For the most part the Haudenosaunee way of life was built upon a series of values. Values like respect for all including the natural world and respect for the seventh generation of children. The Haudenosaunee lived off the land and what was provided for them by the Creator (165kb/1sec) . They wanted for nothing as they could attain what they needed from their crops and the food they hunted, gathered or fished.
Haudenosaunee (178kb/2sec) communities consisted of several long, bark covered structures called long houses. These cylindrical buildings often up to 200 feet long housed entire families all linking back to one common female ancestor. There were no locks on doors or really any doors other than flaps of hides. Stealing was nonexistent as the moral shame of it was enough to keep anyone from trying.
Crime in general was not a problem leaving little need for police or prisons. Murder however was at one time punishable by death. In that time the family of the murderer would offer the victim’s family white wampum as repentance. If the victim’s family accepted it the murderer was forgiven. If not the family was allowed to punish the murderer.
Unlike the Europeans of the time Haudenosaunee children had a prominent voice within the communities. Children were educated by their Elders in the traditional teachings and stories were used as a way to create their individual awareness of the importance of culture and community.
Also in opposition to the European settlers the Haudenosaunee viewed woman as leaders within the communities. Perhaps the most significant difference was that Haudenosaunee families are matriarchal with the women controlling the main titles and passing them on to the men. Both men and women had their roles within the community with the men acting as the hunters and protectors and the women managing the household. Even children had their chores working in the fields or learning various skills to help them in adulthood.
Viewed often by settlers as savages needing to be taught the civilized ways of the Europeans it was the settlers who took many traits from the Haudenosaunee. The game of lacrosse observed early on has been adapted into one of Canada’s national sports and even the treatment and stature of women among the Haudenosaunee was used as a basis for women suffragists. Throughout the years since contact non-Aboriginal people have tried to assimilate the Haudenosaunee but the traditions have lived on with Haudenosaunee culture influencing that of the non-Aboriginal.
The Haudenosaunee were well known for agricultural skill. Partly due to the practice of planting crops like corn, beans and squash, sometimes known as the three sisters, together to encourage growth. These three foods, grown together, made up a large portion of the Haudenosaunee diet. The versatility of the corn itself provided a variety of choices. Corn was often ground in a mortar and pestle type instrument consisting of a hollowed out stump to make a wooden mortar and a large, rounded pestle made of wood. Depending on the amount of corn needing to be ground people could work in teams on either side of the stump.
One common dish among the Haudenosaunee (178kb/2sec) was succotash, a stew type meal combining green unripe corn which is scraped from the cob into the pot and combined with unripe beans which had nearly been cooked.
Other dishes were a combination of the three sisters, corn bread, corn soup and a variety of other soups and stews using vegetables and/or beans grown in the fields and a variety of meats from hunting expeditions. Maple syrup and berries were also added as sweeteners to dishes or to water as a beverage.
Foods could also be gathered from the forests and Haudenosaunee women often went in search of mushrooms, berries, roots and shoots and even certain barks which could be used in soup. During hunting expeditions even the men would keep an eye out for certain edibles that could be brought back with them. Nuts were often brought back and included in breads. Among some of the nuts eaten were hickory, walnut, butternut, hazelnut, beechnut, chestnut and acorns. Root plants like wild potato were often used in stews.
Alongside agriculture and gathering, hunting provided many types of meats to be used in various dishes. Deer, bear, beaver, muskrat, rabbits and many types of squirrel were all used in some form or other. Fowl like wild ducks, geese, owls, partridge, quail and woodcock were often boiled until half done and then roasted. Owls are said to be tasty and the oil produced while cooking is saved for use as a medicine. Even reptiles were sometimes eaten including bullfrog and the leopard frog. One of the most common foods was fish which was often gathered in the spring. Fish were often boiled and then fried or added to soups. Eels were also caught and dried or fried.
Food was generally boiled though meats were usually baked or roasted by placing the meat in the ashes. There weren’t many utensils and families usually had spoons just for dishing out food. Foods were eaten with the hands out of bowls made from carved wood or bent bark.
While the Haudenosaunee communities were bustling with chores and every day living, their lives did not consist only of work. Throughout the Haudenosaunee culture were times of celebration and thanksgiving.
