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Hiawatha Wampum beltThe name Hiawatha might bring to mind the character in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous work of fiction called The Song of Hiawatha, but Hiawatha actually played a very important role in Haudenosaunee history.  Born into the Onondaga nation in the early 16th century, Hiawatha, or Aiionwatha (146kb/1sec)sound bite meaning “he makes rivers”, was adopted into the Mohawk nation later in life with the aid of the prophet the Peacemaker. Invited to become a Chief among the Mohawk nation he and the Peacemaker spread a message of peace and founded the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

Little is known of young Aiionwatcha’s life until his meeting with the Peacemaker. Living in a time when the five nations of New York State were under constant siege from the neighboring Algonquians, in addition to internal fighting, they lived under constant fear. The most feared warrior was a shaman by the name of Tadodaho, who belonged to the Onondaga nation. It was Tadodaho (144kb/1sec)sound bite who killed each of Haiwatha’s daughters through witchcraft, sending him into a temporary lapse of grief and self imposed exile before he eventually ventured into the territory of the Mohawk nation.

Upon meeting the Peacemaker, Hiawatha was enthralled by his message of peace and unity and joined in his quest of joining the nations of the Haudenosaunee. Meeting with each nation to bring the message of peace, Hiawatha was instrumental in expressing the Peacemaker's message.

Breaking down the barriers of suspicion and hatred over blood feuds among the nations, Hiawatha succeeded in convincing the Cayuga, Mohawk and Oneida to band together. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker faced opposition from the Onondaga chief Tadodaho. It wasn’t until they used a sacred medicine ceremony to cure his mind and body and promised that the Onondaga nation would be the central meeting place and firekeepers that Tadodaho submitted and the Onondaga joined the league.  The Seneca had only two opposing chiefs who were won over by appointing them each as war captains for the confederacy.

As one of the major influences in creating the confederacy Hiawatha has remained a heroic legend among the Haudenosaunee.  His time of death and resting place are unknown. Known to many only as the character of “The Song of Hiawatha”, a poem which is not at all about the actual Hiawatha exists today only as a work of fiction.