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The term Iroquoian is derived from the name Iroquois, which, adapted from the Algonquian Indian language by the early French explorers, was applied originally to a group of five tribes then united in a permanent confederacy for offense and defense, and inhabiting, the central and eastern portions of the region now comprised within the State of New York. Among other names they were called the Five Nations, and the League of the Iroquois, and, after their adoption of the Tuscaroras, in 1722, the Six Nations. These five tribes attained the zenith of their remarkable career during the latter part of the seventeenth century, when, by the exploitation of the fundamental principles of the constitution of their League, they dominated by force of arms the greater part of the watershed of the Great lakes. Never very numerous, they reached this commanding position by an incisive and unexcelled diplomacy, by an effective political organization founded on maternal blood relationship, both real and fictitious, and by an aptitude for coordinate political action, all due to a mentality superior to that of the surrounding tribes.

The sophiology,--that is, the body of opinions--of a people such as the Iroquois is necessarily interesting and very abundant. It would be an almost interminable work to collect these opinions exhaustively and to publish them in a body, so in the accompanying text only narratives relating to the genesis of things are included. The following comments may serve to aid the scholar who would study these narratives at first hand, giving him what the author regards, as the most apparent viewpoints of their relators and originators:

It must not be overlooked that these texts represent largely the spoken language of to-day, conveying the modern thought of the people, although there are many survivals, in both word and concept from older generations and past planes of thought. These archaisms

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when encountered appear enigmatic and quaint, and are not understood by the uninformed. The relators themselves often do not know the signification of the terms they employ. The author has attempted, where it appeared needful, to reduce evident metaphors to statements of concrete things which gave rise originally to the figures of speech.

The attempts of a primitive people to give in the form of a narrative the origins and to expound the causes of things, the sum of which constitutes their philosophy, assume in time the form of cosmologic legends or myths. In these legends are stored the combined wisdom and speculations of their wise men, their ancients, their prophets, and their soothsayers.

By primitive man all motions and activities were interpreted as manifestations of life and will. Things animate and things inanimate were comprised in one heterogeneous class, sharing a common nature. All things, therefore, were thought to have life and to exercise will, whose behests were accomplished through orenda--that is, through magic power, reputed to be inherent in all things. Thus, all phenomena, all states, all changes, and all activity were interpreted as the results of the exercise of magic power directed by some controlling mind. The various beings and bodies and operations of environing nature were interpreted strictly in terms of the subjective self. Into the known world self was projected. The wind was the breath of some person. The lightning was the winking of some person's eyes. The generative or reproductive power in nature was personified, and life and growth were in the, fostering care of this personage.

Upon the concepts evolved from their impressions of things and from their experience with the, bodies of their environment rest the authority for men's doctrines and the reasons for their rites and core, monies. Hence arises the great importance of recording, translating, and interpreting from the vernacular the legends constituting the cosmology of peoples still largely dominated by the thoughts peculiar to the cultural stage of imputative and self-centered reasoning. The great difficulty of accurately defining and interpreting the ideas of primitive man without a deep and detailed study and a close translation of the words embodying these ideas renders it imperative for their correct apprehension that they be carefully recorded in tile vernacular, and that there be made not only a free, but also a literal rendering of the record, in such wise that the highly subjective thought of barbaric man may be cast, so far as is possible, into the more objective phraseology of science and enlightenment. By this means it is possible to obtain a juster and more accurate comprehension and interpretation of the thoughts and conceptions underlying and interwoven with the cosmologic and other legends of primitive man than that obtained by the ordinary method of recording only a free and popular version of them.

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A fact of great importance made evident in these texts is that anthropic persons, called man-beings in the accompanying translations, were, in Iroquoian thought, the primal beings. They were the first to exercise the functions and to experience the lot of their several kinds. Sometimes these first beings have been called the prototypes of the things of like kind which are to-day. Some of these beings were mere fictions, figures of speech made concrete and objective. They were not beasts, but they belonged to a rather vague class, of which man was the characteristic type. To speak with the logicians, no other deduction from the intension and the extension of the term oñgwe, man-being), appears sufficiently broad to set forth the true interpretation of the personages the narrative of whose lives and acts constitutes the subject matter of these texts. Among these primal beings may be named Daylight, Earthquake, Winter, Medicine, Wind, or Air, Life (germination), and Flower. So it seems evident from this fact that beast powers, the so-called beast gods, were not the first beings or chief actors at the beginning of time.

