Hayehwatha was an Iroquois Indian who lived sometime around 990. (see Iroquois Confederacy Date). He was one of the founders of the Iroquois Confederacy and a great Peacemaker.
There is no written history of Hayehwatha that covers his entire life. And while the history of Hayehwatha varies somewhat (including the spelling of people’s names), the following is most frequently written about Hayehwatha.
Hayehwatha resided in the area of Lake Ontario (in present day New York). During his time warfare and feuding were a way of life among the Iroquois people.
The most feared warrior, and great sorcerer was Tadodaho (Adadarho), a chief of the Onondaga nation.
At that time Hayehwatha, also a chief, tried to reform Tadodaho, but Tadodaho regarded Hayehwatha’s peacemaking efforts with contempt.
The Three Daughters
Hayehwatha campaigned for peace, friendship and cooperation. After a grand council meeting where Hayehwatha’s proposals were presented, Hayehwatha’s eldest daughter became sick and died. Her death was attributed to Tadodaho’s sorcery.
Hayehwatha called a second council and after that council, the second of Hayehwatha’s daughters died, in the same manner.
Again Hayehwatha called a third council during which time Tadodaho had one of his warriors shoot an eagle. The eagle fell to the ground next to Hayehwatha’s third daughter who was trampled to death when the warriors rushed toward the eagle.
Overcome with grief Hayehwatha went to live in the forest as a recluse.
Another story developed during this time regarding a man named Deganawidah.
A woman and child escaped the dangers of war by going into the forest to live. In a dream the mother was told that her daughter would have a divine birth and the child would have a special mission to promote peace among men. The child named Deganawidah grew up in the forest and went forth to announce to the people the Good Message, the Power, and the Peace, three concepts that together unified the separate nations of the Iroquois people.
Some of the history books say that Hayehwatha met Deganawidah while he was in the forest and Hayehwatha became Deganawidah’s most loyal collaborator, traveling with Deganawidah from settlement to settlement to share the Good Message, the Power and the Peace. At the Mohawk settlement Deganawidah confered the title of Hayehwatha for the first time. In other versions Hayehwatha already has this name by the time he meets Deganawidah.
Some books state that Hayehwatha’s three daughters died during the Mohawk settlement meeting.
Broken hearted, Hayehwatha left the settlement to await the arrival of Deganawidah at Standing Stone ( an Oneida village).
During the night Hayehwatha took sumac twigs, cored them, cut them into short lengths and strung them up, producing several short strands. Hayehwatha hung them on a horizontally suspended rod.
Other men saw these string objects. They interpreted the objects to be an invitation to lead the condoler (Hayehwatha) to their settlement. These objects became the origin of the ‘invitation wampum’ in Iroquois history.
- Gibson, John Arthur. Concerning the League. The Iroquois League Tradition as Dictated in Onondaga. Canada: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics, 1992
- Graymont, Barbara. Indians of North America: The Iroquois. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988