Hiawatha - Both a name and title of chieftainship which was passed on from father to son in the Tortoise Clan of the Mohawk Indians.

The first known Indian to bear the name Hiawatha lived during the middle of the sixteenth century.  He was famed as a reformer, a legislator, a statesman, and a magician, and was the founder  of the League of the Iroquois, first known as the Five Nations.

Hiawatha, as a reformer, sought to banish murder, the eating of human flesh, and to bring about peace among the Indian tribes of the same family.  One of his ideas was that when a man was killed in a blood feud, his relatives should receive ten strings of wampum, each the length of the forearm.  This was the value he placed on human life.

Apparently Hiawatha's ideas were so radical that he was banished by his own tribe.  He went up and down the Mohawk Valley preaching for brotherly feeling among tribes, and a strong union of relatives for war and defense.  Finally the Oneida consented to such a union if Hiawatha's own tribe would join.  The Mohawks later agreed and so the Five Nations was formed.

The hero of Longfellow's poem Hiawatha is drawn from the writings of Henry R. Schoolcraft, who had confused the real Hiawatha with a Chippewa deity.  As a result nothing in Longfellow's poem relates in any way to the great Iroquois reformer and statesman.

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