Published on March 10, 2014 by Amy
The Iroquois are an American Indian collective confederacy or tribe (made up of five different tribes) that are indigenous to North America, particularly America’s northeastern region. Traditionally farmers, they participated in several early wars in America, including the French and Indian War, in which they fought with the British. While many of their traditional weapons had utilitarian uses, some, such as the tomahawk, are now ingrained firmly as a traditional weapon of war in popular culture.
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The tomahawk is, basically, the Native American version of an axe. Hatchet-like, it served a range of purposes, including as a hand weapon. Sometimes, it was tossed at an opponent, a fighting technique still popular in reenactments because of the weapon’s enduring popularity (though not all American Indian tribes and people prominently used the tool or weapon). For the Iroquois, the tomahawk was used in hand-to-hand combat, or as a thrown weapon from horseback or long distance. Traditionally, the Iroquois made their tomahawks out of stone (head) and wood (handle).
For Iroquois hunters, who made hunting a daily practice, the lance was a useful tool that also doubled as a weapon of war. The Iroquois employed lances that were quite long, which they could wield from atop a horse to strike or knock down an opponent (or animal, if hunting). The lance also served a protective purpose, as it kept opponents at a distance. To enhance the lance, the Iroquois might dress it up with feathers or even scalps, taken from fallen enemies. The imposing sight served as an intimidation method as well as decoration.
Another traditional weapon of Native American culture is the bow and arrow, also used for both hunting and fighting. The Iroquois made their arrowheads out of stone, such as flint, and metal or animal bone, and meticulously crafted their bows from wood. A skilled fighter or hunter could wield the bow on horseback. These had to be shorter than the bows used on foot, which were generally called longbows. It is said that the most skilled of Iroquois fighters could launch possibly 20 arrows during the time it took for a musket to be reloaded and then aimed and fired, giving the Native American fighters an early advantage.
The club, or war club, carved of wood or stone, has its origins as a tool designed for utilitarian purposes, such as hunting. Clubs used distinctly for war were called war clubs among the Iroquois. Traditionally, a war club had a very wide handle with a large ball atop the club, which was the main striking point when the club was wielded. When fighting with a club, the Iroquois also made use of a shield to protect them from opponents’ blows.