Tuscarora - Creation Story Tuscarora
The Tuscarora tradition opens with the notion that there were originally two worlds, or regions of space, that is an upper and lower world. The upper world was inhabited by beings resembling the human race. And the lower world by monsters, moving on the surface and in the waters, which is in darkness. When the human species were transferred below, and the lower sphere was about to be rendered fit for their residence, the act of their transference is by these ideas, that a female who began to descend into the lower world, which Tuscarora is a region of darkness, waters, and monsters, she was received on the back of a tortoise, where she gave birth to male twins, and there she expired. The shell of this tortoise expanded into a continent, which, in the English language, is called "island," and is named by the Tuscaroras, Yowahnook. One of the children was called Got-ti-gah-rah-quast, or good mind, the other, Got-ti-gah-rak-senh, or bad mind. These two antagonistically principles were at perpetual variance, it being the law of one to counteract whatever the other did. They were not, however, men, but gods, or existences, through whom the Great Spirit, or "Holder of the Heavens," carried out his purposes.
The first work of Got-ti-gah-rah-quast was to create the sun out of the head of his dead mother, and the moon and stars out of the other parts of her body. The light these gave drove the monsters into the deep waters to hide themselves. He then prepared the surface of the continent and fitted it for human habitation, by making it into creeks, rivers, lakes, and plains, and by filling them with the various kinds of animals and vegetable kingdom. He then formed a man and woman out of the earth, gave them life, and called them Ongwahonwd, that is to say, a real people.
Meanwhile the bad mind created mountains, water-falls, and steeps, caves, reptiles, serpents, apes, and other objects supposed to be injurious to, or in mockery to mankind. He made an attempt also to conceal the land animals in the ground, so as to deprive men of the means of subsistence. This continued opposition, to the wishes of the Good Mind, who was perpetually at work, in restoring the effects and displacements, of the wicked devices of the other, at length led to a personal combat, of which the time and instrument of battle were agreed on. They fought two days; the Good Mind using the deer’s horn, and the other using wild flag leafs, as arms. Got-ti-gah-rah-quast, or Good Mind, who had chosen the horn, finally prevailed. His antagonist sunk down into a region of darkness, and became the Evil Spirit of the world of despair. Got-ti-gah-rah-quast, having obtained his triumph, retired from the earth.
The earliest tradition that we have of the Iroquois is as follows: That a company of Ongwahonwa being encamped on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, where they were invaded by a nation--few in number, but were great giants, called "Ronongwaca." War after war was brought on by personal encounters and incidents, and carried on with perfidity and cruelty. They were delivered at length by the skill and courage of Yatontea, who, after retreating before them, raised a large body of men and defeated them, after which they were supposed to be extinct. And the next they suffered was from the malice, perfidity and lust of an extraordinary appearing person, who they called That-tea-ro-skeh, who was finally driven across the St. Lawrence, and come to a town south of the shores of Lake Ontario, where, however, he only disguised his intentions, to repeat his cruel and perfidious deeds. He assassinated many persons, and violated six virgins. They pointed to him as a fiend in human shape.
In this age of monsters, the country was again invaded by another monster, which they called Oyahguaharh, supposed to be some great mammoth, who was furious against men, and destroyed the lives of many Indian hunters, but he was at length killed, after a long and severe contest.
A great horned serpent also next appeared on Lake Ontario who, by means of his poisonous breath, caused disease, and caused the death of many. At length the old women congregated, with one accord, and prayed to the Great Spirit that he would send their grand-father, the Thunder, who would get to their relief in this, their sore time of trouble, and at the same time burning tobacco as burned offerings. So finally the monster was compelled to retire in the deeps of the lake by thunder bolts. Before this calamity was forgotten another happened. A blazing star fell into their fort, situated on the banks of the St. Lawrence, and destroyed the people. Such a phenomenon caused a great panic and consternation and dread, which they regarded as ominous of their entire destruction. Not long after this prediction of the blazing star it was verified. These tribes, who were held together by feeble ties, fell into dispute and wars among themselves, which were pursued through a long period, until they had utterly destroyed each other, and so reduced their numbers that the lands were again over-run with wild beasts.
