Were Iroquois mourning rituals unique?

Were Iroquois mourning rituals unique?

A section of the Wikipedia article discussing the culture of the Iroquois states the following:

… Since it was believed that the death of a family member also weakened the spiritual strength of the surviving family members, it was considered crucially important to replace the lost family member by providing a substitute who could be adopted or alternatively could be tortured to provide an outlet for the grief.[163] Hence the "mourning wars".

One of the central features of traditional Iroquois life was the "mourning wars" when Haudenosaunee warriors would raid neighboring peoples in search of captives to replace those Haudenosaunee who had died.[164]

The wiki article cites the following journal article:

War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience Daniel K. Richter The William and Mary Quarterly Vol. 40, No. 4 (Oct., 1983), pp. 528-559

Are there other examples of cultures who practiced ritual kidnapping as a replacement for specific individuals? If so, did they also torture the kidnapping victims?

Several citations available in this Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iroquois.


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Iroquois, any member of the North American Indian tribes speaking a language of the Iroquoian family—notably the Cayuga, Cherokee, Huron, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The peoples who spoke Iroquoian languages occupied a continuous territory around Lakes Ontario, Huron, and Erie in present-day New York state and Pennsylvania (U.S.) and southern Ontario and Quebec (Canada). That larger group should be differentiated from the Five Nations (later Six Nations) better known as the Iroquois Confederacy (self name Haudenosaunee Confederacy).

As was typical of Northeast Indians before colonization, the Iroquois were semisedentary agriculturists who palisaded their villages in time of need. Each village typically comprised several hundred persons. Iroquois people dwelt in large longhouses made of saplings and sheathed with elm bark, each housing many families. The longhouse family was the basic unit of traditional Iroquois society, which used a nested form of social organization: households (each representing a lineage) were divisions of clans, several clans constituted each moiety, and the two moieties combined to create a tribe.

Groups of men built houses and palisades, fished, hunted, and engaged in military activities. Groups of women produced crops of corn (maize), beans, and squash, gathered wild foods, and prepared all clothing and most other residential goods. After the autumn harvest, family deer-hunting parties ranged far into the forests, returning to their villages at midwinter. Spring runs of fish drew families to nearby streams and lake inlets.

Kinship and locality were the bases for traditional Iroquois political life. Iroquois speakers were fond of meetings, spending considerable time in council. Council attendance was determined by locality, sex, age, and the specific question at hand each council had its own protocol and devices for gaining consensus, which was the primary mode of decision-making.

The elaborate religious cosmology of the Iroquois was based on an origin tradition in which a woman fell from the sky other parts of the religious tradition featured deluge and earth-diver motifs, supernatural aggression and cruelty, sorcery, torture, cannibalism, star myths, and journeys to the otherworld. The formal ceremonial cycle consisted of six agricultural festivals featuring long prayers of thanks. There were also rites for sanctioning political activity, such as treaty making.

Warfare was important in Iroquois society, and, for men, self-respect depended upon achieving personal glory in war endeavours. War captives were often enslaved or adopted to replace dead family members. Losses to battle and disease increased the need for captives, who had become a significant population within Iroquois settlements by the late 17th century.

Early 21st-century population estimates indicated some 90,000 individuals of Iroquois-proper descent when including the many Iroquois-speaking tribes, those estimates indicated more than 900,000 individuals.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Jeff Wallenfeldt, Manager, Geography and History.

Were Iroquois mourning rituals unique? - History

Kanienkehaka Lifeways - Mohawk Valley, circa 1500

Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Who are the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk)?

Kanienkehaka means "People of the Flint" in Kanienkeha, their language. They are an Iroquoian people, sharing language and culture with other nations from the area around the eastern Great Lakes. The Kanienkehaka's enemies called them "Mohawks," which has various uncomplimentary meanings such as poisonous snake or cannibal, and this name was adopted by the Europeans who came to dominate the continent. The Kanienkehaka call their homeland Kanienkeh, which means "land of the flint" and extends from the Mohawk River on the south to the St. Lawrence on the north, and from Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River on the east to the Oneida nation on the west. The Kanienkehaka were members of the great Rotinonsionni or Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy, along with the Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations (later Six Nations with the addition of the Tuscarora in the 1720s).

