as told by Barbara Chepaitisa
Long ago, the people were warring so badly they say blood flowed from their mouths, and they were afraid to hunt or harvest their fields. Wars wouldn’t end, and the people could not find peace.
A Huron woman, wanting to get away from the wars in her village, took her daughter alone to live by Beautiful Lake, and here her daughter gave birth to a baby boy. The grandmother thought the baby was a demon, since her daughter hadn’t been with any man, and three times the old woman tried to kill him. But each time the baby survived, and at last the grandmother was given word from the Spirits that this child was from the Creator, and he’d been sent to bring Kayanerakowa, the Great Good, to the people.
The grandmother begged her daughter’s forgiveness for what she’d tried to do, and the two women raised the baby until he grew into the man known as The Peacemaker.
The Peacemaker made a canoe of stone, and said to his mother and grandmother that he was ready to start his work, which was to bring the Great Good to the people, and stop the shedding of human blood. The grandmother, seeing the canoe, said it was stone, and it would not float. But it did float, and The Peacemaker went on his way.
The first person the Peacemaker met on his journey was a woman named Jikonsaseh. She kept a neutral territory, free from war, and she fed those who came through her land. Some said she poisoned warriors to keep them from shedding more blood. Some said she only fed all who were hungry. She was a powerful woman, and when Peacemaker told him of his plans, questioned him about the form this Great Good would take.
"It will take the form of the Longhouse, where we meet to use reason instead of killing to solve our problems." Jikonsaseh embraced this notion, and gave the Peacemaker a song that would help him on his quest.
The Peacemaker met with the Mohawk people, who tested him by making him climb a tree which they then chopped down until it fell into the roaring waters of Cohoes Falls. When Peacemaker emerged unscathed, they accepted that he was from the Creator. Still, they were not entirely convinced. "How will the people accept this?"they asked. "With new minds," He said. "How will their minds be made new?" they wanted to know.
The Peacemaker explained that all who are sane and healthy value peace. He said he brought a new law that involved the sharing of resources and reason instead of violence. With that, the people’s minds would be made new.
Peacemaker worked to get as many nations with him as he could. The Mohawk, the Cayuga, the Seneca, the Oneida – with years of negotiations and talk, he was able to draw them all under the sheltering branches of his Tree of Peace.
Atotarho, Onondaga Chief
But the Onondaga would not join. Their chief, Atotarho, stood against the Great Good. He was known as an evil sorcerer. They said his body was bent in seven places, and snakes grew in his hair. They say he could kill with his voice, and would slaughter or bring to madness any who tried to go against him.
When Peacemaker went to see him, he told him, "I bring you the message of Kayanerakowa, which is from the Creator." "When?"Atotarho asked. "When will this be?" "When men accept it,"The Peacemaker replied.
Atotarho scoffs at this idea, but Peacemaker says to him, "In this very place I will plant the Tree of Peace. And your children, and their children, and faces still beneath the ground will walk under the sky without fear."
Atotarho, enraged, raised his voice in a piercing screech, screaming "Hwendonee!" again and again, asking when this would be. His killing voice pushed the Peacemaker and his group away. They would not be able to deal with this man so easily
The Peacemaker sought help in dealing with Atotarho from an Onondaga man known as Aionwantha. His mind had been torn by Atotarho’s sorcery, and he lived alone. In his madness he had become a cannibal, hunting humans and eating their flesh. Still, Peacemaker went to him, and while Aionwantha was inside his small cabin, he climbed on the roof and looked down at him through the smoke hole there.
Aionwantha, stirring the pot of water on his fire, saw a face reflected there. He was accustomed to seeing his own face in the water, but today it looked different. He stared at it. "I never knew I was so handsome," he said to himself. "Why, that is the face of a strong man, a wise and good man." He gazed at the reflection some more. Then he asked in wonder, "Is that me?"
Seeing himself reflected in this way, he suddenly knew he could no longer live as he had been. He rushed from his cabin, and when he went outside, he saw the Peacemaker waiting for him.
