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Tuscarora Creation Legend
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The Tuscarora tradition opens with the notion that there were originally two worlds, or regions of space, that is an upper and lower world. The upper world was inhabited by beings resembling the human race. And the lower world by monsters, moving on the surface and in the waters, which is in darkness. 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 is by these ideas, that a female who began to descend into the lower world, which is a region of darkness, waters, and monsters, she was received on the back of a tortoise, where she gave birth to male twins, and there she expired. The shell of this tortoise expanded into a continent, which, in the English language, is called “island,” and is named by the Tuscaroras, Yowahnook. One of the children was called Got-ti-gah-rah-quast, or good mind, the other, Got-ti-gah-rak-senh, or bad mind. These two antagonistical principles 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 work of Got-ti-gah-rah-quast was to create the sun out of the head of his dead mother, and the moon and stars out of the other parts of her body. The light these gave drove the monsters into the deep waters to hide themselves. He then prepared the surface of the continent and fitted it for human habitation, by making it into creeks, rivers, lakes and plains, and by filling them with the various kinds of animals and vegetable kingdom. He then formed a man and a woman out of the earth, gave them life, and called them Ongwahonwd, that is to say, a real people. Meanwhile the bad mind created mountains, water-falls, and steeps, caves, reptiles, serpents, apes, and other objects supposed to be injurious to, or in mockery to mankind. He made an attempt also to conceal the land animals in the ground, so as to deprive men of the means of subsistence. This continued opposition, to the wishes of the Good Mind, who was perpetually at work, in restoring the effects and displacements, of the wicked devices of the other, at length led to a personal combat, of which the time and instrument of battle were agreed on. They fought two days; the Good Mind using the deer’s horn, and the other, using wild flag leafs, as arms. Got-ti-gah-rah-quast, or Good Mind, who had chosen the horn, finally prevailed. His antagonist sunk down into a region of darkness, and became the Evil Spirit of the world of despair. Got-ti-gah-rah-quast, having obtained his triumph, retired from the earth.
The earliest tradition that we have of the Iroquois is as follows: That a company of Ongwahonwa being encamped on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, where they were invaded by a nation few in number, but were great giants, called “Ronongwaca.” War after war was brought on by personal encounters and incidents, and carried on with perfidy and cruelty. They were delivered at length by the skill and courage of Yatontea, who, after retreating before them, raised a large body of men and defeated them, after which they were supposed to be extinct. And the next they suffered was from the malice, perfidy and lust of an extraordinary appearing person, who they called That-tea-ro-skeh, who was finally driven across the St. Lawrence, and come to a town south of the shores of Lake Ontario, where, however, he only disguised his intentions, to repeat his cruel and perfidious deeds. He assassinated many persons, and violated six virgins. They pointed to him as a fiend in human shape.
In this age of monsters, the country was again invaded by another monster, which they called Oyahguaharh, supposed to be some great mammoth, who was furious against men, and destroyed the lives of many Indian hunters, but he was at length killed, after a long and severe contest.
A great horned serpent also next appeared on Lake Ontario who, by means of his poisonous breath, caused disease, and caused the death of many. At length the old women congregated, with one accord, and prayed to the Great Spirit that he would send their grand-father, the Thunder, who would get to their relief in this, their sore time of trouble, and at the same time burning tobacco as burned offerings. So finally the monster was compelled to retire in the deeps of the lake by thunder bolts. Before this calamity was forgotten another happened. A blazing star fell into their fort, situated on the banks of the St. Lawrence, and destroyed the people. Such a phenomenon caused a great panic and consternation and dread, which they regarded as ominous of their entire destruction. Not long after this prediction of the blazing star it was verified. These tribes, who were held together by feeble ties, fell into dispute and wars among themselves, which were pursued through a long period, until they had utterly destroyed each other, and so reduced their numbers that the lands were again over-run with wild beasts.
