Published on September 19, 2014 by Amy
The Iroquois are a Native American people made up of several distinct tribes. The Iroquois are historically located in present-day New York in the central and upstate regions. The most famous leader of the Iroquois, Hiawatha, was said to have brought together the original tribes to form the Iroquois Confederacy. The name they chose to refer to themselves as was Haudenosaunee, which translated to “People of the Longhouse,” describing the unique homes of the Iroquois people.
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The name Iroquois refers to the five and later six tribes that comprised the Iroquois Confederacy. These tribes were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and by the 1700s, the Tuscarora. They all shared a common language and similar cultures, and chose to band together for mutual protection and gain. The leaders of the tribes would meet at the Grand Council to discuss important issues such as war and commerce.
Iroquois villages were made up of one or more longhouses. These were long rectangular structures that often housed 10 or more related families and could range in size from 30 feet to several hundred feet long. The villages were surrounded by a wall known as a palisade. This wall was constructed using many tall logs as posts circling the village. Next, saplings would be woven through the upright posts, creating a wall with the appearance of a large wicker basket. This wall was used as protection from animals and rival tribes, as well as a barrier against harsh winter winds.
Longhouses were built by constructing a framework of logs and posts, held together by natural fibers such as hemp. Longhouses were typically 20 feet high and 20 feet wide, with lengths ranging between 30 feet to several hundred feet. The frame would be covered with bark and would have a rounded roof. The size of the extended family determined the length of a longhouse. The extended families were always along matrilineal lines.
Each family would live in its own compartment, usually 20 feet long, and located on either side of a long aisle. The aisle ran the length of the longhouse and was a common area shared by families on either side of the aisle. This was where cooking took place, and holes in the roof provided ventilation from the smoke. There were entrances on either end of the longhouse which were open. Animal skins were stretched over the openings during the winter to prevent cold air entering the longhouse.