One of the most respected resources on Traditional Haudenosaunee life is Traditional Teachings, from the Ronathahon:ni Cultural Centre.  With the kind permission of the Centre, Grand River Branch shares the Creation Story and invites you to contact the Centre if you have further questions.


The Creation Story

   The story comes from the earliest time in our language - a time when our language, symbols, beliefs, the world we saw around us, and life as we understand it - were completely different from the way we understand them now.  We lived in a complete world.  This story expresses our understanding of we came to this complete world.

The Sky World

   The story says that there was another place not of this world where people lived.  The life of that world was very similar to the life of this world.  The Beings that walked about up there were very similar to ourselves and enjoyed many of the same things that we enjoy, such as the birds and other creatures.

   There were various kinds of trees up there, but in the centre of that place grew a special kind of tree.  The best way to describe that tree in English is by calling it "the tree of life".  It was in the centre of their world.  There was a man living there who was given the task of protecting that tree, looking after it and caring for it.  The "tree of life" was not supposed to be marked or disturbed

 by any of the beings who lived in that world.  From that tree grew all kinds of branches and all sorts of fruit.  In that world, the man who was taking care of that sacred tree got married.  Not long after, his wife became pregnant, so she and her husband made plans to prepare for a family.  The man soon found out that his wife was very demanding and hard to please.  He would go out of his way to make her happy but was seldom successful.

   The woman soon developed a yearning for strange foods, as women often do when they are expecting a child.  She enticed her husband into brining various delicacies to eat.  As days turned into months, this woman became curious about the tree with its various fruits.  The woman suddenly decided that she wanted some of the bark, roots and fruits from the "tree of life" to help satisfy her appetite, but her husband would not hear of it.  This, however, did not stop her curiosity.

   There were times when she dreamed that there was something beneath the tree, that there was something beyond... below that world... that there was some other place, some other life.  She kept kept considering this, wondering about it.  She kept asking her husband what he knew about it.  He didn't know anything about it, because he never dug around that tree or tampered with it.  She kept after her husband until she finally convinced him to dig around the area of the tree's roots.

   When they uprooted the tree, they saw beneath, a huge hole.  She looked inside the hole, and she couldn't see anything, for it was dark as far as she could see.  She leaned further into the hole and started fall from her world.  Then, she reached around quickly and tried to grab something so as to save herself, but she couldn't.  As she fell, with one hand, she grabbed a strawberry plant.  With the other hand, she grabbed tobacco leaves.

   The story tells us that she fell through the hole for a very long time.  She fell into blackness and kept falling.  Around her, she could hear a whooshing sound, a sound that was very similar to a bird rattle.  This was the sound she heard as she fell.

   After a long period of falling, she saw beneath her a great body of water.  On that water, there were all kinds of water fowl living, and when they saw this being falling from the sky, they flew up together to see what it was.  They got very close together and caught her.

   While they were brining her down, they were wondering where this woman came from.  Close to the water, a giant sea turtle was beginning to surface.  They called down to him and asked him if it was possible to put this woman on his back.  The turtle said it would be okay.  So, the beings of this world gathered around her and began talking to her.

   They asked who she was and where she was from.  She told them how she missed her home, and that she was lonely.  They asked her what they could do to make her more comfortable and happy now that she was in their home.  She saw what she was missing - "What I don't see here that is in my world is land.  All there is here is water."

   The water beings told her, "Underneath the water there is land.  If that will make you happy, we will try to go down and get some for you."   The different beings started trying to dive down to get what they could, but one after the other, they failed.  The beaver tried first and failed, then the loon, the duck, seagull, etc.  They all experienced the same fate.

  The land was so far beneath the water that many of them couldn't get to it.  They would come to the surface belly up.  Finally, the otter offered to try.  He went down deep and got a little bit of earth.  When he hit the surface, he died... but in his paws was a little bit of earth.  They took the dirt and put it on the back of the giant sea turtle.

