Long before the Europeans settled in North America, a group of six native Indian tribes had formed a powerful union known as the Iroquois Confederacy who lived and thrived northeast of Lake Ontario. Part of the rich culture of the Iroquois people was their diverse creationist stories. The most popular of these cosmological legends is the Iroquois creation story, precisely re-told by David Cusick, a Tuscarora Indian. The Iroquois creation story employs symbolism to illuminate the infinite and constant conflict between good and evil as well as the competitive quest for power in society. In addition to its rich rhetorical style of narration, the Iroquois creation story is shaped in an articulate form like any formal literature (Cusick 19). The storys structure helps to serve its didactic function as it aesthetically shows the shift of identity among the sky people, the monsters, the highly contrasting twins, and the creation of humankind.
As the story commences, there is immediate and palpable tension. It is explicitly stated that in the beginning before the formation of the earth, the country above the sky was inhabited by Superior Beings, over whom the Great Spirit presided (Cusick 18). There are two worlds in existence. The one below the sky is of ominous darkness and monsters. A conflict between the superior beings and the monsters is portrayed as the former are symbolically located above the latter. The superior beings have authority and more influence than the monsters. The world below is one of darkness, depicting monsters and disarray, while the one above the sky is of light, representing decency and order. Before the creation of human life, the celestial sky people are presumed good. However, when an expectant woman is flung from the sky world, it suggests that evil too was present and conniving there (Cusick 19).
At this point in the riveting tale of creation, there is a distinct blurring of the lines. Most readers would expect the wicked monsters of the dark and chaotic world below to inflict harm on the woman, but they do the opposite. There is a great consternation among the monsters who counsel on the best solution to prevent the woman from crashing into the great waters of the deep. A giant turtle volunteers to help by becoming an island that safely cushions and holds the woman afloat (Cusick 19). This is paradoxical because the creatures that wallow in the quagmire of disarray work together to save the woman. The woman then gives birth to twin boys who are poles apart in personalities. Ultimately, this development directs the most prominent conflict within the Iroquois creation story. Indeed, the twins are the infinite converse of each other. It is vital to note that the children of the woman, a superior being presumed to be good, are the real perpetrators of evil in the soon-to-be-created earth.
The first encounter with the twins paints a vivid picture of rivalry, an ubiquitous theme of good versus evil. The twin embodying goodness, Enigorio, possesses a gentle disposition and is known as the good mind. The evil twin, Enigonhahetgea, possesses an insolence of character and is known as the bad mind (Cusick 19). While in their mothers womb, before birth, the evil twin attempts to come out first through her side, with the good twin neutralizing his efforts. The evil twin wants to fulfill his individual desires for dominance at all cost without utter regard of the consequences that may befall his mother and brother. On the other hand, the good twin is mindful of the lives of both his mother and brother. This is perfectly in tandem with the traditional beliefs of community over individuality among the Native Americans.
When the mythological twins grow into adulthood, their conflict and disagreement grow along with them. The good twin, Enigorio, begins the work of creation by forming the sun, moon and stars, which bring light into the dark world. He also creates animals, forests and rivers (Cusick 19-20). From the dust on the ground, the good twin sculpts the first humans, the Eagwehowe, and breathes life into them. However, the evil twin creates huge mountains, steep cliffs and creeping reptiles with the intention to harm humankind. He loathes his brother and his human creations and perceives himself to have implicit authority over them. This is strikingly different from the views of kinship espoused by the Iroquois Confederacy (Cusick 20). The good twin serves as a role model to the Iroquois people by demonstrating that fighting among themselves is a futile endeavor. However, the conflict between good and evil as well as the relentless struggle for dominance is still present in this new world.
The grand finale to the struggle between good and evil is seen in the last conflict between the twin brothers. Enigorio, the good twin, attempts to mend the rift between them, whereas Enigonhahetgea, the evil twin, is spoiling for a fight. The winner of this challenge would have absolute authority over the universe (Cusick 20). The earth-shattering spar occurs in the course of two days and involves pulling up of trees and mountains, and the trail of terrible whirlwinds (Cusick 21). The good twin, Enigorio, emerges the victor of the cataclysmic battle by using a pair of horns to defeat his brother. The loser, Enigonhahetgea, is cast into everlasting doom and called the Evil Spirit, which governs deceased souls. This shows that good is associated with life while evil is associated with death. Enigorio rules his creation, instilling in them that good always trounces evil and stability is achieved through unification.
Since the Iroquois creation story symbolizes the timeless and endless struggle between good and evil, it is a vital work of early American literature. What most readers consider as important American literature is the writings of European settlers. However, the oral traditions of the Native Americans are just as important and significant as all other American literature. The Iroquois creation story, through the good example of Enigorio, informed the Native Americans of the time to propose peace among the different tribes. At a time when America was swept by a wave that was emphatic on individualism, the natives resorted to their traditional ways of kinship to preserve their culture and survive. The Iroquois nation was formed by uniting six different tribes whose values and beliefs were diverse. However, they accepted, accommodated and acknowledged each others tradition. The conception of the Iroquois community vanquished the discord that the evil twin, Enigonhahetgea, stood for. The rich culture of the Iroquois people is secured through the preservation of tales such as the Iroquois creation story, and at the same time making unique contributions to the collective American culture.
Cusick, David. "The Iroquois Creation Story." (2003): 17-21.
Cusick, David. The Iroquois Creation Story. Sketches of the Ancient History of the Six Nations. Lewiston, New York, 1827.
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