For a proper appreciation of this peculiar composition, some further particulars respecting its origin and character will be needed. During my earlier visits to the Reserve of the Six Nations, near Brantford, I had heard of an Indian book which was used at their "Condoling Councils," the most important of their many public gatherings. But it was not until the month of September, 1879, that I had an opportunity of seeing the work. At that time two copies of the book were brought to me by the official holders, two of the principal chiefs of the confederacy. One of these was Chief John "Smoke" Johnson, who for many years had held the high office of Speaker of the Great Council, though, of late, yielding to age and infirmity, he has withdrawn from the public performance of its duties. His second name is a rude rendering of his truly poetical Indian appellation, Sakayengwaraton, or "Disappearing Mist." It signifies properly, I was told, the haze which rises from the ground in an autumn morning and vanishes as the day advances. His English name, and, in part, his blood, Chief Johnson derives from no less distinguished an ancestor than Sir William Johnson, who played so notable a part in colonial history during the last century, and who exercised, perhaps, a greater influence on the destiny of the Iroquois than any other individual since the formation of their confederacy. To him, indeed, may be ascribed the distinction, such as it is, of destroying the work which Hiawatha and Dekanawidah had founded. But for the influence over the Indians which he had acquired, and was able to bequeath to others, it is probable that the Six Nations would have remained neutral during the Revolutionary War, and
the disruption of their League would not have taken place. Yet there can be no doubt that he was sincerely attached to them, and desired their good. Unfortunately for them, they held, as was natural, only the second place in his affections. He was, by 4d option, an Iroquois chief, but his first allegiance was due to his native country, to whose interests, both in the war with France and in the separation which he foresaw between England and her colonies, he did not hesitate to sacrifice the welfare of his red brethren. Against his subtle arts and overmastering energy the wisest of their statesmen, worthy successors of the great founders of their constitution, strove in vain, on each occasion, to maintain that neutrality which was evidently the true policy of their people. 1
Sakayengwaraton is not an elected chief, nor does he bear one of the hereditary titles of the Great Council, in which he holds so distinguished a station. Indeed, his office is one unknown to the ancient constitution of the Kanonsionni. It is the creation of the British Government, to which he owes, with the willing consent of his own people, his rank and position in the Council. The Provincial administrators saw the need of a native official who should be, like the Speaker of the English House of Commons, the mouthpiece of the Council, and the intermediary between it and the representative of the Crown. The grandson of Sir William Johnson was known as a brave warrior, a capable leader, and an eloquent speaker. In the war of 1812, at the early age of twenty, he bad succeeded an elder brother in the command of the Indian contingent, and had led his dusky followers with so much skill and intrepidity as to elicit high praise from the English commander. His eloquence was noted, even among a race of orators. I can well believe what I have heard of its effects, as even in his old age, when an occasion has for a moment aroused his spirit, I have not known whether most to
admire the nobleness and force of his sentiments and reasoning, or the grace and flowing ease with which he delivered the stately periods of his sonorous language. He has been a worthy successor of the distinguished statesmen, Garagontieh, Garangula, Decanasora, Canasatego, Logan, and others, who in former years guided the destinies of his people. He is considered to have a better knowledge of the traditions and ancient usages of the Six Nations than any other member of the tribes, and is the only man now living who can tell the meaning of every word of the "Book of Rites."
The other chief to whom I have referred is the Onondaga Councillor who is known to the whites as John Buck, but who bears in council the name of Skanawati ("Beyond the River"), one of the fifty titular names which have descended from the time of Hiawatha. He is the official keeper of the "wampum records" of the confederacy, an important trust, which, to his knowledge, has been in his family for at least four generations. His rank, his character, and his eloquence make him now, virtually, the Iroquois premier--an office which, among the Six Nations, as among the Athenians of old and the English of modern days, is both unknown to the constitution and essential to its working. His knowledge of the legends and customs of his people is only inferior to that of the more aged Speaker of the Council.