   Once this was done, a strange transformation began to take place.  The earth and the turtle began to grow and spread.  To keep the earth growing, the woman walked in a circle, following the direction of the sun.  It wasn't long before she had a very large place to stand.  All around her was land.  This land began to develop and take shape.  Not long after the land formed, the woman gave birth to a baby girl.  This new world was now their home.

   As years passed, the woman and her daughter did their best to adapt to their new surroundings.  One night, after her daughter had developed to maturity, she was visited by a spirit of the "west wind".

  As the daughter gazed upon her visitor, she felt uneasy, but a strange feeling overcame her, and she fainted into a peaceful sleep.  Later, her mother came by to awaken her and found two crossed arrows on her stomach.  One was sharp, and the other was blunt.  She realized what had happened, that her daughter had become pregnant.  She realized also that her daughter was going to have twins.

   When the time came for them to be born, she cam birth to twin sons.  The first one that was born came out the right way.  He was in good form, good to look at, and didn't have anything wrong with him.  When the other one was born, he didn't come out the right way.  He broke through the mother's side, and, in so doing, killed her.

   Our elders say that even while she was carrying them in her womb, the two sons would argue and have fights.  As soon as they were born the right-handed twin asked his brother why he had decided not to come into the world the natural way, thus saving his mother's life.  An argument began, but their Grandmother told them to stop their quarrelling.

   The Grandmother buried her daughter and planted in her grave the plants and leaves that she had clutched in her hands when she fell from the sky world.  Not long after, over her daughter's head grew corn, beans, and squash.  There were later known as the "three sisters" and became the main life support groups for the people of the "HOTINONSHONNI".  From her heart grew the sacred tobacco which would later be used as an offering to send greetings to the Creator.  at her feet grew the strawberry plants, as well as other plants that would be used as medicines to cure sickness.  The earth itself was referred to as "OUR MOTHER" by the Master of Life, because their mother had become one with the earth.

   It was then up to the Grandmother to raise the twins.  The Grandmother gave the twins their names.  The left-handed she called " Sawiskera" (Mischievous One), and the right-handed twin was given the name "Teharonhiawako" (Holder of the Heavens).  The Grandmother made a mistake in thinking that it was Teharonhiawako, the one who looked right, that was responsible for the death of her daughter.

   Now that she had the responsibility of raising the twins, and because she felt bad that her daughter had been killed, she started mistreating Teharonhiawako and giving more attention to Sawiskera.  By the time the twins grew up to be men, their Grandmother was old and ready to die.  They came to their Grandmother who had raised them, but who had also been mistaken about what had happened to her daughter.

   Teharonhiawako felt bad that his Grandmother had favoured his brother during their youth.  He also felt that she blamed him for the death of their mother.  In spite of this, he still loved his Grandmother.  This was revealed in one of the arguments the twins had over their Grandmother when she died.

   Sawiskera wanted to kick her body off the edge of the world, and into the water.  But the other one said, "No!  The best thing to do is to place her back into the earth, because she felt so strongly about being a part of the earth."  In the course of the argument, they fought over the body.  Somehow, Sawiskera pulled the head off their Grandmother's body, and it was thrown up into the air.  This is why within our tradition, we talk about our Grandmother, the Moon, who helps brighten the night world for her favourite Grandson, the left-handed twin, Sawiskera.

   Teharonhiawako took her body away and put her back into the earth.  Then, he began to go about this world, creating things we understand - the various animals, different medicines, flowers, all the different things. - but as he was going around doing this, his brother was right behind him making his own creations.

   Sawiskera tried to create beings himself, and they came out looking ugly.  He also tried to alter what his brother had made.  Teharonhiawako made the rose, and his brother put thorns on it.  Teharonhiawako created the deer, elk and moose, and Sawiskera altered the mind of the mountain lion to kill these mild-mannered creatures.  Teharonhiawako would create beautiful trees, and his brother would refashion them to create the opposite side effect.  This went on until Teharonhiawako created everything he could think of , but his brother was always behind him, disrupting or altering what he created.  At the end, it seemed that everything balanced out evenly.  But it always looked like one would win over the other.

