Wikijunior:Ancient Civilizations/Iroquois

Who are the Iroquois?


The Iroquois were a powerful Native American Confederacy that was made up of five, and later six, tribes. They called themselves the "Haudenosaunee". It is believed they banded together in the 1300s, although oral tradition argues that the federation was formed around August 31, 1142, based on a coinciding solar eclipse. The Confederacy existed until 1779, when it finally split over the American Revolution. The tribes of the confederacy were the Mohawk, the Onedia, the Seneca, the Onodaga, the Cayuga and later the Tuscarora.

Location of the Iroquois.

Iroquois Indians

The Iroquois Indians lived in what is now New York State along the St. Lawrence River. The Iroquois village consisted of two or more longhouses. In the early years the longhouses were built near streams. Later they were built on hilltops for protection from invading tribes. The longhouse was large enough to hold a family of 30 to 60 people. It could be 25 to 150 feet long. The Iroquois made most of their clothing from deerskin. The women wore skirts, vests, and moccasins. They decorated their clothes with porcupine quills, shell beads, and dyed hair. The women also made necklaces of shell beads and animal teeth. The women in the northern areas wore leggings and breechcloths. In the winter they wore rabbit fur capes or shawls tied over the left shoulder. The Iroquois men wore deerskin breechcloths during the hot summer. In the cold weather they wore leather leggings and tunics. They called beans, squash, and corn "The Three Sisters". Women held a powerful position in the Iroquois tribe. They owned longhouses, controlled the land, and chose the chief. Members of a clan are all descendants of the same person. The Iroquois society has always treated women equally and given them a lot of power and important jobs since their wisdom and skills have always been respected by the Iroquois people. The Iroquois women could start and stop wars.

Where did they live?


The Iroquois lived mostly in what is today north and central New York State. During the 1600s, through conquest, they expanded north into present-day Canada, down as far south as Virgina, and out as far west as the Mississippi River.

What kind of buildings did they have?


The Iroquois lived in Long-houses, which were made of bark and wood. The house was a long and narrow building that could be 50 to 150 feet long and from 18 to 26 feet wide. The roof was arched. The walls, formed from curved poles, were covered with sheets of bark, but had no windows. Over the bark a layer of thatch, or dried grass, was added. A central hallway ran the length of the long-house. Small fires burned at many sites along the open space. Smoke from these fires curled upward and out of the building through smoke holes in the roof.

What did they eat?


Like most Native Americans of the east, the Iroquois depended upon corn as their main source of food. They usually ate one meal a day at mid-morning. Food was always on the fire and people ate when they were hungry. They were skilled hunters. On foot they stalked deer, moose and caribou. They only killed what they needed to survive. The Iroquois also fished.

They moved their encampments from one place to another in search of food, which came from hunting, trapping, fishing and the various plant roots, seeds, wild rice and berries. In the spring women tilled the soil and planted crops. Men hunted when the woman finished their harvest chores. Their most common prey were deer, bear, moose,beaver, and wild duck.

At least during the 17th century the Iroquois, as a religious rite, also ate the skin and meat of their enemies for the purpose of wanting to consume their enemies spirit. They did this with the intention of destroying their enemies spirits.

What did they wear?


The Iroquois men in warm weather usually wore leggings and a breechcloth. This was a piece of fabric about 18 inches wide that went in between the legs. It was held at the waist by a belt and hung down to the knees in front and back. When the weather was cold, the men wore a tunic like shirt with fringed edges. In all kinds of weather, they wore leggings. The Iroquois men sometimes wore an unusual feather-covered cap. In the center of the hat one or two feathers stood straight up. Many men, especially warriors, cut off most of their hair. They left a lock or tuft in the center and back of the head called a “roach” One or two feathers were added for decoration. Today we call this a Mohawk.

The Iroquois women usually wore their hair long and braided. Their clothing was simple deerskin skirts that went below the knees, and leggings similar to the men’s. In cold weather they added a loose cape-like blouse with deep fringes along the edges.

What did their writing look like?


What did they believe?


The Iroquois belief system centered on a formless Great Spirit or Creator, from which other spirits were formed. They believed spirits animated all of nature and controlled the changing of the seasons. Key festivals took place with the major events of the agricultural calendar, including a harvest festival of thanksgiving. After the arrival of the Europeans, many Iroquois became Christians. Traditional religion was revived in the second half of the 18th century by the teachings of the Iroquois prophet Handsome Lake.

Are some of them even famous today?


What is left of them today?


Few are left. Tribes are in small areas called reserves. Some of these tribes can be found in Ontario, while most are found in New York.