The account which Chief J. S. Johnson gave me of the book may be briefly told. The English missionaries reduced the Canienga language to writing in the early part of the last century. The Jesuit fathers, indeed, had learned and written the language--which they styled the Iroquois--fifty years before; but it does not appear that they had instructed any of the Indians in the art of writing it, as their successors in the Eastern Province have since done. The English missionaries took pains to do this. The liturgy of their church was printed in the Mohawk tongue, at New York, as early as the
year 1714. 1 By the middle of the century there were many members of the tribe who could write in the well-devised orthography of the missionaries--an orthography which anticipated in most points the well known "Pickering alphabet," now generally employed in writing the Indian languages of North America. The chiefs of the Great Council, at once conservative and quick to learn, saw the advantages which would accrue from preserving, by this novel method, the forms of their most important public duty--that of creating new chiefs--and the traditions connected with their own body. They caused the ceremonies, speeches and songs, which together made up the proceedings of the Council when it met for the two purposes, always combined, of condolence and induction, to be written down in the words in which they had been preserved in memory for many generations. A Canienga chief, named David, a friend of Brant, is said to have accomplished the work. In Stone's Life of Sir William Johnson, mention is made of a Mohawk chief, "David of Schoharie," who, in May, 1757, led a troop of Indians from his town to join the forces under Sir William, in his expedition to Crown Point, to repel the French invaders. 2 Brant appears to have been in this expedition. 3 It is highly probable that in Chief David of Schoharie we have the compiler, or rather the scribe, of this "Iroquois Veda."
The copy of this book which Chief J. S. Johnson possessed was made by himself, under the following circumstances: During the prevalence of the Asiatic cholera, in 1832, the tribes on the Reserve suffered severely. Chief Johnson, then a young man and not yet a leader in the Great Council, was active in attending on the sick. He was called to visit an
aged chief, who was not expected to live. The old chief informed him that he had this book in his possession, and advised him, as he was one of the few who could write the language, to make a copy of it, lest by any accident the original should be lost. Johnson followed this advice, and copied the book on loose sheets of paper, from which he afterwards transcribed it into a small unbound book, resembling a schoolboy's copy-book. He states that the original book contained, besides the ceremonies of the Condoling Council, an addition by a later hand, comprising some account of the more recent history of the Six Nations, and particularly of their removal from New York to Canada. This portion of it he unfortunately omitted to copy, and shortly afterwards the book itself was destroyed, when the house of the old chief was accidentally burned.
The other copy which I transcribed was held by Chief John Buck, in his official capacity of record-keeper. It is written in a somewhat different orthography. The syllables are separated, as in the usual style of Indian hymnbooks, and some of the words, particularly the proper names, show by their forms that the person who copied the book was, an Onondaga. The copy was evidently not made from that of Chief Johnson, as it supplies some omissions in that copy. On the other hand, it omits some matters, and, in particular, nearly all the adjurations and descriptive epithets which form the closing litany accompanying the list of hereditary councillors. The copy appears, from a memorandum written in it, to have been made by one "John Green," who, it seems, was formerly a pupil of the Mohawk Institute at Brantford. It bears the date of November, 1874. I could not learn where he found his original.
The translation has been made from the dictation of Chief J. S. Johnson, who explained the meaning of the archaic words in the modern Canienga speech. This was interpreted in English by his son, Chief George H. M. Johnson, and
afterwards more fully elucidated by my esteemed friend, the Rev. Isaac Bearfoot, who kindly came from his parish, at Point Edward (near Sarnia), to the Reserve, to assist me in this work. Mr. Bearfoot is an Onondaga by birth, but a Canienga by adoption, and has a thorough knowledge of the Canienga language. He prepared the revised edition of the hymnbook in that language, which is now used on the Reserve. He is a good English scholar, and, having been educated in Toronto for the ministry, has filled for some years, with much acceptance, the office of pastor to a white congregation of the Church of England. I am greatly indebted to him for his judicious assistance, and, finally, for a complete revision of the entire version of the Canienga portion of the book.
To my friend Chief George Johnson I am under still greater obligations. Mr. Johnson, as has been stated, is the son of Chief J. S. Johnson, and is himself a high chief of the Canienga nation. He bears in the Great Council the name of Teyonhehkwen (otherwise spelt Deyonheghgonh), meaning "Double Life," one of the titular names which were borne by the companions of Hiawatha and Atotarho in the first council. He succeeded in this title, according to the rules of the confederacy, his maternal uncle, on the nomination of his mother, as the chief matron of the family. Mr. Johnson is an educated gentleman. In early life he was a pupil of the English missionaries. He now holds the position of Government Interpreter for the Six Nations, and is, in fact, the chief executive officer of the Canadian government on the Reserve. His duties have several times brought him into collision with the white ruffians who formerly infested the Reserve, and from whom he has on two occasions suffered severe injuries, endangering his life. His courage and firmness, however, have been finally successful in subduing this mischief, and the Reserve is now as secure and as free from disorder as any part of Canada. To Chief George Johnson's assistance and encouragement I owe most of the information
contained in these pages, and I am glad to have an opportunity of paying him this tribute of respect and gratitude.