  Finally, Teharonwiawako got tired of this constant tampering and confronted his brother.  They entered into a discussion, finally agreeing to a contest to see who would be "The Ruler of The World".

   The first contest the played was a form of the lacrosse game, but after six days, it ended in a draw.  Then, they played the great peach bowl game, and again, after six days, it ended in a draw.  Finally, they agreed that they must fight until one of them was a clear winner.  Sawiskera fashioned himself a spear, while Teharonwiawako took the antlers of a deer to defend himself.  After many days of fighting, Sawiskera appeared to gain the upper edge on his brother.  Finally, he lunged at his brother and fell on top of the deer antlers, disabling him.

   Teharonwiawako didn't want to kill his brother or do anything terrible to him, so what they did was divide the world in half.  The night time would belong to Sawiskera, and Teharonwiawako would get the day time.  Sawiskera would take his part of the world and his time of doing things.  He warned his brother that he would always be there and would be thinking about how he had bee beaten and how he was going to get revenge, so they agreed to split up.

  Teharonwiawako hadn't finished his creation yet.  There was one more thing he wanted to do.

The Origin of Man

  When Teharonwiawako created all the waters, plants, trees and animals of the world, he decided that he should create a being in his likeness from the natural world.

  He wanted this being to have a superiour mind so it would have the responsibility of looking after his creations.  Then he decided that it would be better if he created more than one being and give to each similar instructions and see of over a period of time, they would carry them through.

   All this he did in one day.  He started early in the morning as the sun greeted the new day by picking certain types of bark from the tree life and created human form, reflected against the sky the form gave a yellowish appearance.  Teharonwiawako decided that this would be one type of human that would exist on this world.  After Teharonwiawako finished his first human, he then went to the great salt waters and took from the sea some white foam, together with other elements of the natural world he created another being.  This being appeared pale in contrast to the natural surroundings, but he was satisfied that he has created another special kind of human being.  Next Teharonwiawako travelled to the thickest part of a large forest and brought out some black soil, again with other elements of the natural world he created another human being.  This being was very dark in colour and he was pleased that he had created still another type of being for the world.

  Now Teharonwiawako thought to himself, it is getting towards the end of the day and I have created these three beings, since everything on this world exists in cycles of four, I will create one more being.  Thus he again looked for something different within the natural world and this time he found some reddish-brown earth.  With this he again combined other elements found from the land and created a human being.

 

   Teharonwiawako now gathered the four beings forms into one area and said to himself, "I have been very careful in providing certain characteristics into each form that will reflect their own unique and strong qualities.  I will now give life to each form and see if they benefit from their gifts."

  As the beings came to life he observed just how evident their uniqueness became.  The white being was the first one to move about, he was also the most curious, observing closely all his surroundings.  Next, the black and yellow slowly started to move about.  When the black being picked a brightly coloured object that he was attracted to, the white pounced on him and pushed him to the ground, taking over the object.  At the same instant, the yellow being stood up for the black and soon, a fight broke out between the three.

  Teharonwiawako noticed that the fourth being was still sitting on the ground, camouflaged by his surroundings.  Now it became clear to Teharonwiawako that there was no way these four could exist in the same environment and survive.

   Teharonwiawako stopped their quarrelling and brought them back to one place and told them, "There is a reason why you were not created in the same manner, just as there are birds and animals who look alike, they are different in their ways, and so are you.  They have their own language, their own songs but have learned to share their world.  It is for this reason that I have created you, that in time you will all learn to respect and appreciate your differences.  It is very evident that I can not put you together to watch over my creations, for you would probably destroy it as well as yourselves.  You will need to learn how to get along with each other, as well as with other living things.  I will help you with this, but first I will have to keep you apart.  You will come back together after a time when I have sent a messenger to visit each of you and give you a way to be thankful for the good things, as well as respect for other living creatures."

