An Iroquois Creation Myth

The Iroquois are an important Native American tribe in the American northeast. The French called them the Iroquois, but the English called them the Six Nations.The Iroquois absorbed many other people from other tribes as a result of warfare, adoption of captives, and by offering shelter to displaced Indian nations.

The Iroquois played a significant role in American history as both the United States Constitution and the Founding Charter of the United Nations are based on ideas found in the Iroquois constitution. The Iroquois law was called “The Great Binding Law.” Iroquois women had many more rights than colonial American women. More than 50,000 Iroquois live in the United States today. 

Most of our knowledge of Iroquois history stems from oral tradition. Historians have also gathered information from the archaeological evidence, reports from Jesuit missionaries, and European historians.

Pocahontas and Hiawatha may have been Iroquois. Some historians believe that it was the Iroquois who celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims.

The creation tale “The World on Turtle’s Back” is filled with conflict and compelling characters. The Iroquois passed down this story from one generation to next by telling it in the oral tradition. This particular myth is representative of the richness of our Native American peoples’ culture and heritage.

“The World on Turtle’s Back” explains the creation of the world. There was once a vast ocean where fish lived and where birds flew above it. Far above this world was the Sky-World where gods, who were like people, lived. One of these gods was a pregnant woman. In the myth, she tries to get roots from a forbidden tree and falls out of the sky. The birds stop her fall and place her on the back of a giant sea turtle. A muskrat brings her dirt from the ocean floor, and from this dirt the earth begins to grow. The woman plants the roots she brought from the Sky-World in the earth, and plants begin to grow. Soon, the woman gives birth to a daughter. The girl grows up and gives birth to twins. The twins are very different from each other. The right-handed one is honest, and the left-handed one is tricky and dishonest. Together, the twins create a balanced world. The right-handed twin produces plant-eating animals. The left-handed twin provides flesh-eating animals. The right-handed twin is the chief creator of humans. As a result of their constant conflict, the twins fight several duels.

The featured image is mine.


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