Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Few Notes About the Iroquois

Following up on my previous post about shocking economic facts here are a few tidbits I've found as I've researched the Iroquois Nation.

  • In the 17th Century, the Iroquois nation numbered about 12,000 people. That's equivalent to 3 brigades of Napoleon's army which numbered around 250,000 in the 1780s before peaking at 1,100,000 at its height.

  • The Iroquois Nation fought with the Huron (another Iroquois tribe).

  • The Iroquois practiced what would be considered slave raids if done by the Europeans.
    League traditions allowed for the dead to be symbolically replaced through the "Mourning War", raids intended to seize captives to replace lost compatriots and take vengeance on non-members. This tradition was common to native people of the northeast and was quite different from European settlers' notions of combat.
  • The Iroquois had no written language. Good luck with scientific discovery under those conditions. Imagine trying to practice the scientific method without writing.

  • The Iroquois' government was based on a fairly sophisticated democratic system. There is some debate about whether or not this influenced the American Constitution and other writings, but there is no debate that the Iroquois were a democracy.

  • They had limited metalworking technology.
    In North America, in the upper Midwest, copper had been beaten into knives, awls, and other tools in the Late Archaic period (around 2000 BC), and since that time it had been used for small tools and ornaments. The use of copper in this region, however, was not true metallurgy, because the metal was hammered from pure deposits rather than smelted from ore.
That's enough for now. I'm not sure where the rest of this will lead, but it's interesting to do a quick and shallow comparison between the Iroquois and the Europeans. Already this is far more comparative information than either of my kids received. The population bit alone is telling.

The Aztecs would be an equally interesting comparative study, although in terms of modern moral sensibilities, they would probably come out as tyrannical beasts. Of course, since my kids' social studies books judge the Europeans of the era using those sensibilities, it only seems fair to sit there with slack-jawed, judgmental horror at the Aztecs.

Update: What I'm thinking I'll look at here is the question, "Could Gregor Mendel have discovered genetics in Iroquois society?" I know it's a strange mix, but it combines several things my daughter is learning and as I research it, I think it provides a revealing thought exercise.

Update 2: Here's the post about Gregor Mendel as an Iroquis.


Wollf Howlsatmoon said...

Ok,KT, now you've stimulated my Pavlovian response.

With your started the thread after all....I shall expound a bit about the Nor'Easterns, Wabanaki, Mi'cmaks, Peskotomuhkati, Algonguins and the eeevil Iroquois........

But this one's too long for a comment thread, and I have to dig through some of my Grandfathers' papers.....He friggin' Hated the Iroquois even in the '60s.

Shoot me a note. I'm gonna prep it, we'll see if I can be on topic, educational and fairly non humorous for once.

As you might guess, I friggin' Love this topic. Just thought it to "vanilla" for the masses...

You have changed my mind, apiqosikon mokoseweyu wapeyu.

(That's as close as I can come to "Black and white Cat.")in Peskotomuhkati.

Anonymous said...

Limited government and personal autonomy are Haudenosaunee hallmarks.

We are much more like them than the royal subjects of the Kings and things of Europe who landed on these shores some time ago.

A more interesting question to ask would be, "if not for the Haudenosaunee, would America have a King? And would the Burmese be fighting for Democracy?"

The Iroqois Book of Rights by Horatio Hale will give you some insights to the Iroquois character at peace and war.

Anonymous said...

An umpty-great uncle of mine was kept as a slave by the Kickapoo in Illinois, way back. He escaped by a ruse but only after a year of hard work. Some of the local Indians had slaves, people who had to work off debt, usually. Many Indian languages are verb based which theoretically makes abstraction difficult. No such thing as "dog".It has to be a certain dog and it has to be doing something. This way of thinking "roots" people in their environment. Very different from the way "cause and effect" Europeans think.

K T Cat said...

anon, thank you for the great story!