The Iroquois Origin

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Origin of the continent, of the animal creation, and of the Indian race: the introduction of the two principles of good and evil into the government of the world.

Iroquois tradition opens with the notion that there were originally two worlds, or regions of space, namely, an upper and lower world. The upper was inhabited by beings similar to the human race; the lower by monsters, moving in the waters. When the human species were transferred below, and the lower sphere was about to be rendered fit for their residence, the act of their transference or reproduction is concentrated in the idea of a female, who began to descend into the lower world, which is depicted as a region of darkness, waters and monsters, She was received on the back of a tortoise, where she gave birth to male twins, and expired. The shell of this tortoise expanded into the continent, which, in their phraseology, is called an a “island;” and is named by the Onondagas, Aonao. One of the infants was called Inigorio, or the Good Mind; the other, Inigohatea, or the Bad Mind. These two antagonistical principles, which are such perfect counterparts of the Ormusd and Ahriman of the Zoroaster, were at perpetual variance, it being the law of one to counteract whatever the other did. They were not, however, men, but gods, or existences, through whom the “Great Spirit,” or “Holder of the Heavens,” carried out his purposes. The first labor of Inigorio was to create the sun out of the head of his dead mother, and the moon and the stars out of other parts of the body. The light these gave, drove the monsters into deep water, to hide themselves. He then prepared the surface of the continent, and fitted it for human habitation, by diversifying it with creeks, rivers, lakes and plains, and by filling these with the various species of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. He then formed a man and woman out of earth, gave them life, and called them “Ea-gwe-ho-we,” or, as it is more generally known to Indian archaeologists, Ong-we-Hon-we; that is to say, a real people.

Meanwhile the Bad Mind created mountains, waterfalls, and steeps and morasses, reptiles, serpents, apes, and other objects supposed to be injurious to, or in mockery of mankind. He made attempts also to conceal the land animals in the ground, so as to deprive man of the means of subsistence. This continued oppositi6n to the wishes of the Good Mind, who was perpetually busied in restoring the effects of the displacements and wicked devices of the other, at length led to a personal combat, of which the time and instruments of battle were agreed on. They fought for two days, the one using deer s horns, and the other flag roots, as arms.1 Inigorio, who had chosen horns, finally prevailed; his antagonist sunk down to a region of darkness, and became the Evil Spirit, or Kluneolux,2 of the world of despair. Inigorio, having obtained this triumph, retired from the earth.

This piece of ingenuity, or philosophy of the Indian mind, much of which is pure allegory, under which truths are hid, stands in the remote vista of Iroquois tradition, and it seemed necessary to notice it, in preparing to take up their more sober traditions. It is picked out of a mass of incongruous details, published by a native, [see App. D.] which only serve, peradventure, to denote its genuineness, for divested of absurdity, in the original, we should not ascribe much antiquity to it, or be prone to attribute it to an ignorant, superstitious, pagan people, living in all their earlier times without arts, letters or civilization. Futile as it is, it will be found veritable philosophy, compared with most of the earlier theories of the renowned nations of antiquity. Take, as an instance, the account Sanconeathus gives of the theology of the Phoenicians.3

Footnotes

  1. By reference to the Algonquin story of the combat between Manabozho and his father, the West Wind, as given in Algic Researches, vol. 1, p. 134, it will be seen that the weapons chosen by the parties were the same as those employed by Inigorio and Inigohatea, namely, deer s horns and flag roots. 

  2. Oneida. 

  3. Gowan s Ancient Fragments, 1 vol. 8vo., N. Y., 1835. 



MLA Source Citation:

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Notes on the Iroquois: Or, Contributions to American History, Antiquities, and General Ethnology. E. H. Pease & Company. 1847. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 17 December 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-iroquois-origin.htm - Last updated on Jun 22nd, 2014


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