Art, sports, games, music and dance were staples in the Haudenosaunee people’s lives and often intertwined in their day to day activities. Every game or piece of art had a second significant purpose. Sports like lacrosse were played by men as a sort of conditioning to maintain and further develop their skills. Baskets, combs and beadwork clothing which are seen as artistic pieces today were made for practical use but with as much love and attention as any artistic piece today.
Music and dance were a major part of the Haudenosaunee lives. Ceremonies and social dances could involve 60 to 70 songs using instruments like water drums (135kb/1sec) and gourd rattles.
While children played, most of their games involved role playing to learn what their mothers or fathers do. For young boys lacrosse (188kb/2sec) was a way of teaching the skills of stealth, strength, agility and speed. Girls played with cornhusk dolls to prepare them for their role as nurturers. Another past time of story telling helped them to learn the stories that taught them their culture and the ways of the Haudenosaunee.
The family structure of the Haudenosaunee is primarily based on the clan system. Families start with a female ancestor with all those dwelling in her long house linking back to her. Each family was called the long house family with the Clan Mother(153kb/1sec) as the head. All female descendents including her sisters, her sisters' daughters, and their daughters would live in the long house their entire lives bringing their husbands to live with them.
Sons stayed in the same house with her until they married and moved into their wife’s house, though they would still be members of their mother's long house (152kb/1sec) and their loyalty would always go there first. Children all lived in the long house where they were surrounded by their family and could be taught by their elders. Every child was welcomed and cared for by its mother, mother’s sisters and their husbands.
Children in the long house family were much closer to the women living in the long house who were more often around while the men were off hunting and trapping. Children called their mother and their mother’s sisters all “mother” leaving them with a great sense of security with so many mothers. Following this, Haudenosaunee children also had many "brothers" and "sisters." They not only referred to their biological siblings as brothers and sisters, but also to their cousins as brothers and sisters.
Traditionally, women handled village concerns like property and crops while men took care of hunting, fishing and trade concerns. No member of a Haudenosaunee family was over looked with Elders holding respected positions within the communities as the wisdom keepers: the ones to impart traditions and to help raise the children.
Misbehaving children were not physically disciplined as Europeans of the time might but instead were punished by having water thrown on them. The idea was that the water would wash away the badness. Older children were dunked in the flow of a stream. If the water method does not work older children and teenagers would be hit three times with a red willow whip, each time asked if they will behave. Usually Haudenosaunee children’s own sense of morals would leave them ashamed and embarrassed of their own actions upon seeing the sadness and disappointment of their Elders.
Family structure today is more like the common nuclear family consisting of a mother, father and children. However, the Haudenosaunee still follow the traditional matriarchal structure with clans being passed down through their mother.
The sense of community valued among the Haudenosaunee nations is mirrored most perfectly in the long house (152kb/1sec) . Long houses, sometimes called bark houses, were a distinctive form of communal housing.
The long cylindrical structures were built to accommodate large extended families often measuring up to 200 feet long and 18 feet wide. Built using saplings set calf-deep into the ground at three foot intervals, the frames extended 18 feet tall and curved at the top. Cord made from wood fibers bound thick sheaths of bark stripped from elm trees to be used as shingles for the walls and roof. Doors at either end were made from bark or hide.
The long houses were windowless save for smoke holes set in the roof at 20 foot intervals with bark or hide hatches which could be used to seal them during poor weather. While these holes supplied ventilation and light along the center of the roof, air quality was still often poor inside with some people suffering respiratory problems and eye ailments.
Whole extended clan (143kb/1sec) families dwelled in these structures, all able to trace their descent to a common female ancestor. Living in compartment like structures within the house Haudenosaunee families shared common fire pits with the family in the compartment across from them. Long houses were separated into compartments by wood screens creating walls with a common doorway which opened to a corridor stretching the length of the longhouse. Individual compartments consisted of a low platform raised a foot off the ground and covered with reed or cornhusk mats and hides. This platform served as a bed for the entire family at night and sitting area during the day. Families could store supplies on an additional platform built at a level of seven feet. Special treasures were said to be tucked into dug outs underneath the sleeping platform.
It’s a common myth that all native people used teepees as their shelters. These types of dwellings were used mostly by the Plains nations who often migrated following the buffalo herds. Long houses were built for families who intended to stay in one place. Once a decade, a nation might decide to relocate once the farming land and resources in that particular area had been exhausted.