  Teharonwiawako then took the white, black and yellow beings across the salt waters and placed them far from each other.  The red being he kept at his place of origin.  Teharonwiawako told him, "You will be called Onkwehonwe (original being).  You will call me Sonkwaiatison (The Creator), I have given you the gift of life.  You were created from the earth of this island.  I now realize that you would not survive very long among the others, for you are too much a part of nature, which is good, but you will need time before you come in contact with the other beings.  You will also be given a sacred way by a messenger who will visit you and your descendants."

   Now Teharonwiawako thought to himself, "They will all have a chance to learn of the reason for their existence and of a good way to live."

   In the case of the Onkwehonwe, he followed his instructions and lived in harmony with the natural world.  He knew that if he strayed from his path, that Sonkwaiatison would send a messenger to remind him how to be thankful for his gift of life.

Origin of the Four Sacred Ceremonies

   Before the time of the Peacemaker and Hiawatha, and at a time when the Onkwehonwe were without spiritual beliefs and had had no laws to guide them - the origin of the Four Sacred Ceremonies took place.

    Twelve boys were born at the same time.  Eleven of the children had fathers.  The one who did not have a father was born with a special power.

    Because all their sons were born at the same time, the mothers of these children felt a bond with each other.  Therefore, they often brought their sons together.  Soon they realized that their children had a common bond among themselves.  The one who had no father became their Leader.  From the day he was born, there was something special about him that would attract the others.  Even when they were babies playing around in the dirt, the others would go to him.  He was a natural leader.

As the boys grew up, their mothers began to notice a pattern about them.  they would go off... they would leave the village... they would go off into the woods somewhere.  Finally, the mother of one of the boys began wondering about this pattern.  One time, she trailed them, trying to stay out of sight.  She found them all sitting in a circle near a tree.  To her surprise, their Leader was speaking to them.  She overheard him explain that he was born into this world with a purpose.  His father had sent him here to teach the humans how to give thanks to their Creator for a good life.  She observed him speaking in a certain way.  Each time he would finish, he would point to the forehead of one of the boys and say, "This is what you will be able to do."  He did this to each of the eleven boys in a circle.  he would point to one of the children and say, "You will be the speaker of the Thanksgiving Greeting.  These words will be used to offer greetings to our Father.  This you will do to open and close each gathering.  You will speak these good words on behalf of the people."  Then, to another, he would say, "You will be a Singer of the Great Feather Dance.  This song and dance will be the one chosen to honour the Creator and the good mind that the people have.  In this manner, they will acknowledge the Sonkwaiatison (Creator)."  To another boy, he would say, "You will be the Singer of the Atonwa.  This song will be used to open the ceremonies when the young ones receive their names so that all the natural life will acknowledge them and provide them with good fortune during their life cycle.  This will also be the time for the men to sing their personal chants and share their song with the people."  To another, he would say, "You shall learn the Drum Song which will express the appreciation of all the people for the many things they have in this world."  They would keep this going all day till close to nightfall.

 

   When the boys returned from the forest, their Leader went to their mother and told her, "I know you came by us.  I know you were out there.  All I can tell you right now is that we haven't finished our work.  When that is done, we will come and explain it to the people.  We will put it into words for the people to understand."

   By the time the boys were young men, they were finished with their work.  They began to explain to the people in the Village what they had been learning all this time.  The Leader explained to the people that he had been sent here by his father to teach people how to be grateful for all the things that we have in this world... how to be grateful for our "Sonkwaiatison" (Creator).  He said, "We must remember that all other life Creatures are our relatives.  They, too, have a special purpose in life, and we are to respect that.  This manner in which we will do this is through our songs and our dances.  In this way, we will honour the things they will bring to us.

