."
(The above was
recorded in the Onondaga language by Roy Buck. Translated by Jim Skye
and Roy Buck. Written by Yvonne and Jake Thomas (Oneida).
Haudenosaunne have thirteen feasts and festivals to celebrate the
thirteen moon agricultural year. These are:
Midwinter (January), Maple
Ceremony (spring), Thunder Dance (can be spring), Sun and Moon dance (2
times), Seed Ceremony, Planting Ceremony, Strawberry Ceremony, String
bean (late summer), Corn (see below), Harvest, Thunder, End of seasons.
Haudenosaunne, use water drums as part of their celebrations.
Green Corn Festival,
held in August, celebrates the ripening of the staple crops:
corn, beans and
squash, "The Three Sisters."
plants grew from the body of Skywoman's daughter after she died
giving birth to the good and evil-minded twins. As the "Life
Supporters," corn, beans and squash are honored in this important
ceremony that runs for four days. Four central ritual dances and games
are performed, faithkeepers recite the long Thanksgiving address and a
feast with social dancing is held.
Medicine Men/Women (Spirit Doctors)
Pipe Keepers and membership in the
Haudenosaunne Medicine Societies are both female and male
individuals with the responsibility to uphold and preserve the
rituals associated with the culture.
were governed by
a powerful Matriarchy. The clan mothers made the decisions, the men
executed those decisions.
Spirits may be encouraged to occupy the Spirit Doctor's body during
public lodge ceremonies. Drum beating and chanting aid this process. The
spirits are then asked to depart and perform the needed acts. Other
times, Spirit Doctors enter into a trance and journey to the underworld
or go great distances in this world to seek lost possessions or healing
and bring them back. (See False Face).
Great Law of Peace
Upon which the Original United States Constitution was based!
Some of the
following is paraphrased from:
New World Roots of American Democracy, David Yarrow, 1987
The Peacemaker established the Great Law of Peace (called
Gatanashagowa) , as the Constitution of the Haudenosaunee. The
foundation of the law was that thinking and negotiations could replace
violence and warfare as a means of settling disputes. The nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy have held fast to that law since the time of
the Peacemaker. The Haudenosaunne Confederacy existed centuries before
the United States Constitution was written which was based on the Great Law of Peace rather than on Greek democracy, as is
commonly believed and taught. (Painting by Steve
When the first Europeans arrived they were greeted with well organized
communities that comprised a powerful alliance of five nations (Seneca,
Oneida, Cayuga, Mohawk, Onandaga). These tribes controlled a huge area
that ranged from the Hudson-Mohawk and St. Lawrence valleys across to
the Great Lakes. It was an immense and strategic position because it
controlled vast trade routes and no doubt put them in a position to
influence modern North American history.
The Haudenausaunne were
powerful both militarily and economically, but their greatest gift to
modern governments was the oldest, most highly evolved participatory
democracy on earth. In other words, although the Haudenousaunee were
military experts, their government was not founded on might and arms,
but rather, on the art of peaceful reasoning.
Native People in general had a profound understanding of what it was to
be a free people; what it was to care and share with each other; what it was to respect each person's opinions and participation in
the daily life of the tribe. After all, that is how the tribes hummed
for sixty thousand years. Effective decisionmaking and statesmanship
were embedded in tribal law and understanding.
The United States Constitution is an almost mirror image of the
Haudenousaunee Great law. The founding fathers had to look no further
than their Haudenousaunee neighbours for a superb example of pure
democracy at work. The Great Law quite simply debunked the theory that
European politics formed the basis of modern civilization. The following
are a few of the main tenets of the Great Law
Peace during negotiations must
be kept at all costs. After all, it was the natural order of things
and the will of Creator.
The right of women to collaborate was a given. In fact, the Clan
Mothers held powerful positions
Decisions must be morally right taking into consideration the needs
of seven generations to come.
Anger must not be shown.
Non-interference in another's opinions was the hallmark of
The Great Law was communicated to The People through an historical
figure known as "The Peacemaker'. He emphasized always the
power of reason to achieve a righteous position of justice and
health among all people guided by strong spiritual minds.
