An Iroquois Legend – Ancient Clan System
At a time when the population of the Haudenosaunee increased so did the incidents of death. Tradition dictates that we grieve family members for a period of one year. However, the population grew so rapidly that our people found themselves constantly grieving. One family member would die before the one year mourning period was over. The people were not functioning because the grieving never seemed to end.
The Elders of the villages became deeply concerned because they realized that our ceremonies were not being attended. Those who recited and performed the ceremonies were not even attending. Other members tried to conduct the ceremonies but had difficulty doing them properly. Because of this, the Elders called a meeting of all the villages. The village members were told of the problem and asked for ideas on how to restore peace in the people.
After many meetings of not finding a solution, a young man finally stood up and spoke. He told them that they should follow the examples of nature. The Creator created waters; there are oceans, lakes, rivers, and seas, yet they are all water: the birds are divided into eagles, robins, cardinals, etc. yet they are all birds; and that they should divide themselves in such a manner.
The Elders were very impressed at what the young man had to say that they gave him a special name. They called him Ro’nikonhrowa:nen, which means, “He who has great ideas.”
Early the next morning he traveled with the people along the river. After awhile, he saw a grapevine hanging from a tree. He grabbed the grapevine and threw one end across the river where it hooked on something. Then holding on to the other end of the grapevine, he crossed the river to the other side. He instructed the people to cross in the same manner. When only half of the people had crossed, the grapevine let go. He told the people that were left that he’d be back for them.
On his side of the river he instructed the people to make camp and to pay very close attention to their surroundings and to things. Early the next morning the eldest woman of the camp, after giving thanks to the Creator, went to the river to fetch water for their morning meal. As she was retrieving the water, she heard a noise and when she looked up she saw a deer standing there staring right at her. She reported this back to Ro’nikonhrowa:nen and he then informed her that the deer was to be the Clan that she and all of her offspring would belong to forever. And so it went with the eldest women of the camp and they saw the Bear, the Snipe, and the Eel. So now, this one side of the river was one united group known as the Deer, the Bear, the Snipe and the Eel Clans.
The next morning Ro’nikonhrowa:nen crossed the river to the other camp where the people there were anxiously awaiting his return.
When all the people were gathered he explained what he wanted them to do. He instructed them to pay close attention to all their surroundings, especially the unusual and to remember to give thanks to the Creator, who is the creator of all things.
The next morning, as in the other camp, the eldest woman after giving thanks to the Creator, went to the river to fetch water for their morning meal. When she got her water and as she stood up, she heard a noise. When she looked in the direction of the noise she heard she saw a Wolf staring right at her. When she told Ro’nikonhronwa:nen all she has seen, he told her that she and all her offspring were now and forever of the Wolf Clan.
So it went on the following days that the eldest women from the big families experienced the same incidents. In this way, the people on that side of the river received the Wolf, the Beaver, the Turtle, and the Hawk Clans. So now, the people of that side of the river is one united group.
This is why all Iroquois communities who still hold and follow the Clans will have this dual system.
If someone dies from the Deer, the Snipe, the Bear or the Eel, all the people from that side of the house would be in mourning. The people on the other side of the house, the Wolf, the Turtle, the Beaver, and the Hawk, would do all the cooking, all the speaking at the wake and funeral, and grave digging, and whatever else was necessary to bury the dead. They were obligated to perform all the duties for that death for a period of nine days. On the tenth day they were released of their obligation and duties.
There are probably many other recorded histories of the establishment of the Ancient Clan System, this is only one of the earlier versions. This recording as we know, is said to have been before the Great Law of Peace was established.