HIAWATHA

(Aionwantha)

 

Mohawk (Onondaga) Chief

1100 -1150 (?)

 

The Iroquois Confederacy was formed by the Huron prophet Deganawidah, who is called "the Peacemaker" in oral discourse among Iroquois.

Deganawidah enlisted the aid of a speaker, Hiawatha (sometimes called Aiowantha), to spread his vision of a united Haudenosaumee Confederacy because the prophet himself stuttered so badly he could hardly speak.

Peace among the formerly antagonistic nations was procured and maintained through the Haudenosaumee's Great Law of Peace (Kaianerekowa), which was passed from generation to generation by use of wampum, a form of written communication that outlined a complex system of checks and balances between nations and sexes.

A complete oral recitation of the Great Law can take several days; encapsulated versions of it have been translated into English for more than a hundred years and provide one reason why the Iroquois are cited so often today in debates regarding the origins of U.S. fundamental law. (While many other native confederacies existed along the borders of the British colonies, many of the specific provisions of their governments have been lost.)

According to Iroquois oral history, visionaries such as Hiawatha, who was living among the Onondagas, tried to call councils to eliminate the blood feud, but they were always thwarted by the evil and twisted wizard Tadadaho, on Onondaga who used magic and spies to rule by fear and intimidation.

Failing to defeat the wizard, Hiawatha traveled to Mohawk, Oneida, and Cayuga villages with his message of peace and brotherhood.

Everywhere he went, his message was accepted with the proviso that he persuade the formidable Tadadaho and the Onondagas to embrace the covenant of peace.

Just as Hiawatha was despairing, the prophet Deganawidah entered his life and changed the nature of things among the Iroquios.

Together, Hiawatha and Deganawidah developed a powerful message of peace.

Deganawidah's vision gave Hiawatha's oratory substance.

Through Deganawidah's vision, the constitution of the Iroquois was formulated.

Historian Charles Hamilton suggests that history presents us with three visions of Hiawatha : the historic Hiawatha, associated with the founding of the Iroquois League; the mythic Hiawatha, described in the oral legends of the Iroquois; and the Hiawatha created by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was a fictional Ojibway, unrelated to the other two except in name.