The meaning of the term Kanonsionni, and of the other names by which the several nations were known in their Council, are fully explained in the Introduction. But some account should be given of the names, often inappropriate and generally much corrupted, by which they were known to their white neighbors. The origin and proper meaning of the word Iroquois are doubtful. All that can be said with certainty is that the explanation given by Charlevoix cannot possibly be correct. "The name of Iroquois," he says, "is purely French, and has been formed from the term hiro, 'I have spoken,' a word by which these Indians close all their speeches, and koué, which, when long drawn out, is a cry of sorrow, and when briefly uttered, is an exclamation of joy." 1 It might be enough to say of this derivation that no other nation or tribe of which we have any knowledge has ever borne a name composed in this whimsical fashion. But what is decisive is the fact that Champlain had learned the name from his Indian allies before he or any other Frenchman, so far as is known, had ever seen an Iroquois. It is probable that the origin of the word is to be sought in the Huron language; yet, as this is similar to the Iroquois tongue, an attempt may be made to find a solution in the latter. According to Bruyas, the word garokwa meant a pipe, and also a piece of tobacco,--and, in its verbal form, to smoke. This word is found, somewhat disguised by aspirates, in the Book of Rites, denighroghkwayen,---let us two smoke together." (Ante, p. 115, Section 2). In the indeterminate form the verb becomes ierokwa, which is certainly very near to "Iroquois." It might be rendered "they who smoke," or "they who use tobacco," or, briefly, "the Tobacco People." This name, the Tobacco Nation (Nation du
Petun) was given by the French, and probably also by the Algonkins, to one of the Huron tribes, the Tionontates, noted for the excellent tobacco which they raised and sold. The Iroquois were equally well known for their cultivation of this plant, of which they had a choice variety. 1 It is possible that their northern neighbors may have given to them also a name derived from this industry. Another not improbable supposition might connect the name with that of a leading sept among them, the Bear clan. This clan, at least among the Caniengas, seems to have been better known than any other to their neighbors. The Algonkins knew that nation as the Maquas, or Bears. In the Canienga speech, bear is ohkwai,--in Onondaga, the word becomes ohkwai, and in Cayuga, iakwai,--which also is not far from Iroquois. These conjectures--for they are nothing more--may both be wrong; but they will perhaps serve to show the direction in which the explanation of this perplexing word is to be sought.
The name of Mingo or Mengwe, by which the Iroquois were known to the Delawares and the other southern Algonkins, is said to be a contraction of the Lenape word Mahongwi, meaning the "People of the Springs." 2 The Iroquois possessed the headwaters of the rivers which flowed through the country of the Delawares,--and this explanation of the name may therefore be accepted as a probable one.
The first of the Iroquois nations, the "oldest brother" of the confederacy, has been singularly unfortunate in the designations by which it has become generally known. The people have a fine, sonorous name of their own, said to be derived from that of one of their ancient towns. This name is Kanienke, "at the Flint." Kanien, in their language, signifies flint, and the final syllable is the same locative particle which we find in Onontake, "at the mountain." In pronunciation and spelling, this, like other Indian words, is much varied, both by the natives themselves and by their white neighbors, becoming Kanieke, Kanyenke, Canyangeh, and Canienga. The latter form, which accords with the sister
names of Onondaga and Cayuga, has been adopted in the present volume.
The Huron frequently drops the initial k, or changes it to y. The Canienga people are styled in that speech Yanyenge, a word which is evidently the origin of the name of Agnier, by which this nation is known to the French.
The Dutch learned from the Mohicans (whose name, signifying Wolves, is supposed to be derived from that of their leading clan) to call the Kanienke by the corresponding name of Maqua (or Makwa), the Algonkin word for Bear. But as the Iroquois, and especially the Caniengas, became more and more a terror to the surrounding nations, the feelings of aversion and dread thus awakened found vent in an opprobrious epithet, which the southern and eastern Algonkins applied to their obnoxious neighbors. They were styled by these enemies Mowak, or Mowawak, a word which has been corrupted to Mohawk. It is the third person plural, in the sixth "transition," of the Algonkin word mowa, which means "to eat," but which is only used of food that has had life. Literally it means "they eat them;" but the force of the verb and of the pronominal inflection suffices to give to the word, when used as an appellative, the meaning of "those who eat men," or, in other words, "the Cannibals." That the English, with whom the Caniengas were always fast friends, should have adopted this uncouth and spiteful nickname is somewhat surprising. It is time that science and history should combine to banish it, and to resume the correct designation. 1
The name Oneida, which in French became Onneyouth or Onneyote, is a corruption of a compound word, formed of onenhia, or onenya, stone, and kaniote, to be upright or elevated. Onenniote is rendered "the projecting stone." It is applied to a large boulder of syennite, which thrusts its broad shoulder above the earth at the summit of an eminence near which, in early times, the Oneidas had planted their chief settlement.
