The Iroquois Nation was made up of five nations, all of whom believed that the Earth began with “one of the Ancient Ones. ” The creation story continues to explain the existence of land, humans, and food. The Iroquois were a deeply spiritual people, and this spurned Mourning Wars. Their spirituality supported their belief that any member of their tribe that died a violent death, such as a warrior, could not be buried with their family, as their spirit was destined to wander the Earth in search of revenge. Their kinsman, however, sought vengeance for their fallen family members among their enemy tribes.
An Iroquois Mourning War could be set into motion by a woman of the dead tribe member’s family who demanded reparations for them. Members of the tribe, typically men related to fallen person, would acquire captives, through either trading or raiding neighboring tribes. These captives were left to the discretion of the family of the lost kinsman, who were to choose whether to torture the captive or adopt them in the place of the one they lost. Both of these options were intended to alleviate the grief of the families.
When captives were chosen for sacrifice, typically the entire village would partake, which elped the tribe to feel triumphant in both the defeat of their enemies and the completion of a deeply spiritual ritual. This ritual included a slow execution of cutting and burning, which the victim was meant to accept stoically. The bodies of captives were later consumed in a ritualistic war feast, that also served as a spiritual sacrifice. Those that weren’t executed by the village were typically adopted in the family that had lost a loved one. A “requickening” ceremony would be performed and the captor would effectively become a functioning replacement, regardless of race, age, or gender.
The ceremony held great symbolic and spiritual significance. The Iroquois believed that death left a spiritual gap in a familial lineage and the only way to fill it and renew the line was through capture and subsequent adoption. Adoption was far more popular among the Iroquois for multiple reasons. The Iroquois avoided the loss of life at all cost, additionally, adoption served the purpose of diminishing mourning as well as maintaining population levels within the tribe. The arrival of the Europeans, however, changed the Mourning Wars. The Iroquois’ form of violence was misunderstood by the migrants who saw them as nothing but savages who could not stop fighting amongst each other. The Europeans rarely fought unless there was the promise of land, power, or goods on the horizon of their victory, so they had trouble grasping the deeply spiritual meaning beneath the Iroquois Mourning Wars.
European presence in Iroquois territory was yet another unexpected variable in the continually evolving Indian warfare. Prior to the Europeans, raids were led in small parties with small hand held weapons, such as bows and hatchets. With the Europeans, also came their more fatal weaponry, specifically irearms. The introduction of Europeans and their weapons gradually started to change the scenery of Mourning Wars. Mourning Wars could no longer be fought with the intent of preserving as much human life as possible. More lives were lost in the raids as a result of the more advanced and deadly weaponry. As a result, more Mourning Wars had to be led to make up for the loss of the Iroquois warriors.
A series of vicious cycles involving trade, captives, and territory began that would not end until the Great Settlement in 1701. Indian trade with the British and French began with the slow ntroduction of contemporary goods, such as blankets, clothing, and firearms. Over time, the Indians grew dependent on these items and in turn dependent on the Europeans. Trading helped to foster good relations between the two cultures, while simultaneously modernizing the Indian tribes. Trade was common and only grew with the desire for furs among the Europeans. Individual Indian nations scoured their lands for beavers to trade, and when their land came up short, they ventured into enemy territories. The trade relations between Europeans and Indians began to have a negative impact on the
Indian culture, specifically within the Iroquois nation. Close contact with the Europeans also exposed the Iroquois to novel maladies, to which they had no immunity. Many Iroquois tribes suffered huge casualties as a result of these illnesses, causing their populations to diminish. Iroquois’ who didn’t perish from disease, deserted for the new life of Christianity promised them by missionaries. Additionally, the push for new fur hunting territories also began to negatively affect the Iroquois
. The further they traveled the more issues they encountered among other tribes in search of the same ommodity. Tension and resentment ran high both among Iroquois and Europeans as well as the Iroquois and neighboring tribes. The huge population decline following the 1650s led to an increased need for captors to serve as replacements among the Iroquois. The demand for Mourning Wars among the Iroquois sparked conflict among both the Europeans and enemy tribes. At this point, most actions that brought the Iroquois into contact with non-Iroquois only served to negatively impact relations.
A huge cycle for goods and power, not unlike wars fought by Europeans, had begun. The Iroquois required guns and mmunitions for their numerous raids, as firearms for the weapon of the present; any raid without guns was nearly signing a death warrant. The need for guns demanded furs to trade for them. This cycle repeatedly put Iroquois’ head to head with their enemies, resulting in yet more loss of life. Eventually, the Iroquois realized they could no longer sustain this large-scale population decline. In 1701, a group of delegates from the members of the five Iroquois nations joined the French and other Indian tribes in Montreal to negotiate a peace agreement. Simultaneously, tribe members were meeting in
Albany and Philadelphia in order to debate similar agreements. The Iroquois, while admitting defeat through the widespread surrender, gained more than they lost. Slowly, but surely, the Iroquois population began to grow, although never returning to its original numbers. The Iroquois also acquired new safety in trading. New markets opened for them throughout the Northeast and Canada. Fear of repercussions by and against the Iroquois were minimized with safe passages through their territories. Most of all, the Iroquois gained access to new hunting grounds as far west as Detroit.
The Great Settlement allowed the Iroquois lifestyle and culture time to renormalize away from unnecessary feuds. Despite these advantages, certain aspects would never be the same. The Iroquois lost hundreds of warriors to raids, disease, and missionaries and much of the Iroquois’ new population were captive adoptees. The access to modern goods was irreversible, making changes to warfare and daily life. But, over time, the Iroquois began to return to their typical ritual of Mourning Wars.
The Iroquois fashioned a new feud with a tribe from the Virginias and took up their usual habit of raiding for familial eplacements. For the most part, Iroquois life had returned to normal. Peace was maintained between the French and British, and even when tensions ran high, the Iroquois managed to maintain their neutrality. At certain points during the 1700s, the Iroquois reputation was marred with tales of Americans taken captive. Tall tales of “savages” spurned further rumors and interest in the way the Iroquois led their lives.
Furthermore, very few of the capture narratives were sympathetic to the Iroquois life and led to misunderstandings about many of their rituals, including Mourning Wars and the spiritual significance urrounding them Many of the Americans taken as captives were tortured as opposed to adopted; however, this isn’t to say that American captives weren’t taken and adopted into Iroquois life. When attacks were led against Americans, it was typically to reinforce agreed upon territory lines separating the Iroquois land and the land available to settlers. As time went on more land was seized by the Americans, as the attacks by Indians were sparse and were filled with fanatic rumors.
Indian and European relations were doomed from the beginning, as their whole basis was that of the Iroquois onsistently depending on the British and French when previously they had been self-sufficient. While previously, Iroquois Mourning Wars were highly practical and spiritual endeavors, the arrival of Europeans channeled the wars to mean symbolize much more, including, revenge, death, territory, and power. The aforementioned traits that the Mourning Wars took on are highly indicative of European warfare traits. It can be argued that violence was already a present aspect of American life prior to the arrival of the Europeans, however, violence was present in wars for the vengeance of lost loved ones and through spiritual war raids.
The Europeans evolved the originally sensible violence of the Native Americans into a tool to advantage their colonialization of North America. The violence that continued throughout American history can be seen through reflection of how American began. The United States began through manipulation of the indigenous people and ended with the seizure of their land. Violence has been a theme since the introduction of human beings on this Earth; however, violence for the gain of power and influence was introduced by the arrival of the Europeans and has been constant ever since.