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Jigonsaseh

"Jigonsaseh" is the position title of the Head Clan Mother of the Iroquois League. Also rendered Jikonsaseh, Gekeasawsa, and Yegonwaneh, the word is variously translated as the New Face, the Fat Face, and the Fat-Faced Lynx. Her titles in English include the Peace Queen, the Mother of Nations, the Fire Woman, the Great Woman, and the Maize Maiden. The position was created when the Great Law of Peace, also called the Constitution of the Five Nations, was established by the Iroquois League in the twelfth century.

Coming out of the Mound Builder era, the Iroquoian people experienced much scattered fighting, as the old male-dominated, hierarchical order fought the newer, more democratic orders then evolving for control of society. The old order valued hunting over agriculture, whereas the new order placed its dependency on planting, especially of corn. The fighting from New York to Ohio became quite ferocious, so that families on both sides lost valued members daily. The Iroquoian peoples north of the Saint Lawrence River and Lakes Ontario and Erie had already developed a democratic government and an economy based on agriculture. Looking south, they trembled at the thought of the fighting spreading north to them.

In the midst of this turmoil, strong spirits returned to the people to aid them in their time of need. Sapling, the Elder Twin of the First Family, reappeared among the Iroquois at the Bay of Quinte as the Peacemaker (whose name, Deganawidah, is not to be spoken). At the same time, his First Family mother, the Lynx (also known as Hanging Flowers), Sky Woman's Daughter, came as the Peace Queen. Traditionally an Attiwenderonk, she also came down from the north to bring methods of corn planting to her southern sisters. Her followers became known as the Cultivators. The Peacemaker and the Peace Queen came separately, but soon met.

Knowing that he was unable to promulgate the peace by himself, the Peacemaker sought out allies in the south, the very first of them being that Great Woman, the Head Mother of the Cultivators. He approached her with respect, urging her to add his message of Peace to her message of Corn, and, after due consideration, she agreed. However, she also insisted that he include the strong political powers of women in his Great Law. In his turn, he agreed. The two forged an alliance, coordinating their efforts thereafter.

Creating the constitutional peace required extensive lobbying over decades, but eventually the Iroquoian nations grew so disgusted with fighting that they inclined their ears ever more openly to the ways of Corn and Peace. Traditions exist of Jigonsaseh traveling tirelessly about, exhorting the people even as she evaded death squads sent by the priests to kill her. The Cultivators were often frightened for her safety on these journeys, but every time they spotted her coming home, paddling her canoe to safety.

As Jigonsaseh and Peacemaker gained followers (including Hiawatha, a formerly formidable foe), the leaders of the older culture lost theirs. Finally, with the decision of the Senecas to join the peace, only one priest obstructed their way. He was Adodaroh, the deeply feared and powerful shaman of the Onondagas, whose snake and cannibal cult had terrorized the people into submission for many years. Now, however, even Adodaroh's [a.k.a. Tadodaho or Tadadaho] once trusted lieutenant, Hiawatha, opposed him.

Representatives of all five nations—the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas—gathered at Onondaga to confront Adodaroh once and for all. Deeply angry, the old priest withdrew to an island that could be approached only by canoe. Twice, the Peacemaker and Hiawatha attempted parley, but twice the old man called up the winds to blow their canoe back to shore. Finally, Jigonsaseh gave the pair a powerful medicine song to calm the waters and call the ancestors. Singing her song, the Peacemaker and Hiawatha were able to approach Adodaroh, but, instead of killing or threatening him, they carried Jigonsaseh's message: If he would come over to the side of Corn and Peace, they would make him the first chairman of the Men's Grand Council of the League. Seeing his chance to retain status, the wily old man accepted their proposal.

At that point, Jigonsaseh stepped forward to announce the women's decisions regarding the people's representatives to the Men's Grand Council. She sanctioned each lineage chief, putting the horns of office on his head and announcing his election to office. Establishment of the Clan Mothers also occurred at this time, but the traditions leading to this development are obscure today. Early male anthropologists heard only the men's versions of the traditions, not realizing that there were equally important women's versions as well.

