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Native American Legends: Hiawatha

Name: Hiawatha
Tribal affiliation: Iroquois
Alternate spellings: Ayenwatha, Ayonwatha, Hayenwatha, Aiionwatha, Haiëñ'wa'tha, Haio Hwa Tha, Aiewáhtha, Hayehwatha, Ayonwentah, Hayowentha, Hayenhwata', Haion-hwa-tha
Pronunciation: varies by language: in Mohawk it is pronounced hah-yunh-watt-hah.
Type: Legendary hero, chief, peace maker

The legend of Hiawatha has forever been confused by Longfellow's epic poem "Song of Hiawatha"-- Longfellow based his poem entirely on stories of the Chippewa culture hero Manabozho, but decided at the last minute that this name was too difficult to pronounce and subsituted the Iroquois name Hiawatha instead. Other than both being highly respected heroic figures of Native American legend, Hiawatha and Manabozho have nothing in common whatsoever, and we don't know of even one traditional story that is told in common between these two heroes.

Hiawatha is a legendary peace chief of the Iroquois tribes, and one of the founders of the Iroquois Confederacy who negotiated the first peace between the tribes. He helped to establish the Great Law that governed the Iroquois, and according to many, forbade violent previous practices such as cannibalism, human sacrifice, and black magic. The details of Hiawatha's story vary significantly between different Iroquois communities. In some stories, he is portrayed as a lionized historical figure, similar to George Washington; in others, as a mythic hero with magical powers, more similar to Odysseus. In some tellings Hiawatha is associated with the creator god Tarenyawagon (Sky-Holder), considered as either his reincarnation or descendant. And in some legends Hiawatha is considered the primary uniter of the Iroquois tribes, while in others, he is presented as a disciple or assistant to the Great Peacemaker.

Even Hiawatha's name fluctuates from tradition to tradition, since it sounds similar to several different words in the various Iroquois languages: Iroquois speakers have translated his name as either "he makes rivers," "he makes a wampum belt," or "he combs." Hiawatha is indeed often credited with having created the first wampum belt, and in many versions of the story, he cures or redeems a monstrous Onondaga chief by combing snakes from his hair.

Hiawatha Stories

*Hiawatha the Unifier * Hiawatha Tarenyawagon:
    Iroquois legend about the Sky-Holder manifesting as the peace chief Hiawatha.
*De-Ka-Nah-Wi-Da and Hiawatha * Birth of a Nation * Deganawida and Hiawatha:
    Haudenosaunee stories about the legendary heroes Hiawatha and the Peacemaker.

Recommended Books of Hiawatha Stories
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White Roots of Peace: Iroquois Book of Life:
    A good rendition of the epic of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker.
Peace Walker: The Legend of Hiawatha and Tekanawita:
    Illustrated story of the founding of the Iroquois League by a Mohawk author and artist.
Hiawatha and the Great Peace:
    Another interesting book about the legend and history of Hiawatha and the Iroquois Confederacy.
Hiawatha: Messenger of Peace:
    Biography of the Iroquois leader Hiawatha.
The Great Law and the Longhouse:
    Book about the Iroquois legal and political system, founded by Hiawatha and the Peace Maker.

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Additional Resources

 Iroquois Confederacy
 Iroquois culture
 Iroquois language family
 Mohawk language
 Onondaga language
 Tribes of New York
 Northeast Woodland

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