Hiawatha (also known as Ayenwatha, Aiionwatha, or Haiëñ'wa'tha; Onondaga) was a pre-historical Native American leader and co-founder of the Iroquois confederacy. Depending on the version of the narrative he was a leader of the Onondaga, or the Mohawk or both. According to some versions he was born an Onondaga, but adopted into the Mohawk.
Hiawatha was a follower of The Great Peacemaker (Deganawida), a Huronprophet and spiritual leader who proposed the unification of the Iroquois peoples, who shared common ancestry and similar languages. The Great Peacemaker was a compelling spiritual presence, but was impeded in evangelizing his prophecy by foreign affiliation and a severe speech impediment. Hiawatha, a skilled and charismatic orator, was instrumental in persuading the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas and Mohawks to accept the Great Peacemaker's vision and band together to become the Five Nations of the Iroquois confederacy. The Tuscarora nation joined the Confederacy in 1722 to become the Sixth Nation.
In attempting to date the Great Peacemaker and Hiawatha, focus has come to an incident related to the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy, their life work. One rendition of the oral history eventually written down by scholars involves a division among the Seneca nation, the last Indian nation to join the confederacy. A violent confrontation began and was suddenly stopped when the sun darkened and it seemed like night. Scholars have successively studied the possibilities of this being a solar eclipse since 1902 when William Canfield wrote Legends of the Iroquois; told by “the Cornplanter”. Successive other scholars who mention it were (chronologically): Paul A. W. Wallace, Elizabeth Tooker,Bruce E. Johansen, Dean R. Snow, Barbara A. Mann and Jerry L. Fields,William N. Fenton,David Henige, Gary Warrick, and Neta Crawford.
Since Canfield's first mention, and the majority view, scholars have supported the 1451AD date for the plausible solar eclipse mention. Some argue it is an insufficient fit for the description and favor 1142AD while a few question the whole idea.
Archeological supporting arguments have progressed. In 1982 Dean Snow considered the mainstream view of the archeology to not support dates before 1350AD. By 1998 Fenton considered it unlikely but possible after 1000AD. By 2007/8 reviews considered it clearly possible even if most still supported the 1451AD as the safe choice.
The Hiawatha Belt
The Hiawatha Belt is made of 6,574 wampum beads - 38 rows by 173 columns and has 892 white and 5,682 purple beads. The purple represents the sky or universe that surrounds us, while the white represents purity and Good Mind (good thoughts, forgiveness and understanding). The belt symbolizes these Five Nations from west to east in their respective territories across New York state: Seneca (keepers of the western door), Cayuga (People of the Swamp), Onondaga (Keepers of the Fire), Oneida (People of the Standing Stone) and Mohawk (keeper of the eastern door)—by open squares of white beads with the central figure signifying a tree or heart. The white open squares are connected by a white band that has no beginning or end, representing all time now and forever. The band, however, does not cross through the center of each nation, meaning that each nation is supported and unified by a common bond and that each is separate in its own identity and domain. The open center also signifies the idea of a fort protected on all sides, but open in the center, symbolizing an open heart and mind within.
The tree figure signifies the Onondaga Nation, capital of the League and home to the central council fire. It was on the shores of Onondaga Lake where the message of peace was "planted" and the hatchets were buried. From this tree four white roots sprouted, carrying the message of unity and peace to the four directions.
The Hiawatha Belt has been dated to the mid-18th century. Near its center it contains a bead made of colonial lead glass. It is believed the design is as old as the league itself and that the present belt is not the original.
The Hiawatha Belt forms the basis of the flag of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, created in the 1980s. It is the central device in the design on the reverse of the U.S. 2010 Native American dollar (also known as the Sacagawea dollar). It is also included in the logo of the Hamilton Nationals, a Major League Lacrosse team.
In 1940, plans for a film about the historical Hiawatha by Monogram Pictures were scrapped. The reason given was that Hiawatha's peacemaker role could be seen as communist propaganda.
A film was released in 1997 based on the Longfellow poem. It was a joint production of the U.S. and Canada, filmed in Ontario, Canada.
^ abWallace, Paul A. W. (October 1948). "The Return of Hiawatha". New York History Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical AssociationXXIX (4): 385–403. JSTOR23149546.|accessdate= requires |url= (help)