The Forest and the Clearing

In the winter scene illustrated, we see a hunting party returning with a deer, and a man fishing through a hole in the ice. Deer and fish were important elements of the Kanienkehaka diet. Men were responsible for hunting their domain was the forest. Women of the village stand ready to receive the deer carcass and distribute it to their longhouse, an Iroquois dwelling where six to ten related families lived. Women's domain was "the clearing" that we see here: the village and its surrounding fields, at the edges of which they gathered medicinal plants and in which they grew corn, beans, and squash. These crops, the "Three Sisters," were the basis of the people's diet and enabled development of large, permanent communities. Kanienkehaka settlements were often on hilltops and surrounded by palisades 10-12 feet tall. They were also usually sited close to navigable water, like the river shown in the picture above.

The village surrounded by the clearing and the forest.
Drawing courtesy of the New York State Museum, Albany, N.Y.

In the winter longhouse at night, when everyone gathered around the fire for warmth and protection, the elders would tell the stories that held the heritage of the nation. "This is what my grandfather and generations of grandfathers before him were in the habit of telling, about how the earth and the people came to be," they would begin.

The Kanienkehaka Creation Story tells of a time before time when the world was all ocean and sky, and a Sky-World above it was populated by Spirit Beings similar to humans. One of them, a pregnant woman, fell through a hole in the sky, but her fall was broken by birds who brought her to rest on a great turtle. This Mother Earth, Aientsik, with the help of the animals, created our world on the turtle's back, which grew and became covered with helpful plants. Her daughter's offspring, the twins Okwiraseh (Sapling) and Thawiskaron (Flint), created more animals and features of this world&mdashOkwiraseh with the goal of making the world ready for humans, and Thawiskaron to make life difficult. In a bowl game with peach pits (like dice), Okwiraseh won the right to rule the day and our world, while his contentious twin Thawiskaron rules the night and the lower world. Okwiraseh created human beings from clay in his image and animated them with part of his own life and powers. He charged the humans to continue his work of creation by cultivating the earth and to remain thankful for his gifts, the good things of the earth. (For the complete creation story in text and audio, please visit the Voices & Songs menu.)

This symbol, used in Kanienkehaka beadwork, represents the twins and the three levels of the cosmos: the Sky-World, the human's world, and the lower world.
Illustration by Juliet Jacobson.

The creation story is the source of Kanienkehaka values and culture. The earth is a woman, the mother of all living things: in Kanienkehaka society, property is held and inherited by women. Animals, plants, and the earth itself are alive, fellow creatures whose lives must be respected and with whom responsibility for the world is shared. As Okwiraseh directed, thankfulness is highly valued. The Thanksgiving Address is given at all ceremonies and festivals. When Kanienkehaka kill animals in the hunt or gather medicinal herbs or strip elm bark to make a canoe, they offer a gift of tobacco to show respect and gratitude. Kanienkehaka also believe that creation is a continuous process that is ongoing still, and that the balance of opposite but complementary qualities is part of the world and the self, as in the twins who divide the world between them.

Kanienkehaka Settlements & Subsistence

Before the Kanienkehaka began cultivating corn, they relied on hunting, gathering, and fishing for subsistence. Women gathered wild berries, other fruits, roots, greens, and nuts. Men hunted deer, bear, and small animals, and fished. The cultivation of maize (corn), which began in the southwest, reached the northeast peoples about 500 AD, and by 1000 AD the growing of corn, beans, and squash&mdashthe " Three Sisters"&mdashwas central to Kanienkehaka existence. Because women grew these crops, they were identified with them as the source and sustainers of life.

This stable, abundant food source allowed the Kanienkehaka population to grow and create larger, more complex settlements. There were three types of communities: seasonal camps for hunting or fishing hamlets, which were small villages near larger towns and towns, which held up to 2,000 people. The Kanienkehaka moved their settlements every 12 to 20 years, when nearby natural resources&mdashsoil fertility, forests for firewood and bark construction, etc.&mdashbecame depleted. In the 16th century, there were likely three or four large Kanienkehaka towns and several associated hamlets along the Mohawk River.

Longhouse interior
Drawing courtesy of the New York State Museum, Albany, N.Y.

Inside the protective palisade walls, Kanienkehaka villages contained 30 to 150 distinctive bark-covered dwellings called longhouses. They were 20 to 25 feet wide, 15 to 20 feet high, and 50 to 200 feet long, depending on the number of families living inside. They were framed with upright logs set into the ground and tied with cross-poles, with a roof of saplings bent across the center and shingled with elm-bark. Inside, there was a central hall with three to five firepits down the middle and compartments on either side. The compartments were platforms raised about a foot off the ground, open to the central fire but walled off from the next compartment by bark partition walls or closets, with a storage shelf above. These were occupied by a nuclear or "fireside" family of five or six people who shared the fire with another family on the opposite side of the longhouse.