The second or supplementary part of the Book, which is in the Onondaga dialect, was found on the small Reservation in the State of New York, near Syracuse, where a feeble remnant of the great Onondaga nation still cling to the home of their forefathers. In October, 1875, during my first visit to Onondaga Castle, as this Reservation is called, I obtained from the intelligent interpreter, Daniel La Fort-a son of the distinguished chief Abram La Fort (Dehatkatons), who is commemorated in Clark's "Onondaga"--a list of the original councillors in the Onondaga dialect, and also a copy, in the same dialect, of the "Condoling Song," which I had heard sung on the Canadian Reserve, and which I afterwards found in the Canienga Book of Rites. He read them to me from a small manuscript book, in which, as I then supposed, he had noted them for his own convenience. When I afterwards discovered the Canienga book, it occurred to me that I might have been mistaken on this point, and that the manuscript from which he read was possibly a copy of the Book of Rites in the Onondaga dialect. To clear up this point, I again visited Onondaga Castle, in September, 1880. I then found, to my great gratification, that his book was not a copy, but a valuable addition, or rather an essential complement, to the Canienga book. The last-named book comprises the speeches which are addressed by the representatives of the three elder nations to the younger members of the League, whenever a chief who belonged to the latter is lamented. The Onondaga book, on the other hand, gives us the exhortations which are addressed by the younger nations to the elder when a chief of the latter is mourned. The circumstance to which it owes its preservation on the Onondaga Reserve is easily explained. Of late years, since the chieftainships among the New York Senecas and Tuscaroras have been made purely elective offices, the only body of Indians in that State among
whom the original system of mingled descent and appointment has been retained is the remnant of the intensely conservative Onondagas. Among these, in spite of missionary efforts continued for two centuries, paganism still lingers, and chiefs are still "raised up" as nearly as possible after the ancient fashion. When a chief dies, the members of his family or clan select another, who is presented to the national council for induction. The ceremonies of condolence, with which the proceedings commence, are modeled after the primitive form. As the Onondagas were one of the elder nations, the addresses of condolence must proceed from a younger brother. Fortunately for this purpose, a few Oneidas reside on the Reserve, among whom is a single chief, by name Abram Hill. To him is committed the duty of representing the "younger brothers" on this occasion, and with it the charge of the wampum strings, which are produced occasionally as the ceremony proceeds, each string representing one section or topic of the condoling address.
La Fort said that he had copied his book from a manuscript in his father's handwriting. This manuscript, unfortunately, was lost, and he could not say whether his father had first written it down from memory, or had merely transcribed it from an earlier composition. However this may have been, the substance of the composition undoubtedly dates from a period preceding the disruption of the confederacy. The language, indeed, so far as can be judged from the very irregular orthography, is modern. If, as there is reason to suppose, the composition is ancient, it has evidently undergone a "revision" at the hands of the later copyists. In former times, as we know from the Jesuit vocabularies, the sound of r existed in the Onondaga dialect. Since their day this sound has disappeared from it entirely. In La Fort's manuscript the letter frequently occurred, but always, as his pronunciation showed, either as a diacritical sign following the vowel a, to give to that vowel the sound of a in "far," or else as representing
itself this vowel sound. Thus the syllable which should properly be written sa was written by La Fort either sar or sr. But, though the language is modern, the speeches themselves, as I am assured by Chief John Buck, are precisely those which are still in use among his people in Canada, and which are believed to have been preserved in memory from the days of their forefathers. 1
The translation of La Fort's book was procured from him and another educated member of his tribe; but there was not time to obtain all the elucidations needed to ensure precise verbal accuracy throughout.
40:1 For the confirmation of these statements see the excellent biographies of Sir William Johnson and Joseph Brant, by Wm. L. Stone, passim.
42:1 This date is given in the preface to the Mohawk Prayer-book of 1787. This first version of the liturgy was printed under the direction of the Rev. Wm. Andrews, the missionary of the "New England Society."
42:2 Life of Sir William Johnson, Vol. II, p. 29.
42:3 Ibid., p. 174.
47:1 The disappearance of a vocal element from a language is a phenomenon with which etymologists are familiar. The loss of the Greek digamma is a well-known instance. The harsh guttural, resembling the German ch, which formerly existed in the English language, has vanished from it, leaving its traces in the uncouth orthography of such words as plough, high, though, and the like. Within the past three centuries the sound of l has been lost from many words, such as walk, talk, balm and calm. The sound of r is disappearing from a large portion of the language. In ordinary speech, arm rhymes with calm, morning with fawning, higher with Sophia. Modern French, as is well known, has attained its present euphony through the disappearance of consonantal elements from many words in which they formerly existed.