Once in a while you find a book that you want to buy for everyone you know.
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker strikes me that way.
I thought it ironic that I stumbled upon this book in the middle of great debate about immigration in America, about how best to confront terrorism and about how to be most true to our democratic ideals.
Hiawatha lived in a time of war, when violence could strike without warning and without mercy. His people, the Iroquois ranged across what is now New York State, Ontario and Quebec long before European immigrants arrived.
The story opens with Hiawatha mourning his wife and three daughters. They'd been killed in an attack on his village and everything he cared about had been burned to the ground. Vivid illustrations by David Shannon evoke emotion throughout the story.
Hiawatha could think of nothing but revenge, until a stranger showed up and told him of the Great Law of Peace. “Fighting among our people must stop. We must come together as one body, one mind, and one heart.”
Hiawatha was skeptical, but agreed to go to his people, the Mohawk, and help the Peacemaker present the Great Law. The Clan Mothers nodded at this idea of becoming one family, but the War Chief argued that the Onondaga chief was too strong, too violent and the Mohawk must remain ready to fight.
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker left the Mohawk, traveling to carry the message to the Cayuga, the Oneida, the Seneca and the Onondaga. He faced down hostile warriors, suspicion, and his own hatred, anger and pain.
With the help of the Peacemaker Hiawatha was healed of his desire for revenge and learned forgiveness.
Eventually, they succeeded in bringing the five nations together to lay down their weapons and trust peace.
The Five Nations of the Iroquois formed a confederacy on the Great Law of Peace, thought to be the oldest participatory democracy on earth. Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Thomas Jefferson were influenced by this peaceful union's self-government.
The author of the book, Robbie Robertson wrote the story from his memory of hearing it as a child from an Elder wisdom-keeper on the reservation. Robertson is of Mohawk and Cayuga heritage.
According to Robertson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow mixed up another man with the real Hiawatha in his poem, so don't look for Gutche Gumee in this book.
This book is not his first foray into the arts. Robinson has a long and distinguished career in music for which he's been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, landed on Rolling Stone magazine’s lists of greatest artists and greatest guitar players of all time, as well as collaborated with filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and produced albums by artists like Van Morrison and Neil Diamond.
I can't leave this story without mentioning that in the Iroquois Federation men and women shared power. A Clan Mother Jikonhsaseh was
instrumental in forming the democracy.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers, in the blog comments, by email or social media.