Longhouses were central to the Kanienkehaka way of life and identity. Each longhouse was occupied by an extended family headed by a respected woman, usually the oldest. The longhouse family&mdasha more important unit than the nuclear family of mother, father, and children&mdashconsisted of her descendants and relatives. All descent and inheritance passed through the female line. A Kanienkehaka woman lived all her life in the same longhouse into which she was born. A Kanienkehaka man belonged all his life to the longhouse family into which he was born (his mother's longhouse), but when he married he went to live in his wife's longhouse. So people living in a longhouse included both members of the longhouse family and husbands who married into it. Children were raised by their mother and her siblings, who helped provide guidance and discipline.

Not everyone living in your longhouse is a member of your longhouse family. For example, your father lives in your longhouse but remains a member of his mother's longhouse family. And some members of your longhouse family (e.g., your mother's married brothers) may live elsewhere, in their wives' longhouses.
Illustration by Juliet Jacobson, based on an illustration by George Armstrong in The Great Tree and the Longhouse by Hazel W. Hertzberg (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966).

Several longhouse families made up a clan, whose emblem was displayed outside the longhouse. The three Kanienkehaka clans&mdashTurtle, Wolf, and Bear&mdashwere common to all the Iroquois nations. All members of a clan were considered relatives, so a Kanienkehaka visitor to an Onondaga village would be welcomed as family into a local clan longhouse. Also, people could not marry anyone within their clan.

Clans in turn were grouped together in two or three groups. For games, ceremonies, and condolence rituals, the clans formed two groups or "moieties" (complementary halves). Wolf and Turtle clans acted together as brothers and sisters in one moiety, playing opposing roles to that of their cousins in the Bear clan. For example, if a Wolf clan member died, Wolf and Turtle "siblings" would mourn together, while their Bear clan cousins would comfort them. When they sat in council, they remained as three groups Wolf and Bear representatives "sat across the fire" from each other as cousins, while the Turtle clan arbitrated between the two. This pattern was repeated in the Iroquois Confederacy, in which the nations were grouped into the Younger Brothers and the Elder Brothers, and the Onondaga arbitrated between the two groups.

Clan emblems of the three Kanienkehaka clans: Turtle, Wolf, and Bear. Copies of Iroquois pictographs from a French document circa 1666.
Reproduced in Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15: Northeast (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1978).

The Rotinonsionni: The Iroquois Five Nations Confederacy

Like the clan groupings, the other elements of home and village life&mdashthe longhouse, the fireside family, female lineage, and the clan&mdashwere all reflected in the great Iroquois Confederacy of the Five Nations (later Six Nations). The Kanienkehaka name for the confederacy, Rotinonsionni, means "People of the Longhouse" in Kanienkeha. The confederacy itself was pictured as a great longhouse with five fires stretching from east to west across the lands of the Kanienkehaka, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and the Seneca. The Tuscaroras joined in 1722. As the easternmost nation, the Kanienkehaka were called "Keepers of the Eastern Door," while the Senecas were the "Keepers of the Western Door" of the longhouse.

Kanienkehaka tradition tells that before the Rotinonsionni, there was much fighting among the Iroquois nations, in part because of the custom of retribution. If a man killed someone, the family of the murdered person could kill him or another member of his clan. If the murdered person was from another nation, war was the likely result. Immaculately-born Tekanawita, a Wendat, brought the Good News of Peace and Power to the Iroquois. A woman was the first to hear and accept it, so Tekanawita told her that women would possess the chiefs' titles and appoint the chiefs. Tekanawita converted Haionwatha, an Onondaga, and after consoling his grief over the death of his daughters by sharing wampum, together they created the Great Law of Peace, Kaianerekowa, represented by a Tree of Peace. The Kanienkehaka were the first nation to accept the Great Law of Peace, and helped Tekanawita and Haionwatha gain the allegiance of the other nations.

The Grand Council of the Confederacy met annually and when the need arose. Its structure echoed that of village and clan government. Each village had a council made up of male representatives chosen by the chief matron of each clan, in consultation with other women in the clan. Each nation also had a council made up of the head chiefs of each village. Clans, villages, and nations had autonomy over their own affairs. The Grand Council of the Confederacy was made up of 50 chiefs with hereditary names or titles. These titles were also kept and given by the senior woman of the clan they represented. The chiefs were divided into two groups: the Elder Brothers, the Kanienkehaka and the Seneca and the Younger Brothers, the Oneida and the Cayuga. The Onondaga, the geographically central nation of the confederacy, were the Keepers of the Central Fire, which meant that they hosted the meetings and arbitrated the discussions. (For certain occasions like the Condolence Ceremony to pick a new chief, the Onondaga joined the Elder Brothers so that there were two moieties.) Decisions had to be arrived at by consensus, which often required long debate. The role of the Council was to preserve the Great Peace.