Beast gods appear later. In the development of Iroquoian thought, beasts and animals, plants and trees, rocks, and streams of water, having human or other effective attributes or properties in a paramount measure, were naturally regarded as the controllers of those attributes or properties, which could be made available by orenda or magic power. And thus began the reign of the beast gods, plant gods, tree gods, and their kind. The signification of the Iroquoian term usually rendered into English by the term "god" is "disposer," or "controller." This definition supplies the reason that the reputed controllers of the operations of nature received worship and prayers. To the Iroquois god and controller are synonymous terms.

From the very nature of the subject-matter and the slow acquirement of new ideas and development of concepts, the content of a cosmologic myth or legend must be the result of a gradual combination and readjustment of diverse materials, which, in the flux of time, are recast many times into new forms to satisfy the growing knowledge and wider experience and deeper research of the people among whom the myth is current. In different branches of a cognate group of peoples the old materials, the old ideas and concepts, modified by accultural influences and by new and alien ideas, may be combined and arranged in quite unlike forms, and hence arise varying versions of a cosmogonic legend. These different versions modify the thought contemporary with them, and are in turn still further changed by accultural influences and motives arising from the activities of the people. And in later times, when they no longer constitute the chief body of the philosophy of the people, these legends and stories concerning the causes and beginnings of things are called myths.

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As has been suggested, the development of legend is not always internal, from the activities of the people dealing with the materials supplied by the legend itself, but often, and naturally from alien material, from ideas and concepts consciously or unconsciously adopted from other peoples. And thus older forms and concepts, the ancient dogmas, are displaced or changed by accultural influence, and by a more definite knowledge of nature acquired through a wider experience, a closer observation, and a more discriminating interpretation and apprehension of environing phenomena. Cosmologies, therefore, are composite, representing the accumulated explanations of many things by many generations in diverse times. The correct and fundamental analysis must therefore seek by a wide comparison of materials to separate the accultural from the autochthonous product. This analysis, however, can bring to light only such material as still exhibits by some marked token of incongruity its alien origin; for it is obvious that accultural matter in time becomes so thoroughly assimilated and recast that a more or less complete congruity is established between it and the cosmologic material with which it is joined, but to which it is, in fact, alien. Furthermore, where reason demands it, metaphor and personification must he reduced to concrete statement of objective facts upon which the original figurative expressions were founded; in short, the process resulting in metaphor and personification must be carefully retraced, so far as it may be possible so to do from the materials in hand.

It must not be overlooked that although these legends concerning the beginnings of things are usually called myths, creation stories, or cosmogonies, the terms myth and creation are, in fact, misnomers. In all of these narratives, except such is are of modern date, creation in the modern acceptation of the word is never signified, nor is it even conceived; and when these legends or narratives are called in myths, it is because a full comprehension and a correct interpretation of them have to a large extent been lost or because they have been supplanted by more accurate knowledge, and they are related without a clear conception of what they were designed to signify, and rather from custom than as the source of the major portion of the customs and ceremonies and opinions in vogue among the people relating them.

Five different versions of the Iroquoian cosmology have been recorded by the author at different times from 1889 to 1900. Of these only three appear in the following pages, namely, one Onondaga, one Mohawk, and one Seneca, legend.

The first text is in Onondaga version of the Iroquoian cosmology, obtained in 1S89 on the Grand River reservation, Canada, from the late chief and fire-keeper, John Buck, of the Onondaga tribe. Afterward, in 1897, it was revised and somewhat enlarged by the aid of Mr Joshua Buck, a son of the first relator. It is not as long as the Mohawk

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text printed herewith because the relator seemed averse to telling more than a brief outline of the legend. A version in the Onondaga, much longer and fuller than any herewith printed, has been recorded from the mouth of Chief John Arthur Gibson, and will be printed in a later report of the Bureau.