At this period there were six families took refuge in a large cave in a mountain, where they dwelled for a long time. The men would come out occasionally to hunt for food. This mammoth cave was situated at or near the falls of the Oswego River. Taryenya-wa-gon (Holder of the Heavens) extricated these six families from this subterraneous bowels and confines of the mountain. They always looked to this divine messenger, who had power to assume various shapes, as emergency dictated, as the friend and patron of their nation.
As soon as they were released he gave them instructions respecting the mode of hunting, matrimony, worship and many other things. He warned them against the evil spirit, and gave them corn, beans, squash, potatoes, tobacco, and dogs to hunt their game. He bid them go toward the rising of the sun, and he personally guided them, until they came to a river, which they named Yehnonanatche (that is going around a mountain,) now Mohawk, they went down the bank of the river and came to where it discharges into a great river, running towards the midway sun, they named it Skaw-nay- taw-ty (that is beyond the pineries) now Hudson, and went down the banks of the river and touched the bank of the great water. The company made an encampment at this place and remained for a while. The people was then of one language. Some of them went on the banks of the great waters, towards the midway sun, and never returned. But the company that remained at the camp returned as they came along the bank of the river, under the direction of Taryenyawagon (Holder of the Heavens).
This company were a particular body, which called themselves of one household. Of these there were six families, and they entered into an agreement to preserve the chain of alliance which should not be extinguished under any circumstance.
The company advanced some distance up the river of Skawnatawty (Hudson). The Holder of the Heavens directed the first family to make their residence near the bank of the river, and the family was named Tehawrogeh (that is, a speech divided) now Mohawk. Their language soon changed. The company then turned and went towards the sun-setting, and traveled about two days and a half, then came to a creek, which was named Kawnatawteruh (that is pineries). The second family was directed to make their residence near the creek; and the family was named Nehawretahgo (that is big tree) now Oneida. Their language was changed likewise. The company continued to proceed toward the sun-setting under the direction of the Holder of the Heavens. The third family was directed to make their residence on a mountain, named Onondaga, now Onondaga, and the family was named Seuhnowhahtah (that is, carrying the name.) Their language also changed. The rest of the company continued their journey towards the sun-setting. The fourth family was directed to make their residence near a large lake, named Goyogoh (that is a mountain rising from water) now Cayuga, and the family was named Sho-nea-na-we-to-wah (that is a great pipe). Their language was altered. The rest of the company kept their course towards the sun-setting. The fifth family was directed to make their residence near a high mountain, situated south of Canandaigua Lake, which was named Tehow-nea-nyo-hent (that is possessing a door) now Seneca. Their language was also changed. The sixth, and last family, went on their journey toward the sun-setting, until they touched the bank of the great lake, which was named Kan-ha-gwa-rah-ka (that is a Cape) now Erie, and then went toward, between the midway and sun-setting, and traveled a great distance, when they came to a large river, which was named O-nah-we-yo-ka (that is a principal stream) now Mississippi. The people discovered a grapevine lying across the river, by which a part of the people went over, but while they were crossing the vine broke. They were divided, and became enemies, to those that were over the river in consequence of which, they were obliged to abandon the journey. Those that went over the river were finally lost and forgotten from the memory of those that remained on the eastern banks.
Ta-ren-ya-wa-go (the Holder of the Heavens), who was the patron of the five home bands, did not fail, in this crisis, to direct them their way also. He instructed those on the eastern bank the art of the bow and arrows, to use for game and in time of danger. After giving them suitable instructions, he guided their footsteps in their journeys, south and east, until they had crossed the Alleghany Mountains, and with some wanderings they finally reached the shores of the sea, on the coast which is now called the Carolinas. By this time their language was changed. They were directed to fix their residence on the banks of the Gow-ta-no (that is, pine in the water) now Neuse River, in North Carolina. Here Ta-ren-ya-wa-gon left them to hunt, increase and prosper, whilst he returned to direct the other five nations to form their confederacy.
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