Representation of the seating order of the Iroquois Confederacy council fire.
Illustration by Juliet Jacobson, based on an illustration by George Armstrong in The Great Tree and the Longhouse by Hazel W. Hertzberg (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966).

Warfare: The Tradition of Mourning Wars

The Great Law prevailed within the confederacy, but war remained an important part of Kanienkehaka culture. The Kanienkehaka made war on people with whom they did not have an alliance marked by a reciprocal trading relationship the Wendat (Huron) were traditional enemies, as were, at times, some Wôbanakiak nations to the east. Going on the warpath was a way for young men to demonstrate their bravery and achieve status by killing enemies or, even better, by taking them captive. Captives were often seen as a way to compensate for or even replace people who had died, whether in battle or through illness. The power of a clan or village was diminished by a death, and captives could reanimate that power.

Both warfare and mourning were conducted according to ritual. The bereaved family blackened their faces and mourned for 10 days, while members of their clan's opposite moiety attempted to comfort them with funeral rituals, feasts, and gifts. Mourning lasted an entire year, in which widows and other bereaved family members neglected their appearance and did not participate in social activities. Women of the mourning household could demand a war to "raise up the tree" or replace those who had been lost. This request could be made to their father's brother's sons, or to a clan war chief.

The war chief held a council to call together a mourning war expedition, at which he spoke and sang the war song. The warriors left the village amid much ceremony, and were welcomed back with other ritually prescribed activities, such as making the captives run the gauntlet at the entrance to the village. Captives were distributed among grieving families, who decided whether to adopt or execute them. Women and children were more likely to be brought into a family than men enemy warriors were most often tortured and killed, with the whole village participating in the ritual.

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Mohawk Rituals & Ceremonies

Ritual & Ceremony

Keep in mind though, that there is considerable reason to believe that Iroquoian rituals underwent a process of elaboration and modification in the 1700's and 1800's due to many outside influences such as western culture, Christianity and Handsome Lake, an Iroquois leader of the Seneca nation who, around the year 1800, taught a new philosophy based on brotherhood and harmony to the Iroquois. His teachings have become central to Iroquois life in the years since and have thus influenced their ceremonial life. Thus, what we know about their rituals may have changed since Och-Toch's time.

The longest and most important ritual was the Mid-Winter Ceremony. It was held in mid-January and apparently was a major relief for people who had been shut up in their longhouses for days. The ceremony lasted 3-5 days. Its major components included: (1) a dream-guessing game (2) a gambling game which involved two clans playing against each other, taking turns tossing beans or seeds (3) children going door to door begging for maple sugar candy (trick or treat!). The children impersonated mischievous wood spirits. Most of the "dances" associated with the Mid-Winter ceremony seemed to be mainly for fun.

Iroquois Culture


The Iroquois enjoy a rich and varied culture that is more of a melting pot. They have, in time, included captives to replace those lost in war and non-members, who were part of the vengeance strategy. The Iroquois not only incorporate the vanquished and conquered, but also dedicatedly remold them and naturalize tribe citizenship.

Women have always enjoyed an equal status with men in Iroquois society. Women are in charge of property, agricultural land holdings including dwellings and horses. The women choose to work as they please and in event of a divorce, the man is asked to leave the dwelling, with his possessions. Children are educated by matriarchal members of the tribe. There have never been instances of domestic violence against women.


Iroquois tribesmen take up various occupations like farming, gathering of forest products, fishing and hunting. Gathering forest products is mainly handled by women and children.

They favor an agrarian based staple diet. Corn, squash and beans are the main meal components. They also relish and consume a number of wild roots, berries and greens. Nuts that are gathered in the summer months are consumed all year round. Maple syrup and various herbs from the base of their medicines. The Iroquois also eat wild turkey, muskrat and beaver. In fish, their preferences are for salmon, bass, trout, whitefish and perch.


Most of their festivals coincide with events in agriculture, like the Iroquois harvest festival of Thanksgiving. They celebrate the joy of being blessed by the land with abundance and all festivities begin and end with prayer and worship.


The importance of the wampum or wampumpeag beads is almost the same as money and the written script across the globe. The tribe does not have a writing system, and hence, they adhere to orally expounded traditions and history. The beads also act as memory stimulants. They use shell beads that are polished and bored with a hand drill. Each bead, like those on the abacus board, represent significant events. The Hiawatha Wampum and Two Row Wampum or Guswhenta are popular wampum belts.