"I know your face," he said. "But I am ashamed for you to know mine." "The new mind is young and fragile,”" The Peacemaker said. "Old memories may plague it, but doing good works will change that." So Aionwantha went with Peacemaker to help him in his task.
Aionwantha worked with the Peacemaker for many years as they carved out the particulars of what would become the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The People of the Longhouse would be born from their work, but it took a long time.
There were no cell phones, no internet connections to carry communication. All of it had to be done painstakingly in person. Little by little, the Great Law was created. It would involve shared hunting territory, longhouse meetings to solve problems, each group maintaining their own spiritual traditions and languages and customs but coming together for the common good. It was, in fact, the basis for the United Nations.
Because it was Jikonsaseh who first embraced the Great Good, women held an important role. The clan mothers would appoint the chiefs, who existed to serve the people, even at their own expense. If they didn’t do so, the clan mothers could knock their antlers off, and appoint another.
During this time, Aionwantha took a wife and she gave birth to his daughters. During this time, also, Atotarho continued to stand against the Great Good.
While the Peacemaker was traveling to other nations, Aionwantha took a council again to Atotarho, but he refused the Great Good again, threatening all of them with death. Aionwantha left him to regroup and think of how to try again, but when he returned to his village, he saw a group of people gathered in front of the longhouse where his family lived.
They would not speak to him, but let him enter, and there he saw that through his sorcery, Atotarho had killed his wife and daughters. His beautiful woman lay cold and dead. His daughters, innocent of any harm, clutched each other in death, their faces frozen in masks of terror. The people outside heard one piercing scream. Then Aionwantha ran from the village, insane with rage and grief.
Aionwantha wandered for some time by the shores of Beautiful lake, and his mind was unhinged by his loss. He would wander, fall into the sand, rise to wander again.
At one point the lake was crowded with ducks and geese, who were frightened by Aionwantha’s arrival. They flew up from the water so fast they caused it to rush back from the shore, and then Aionwantha spied beautiful shells in the sand. He lifted them to the sky and said, "I would take these shells and string them together in a message for any who were burdened by grief. I would console them. This I would do." He began to do just that, stringing the beads in patterns that created messages of condolence, messages of the great good.
Peacemaker, who learned of Aionwantha’s loss when he returned to the village, went searching for him and found him at this task. He took the stringed shells of wampum and held them in his hand, rubbed his eyes and throat with fawn skin, saying "I wipe the tears from your face, and remove the rage from your throat. I beautify the sky for you, and you know once more that the people need your words."Thus he spoke the words of the Re-quickening address, used ever since then in the Haudenosaunee Condolence Ceremony.
Aionwantha returned with the Peacemaker to the people, and Jikonsaseh came to them and taught Peacemaker a song she said would create peace if sung in perfect peace. The Peacemaker taught this song to others, and he and Aionwantha led them all to Atotarho one more time.
Atotarho, Chief of the New Confederacy
The old sorcerer was waiting for them, and perhaps he thought they would kill him this time. Perhaps you think the same thing. They didn’t kill him. No.
They sang to him. They sang the song Jikonsaseh taught, and they gathered around him, straightening his body, even Aionwantha combing the snakes from his hair. They lifted from him the burden of his despair. And when he was raised up whole and well, Peacemaker named him chief of the new confederacy. Yes. They sang to him, healed him, then made him chief. And to this day, the chief of the Iroquois holds the title of Atotarho.
The Peacemaker gathered the people of the Longhouse around him and, as he’d promised Atotarho, in that place he dug a deep hole, and invited all to cast their weapons down into it. When they did, they saw that a great river ran under it, washing away what they tossed in.
White Pine - Tree of Peace
Then Peacemaker planted a White Pine, tall and majestic, and told the people that this was the Tree of Peace. Its roots would reach to the four corners of the earth. All who sought the great good could shelter beneath its branches. And it would never die.
After that, he left the people, telling them that if the Great Good should fail, they should call on his name and he would return to them.