As has been already stated, Onondaga is a softened pronunciation of Onontake, "at the mountain,"--or, perhaps, more exactly, "at the hill." It is probable that this name was unknown when the confederacy was formed, as it is not comprised in the list of towns given in the Book of Rites. It may be supposed to have been first applied to this nation after their chief town was removed to the site which it occupied in the year 1654, when the first white visitors of whom we have any certain account, the Jesuit Father Le Moyne and his party, came among them,--and also in 1677, when the English explorer, Greenhalgh, passed through their country. This site was about seven miles east of their present Reservation. I visited it in September, 1880, in company with my friend, General John S. Clark, who has been singularly successful in identifying the positions of the ancient Iroquois towns. The locality is thus described in my journal: "The site is, for an Indian town, peculiarly striking and attractive. It stretches about three miles in length, with a width of half a mile, along the broad back and gently sloping sides of a great hill, which swells, like a vast oblong cushion, between two hollows made by branches of a small stream, known as Limehouse creek. These streams and many springs on the hillside yielded abundance of water, while the encircling ridges on every side afforded both firewood and game. In the neighborhood were rich valleys, where--as well as on the hill itself--the people raised their crops of corn, beans, pumpkins, and tobacco. There are signs of a large population." In the fields of stubble which occupied the site of this ancient capital, the position of the houses could still be traced by the dark patches of soil; and a search of an hour or two rewarded us with several wampum-beads, flint chips, and a copper coin of the last century. The owner of the land, an intelligent farmer, affirmed that "wagon-loads" of Indian wares,--pottery, hatchets, stone implements, and the like-had been carried off by curiosity seekers.
The name of the Cayugas (in French Goyogouin) is variously pronounced by the Iroquois themselves. I wrote it as I heard it, at different times, from members of the various tribes, Koyunkweñ, Koiunkwe, Kwaiunkweñ, Kayunkwe. A Cayuga chief made it Kayunkwa, which is very near the usual English pronunciation of the word. Of its purport no satisfactory account could be obtained.
[paragraph continues] One interpreter rendered it "the fruit country;--another "the place where canoes are drawn out." Cusick, the historian, translates it "a mountain rising from the water." Mr. Morgan was told that it meant "the mucky land." We can only infer that the interpreters were seeking, by vague resemblances, to recover a lost meaning.
The Senecas, who were called by the French Tsonontouan or Sonnontouan, bore among the Iroquois various names, but all apparently derived from the words which appear in that appellation,--ononta, hill, and kowa or kowane, great. The Caniengas called them Tsonontowane; the Oneidas abridged the word to Tsontowana; the Cayugas corrupted it to Onondewa; and the Onondagas contracted it yet farther, to Nontona. The Senecas called themselves variously Sonontowa, Onontewa, and Nondewa. Sonontowane is probably the most correct form.
The word Seneca is supposed to be of Algonkin origin, and, like Mohawk, to have been given as an expression of dislike, or rather of hostility. Sinako, in the Delaware tongue, means properly "Stone Snakes;" but in this conjunction it is understood, according to the interpretation furnished to Mr. Squier, to signify "Mountain Snakes." 1 The Delawares, it appears, were accustomed to term all their enemies "snakes." In this case they simply translated the native name of the Iroquois tribe (the "Mountain People"), and added this uncomplimentary epithet. As the name, unlike the word Mohawk, is readily pronounced by the people to whom it was given, and as they seem to have in some measure accepted it, there is not the same reason for objecting to its use as exists in the case of the latter word,--more especially as there is no absolute certainty that it is not really an Iroquois word. It bears, in its present form, a close resemblance to the honorable "Council name" of the Onondagas,--Sennakehte, "the title-givers;" a fact which may perhaps have made the western nation more willing to adopt it.
171:1 History of New France, Vol. i, p. 270.
172:1 "The Senecas still cultivate tobacco. Its name signifies 'the only tobacco,' because they consider this variety superior to all others."--Morgan: League of the Iroquois, p. 375.
172:2 E. G. Squier: "Traditions of the Algonquins," in Beach's Indian Miscellany, p. 28.
173:1 William Penn and his colonists, who probably understood the meaning of the word Mohawk, forbore to employ it. In the early records of the colony (published by the Pennsylvania Historical Society) the nation is described in treaties, laws, and other public acts, by its proper designation, a little distorted in the spelling,--Canyingoes, Ganyingoes, Cayinkers, etc.
175:1 "Traditions of the Algonquins," in Beach's Indian Miscellany, p. 33.