The Culture of Iroquois Indians

Published on September 22, 2010 by Alice

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The Iroquois Indians lived in the Northeastern part of the Woodland Culture. Today we call this part of our country New York. The Iroquois Indians were actually a “nation” of Indians made up of 5 tribes. These tribes were the Senecas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Mohawks. These tribes were hostile, or war-like, to each other until they joined together to become the “League of the Five Nations”. Even after the forming of this nation there was still some fighting among the 5 tribes.

The Iroquois Indians lived in wigwams and longhouses. Wigwams were made by bending young trees to form the round shape of the home. Over this shape pieces of tree bark were overlapped to protect the Indians from bad weather. Over the bark a layer of thatch, or dried grass, was added. A small hole from the top allowed smoke from the fires to escape. Beds were matting covered with animal skin.

Longhouses were long rectangular homes. Longhouses were made by building a frame from saplings, or young trees. They were then covered with bark sewn together. There was a long hallway with rooms on both sides. Sleeping platforms, covered with deerskin, lined each wall. There were also shelves for storing baskets, pots, and pelts. Pelts are the skins of animals with the fur attached. Several families would live in the long house, but the families were related to each other.

The Iroquois built log walls all around their villages. The wall had only one opening. They could quickly close this opening if their enemies came near.

The Iroquois Indians used the pelts of animals for their clothing. In the winter, the men wore shirts, leggings, and moccasins made of buckskin. Buckskin is clothing made from the skins of animals, mainly deer. The women wore skirts they had woven from the wild grasses, covered with furs, with leggings underneath.. In the summer, the men wore a breechcloth, a short piece of buckskin that hung from the front to the back of the Indian. The women wore their grass dresses, and the children wore nothing at all.

The Iroquois found their food by hunting, fishing, and gathering berries, fruits, and nuts. They also cleared the land and planted large fields of corn, beans, and squash which Native Americans called “The Three Sisters”. The Iroquois used a bow and arrow to hunt. They would sometimes wear the skin of a deer over their body to sneak up to the deer. The Iroquois also used traps for small animals. A canoe made from a hallowed out tree was used to fish in the lakes and streams nearby. Nets and traps were also used to catch fish.

During the winter months, trees were tapped to get maple sugar. The liquid was put in wooden troughs and stirred day and night over a fire. After a long time the liquid syrup changed into sugar.

Food was not always plentiful for the Iroquois. During hard times when food was almost impossible to find they would boil their moccasins for soup or chew on their clothing.

Some historians have portrayed the Iroquois as savages. They write of how fierce the Iroqouis were, especially the Mohawk. They speak of the cruel way the Mohawks tortured their captives. The Mohawks, especially the women, took great delight in burning the victim alive with torches and tearing out bits of their flesh with jagged pieces of seashell. The neighbors of the Iroquois were also said to be quite fierce.

The kindness of the Iroquois is also talked about by historians. Strangers were welcome and food was always provided. When visiting an Iroquois home one was expected to taste the food offered and to say -Hi-ne-a-wah-I thank you. Visitors were given food, clothing, and a place to sleep.

Very important to this culture was wampum. Wampum belts and necklaces were made from wampum beads. These beads were actually white and purple shells. Wampum was used as money between white man and Indians. Wampum belts were used as a form of communication between Indian tribes. Wampum belts would be made into pictures showing the reason it was made. All Indian messengers carried wampum belts when going to other tribes.

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