The second text is a Seneca version of the cosmologic legend, obtained in 1896 on the Cattaraugus reservation, in the western part of the State of York. from the late Mr John Armstrong, of Seneca-Delaware-English mixed blood, an intelligent and conscientious annalist. Later, at various times, it was revised in this office with the assistance of Mr Andrew John.

The last text in order is a Mohawk version, obtained in 1896 and 1897 on the Grand River reservation in Canada from Mr Seth Newhouse, an intelligent and educated member of the Mohawk tribe.

In general outlines the legend, as related here, is identical with that found among all of the northern tribes of the Iroquoian stock of languages. It is told partly in the language of tradition and ceremony, which is formal, sometimes quaint, sometimes archaic, frequently mystical, and largely metaphorical. But the figures of speech are made concrete by the elementary thought of the Iroquois, and the metaphor is regarded as a fact.

Regarding the subject-matter of these texts, it may be said that it is in the main of aboriginal origin. The most marked post-Columbian modification is found in the portion relating to the formation of the physical bodies of man and of the animals and plants, in that relating to the idea of a hell, and in the adaptation of the rib story from the ancient Hebrew mythology in connection with the creation of woman. These alien elements are retained in the texts to show by concrete examples how such foreign material may be adopted and recast to conform to the requirements of its new setting. In the translation some of the quaintness of the original is retained, as well as some of its seeming tautology. No liberty, however, has been taken with the text, either in the way of emendation or addition or in rendering them into English. They are given exactly is related. It may possibly be objected that the interlinear and the free translations are too literal; but the aboriginal thought, however commonplace, figurative, poetical, is set forth as simply and with as strict a rendering of the original as the matter and thought contained in it permit. It is no ready task to embody in the language of enlightenment the thought of barbarism. The viewpoint of the one plane of thought differs much from that of the other.

The idea that the bodies of man and of the animals were created directly out of specific portions of the earth by Tharonhiawakon a is a comparatively modern and erroneous interpretation of the original

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concept. The error is due largely to the influence of the declaration of like import in the Semitic mythology found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the figurative character of which is usually not apprehended. The thought originally expressed by the ancient teachers of the Iroquoian and other barbaric peoples was that the earth through the life, or life power, innate and immanent in its substance--the life personated by Tharonhiawakon a--by feeding itself to them produces plants and fruits and vegetables which serve as food for birds and animals, all which in their turn become food for men, a process whereby the life of the earth is transmuted into that of man and of all living things. Hence. the Iroquois consistently say, in addressing the earth, "Eithinoha," "our Mother." Thus in 1896 the authors late friend, Mr David Stephens, a grave Seneca priest and philosopher, declared to him that the earth or ground is living matter, and that the tender plantlet of the bean and the sprouting germ of the corn nestling therein receive through their delicate rootlets the life substance from the earth; that, thus, the earth indeed feeds itself to them; that, since what is supplied to them is living matter, life in them is produced and conserved, and that as food the ripened corn and bean and their kinds, thus produced, create and develop the life of man and of all living things. Hence it is seen that only in this metaphorical manner Tharonhiawakon, the personified life immanent in the matter of the earth, creates daily, and did in the beginning of time create man find all living things out of the earth. But the fiat creation of man and things from nothing or from definite portions of clay or earth, as the potter makes pottery, never is involved in the earliest known conceptions of the beginning of things. In the quaint protology, or science of first things, of the Iroquois things are derived from things through transformation and evolution. The manner in which the earth or dry land itself was formed, as detailed in the Onondaga and the Mohawk texts, is an apt example of this statement.

Another misapprehended figure of speech is expressed in the popular dogma of the virgin, or parthenogenetic, conception, which in this, as in other cosmologies, affects one of the chief persons. This is, however, a metaphor as old as the earliest philosophies of man. And some of the most beautiful and touching thoughts and activities of both barbaric and enlightened man rest on the too literal acceptation of the figurative statement of a great fact of life, attested by all human experience, namely, that breath (spirit, air, wind, atmos, atman) is the principle of life and feeling, and that without it there can be no manifestation of life. This is the key to the riddle of the virgin. or parthenogenetic, conception. It is made very clear in the

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[paragraph continues] Onondaga version. The fact and the idea are matters of experience in all times and in all lands.