Iroquois Religion

The Iroquois religious beliefs are centered on an omniscient ‘Great Spirit’, who they believe is also their creator. They are strong proponents of anthropomorphism or animated nature and seasons. Many Iroquois are followers of Christianity. They show great respect and reverence at the mention of Handsome Lake, the Iroquois prophet.

The Iroquois people are of the view that ordinary humans can indirectly communicate with the Great Spirit by burning tobacco, which carries their prayers to the lesser spirits of good. Dreams are regarded dreams as important supernatural signs which express the desire of the soul. The Iroquois pay serious attention to dream interpretation and fulfillment of a dream is of paramount importance to an individual.

The Iroquois people carry out six major ceremonies during the year. These are Maple, Planting, Strawberry, Green Corn, Harvest, and Mid-Winter or New Year’s festival. These religious ceremonies are often tribal affairs and are concerned primarily with farming, curing illness, and thanksgiving. The Iroquois believed in an afterlife and that their spirit would join the Good Spirit in the place where the Good Spirit lived, provided the Iroquois honored the Good Spirit and lived a good life.

Over the centuries the Iroquois people have survived because of their unity, sense of purpose, and superior societal organization. Until very recently many Iroquois considered themselves to be distinct from either Canadians or Americans. But today, Iroquois people live like their non-Indian neighbors, yet retain much of their culture and tradition.

What Were the Mourning Wars?

The mourning wars were fights between Native American tribes in North America throughout the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The wars were most often fought over blood feuds and tribal conflicts.

The Native American tribes of North America were in constant conflict with one another up until the 17th century. The mourning wars were wars specifically fought between tribes in the east and mideast of what is now the United States and Canada. Some of the tribes that engaged in these conflicts were the Mahican, Micmac and Oneida tribes. The conflicts were fought with very primitive weapons, which means they saw a very low amount of casualties compared to the conflicts that were going on in Europe around the same time.

Most mourning wars were fought over blood feuds. When a member of a tribe was killed by a member of a neighboring tribe, the first tribe would attack members of the second tribe in revenge. Most of the conflicts consisted of kidnappings and small fights, as large battles with many warriors were very rare.

Finally, the fights also served as a way for young men to learn how to defend their tribe and family members, and ultimately become a respected member of the tribe. Surprisingly, the wars were never fought over rights to land, as Native Americans had no concept of ownership of land.

Iroquois Fact Sheet - Iroquois Confederacy Social Studies Grade 6

How do you pronounce the word "Iroquois"? What does it mean?

It's pronounced "eer-uh-kwoy" in English. It's an English corruption of a French corruption of an Algonkian word meaning "real snakes." Originally, this was probably an insulting nickname (the Algonkian and Iroquois Indians were traditional enemies.) The Iroquois tribes originally called their confederacy Kanonsionni, which means "people of the longhouse." Today they call themselves the Haudenosaunee or Six Nations.

Who were the Iroquois tribes?

There were five tribes in the original Iroquois Confederacy: the Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga tribes. Later a sixth nation, the Tuscarora tribe, joined the confederation.

Many other tribes, such as the Huron and the Cherokee, are sometimes called "Iroquoian" tribes. They are called that because they are distant relatives of the Iroquois Confederacy tribes and speak related languages. However, they were never part of the Iroquois Confederacy. In fact, they were sometimes at war with them.

How was the Iroquois Confederacy organized?

The Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Iroquois League, was governed by the Iroquois Great Council. Each Iroquois nation sent between eight and fourteen leaders to the Great Council, where they agreed on political decisions through discussion and voting. Although these politicians were called "chiefs," they were actually elected officials, chosen by the clan mothers (or matriarchs) of each tribe. Each individual nation also had its own tribal council to make local decisions. This is similar to how American states each have their own government, but all are subject to the greater US government. In fact, the Iroquois Confederacy was one of the examples of representative democracy used as a model by America's founding fathers.

The Iroquois Great Council continues to meet in the present day, although today most political matters are decided by the governments of the individual Iroquois nations.

Where do the Iroquois Indians live?

The Iroquois tribes are original residents of the northeastern woodlands area. The heart of the Iroquois homeland is located in what is now New York state. (The Tuscaroras originally lived further to the south, and migrated north to join the rest of the Iroquois tribes.) Many Iroquois people still live in New York today, or across the border in Canada (Ontario and Quebec.) Other Iroquois groups were forced to move west to Oklahoma or Wisconsin during the 1800's, and their descendants are still living there today.

What language do the Iroquois Indians speak?