Freedom of Speech, of belief were givens.
Power: the power of the people must be maintained including equal
sovereignty between women and men. All voices were heard with
Conflicts between nations were also resolved through diplomacy and
consensus. War - or the use of violence - was a last
Before the men could go to war, it was customary for the women to
make the moccasins. If the women did not want war, they did not make
Even then, the women and
children of the opponents were spared.
The Confederacy consisted of initially five tribes:
"Onondowahgah," The People of the Great Hill, also referred to
as the Large Dark Door. (Keepers of the Western Door).
(Younger Brother) "Guyohkohnyoh," The People of the Great Swamp.
Keeper of Southern Door).
"Onundagaono," The People of the Hills. (Keepers of the Sacred
(Younger Brother) "Onayotekaono," The People of the Upright
Stone. Keepers of the Northern Door).
"Kanienkahagen," The People of the Flint. (Keepers of the
(Adopted Brothers - added around 1760), known as "Ska-Ruh-Reh" meaning the Shirt Wearing People.
"During a dark age in our history 1000 years ago, humans no longer
listened to the original instructions. Creator became sad, because
there was so much crime, dishonesty, injustice and war. Creator sent
a Peacemaker with a message to be righteous and just, and make a good
future for your children seven generations to come. Creator called all the
warring people together and told them as long as there was killing there
would be no peace of mind. There must be a concerted effort by humans for
peace to prevail. Through logic, reasoning and spiritual means, Creator
inspired the warriors to bury their weapons and, instead, plant a sacred
Tree of Peace."
legend is central to Haudenousaunee history. It describes a people mired
in violent bloody feuds who, guided by a spiritual teacher, were able to
set aside war to adopt a Path of Peace.
It is a monumental tale of good and evil, finding order out of chaos and
the triumph of reason over unreasonable passion for power. Humans were
able to rise above their suffering to establish a higher order of human
words, unity, balance and harmony are achievable even in the worst of
times. Individual liberty can be preserved by applying democratic
Haudenosaunee people of the Great League of Peace were instructed to
search for their roots under the
which is the symbol of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, its democratic
principles, and the original five
nations who chose to govern their people by peace.
It is a
great white pine tree whose branches spread out to shelter all nations
who have committed themselves to peace.
has four roots, call the "white roots of peace" that embraces all the
people by extending to the four directions of
the earth. The White Roots represent peace and
the tree the Five Nations buried their weapons of war. Atop the tree is
The Peacemaker declared: "If any man or nation shows a desire to obey
the law of the Great Peace, they may trace the roots to their source,
and be welcomed to take shelter beneath the tree." The eternal central sun, the
source of all life lies beyond the tree.
world of the Haudenosaunee was based on the story of a woman who fell
from the sky. She was saved by the water beings and eventually when land
was formed on the back of a turtle, she brought life to the new
world. This version of Creation is very elaborate and filled with
earth-diver themes, supernatural aggression and cruelty, sorcery, torture,
Giant heads without bodies which fly about in storms. They find humans to
be very tasty.
Spirits of maize, beans and gourds who live together in a single hill.
Searching for dew, the maize spirit Onatha was captured by the evil spirit
Hahgwehdaetgah who took her off to the underworld. Sun rescued her, and
ever since she has remained in the cornfields until the corn is ripe.
The Mohawk have a
lengthy sacred narrative that is filled with rich themes and wondrous
characters including a woman who births a Wind-daughter, who, in turn,
has two sons, one "good," one not so much. Mohawk stories
have a strong basis
in gratitude. Humans are constantly being told to be grateful for the
bounty of the earth lest it be destroyed by inattention.
Wise people, the Mohawks.
As was the case
with most Native storytelling, winter was the time to gather around the
fire and enjoy stories. Skilled Haudenosaunne storytellers entertained
their listeners with popular stories about ghosts and supernatural
creatures. Colourful characters such as Naked Bear, Monster Mosquito, and
the Horned Serpent clashed with witches and talked with animals.