At this period there were six families took refuge in a large cave in a mountain, where they dwelled for a long time. The men would come out occasionally to hunt for food. This mammoth cave was situated at or near the falls of the Oswego River. Taryenya-wa-gon (Holder of the Heavens) extricated these six families from this subterraneous bowels and confines of the mountain. They always looked to this divine messenger, who had power to assume various shapes, as emergency dictated, as the friend and patron of their nation.
As soon as they were released he gave them instructions respecting the mode of hunting, matrimony, worship and many other things. He warned them against the evil spirit, and gave them corn, beans, squash, potatoes, tobacco, and dogs to hunt their game. He bid them go toward the rising of the sun, and he personally guided them, until they came to a river, which they named Yehnonanatche (that is going around a mountain,) now Mohawk, they went down the bank of the river and came to where it discharges into a great river, running towards the midway sun, they named it Skaw-nay-taw-ty (that is beyond the pineries) now Hudson, and went down the banks of the river and touched the bank of the great water. The company made an encampment at this place and remained for a while. The people was then of one language. Some of them went on the banks of the great waters, towards the midway sun, and never returned. But the company that remained at the camp returned as they came--along the bank of the river, under the direction of Taryenyawagon (Holder of the Heavens).
This company were a particular body, which called themselves of one household. Of these there were six families, and they entered into an agreement to preserve the chain of alliance which should not be extinguished under any circumstance.
The company advance some distance up the river of Skawnatawty (Hudson). The Holder of the Heavens directed the first family to make their residence near the bank of the river, and the family was named Tehawrogeh (that is, a speech divided) now Mohawk. Their language soon changed. The company then turned and went towards the sun-setting, and traveled about two days and a half, then came to a creek, which was named Kawnatawteruh (that is pineries). The second family was directed to make their residence near the creek; and the family was named Nehawretahgo (that is big tree) now Oneida. Their language was changed likewise. The company continued to proceed toward the sun-setting under the direction of the Holder of the Heavens. The third family was directed to make their residence on a mountain, named Onondaga (now Onondaga), and the family was named Seuhnowhahtah (that is, carrying the name.) Their language also changed. The rest of the company continued their journey towards the sun-setting. The fourth family was directed to make their residence near a large lake, named Goyogoh (that is a mountain rising from water) now Cayuga, and the family was named Sho-nea-na-we-to-wah (that is a great pipe). Their language was altered. The rest of the company kept their course towards the sun-setting. The fifth family was directed to make their residence near a high mountain, situated south of Canandaigua Lake, which was named Tehow-nea-nyo-hent (that is possessing a door) now Seneca. Their language was also changed. The sixth, and last family, went on their journey toward the sun-setting, and traveled a great distance, when they came to a large river, which was named O-nah-we-yo-ka (that is a principal stream) now Mississippi. The people discovered a grapevine lying across the river, by which a part of the people went over, but while they were crossing the vine broke. They were divided, and became enemies to those that were over the river in consequence of which, they were obliged to abandon the journey. Those that went over the river were finally lost and forgotten from the memory of those that remained on the eastern banks.
Ta-ren-ya-wa-go (the Holder of the Heavens), who was the patron of the five home bands, did not fail, in this crisis, to direct them their way also. He instructed those on the eastern bank the art of the bow and arrows, to use for game and in time of danger. After giving them suitable instructions, he guided their footsteps in their journeys, south and east, until they had crossed the Alleghany Mountains, and with some wanderings they finally reached the shores of the sea, on the coast which is now called the Carolinas. By this time their language was changed. They were directed to fix their residence on the banks of the Gow-ta-no (that is, pine in the water) now Neuse River, in North Carolina. Here Ta-ren-ya-wa-gon left them to hunt, increase and prosper, whilst he returned to direct the other five nations to form their confederacy.
Tarenyawagon united in one person the power of a God and a man, and gave him the expressive name of the Holder of the Heavens, and was capable of assuming any form or shape that he chosed, but appeared to them only in the form of a man, and taught them hunting, gardening, and the knowledge of the arts of war. He imparted to them the knowledge of the laws and government of the Great Spirit, and gave them directions and encouragement how to fulfill their duties and obligations. He gave them corn, beans, and fruits of various kinds, with the knowledge of planting those fruits. He taught them how to kill and to cook the game. He made the forest free to all the tribes to hunt, and removed obstructions from the streams. He took his position, sometimes, on the top of high cliffs, springing, if needs be, over frightful chasms; and he flew, as it were, over great lakes in a wonderful canoe of immaculate whiteness and of magic power.