There were six different languages spoken by the Iroquois nations: Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Tuscarora. These languages are all related to each other, just as the European languages Spanish, French, and Italian are all related to each other. Some Iroquois people could speak more than one of these languages. In particular, important Iroquois men usually learned Mohawk, because Mohawk was the language they usually used at the Great Council and at Iroquois religious festivals.

Most Iroquois people speak English today, but some people, especially elders, still speak the native language of their own tribe. Here is a comparative chart of Iroquois words, a website where you can hear Iroquois words being spoken, and a Mohawk picture glossary.

What was Iroquois culture like in the past? What is it like now?

Here is a link to the Haudenosaunee Grand Council, where you can find information about the Iroquois Confederacy past and present. Here is the website of the Iroquois Museum of New York, where you can see photographs of Iroquois art and artifacts. You can also read a simple article about the Iroquois Indians here.

How do Iroquois Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?

They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Iroquois children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But Iroquois kids did have cornhusk dolls, toys, and games, such as one game where kids tried to throw a dart through a moving hoop. Lacrosse was also a popular sport among Iroquois boys as it was among adult men. Iroquois mothers, like many Native Americans, had the tradition of carrying their babies in cradleboards on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted.

What were men and women's roles in the Iroquois tribe?

Iroquois men were in charge of hunting, trading, and war. Iroquois women were in charge of farming, property, and family. These different roles were reflected in Iroquois government. Iroquois clans were ruled by women, who made all the land and resource decisions for each clan. But the chiefs, who made military decisions and trade agreements, were always men. Only men represented the Iroquois Confederacy at the Great Council, but only women voted to determine who the representatives of each tribe would be. Both genders took part in Iroquois storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Iroquois homes like in the past?

The Iroquois people lived in villages of longhouses. A longhouse was a large wood-frame building covered with sheets of elm bark. Iroquois longhouses were up to a hundred feet long, and each one housed an entire clan (as many as 60 people.) Here are some pictures of Indian longhouses like the ones Iroquois Indians used, and a drawing of what a longhouse looked like on the inside. Today, Iroquois families live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Iroquois clothing like? Did Iroquois people wear feather headdresses and face paint?

Iroquois men wore breechcloths with long leggings. Iroquois women wore wraparound skirts with shorter leggings. Men did not originally wear shirts in Iroquois culture, but women often wore a tunic called an overdress. Iroquois people also wore moccasins on their feet and heavy robes in winter. In colonial times, the Iroquois adapted European costume like long cloth shirts, decorating them with fancy beadwork and ribbon applique. Here is a webpage about traditional Iroquois dress, and here are some photos and links about American Indian clothes in general.

The Iroquois Indians did not wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Iroquois men wore a gustoweh, which was a feathered cap with different insignia for each tribe (the headdress worn by the man in this picture has three eagle feathers, showing that he is Mohawk.) Iroquois women sometimes wore special beaded tiaras. Iroquois warriors often shaved their heads except for a scalplock or a crest down the center of their head (the style known as a roach, or a "Mohawk.") Sometimes they augmented this hairstyle with splayed feathers or artificial roaches made of brightly dyed porcupine and deer hair. Here are some pictures of these different kinds of American Indian headdresses. Iroquois Indian women only cut their hair when they were in mourning, wearing it long and loose or plaited into a long braid. Men sometimes decorated their faces and bodies with tribal tattoos, but Iroquois women generally didn't paint or tattoo themselves.

Today, some Iroquois people still wear moccasins or a beaded shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths. and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Iroquois transportation like in the days before cars? Did Iroquois people paddle canoes?

Sometimes--the Iroquois Indians did use elm-bark or dugout canoes for fishing trips, but usually preferred to travel by land. Originally the Iroquois tribes used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) In wintertime, Iroquois people used laced snowshoes and sleds to travel through the snow.

What was Iroquois food like in the days before supermarkets?

The Iroquois were farming people. Iroquois women did most of the farming, planting crops of corn, beans, and squash and harvesting wild berries and herbs. Iroquois men did most of the hunting, shooting deer and elk and fishing in the rivers. Iroquois Indian dishes included cornbread, soups, and stews cooked on stone hearths. Here is a neat slideshow of an Iroquois girl demonstrating a traditional cornbread recipe.

What were Iroquois weapons and tools like in the past?

Iroquois hunters used bows and arrows. Iroquois fishermen generally used spears and fishing poles. In war, Iroquois men used their bows and arrows or fought with clubs, spears and shields.

Other important tools used by the Iroquois Indians included stone adzes (hand axes for woodworking), flint knives for skinning animals, and wooden hoes for farming. The Iroquois were skilled woodworkers, steaming wood so they could bend it into curved tools. Some Iroquois people still make lacrosse sticks this way today.