Hunters on an extended trip might use something called a "lead too" while on his voyage. This was simply pine boughs layered on the ground and a pine bough type rough to shelter them from the elements.
One of the biggest changes to Haudenosaunee traditional life came about after European contact. Prior to contact Haudenosaunee nations had little want for anything other than food, tobacoo, furs and quahog shells for making wampum. Nations traded amongst each other and with neighbouring nations.
With French, English and Dutch settlers establishing communities in North America the Haudenosaunee (178kb/2sec) began to acquire goods like metal axes, knives and hoes. The Europeans for their part desired the beaver furs captured by Haudenosaunee hunters for use in clothing, hats and blankets. In exchange they offered the Haudenosaunee cooking pots, needles, scissors, woven cloth and eventually guns.
Settlers formed an alliance with the Haudenosaunee who very quickly became middlemen in the fur trade helping to regulate the flow of furs coming from western nations to the traders in the east. Sadly, the fight for prized furs and European goods took its toll and was the key reason for a number of wars including the 70 – year Beaver Wars.
Living off what was available in their natural surroundings, theHaudenosaunee made clothing from woven natural fibers, hides from elk or deer, and furs from woodland animals like rabbits or bears. Even corn husks could me used to make moccasins.
The deer was one of the most important animals for the Haudenosaunee nations as every part was used. Its meat provided nourishment, its hides were used for clothing, the sinew was used for thread and its bones were used as tools or ornaments. Hides were tanned and stretched into soft leather before being used for clothing or footwear. This was done by soaking the skins for several days before loosening any fur and drying it. Smoking the skins produced a different colour and made the hides water resistant.
Men and women added embellishments to their clothing using wooden beads, feathers and porcupine quills. These embellishments could be symbols of clans or artistic expressions of the creation story. Deer hooves were also used on dancer regalia to create a jingling garter. Once Europeans began to settle in North America other fibers and decorations were introduced and women began to make clothing out of broadcloth. The Haudenosaunee people also began to replace the wooden beads with glass ones and used more synthetic fibers. While the materials changed the styles remained the same.
By 1900s most Haudenosaunee families were wearing the same clothing as the settlers opting for suits over breechcloths and leggings. As the styles changed throughout the century the Haudenosaunee adopted jeans and t-shirts common on most people today. To this day however most nations still wear traditional clothing to long house (152kb/1sec) ceremonies or special events.
The primary garment for men of most nations was breech cloth. This was a long rectangular piece of cloth or sometimes soft buckskin worn between the legs and secured on a belt. This type of clothing is also known as breechclout, loincloth or clout. For special occasions a man might also wear an apron or breechcloth cover. This is a specially embroidered panel with intricate beadwork or embellished with porcupine quills. To cover bare legs men wore long leggings which connected to the belt on their breechcloth. Men might also wear kilts made of soft skins.
Every nation had some type of moccasin or foot covering. Mocassins were low, soft soled foot coverings made of tougher buckskins. Some had decorated flaps that were sewn on after the original construction was done making them easier to remove and add to new moccasins when the old ones wore out. Because they were not always the most durable on hunting trips extra moccasins were often brought along. In the winter moccasins were often made of bear skins with the fur turned inside.
Finally gustoweh’s (133kb/1sec) were an important piece of men’s clothing as it was a piece of his identity. A gustoweh is a frame or cap headpiece decorated with beads and most importantly feathers attached in a way that distinguished different nations. For example the Mohawk nation’s gustoweh contains three upright eagle feathers.
Women generally wore skirts and tunics or poncho type shirts or dresses. Simple skirts could be a large piece of hide tied around the waste, but could be fringed at the bottom. Women might wear breechcloths underneath their skirts or dresses but they were never worn as outer clothing. Women also wore leggings but theirs were often shorter only coming up to just above the knee. Women’s moccasins were much the same as men though cut slightly different. Women did not wear gustowehs but would cover their heads in a wrap or hood in colder weather.
Children and Babies
Haudenosaunee children dressed in similar clothing to their parents including breech cloths and tunics. The clothing for children was to promote free movement and independance. Babies were usually swaddled and carried on a cradle board until they were old enough to walk.