In Iroquoian culture, the names of those who attained greatness become the position titles for those who follow them in those positions. Thus the name "Adodaroh" became the position title for the Chairman of the Men's Grand Council, and the name "Jigonsaseh" became the position title for the Head Mother of the Women's Clan Council. Later Jigonsasehs continued the greatness of the first. In particular, the Jigonsaseh of the 1680s is greatly honored for defeating the Marquis de Denonville, who had been sent by Louis XIV of France along with a mighty army to destroy the Iroquois League.

After the Iroquois League was overrun by the Americans in the Revolutionary War, every attempt was made by settlers and their government to destroy Iroquoian culture. This included massive assaults on the rights and powers of women. The United States attempted to wipe out the office of the Jigonsaseh, abolishing it in 1848. The Iroquois secretly continued granting the office, however. The last recorded incumbent of the position was Gahahno (Caroline Mountpleasant), who held it until her death in 1892. The Mountpleasant family still exists, and many recognize its modern clan descendents' claim to the title.

Barbara Alice Mann


Further Reading
Cusick, David. "Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations." [1825] 1892. In The Iroquois Trail, or Foot-prints of the Six Nations, in Customs, Traditions, and History. Edited by Beauchamp, William M. Fayetteville, NY: H. C. Beauchamp.; Gibson, John Arthur. [1912] 1992. Concerning the League: The Iroquois Tradition as Dictated in Onondaga by John Arthur Gibson. Memoir 9. Edited and compiled and translated by Hanni Woodbury. Winnipeg, MB: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics Memoirs.; Hewitt, John Napoleon Brinton. 1915. "Some Esoteric Aspects of the League of the Iroquois." Proceedings of the International Congress of Americanists 19: 322–326.; Hewitt, John Napoleon Brinton. 1920. "A Constitutional League of Peace in the Stone Age of America: The League of the Iroquois and Its Constitution." Smithsonian Institution Series 527–545.; Hewitt, John Napoleon Brinton. 1927. "Ethnological Studies Among the Iroquois Indians." Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 78: 237–247.; Hewitt, John Napoleon Brinton. 1931. "Field Studies Among the Iroquois Tribes." Explorations and Field-work of the Smithsonian Institution in 1930 : 175–178.; Jemison, Pete. 1988. "Mother of Nations: The Peace Queen, a Neglected Tradition." Akwe:kon 5: 68–70.; Johnson, Elias. [1881] 1978. Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations. New York: AMS Press.; Mann, Barbara A., and Jerry L. Fields. 1997. "A Sign in the Sky: Dating the League of the Haudenosaunee." American Indian Culture and Research Journal 21, no. 2: 105–163.; Mann, Barbara Alice. 1997. "The Lynx in Time: Haudenosaunee Women's Traditions and History." American Indian Quarterly 21, no. 3: 423–429.; Mann, Barbara Alice. 2000. "Jigonsaseh." In Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois League). Edited by Bruce Elliott Johansen and Barbara Alice Mann, 176–180. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.; Mann, Barbara Alice. 2004. Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas, 115–116, 124–155. New York: Peter Lang, 2004.; Parker, Arthur Caswell (Gawaso Wanneh). 1916. The Constitution of the Five Nations, or, The Iroquois Book of the Great Law. Albany: University of the State of New York.; Parker, Arthur Caswell (Gawaso Wanneh). 1919. The Life of General Ely S. Parker, Last Grand Sachem of the Iroquois and General Grant's Military Secretary. Buffalo, ND: Buffalo Historical Society.; Parker, Arthur Caswell (Gawaso Wanneh). 1928. "The Maize Maiden." In Rumbling Wings and Other Indian Tales, 179–191. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.; Wallace, Paul A. W. The White Roots of Peace. 1946. Empire State Historical Publication Series no. 56. Port Washington, NY: Ira J. Friedman.
 

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