While in general outlines and in the sum of incidents comprised in them the several versions of the cosmologic story of the Iroquois substantially accord, there are nevertheless marked divergences in both structure and matter, which in time, by further development from accultural and other potent causes, would necessarily cause them to be regarded as quite different legends in source and meaning; and this emphasizes the great and fundamental fact that all legends are the gradual result of combination from many sources by many minds in many generations.

Most of the characteristic incidents related in these legends are widely prevalent over the American continent, occurring among peoples speaking tongues of widely different linguistic stocks and dwelling in widely separated habitats. It should not be assumed that these coincidences are indubitably due to accultural influences, but rather that they indicate universality of the natural phenomena from which the incidents, embodied are drawn. Among these coincidences may be mentioned that of the seclusion of the members of the animal world in a vast cavern by one of the chief characters of the legends, Winter, the man-being of frosts and snow and ice. This episode evidently portrays the annual hibernation of the animals and insects and the migration of the birds caused by the winter power, which is called Tawiskaron by the Mohawks, a Ohaä by the Onondagas, and Othä’kwenda’ by the Senecas.

The author desires to acknowledge his many obligations to the officers and staff of the Bureau of American Ethnology, for most kindly advice, wise counsel, and many valuable suggestions, especially to the late Director, Major John Wesley Powell; to Professor W J McGee, formerly Ethnologist in Charge; to Professor William Henry Holmes. the present Chief of the Bureau, and to Herbert Spencer Wood, editor, who has also kindly performed the irksome task of correcting the proofs of the texts and translations while they were passing through the press.

Alphabet and abbreviations


as in far, father; Gm. haben; Sp. ramo.


the same sound prolonged.


as in what; Gm. man.


as in hat, man.


the same sound prolonged.


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as in law, all; Fr. o in or.


as in aisle, as i in pine, find; Gr. Hain.


as ou in out, as ow in how; Gm. haus; Sp. auto.


as sh in shall; G. sch in schellen; Fr. ch in charmer.


as th in health.


pronounced with the tip of the tongue touching the upper teeth as in enunciating the English th; this is the only sound of d in this language.


as in they; Gm. Dehnung; Fr. né; Sp. qué.


as in then, met; Gm. denn; Fr. sienne; Sp. comen.


as in waif.


as in gig; Gm. geben; Fr. goût; Sp. gozar.


as in has, he; Gm. haben.


as in pique, machine.


the same sound prolonged.


as in pick, pit.


as in kick.


as in nun, run.


as ng in sing, ring.


as in note, rote.


as ch in Gm. ich.


slightly trilled; but in Mohawk it closely approximates an l sound.


as in sop, see.


pronounced with the tip of the tongue touching the upper teeth as in enunciating the English th, this is the only sound of t in this language.


as in rule; Gm. du; Fr. ou in doux; Sp. uno.


is in rut, shut.


as in wit, witch.


as in yes, yet.


as j in judge.


as wh in what.


as ch in church.


marks nasalized vowels, thus, en, on, ain, ĕn, än.

indicates an aspiration or soft emission of breath, which is initial or final, thus, ‘h, ĕn‘, o‘.

marks a sudden closure of the glottis, or sound, thus, ’a, o’, ä’, än’.


marks the accented syllable of every word.


in this combination t and h are always pronounced

In the literal (interlinear) translation the following abbreviations denoting gender have been used: z. = zoic; anthr. = anthropic; m. = masculine; fem. = feminine; indef. = indefinite.


137:a "He grasps the sky (by memory)."

138:a He is also called Odendonnia, Sprout, or Sapling, and Ioskaha, having apparently the same meaning.

139:a The Mohawk epithet is commonly interpreted "flint," but its literal and original meaning "crystal-clad" or "ice-clad," the two significations being normal, as crystal, flint and ice have a similar aspect and fracture. The original denotation is singularly appropriate for Winter. The last two names do not connote ice, but simply denote flint.

Next: An Onondaga Version