The first settlement of Iroquois can be traced to south of Lake Ontario. The settlement is believed to have happened around the same time they started growing corn. The population grew into a sizable number after that. Iroquois as we know today is a combination of five tribes that entered into a peace treaty and created a Confederacy. They were the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Oneidas. These five tribes were later joined by the Tuscarora. This treaty is considered as the world’s first sign of a democratic alliance. The Iroquois used warfare to expand their territory to Kentucky and the Mississippi river.
Religion and belief system
The popular mythology behind the religion of Iroquois is about a woman that fell from the sky. Holy-men and spirits that were evoked played an important role in religious rituals and decision making process of the Iroquois. One such ritual was peacemaking which was an important element to keep the Iroquois Confederacy together. Among the many holy-men, Huron is considered to be the one who is believed to have brought the entire Confederacy together based on a vision he received from the creator that there should be peace and cooperation among all Iroquois.
Translation of dreams too played an important part in earlier Iroquois culture which guided them about their lives. It helped them in their hunting, farming, fishing, war, marriages etc. The Iroquois believed in multiple gods and goddesses such as the Great Spirit, the Thunderer and the spirit of the three sisters (the corn, bean and the squash) etc.
Socio-economic and political backdrop
The people of Iroquois lived in a very distinct type of house commonly known as the long house. A single long house made of evergreen trees and bark of elm trees were home to about 20 families. Each village were fenced all around with posts.
Iroquois were skilled agriculturists. Situated in the land next to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, it gave an added boost to agriculture. Apart from corn, they also grew beans and squash which were considered the three sisters and were also considered as special gifts from the creator. The strategy behind growing all the three crops together were that while the cornstalks grew, the bean plants climb the stalks and the squash grew beneath inhibiting the growth of weeds and keeping the soil moist. They also hunted animals, gathered berries and fished apart from agriculture. Trading of fur was another important contributor to the economy of Iroquois. The villagers usually relocated when the land would be lose all its fertility.
Six tribes had a common council and each tribe had a vote. Solutions to issues or discussion of any matter were reached a consensus through meetings. Unlike most civilizations in the Western World, Iroquois women got a fair treatment. Oldest woman in a clan held one of the most important roles and was responsible to take care of welfare of the clan. Her duties included finding match for marriage, choosing the male candidate for the position of the chief and monitor his duties.
Art and culture
While Iroquois men were protectors of the community, they were also traditionally hunters and warriors too; the women took care of the houses, farmed, cook and ensured functioning of the house. Women also created many artistic pieces such as clothes, jewellery etc.
During healing ceremonies, an elaborately carved face mask popularly known as the “False Face Mask) were worn by the peacemakers to represent spirits. False faces were considered as the ancestors of the Iroquois. Both women and men were appointed as keepers of the faith. Iroquois celebrated six major festivals in a year. The celebration of festivals included a spiritual ritual, feasting, sports, entertainment and dancing.
The people of Iroquois
The advancement in agriculture along with being an imperialist society made it possible for them to support a large number of population. These were further aided with rapid expansion and war against Algonquain peoples. The people of Iroquois which maintained peace among the tribes and security from the external enemies with a society that was based on the ideals of brotherhood, if not hampered would have survived to build a great civilization.