mohawks etc

Johnson, Ellen ejohnson at BERRY.EDU
Tue Jan 15 18:26:48 UTC 2002

I forwarded the message from Weber about Mohawks, etc (appended) to my friend, the American Indian expert, and got this in return.  Ellen

-----Original Message-----
From: Kathryn Abbott [ at]
Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2002 10:46 AM
To: Johnson, Ellen
Subject: Re: FW: Re: The Finger (1947?)

Wow!  That's taking some things are quasi-true and distorting them terribly.  First, the Mohawk work for themselves is not Mohawk--it is something akin to Akwesasne, so saying that the Mohawks would willingly call themselves "cannibals" is absurd.  It is true that the Mohawks--and other Iroquois tribes--occasionally and ritualistic--ate parts of captives' bodies--often their hearts.  As part of ritualized torture (which was quite gruesome
at times to be sure), they cut off body parts and might consume them, just to scare the crap out of the captive being tortured (or those watching).  As for their "genocide" of the Hurons (not sure of the etymology of that word, but "Wyandot" or some version thereof was the Huron name for themselves, I am pretty sure), there was indeed a conflict between them, in part over access to beaver skins and hunting territory.  But it also true that
the French presence exacerbated this conflict considerably, and that in the early 1630s, many of the Hurons succumbed to a smallpox epidemic, which allowed the Mohawks (and other Iroquois) to conquer and capture many of the Hurons.
     As for "attacking tribes to the East," Landau has his direction wrong--he means west, and it is true that the Iroquois (though not the Mohawks), effectively kept the lower Ohio Valley in a state of high pique in the second 1/2 of the 17th century, until they were more-or-less defeated by the French and their native allies and signed a Treaty of Neutrality in 1701, agreeing not to attack the French or their allies in the interior.  But
all of this warfare almost certainly was exacerbated and intensified by the French and British presence and the competition over trade.  The French encouraged their Indian allies to attach British settlements, and both French and British paid bounties for scalps and heads (quite high bounties) throughout the colonial era.
    Finally, re: the Iroquois taking Illinois as "slaves," captivity among the Iroquois was fluid and contingent.  Yes, some would be used as slaves, but their offspring--especially if born to an Iroquois parent (mother esp.) could become full tribal members.  Some captives--particularly young children--were most likely to be adopted outright to replace a lost family member, part of the mourning ritual accepted by the Iroquois.  The
evidence strongly suggests that many captive Hurons from the 1630s were thus adopted into the Mohawks, who had also suffered devastating losses in the smallpox epidemic and Beaver War.  Culturally and linguistically, there were strong similarities between the two groups, so adoption would make even more sense.  Older women might be adopted, might be enslaved.  Men--warriors--would most likely be killed, either scalped on the spot (the
warriors essence being contained in his scalplock) or ritually killed.  By the way, the practice of scalping came from the Southeast tribes (remnants of the Mississippians) and was introduced to the Iroquois by the English.
   Landau is perpetuating myths by using half-truths that are historically and culturally decontextualized.
   As for Caribs and the islands, there is no evidence that the Arawaks, Tainos, or other Caribbean peoples ever practiced cannibalism, while it is certainly true that the Aztecs did (again, ritualistically).

> -----Original Message-----
> From: carljweber [mailto:carljweber at MSN.COM]
> Sent: Monday, January 14, 2002 11:49 PM
> Subject: Re: The Finger (1947?)
> Among other things, James A. Landau said:
> > I am told that "Mohawk" means "cannibal" (it is quite possible that the
> > Mohawks deliberately adopted this name for psychological warfare).
> All of the Amerindians were anthropophagic. The word "cannibal" itself was
> brought back to Europe by the Spanish at first contact in about 1500. It's
> another form of the word "carrib". The Mohawks, as one of the five tribes of
> the Iroquois Confederaation, where known to the Algonquians and the French
> for their rabid ferocity from the time of Champlain, about 1600. The name
> "Eire" and the name "Huron" are proported to be insulting European
> loanwords. In the case of "Huron", the second part of the word looks very
> much like the well-known morpheme for "people" in Huron/Algonquian, and the
> "hor" looks alot like the first part of "Iroquois". The Iroquois brought
> genicide to the Huron tribes in the 1630s, and the Wyndotes, the modern
> Hurons, are the only non-extinct Huron tribe.
> Speaking of anthropophagy and the Mohawks, there was the tremendous scene of
> merciless human torment, mutilation, and cannibalism in 1683, when the
> Iroquois wrought their yearly cycle of  genocide on the tribes to their
> east. These tribes would usually escape. But the most peaceful tribe of all
> the Illinois tribes, the Tamarora, in trusting innocence, chose not to flee
> to the safety of the western shores of the Mississippi. And four hundred
> were barbariszed, and the Iroquois, including the Mohawk, took four hundred
> slaves back to their eastern home.

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