Having finished his commission with the Tuscaroras at Cautanoh, in North Carolina, and the other five families, which were left at the north, he came down to closer terms and intimacy with the Onondagas. He resolved to lay aside his divine character and live among them, that he might exemplify the maxims which he had taught. And for this purpose he selected a handsome spot of ground on the southern banks of Cross Lake, New York. Here he built his cabin, and from the shores of this lake he went into the forest, like the rest of his companions, in quest of game and fish. He took a wife of the Onondagas, by whom he had an only daughter, whom he tenderly loved, and most kindly and carefully treated and instructed, so that she was known far and near as his favorite child, and was regarded almost as a goddess. The excellence of his character, and his great sagacity and good counsels, led the people to regard him with veneration, and they gave him, in his sublunary character, the name of Hi-a-wat-ha (a wise man). People came to him from all quarters, and his abode was thronged by all ages and conditions who came for advice.
He became the first chief of all the land, and whomsoever he made his companions and friends were likewise clothed with the authority of chiefs in the tribe. In this manner all power came naturally into his hands, and the tribe rejoiced that they had so wise and good a man as their ruler. For in those days each tribe was independent of all others; they had not yet formed a league, but fought and made war with each other.
Nothing that belonged to Hiwatha, in his character of Tarenyawagon, was more remarkable than his light and magic canoe, which shone with a supernatural lustre, and in which he had performed so many of his extraordinary feats. This canoe was laid aside when he came to fix his residence at Cross Lake, and never used it but for great and extraordinary purposes. When great councils were called, and he assembled the wise men to deliberate together, the sacred canoe was carefully lifted from the grand lodge; and after these occasions were ended, it was carefully returned to the same receptacle, on the shoulders of men, who felt honored in being the bearers of such a precious burden.
Thus passed away many years, and every year saw the people increasing in numbers, skill, arts and bravery. It was among the Onondagas that Tarenyawagon had located himself, although he regarded the other tribes as friends and brothers; he had become identified as an adopted member of this particular tribe. Under his teaching and influence they became the first among all the original tribes, and rose to the highest distinction in every art which was known to or prized by the Akonoshuni (Iroquois). They were the wisest counselors, the best orators, the most expert hunters, and the bravest warriors. They also afforded the highest examples of obedience to the laws of the Great Spirit. If offences took place, Hiawatha redressed them, and his wisdom and moderation preserved the tribe from feuds. Hence, the Onondagas were early noted among all the tribes for their pre-eminence. He appeared to devote his chief attention to them, that he might afterwards make them examples to the others, in arts and wisdom. They were foremost in the overthrow of the Stonish Giants and the killing of the great Serpent. To be an Onondaga was the highest honor.
While Hiawatha was thus living in domestic life quietly among the people of the hills, and administering their simple government with wisdom, they became alarmed by the sudden news of the approach of a furious and powerful enemy from north of the great lakes. As the enemy advanced, they made an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women and children. The people fled from their villages a short time before them, and there was no heart in the people to make a stand against such powerful and ruthless invaders. In this emergency, they fled to Hiawatha for his advice. He counseled them to call a general council of all the tribes from the east and west. "For," said he, "our strength is not the war club and arrows alone, but in wise counsels." He appointed a place on the banks of Onondaga Lake for the meeting. It was a clear eminence from which there was a wide prospect. Runners were dispatched in every direction, and the chiefs, warriors and headmen forthwith assembled in great numbers, bringing with them, in the general aralm, their women and children. Fleets of canoes were seen on the bosom of the lake, and every interior warpath was kept open by the foot-prints of the different tribes, hurrying to obey the summons of Hiawatha. All but the wise man himself had been there for three days, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Hiawatha, when a messenger was dispatched after him. They found him gloomy and depressed. Some great burden appeared to hang on his mind. He told them that evil lay on his path, and that he had fearful forebodings of ill fortune. He felt that he was called to make some great sacrifice, but he did not know what it was, it seemed to be hid from him. Least of all did he think it was to be his daughter; ever careful of her, he bade her kindly to accompany him. Nothing happened to hinder, or at all interrupt their voyage. The Talismanic canoe, which held them, glided silently down the waters of the Seneca; not a paddle was necessary to