What are Iroquois arts and crafts like?

The Iroquois tribes were known for their mask carving. Iroquois masks are considered such a sacred art form that outsiders are still not permitted to view many of them. Beadwork and the more demanding porcupine quillwork are more common Iroquois crafts. The Iroquois Indians also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and symbols on Iroquois wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What was Iroquois music like?

The two most important Iroquois instruments are drums and flutes. Native Iroquois drums were often filled with water to give them a distinctive sound different from the drums of other tribes. Most Iroquois music is very rhythmic and consists mostly of drumming and lively singing. Flutes were used to woo women in the Iroquois tribes. An Iroquois Indian man would play beautiful flute music outside a woman's longhouse at night to show her he was thinking about her.

How the Iroquois Great Law of Peace Shaped U.S. Democracy

Much has been said about the inspiration of the ancient Iroquois “Great League of Peace” in planting the seeds that led to the formation of the United States of America and its representative democracy.

The Iroquois Confederacy, founded by the Great Peacemaker in 1142 1 , is the oldest living participatory democracy on earth 2 . In 1988, the U.S. Senate paid tribute with a resolution 3 that said, "The confederation of the original 13 colonies into one republic was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy, as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself."

The peoples of the Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Six Nations, refer to themselves as the Haudenosaunee, (pronounced "hoo-dee-noh-SHAW-nee"). It means “peoples of the longhouse,” and refers to their lengthy bark-covered longhouses that housed many families. Theirs was a sophisticated and thriving society of well over 5,000 people when the first European explorers encountered them in the early seventeenth century.

Graphic depiction longhouses in Haudenosaunee settlement. From Native America, Episode Two titled Nature to Nations.

The Iroquois Confederacy originally consisted of five separate nations – the Mohawks, who call themselves Kanienkehaka, or "people of the flint country,” the Onondaga, “people of the hills,” the Cayuga, “where they land the boats,” the Oneida, “people of the standing stone,” and the Seneca, “thepeople of the big hill” living in the northeast region of North America. The Tuscarora nation, “people of the shirt,” migrated into Iroquois country in 1722.

“The Great Peacemaker 4 brought peace to the five nations,” explains Oren Lyons in a 1991 interview with Bill Moyers. Lyons is the faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nations, and a member of both the Onondaga and Seneca nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

At that time, the nations of the Iroquois had been enmeshed in continuous inter-tribal conflicts. The cost of war was high and had weakened their societies. The Great Peacemaker and the wise Hiawatha, chief of the Onondaga tribe, contemplated how best to bring peace between the nations. They traveled to each of the five nations to share their ideas for peace.

A council meeting was called, and Hiawatha presented the Great Law of Peace. It united the five nations into a League of Nations, or the Iroquois Confederacy, and became the basis for the Iroquois Confederacy Constitution 5 .

“Each nation maintained its own leadership, but they all agreed that common causes would be decided in the Grand Council of Chiefs,” Lyons said 6 . “The concept was based on peace and consensus rather than fighting."

RELATED VIDEO | Traditional Wampum Belts Marcus Hendricks continues the tradition of making Wampum beads by hand.

Their constitution, recorded and kept alive on a two row wampum belt 7 , held many concepts familiar to United States citizens today.

In 1744, the Onondaga leader Canassatego gave a speech urging the contentious 13 colonies to unite, as the Iroquois had at the signing of the Treaty of Lancaster. This cultural exchange inspired the English colonist Benjamin Franklin to print Canassatego’s speech.

"We heartily recommend Union and a good Agreement between you our Brethren," Canassatego had said. "Never disagree, but preserve a strict Friendship for one another, and thereby you, as well as we, will become the stronger. Our wise Forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations this has made us formidable this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy and, by your observing the same Methods our wise Forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh Strength and Power therefore whatever befalls you, never fall out one with another."

He used a metaphor that many arrows cannot be broken as easily as one. This inspired the bundle of 13 arrows held by an eagle in the Great Seal of the United States.

The Great Seal of the United States ca. 1917 - 1919

Franklin referenced the Iroquois model as he presented his Plan of Union 8 at the Albany Congress in 1754, attended by representatives of the Iroquois and the seven colonies. He invited the Great Council members of the Iroquois to address the Continental Congress in 1776.

The Native American model of governance that is fair and will always meet the needs of the seventh generation to come is taken from the Iroquois Confederacy. The seventh generation principle dictates that decisions that are made today should lead to sustainability for seven generations into the future. And Indigenous nations in North America were and are for the most part organized by democratic principles that focus on the creation of strong kinship bonds that promote leadership in which honor is not earned by material gain but by service to others.