  To express our appreciation for all life, I have taught my brothers three main dances, which they will teach you.  These dances are:

The Great Feather Dance

The Drum Dance

The Atonwa or The Personal Chant  "

He then told the people that these dances were to be done at certain times throughout the year when the people will come together, to pay respect to life and beings that they live with and the things that keep life going.  Referring to the eleven boys as brothers because they were born at the same time - he explained why all his brothers had been learning the Thanksgiving songs and dances.

  "No one man will ever be able to remember all these things.  Thus, they will be shared among the people, and from the people will come the next ones who will learn them.  So, you are to keep your eye on the little ones as they grow up because, as you do, you will see that certain ones have an interest in these things.  You will see that they have the gist for picking up the songs, dances or speaking.  You will watch and work with these children to teach them all these things."

   After the brothers gave their instructions to the people, they adapted these ceremonies to the cycle of the seasons.  They are as follows:

MIDWINTER CEREMONY - in the middle of winter

MAPLE SYRUP - at the end of spring

THUNDER DANCE - early summer

MOON DANCE - early summer

STRAWBERRY - early summer

PLANTING CEREMONY - early summer

BEAN DANCE - midsummer

GREEN CORN DANCE - midsummer

HARVEST DANCE - end of summer

MOON DANCE - early fall

END OF SEASONS CEREMONY - fall

   Ceremonies of Midwinter, the time when all things are new again, will remind us that we are starting a new cycle.  The Thunder Dance will help us honour the water life.  The Moon Dance will help us pay respect to our Grandmother for working with us, for helping with the crops, for working with the females to make sure that life continues and to keep everything in order, such as the female life, the plant life, the animal life, the water life, and many others.  The Moon Dance, we will celebrate twice in our yearly cycles.  Strawberry will help us pay respect to the medicine plants and other healing powers.  Planting ceremonies will help us to acknowledge our food substance.  Other ceremonies, such as bean and corn, will remind us that these are our main foods.  The Harvest Dance will be a celebration for our good fortune of the year.  The End of Season Dance will remind us of the good cycle and of the time when we must prepare for the next.  'All these ceremonies will bring us closer to our Creator to remind us of our purpose in this life, to be grateful for all the things we have.'  The Good Words that will be spoken in these ceremonies will bring about a better life for all the people.

  At this time, the Leader told the people that he was not finished with his work.  "I have been instructed by my father to go across the salt water because there are people living over there who need to hear how to be grateful for the good way to live.  They need to hear a message that will bring them closer to their Creator."

   Then, he took his brother back to the spot where they had learned their lessons and told them, "I am going to leave, and I might not come back."  He made a mark on the tree that his brothers could watch.  He said, "If they harm me on the other side, my blood will flow from this tree."  And so, he left.

  He was gone for a long time.  He was gone for so long that many of his people, many of his followers, had grown to be old men and were beginning to think that he would never come back.  Some had even given up watching the shore line, watching the water, to see if he would come back.  Finally, a sign did come; there was blood on the mark, and his brother knew that something had happened to him at the other place across the salt water.

   Soon after, one last person, walking along the shore and looking out across the water thinking about this man, saw a disturbance in the water.  He watched it for a while, and he could see that the disturbance was moving towards him.  So, he ran to the people and started telling them that it looked like the man was coming back.  And the people went down to the shore and waited.

 

   And it was him.  And when he came out of the water, they could see that he had been hurt.  He had been cut up.  There was blood on his face.  There was also blood on his body.