give it impetus, while it pursued the downward course of the stream till they reached the point of the lake outlet. At this point Hiwatha took his paddle and gave it impetus against the current until they entered on the bright and calm surface of the Onondaga, cradled, as this blue sheet of water is, among the lofty and far-swelling hills. When the white canoe of the venerable chief appeared, a shout of welcome rang among those hills. The day was calm and serene. No wind ruffled the lake, and scarcely a cloud floated in the sky above. But while the wise man was measuring his steps towards the place designated for the council, and while ascending from the water’s edge, a rumbling and low sound was heard, as if it were caused by the approach of a violent, rushing wind. Instantly all the eyes were turned upwards, where a small and compact mass of cloudy darkness appeared. It gathered in size and velocity as it approached, and appeared to be directed inevitably to fall in the midst of the assembly. Every one fled in consternation but Hiawatha and his daughter. He stood erect, with ornaments waving in his frontlet, and besought his daughter calmly to await the issue, "for it is impossible," said he, "to escape the power of the Great Spirit. If he has determined our destruction we cannot, by running, fly from him." She modestly assented and they stood together, while horror was depicted in the faces of the others. But the force of the descending body was that of a sudden storm. They had hardly taken the resolution to halt when an immense bird, with long, extended wings, came down with swoop. This gigantic agent of the sky came with such force that the assembly felt the shock. The girl being in a nature, and embodied in the combination of the Terrestial and Celestial nature, was beautiful and fascinating in her looks and form, was borne away by this Celestial bird to be seen no more upon the earth. But Hiawatha was inconsolable for his loss. He grieved sorely, day and night, and wore a desponding and dejected countenance. But these were only faint indications of the feelings of his heart. He threw himself upon the ground, and refused to be comforted. He seemed dumb with melancholy, and the people were concerned of his life. He spoke nothing; he made no answers to questions put to him, and laid still as if dead. After several days the council appointed a certain merry-hearted Chief to make him a visit, and to whisper a word of consolation in his ears to arouse him from his stupor. The result was successful. He approached with ceremonies and induced him to arise, and named the time when the council would convene. Yet haggard with grief, he called for refreshments and ate. He then adjusted his wardrobe and head-dress and went to the council. He drew his robe of wolf-skin gracefully around him, and walked to his seat at the head of the assembled chiefs with a majestic step. Stillness and the most profound attention reigned in the council while he presided, and the discussion opened and proceeded. The subject of the invasion was handled by several of the ablest counselors and the bravest warriors. Various plans were proposed to defeat the enemy. Hiawatha listened with silence until all had finished speaking. His opinion was then asked. After a brief allusion of the calamity which had befallen him through the descent of the great bird by the Great Spirit, he spoke to the following effect: "I have listened to the words of the wise men and brave chiefs, but it is not fitting that we should do a thing of so much importance in haste; it is a subject demanding calm reflection and mature deliberation. Let us postpone the decision for one day. During this time we will weigh well the words of the speakers who have already spoken. If they are good, I will then approve of them. If they are not, I will then open to you my plan. It is one which I have reflected on, and feel confident that it will insure safety."
When another day had expired, the council again met. Hiawatha entered the assembly with even more than ordinary attention, and every eye was fixed upon him, when he began to address the council in the following words: "Friends and Brothers:--You being members of many tribes, you have come from a great distance; the voice of war has aroused you up; you are afraid of your homes, your wives and your children; you tremble for your safety. Believe me, I am with you. My heart beats with your hearts. We are one. We have one common object. We come to promote our common interest, and to determine how this can be best done.
"To oppose those hordes of northern tribes, singly and alone, would prove certain destruction. We can make no progress in that way. We must united ourselves into one common band of brothers. We must have but one voice. Many voices makes confusion. We must have one fire, one pipe and one war club. This will give us strength. If our warriors are united they can defeat the enemy and drive them from our land; if we do this, we are safe.
"Onondaga, you are the people sitting under the shadow of the Great Tree, whose branches spread far and wide, and whose roots sink deep into the earth. You shall be the first nation, because you are warlike and mighty.
"Oneida, and you, the people who recline your bodies against the Everlasting Stone, that cannot be moved, shall be the second nation, because you always give good counsel.