In the plains, there was great honor in giving your horses to the poorest members of the tribe. The potlatch still practiced in the Pacific Northwest is another example of voluntarily redistributing wealth to those who have the least.

And the Iroquois? They continue to live under their own constitution and government. Their example sparked the spread of democratic institutions across the world, as explored in “Nature to Nations,” episode Two of this PBS series Native America.

Terri Hansen is an independent journalist with bylines in Indian Country Today, YES! Magazine, The Revelator, Pacific Standard, VICE, Earth Island Journal and others. She lives mainly in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. She is a Winnebago tribal member and an unenrolled Cherokee. She has reported tribal issues since 1990, and global indigenous issues since 2009. Chat with her on Twitter @TerriHansen

1) Johansen, B. E. (1995). Dating the Iroquois Confederacy. Akswesane Notes New Series, 1, 62-63. Retrieved November 30, 2018

2) The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2018, Oct. 4). Iroquois Confederacy. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved November 30, 2018

4) Greene, N. (1925). History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925. 1, 167-186. Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company. Retrieved on November 27, 2018

6) Ely Parker 1770-1844. Retrieved on November 27, 2018

7) Iroquois Constitution. Parson’s College. Retrieved on November 27, 2018

8) Tansill, C.C. (1927). Albany Plan of Union 1754. Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States House Document No. 393. Government Printing Office. Yale Law School. Retrieved on November 29, 2018

National Archives. (2018, Sept. 24 ). The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription. Retrieved on November 29, 2018

Walker, G. (2016, Aug. 5). Constitution of the Iroquois Nations. Retrieved on November 27, 2018

Representing Community and Culture

2 Christianity

Beginning in the 1500s, the Six Nations people were heavily influenced by Christianity brought by European missionaries and other settlers. In the 1600s, Jesuit missionaries from France persuaded many Mohawks to relocate from the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers to Catholic settlements along Quebec's St. Lawrence River. A century later, Quakers from England began settling peacefully among the Seneca people, helping them grow corn crops. Handsome Lake, a Seneca prophet, became deeply inspired by Quaker beliefs and in turn disseminated a hybrid faith to the Mohawks, known as the Longhouse Religion.

18 Memorable Coming of Age Rituals from History

Throughout much of history, societies have marked the moment when their boys became ‘men&rsquo. And most continue to do so to this day. However, while in modern Western societies ‘coming-of-age&rsquo rituals are largely fun and care-free celebrations, in the past, they were far more dramatic. From Ancient Greece to ancient China, boys would be forced to prove their ‘manliness&rsquo. Tough, often bloody rituals were used to test youths, forcing them to prove they had what it took to be a man in an unforgiving world.

Thanks to surviving written accounts and to visual depictions, we have a good idea of what past societies did to mark the end of boyhood and the start of adulthood. And in some places, the influence of centuries-old traditions can still be seen. We know that, while some past societies believed boys became men as soon as they reached puberty &ndash or even earlier &ndash others allowed their male citizens to enjoy their childhoods for as long as possible. Similarly, the way in which the people of the past marked this major milestone in life varied dramatically. Some societies demanded bloodshed, whilst others demanded shows of obedience or bravery.

So, from murderous killing sprees and death-defying leaps to simple changes in hairstyle, here we present 18 of the most notable coming-of-age ceremonies for males in human history:

Mentors were a vital part of male life in Ancient Greece. Museum of Art Boston

18. In Ancient Greece, boys would be paired with older male mentors and taught everything they needed to know about adult life

As a young man in Ancient Athens, being paired up with an older mentor was the first step towards manhood. In most cases, the boys family would arrange the union, seeking out an adult male who could help and support him in his career. The older man was known as the erastes, while the younger male was the eromenos, or philetor &ndash though, in reality, the age difference might only be a few years, with the mentor still in his early 20s. The nature of the relationship varied markedly. In some Greek cities, it was highly sexual, and indeed this was seen as an important part of a boy growing up to become a man.

In Sparta, among other cities, any sexual contact between the mentor and his young charge was deemed highly inappropriate and could be punished extremely harshly, even by death. What&rsquos more, it wasn&rsquot just a one-way relationship. While the mentor was supposed to the dominant partner in the arrangement, ancient poets often wrote of wily young men who manipulated their mentors, and even broke their hearts. When the younger man&rsquos family believed he was sufficiently mature to be a full citizen &ndash and so marry and be politically active &ndash the mentor relationship was terminated.

Watch the video: Jewish Mourning Rituals: An Overview