   And he told the people, "Don't touch me.  On the side, they think they have killed me, but I had to come back.  I came back because my father instructed me to leave you with one more ceremony - the Great Peach Bowl Game.  I will teach you the purpose of the game and how it is played.  The three other major  Playing the Peach Bowl Game ceremonies that you have now are for the purpose of expressing thanks to your Creator.  The Peach Bowl Game will be played for his amusement.  It will be played to express a good time for the people and a good time for the Creator.  One of the main purposes of the game is to remind you that the things you have around you are not yours.  They do not belong to you.  They belong to the world.  You just happen to have them around you.  You just happen to have the ability to convert them with your hands into something else.  Whether of the animal world, tree world or water world - all is because of another life.  So the things you have with you during your life cycle are never really yours.  And the message you send back to the Creator is that, 'You are grateful for what you have and are willing to share it with others.' "

 

   'So now you have the four dances.  This will be your way of thanking the Creator for all the things he has left here on Earth for your people to live by and appreciate.'

   Then, he told his brothers that he was on a journey back to the land of his father.

   About the people across the Great Salt Waters who refused similar teachings, he said, "They must find their own way from now on because of what they have done.  There will always be great turmoil in that part of the world.  They will never have peace of mind and will always be fighting over what they believe is the true religion.  Many branches will sprout from the original teachings, and they will always be fighting over them.  But the religion of the Onkwehonwe people will always be one and will be expressed through their ceremonies."

  With that, the Messenger left.

Teharonhiawako Meets "Hadoui"

   Teharonhiawako came to a spot that was open and found a being sitting there on a rock, looking into the mountains.  As he walked up the the being, he said, "Who are you?"  The being told him, "I am called Hadoui.  I am the most powerful being on this earth.  I have the power to change the natural life and beings that live on it."  Teharonhiawako then introduced himself by saying, "I am the Creator of all that you see, the valleys, mountains, rivers, animals and beings that walk about this land.  I am called Teharonhiawako, and if you are as powerful as you say then I would like to see your powers for there can only be one true "Creator".  Hadoui replied that they should resolve who had the most power for only one could rule the world.  They finally agreed to a contest of who could move the mountain closest to them in the valley where they were standing.  Hadoui started first, and to the amazement of Teharonhiawako he caused the mountain to tremor and even move slightly.  Finally Hadoui said, "This is what I can do, now it is your turn."  Teharonhiawako asked Hadoui not to look behind him.  Hadoui did not realize that the mountain was already behind him and as he turned his head he scraped his face against the side of the mountain, breaking his nose and contorting his features in the process.  Hadoui said, "I now realize that you are the true "Creator", and your power is greater than mine."

  The "MASTER OF LIFE" then told him, "I recognize that you are a powerful being and that you have strong power - the power to help people.  My brother is still around, and I know that in the future he will try to cause problems.  I am going to ask you if you will help watch over all my children and take care of them, in case of disease, sickness or other problems."  At that moment, the Hadoui said, "I will do that, for I recognize that you are the one that made this place.  In return the people will have to give me some tobacco and food.  For their protection, for their health, they will have to feed me."  This was when the songs were made, when they were put together.

  They agreed that a certain kind of food would be given to Hadoui and thanks would be given to him.  He does work and good things for the people.  At that point, the "CREATOR" returned to the first people he had created.

   He told them, "All the living creatures are your relations, and they all have the instructions as to how they must live in this world.  The natural life will always be ready to assist the living beings, if they live in harmony with one another.  The humans must always look after their relations of the natural world."

   To this day, this has been the Traditional Belief of the people of the Hotinonshonni.

 


Author: Compilation
Illustrations By: James Gray, Ross Montour

Originally published August of 1984 and reprinted numerous times since that date, this book is a must have for anyone wanting the understanding of the theology of the Haudenosaunee.. The book has three sections covering: The Creation Story; the birth of the Peacemaker and the Great Law; and the message of Kariwi:io or the Code of Handsome Lake. This book will be of interest to everyone, in particular the students. This book was written for the young to learn about the history, the laws and the rules that governed the Haudenosaunee. Educators will find this book most useful in social studies, government, history and literature classes. The third section of the book may be of particular interest to drug and alcohol abuse programs.

Number of Pages: 101
Size: soft cover 8.5
Published: 1984

Traditional Teachings     $15.00


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