Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I am Attiwandaron... A Neutral... Who Are You?

The Iroquoian Neutrals of Southern Ontario were the bullies of Rome-burning… an unknown race of great power.

It is 1625... and I have just stepped into the few recorded pages of the Iroquoian Neutrals. What I saw, riveted my attention.

I was not prepared for the total nakedness of these people. Their skin was saturated by blood scarring with charcoal-pierced tattoos of snakes, monstrous beasts and “Oki” spirits. They were the tallest, finest bodied people among the Huron, Petun and Five Iroquois Nations. There were no hunchbacks, club feet or one-eyes in the villages. Unlike the other Iroquoians there was no specific style of hair… no head-dress... but curls were not allowed.

They were a “musket-less” people with war clubs, leather elk shields and arrows. Around there neck was a pouch of tobacco, flint, calumet and totems. Their skin was heavily oiled from head to toe and pungent. Their sight-detection was very keen. They could follow scent. Their endurance and aloofness to cold and heat was beyond European tolerance. These people had a sixth sense for traveling, they could go anywhere without getting lost. Their eloquent speech was expressive and their memory power was considered astonishing.

They were called Attiwandaronk by the Huron & Petun, meaning a dialect that is off-kilter. The Iroquois Five Nations called them Alirhagenrat or Rhagenratka. The French explorer Champlain in 1606 refers to them as the Neutres because of their neutral situation between the warring Iroquois & Huron nations.

These Neutrals had a unique hierarchy of leadership, very different from surrounding nations. One man ruled supreme, an actual Neutral King. When he spoke there was absolute silence… his final decision was law, stringently adhered to. This kingship also allowed them to muster large warrior force under one command, making them very effective in war and alliances.

They had towns of over 2,000 people with smaller satellite villages and hunt-fish-farm camps. Their territory extended east to the Genesee River in the United States, across southern Ontario and beyond Lake St Clair. Their major towns were located deep within, between the Grand River and Hamilton. A safe distance from the warring western Sioux nations. But they were one day’s travel from the eastern Seneca and four days from the Huron-Petun.

Populations during early 1600’s were estimated between 20,000 to 40,000. Many interior villages had no palisades, with double palisaded towns up to 10 acres. Lesser villages had a single palisade enclosing 1-5 acres. Within, the longhouses were 30 ft wide and 120 ft long. With often 12 families per longhouse. And there was a longhouse code... that whatever nation was in their longhouse... was safe from physical death.

These Neutrals held power in a strange way. They had flint-chert beds along Lake Erie. But their edge was being the “artisans of flint napping." They even repaired flint. This excelled skill and trade position may have been part of their “neutrality. They are the only known nation to actually remain in a constant state of neutrality between the warring Huron-Five Nations.

According to legend, the Aondironnons tribe of the Neutrals were assigned the position of neutrality by Dekanawideh and Hiawatha. This neutrality between the Huron and Five Nations was ruled by Jikonsaseh, the "Queen of Peace". Whose town fell to the Seneca around 1647. The Seneca claim to have guarded and protected her after that.

The Neutral were not passive... war and torture was their thirst. They thrived on it. Cruelty, torture and cannibalism was an addictive taste. They easily mustered warrior forces 4,000 men. Their alliances with the Anadaste, Erie, Ottawa and Wenrehronon made them a formidable foe.

Torture was a three day affair. It started with the extracting of the fingernails or cutting off of the fingers. Cuts were made into the fleshy part of the leg and arm with fire brands shoved in. The head scalp was burned off by pouring hot gum or ashes on the hair. Prisoners were forced to walk around the lodge fires within the longhouse with the Neutrals poking hot brands into them. Water was thrown on their back while their fingers and private parts were scalded with fire sticks. They would pierce the arms and pull out nerves with a sticks. Bowels were open and children ran around with little pieces on sticks. If the prisoner appeared near death, torture ceased and water was given. The finale was being burned alive.

Among most Iroquoian nations the women would be quickly dispatched on the spot or taken captive. The burning of women was taboo… an unwritten code. But the Neutrals violated this with pleasure.

The Neutrals warred with over 17 nations. In one recorded battle in 1643, they sieged and captured a Mascoutin (small-prairie Sioux) palisaded town of over 2,000. The Neutral burned 50 of the best surviving warriors and took 800 into captivity. The old ones unable to travel had their eyes poked out and mouths girdled so they could not eat. They were left behind to wander and die.

At the peak of power, the Neutrals became careless with their alliances. Gambling, feasting and war was their lifestyle… they ruled unhindered. In 1635 a new sound of flint came from the east… musket fire! And with it a dreadful whisper… “The Iroquois are digging the grave of the great Neutral nation, and the war cry of the Seneca will be the mourning funeral for the Neutral dead.”

In 1652 this prophecy was fulfilled…

To experience the valley of the Attawandarons... try a guided rafting adventure on the Grand River