"Seneca, and you, the people who have your habitation at the foot of the Great Mountain, and are overshadowed by its crags, shall be the third nation, because you are all greatly gifted in speech.
"Cayuga, you, whose dwelling is in the Dark Forest, and whose home is everywhere, shall be the fourth nation, because of your superior cunning in hunting.
"Mohawk, and you, the people who live in the open country, and possess much wisdom, shall be the fifth nation, because you understand better the art of raising corn and beans and making cabins.
"You five great and powerful nations, with your tribes, must unite and have one common interest, and no foes shall disturb or subdue you.
"And you of the different nations of the south, and you of the west, may place yourselves under our protection, and we will protect you. We earnestly desire the alliance and friendship of you all.
"And from you, Squaw-ki-haws (being a remote branch of the Seneca Nation), being the people who are as the Feeble Bushes, shall be chosen a Virgin, who shall be the peacemaker for all the nations of the earth, and more particularly the favored Ako-no-shu-ne, which name this confederacy shall ever sustain. If we united in one band the Great Spirit will smile upon us, and we shall be free, prosperous and happy; but if we shall remain as we are we shall incur his displeasure. We shall be enslaved, and perhaps annihilated forever.
"Brothers, these are the words of Hiawatha. Let them sink deep into your hearts. I have done."
A deep and impressive silence followed the delivery of this speech. On the following day the council again assembled to act on it. High wisdom recommended this deliberation.
The union of the tribes into one confederacy was discussed and unanimously adopted. To denote the character and intimacy of the union they employed the figure of a single council-house, or lodge, whose boundaries be co-extensive with their territories. Hence the name of Ako-no-shu-ne, who were called the Iroquois.
The great bird which visited them from heaven brought a precious gift to the warriors in the white plumes which she shed at the visit. Every warrior, as he approached the spot where they fell, picked up a feather of snowy white to adorn his crown; and the celestial visitant thus became the means of furnishing the aspirants of military fame with an emblem which was held in the highest estimation. Succeeding generations imbibed the custom from this incident to supply themselves with a plumage approaching it as nearly as possible; they selected the plume of the white heron.
At the formation of the confederacy Ato-ta-rho, being considered next in wisdom and all other traits of character which constitutes the necessary qualifications of an honored Sachem, was ordained as the head Sachem of the confederacy, which office has been transmitted down to succeeding generations of the Onondaga Nation to the present time.
Hiawatha, the guardian and founder of the league, having now accomplished the will of the Great Spirit, and the withdrawal of his daughter having been regarded by him as a sign that his mission was ended, he immediately prepared to make his final departure. Before the great council, which had adopted his advice just before dispersing, he arose, with a dignified air, and addressed them in the following manner: "Friends and Brothers:--I have now fulfilled my mission here below; I have furnished you seeds and grains for your gardens; I have removed obstructions from your waters, and made the forest habitable by teaching you how to expel its monsters; I have given you fishing places and hunting grounds; I have instructed you in the making and using of war implements; I have taught you how to cultivate corn, and many other arts and gifts. I have been allowed by the Great Spirit to communicate to you. Last of all, I have aided you to form a league of friendship and union. If you preserve this, and admit no foreign element of power by the admission of other nations, you will always be free, numerous and happy. If other tribes and nations are admitted to your councils, they will sow the seed of jealousy and discord, and you will become few, feeble and enslaved.
"Friends and brothers, these are the last words you will hear from the lips of Hiawatha. The Great Creator of our bodies calls me to go; I have patiently awaited his summons; I am ready to go. Farewell."
As the voice of the wise man ceased, sweet strains of music from the air burst on the ears of the multitude. The whole sky appeared to be filled with melody; and while all eyes were directed to catch glimpses of the sights, and enjoy strains of the celestial music that filled the sky, Hiawatha was seen, seated in his snow-white canoe, amid the air, rising, rising with every choral chant that burst out. As he rose the sound of the music became more soft and faint, until he vanished amid the summer clouds, and the melody ceased. Thus terminated the labors and cares of the long-cherished memory of Ta-ren-ya-wa-gon.
From: Johnson, Elias (a Native Tuscarora Chief). Legends, Traditions and Laws, of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians. Lockport, NY: Union Printing and Publishing, 1881. (Reprint by AMS Press, 1978).