The Great Gift, Tobacco
- according to the oral traditions of the Iroquois people

See Also: Tales of the Iroquois

Note: Ideally, the best way for this story to be communicated is in the Old Way - elders gathered with their younger relatives, during the colder months, educating each other within the family circle. The written word can only convey a part of the richness of a story such as this. However, in trying to convey the rhythm of the oral tradition, I have broken the story into small pieces. Enjoy.

Many Winters ago a band of Iroquois, People of the Longhouse, were camped in a village on the Ohio River.

One day as the people of the village were going about their regular work, a strange sound was heard coming from the river.

The people forgot their activities and rushed to the river bank to see where the strange sound was coming from.

They stood looking at each other and listening to the weird sound. The noise sometimes sounded like the howl of a strange animal, and then again, it resembled the chant of singing people.

As the people stood listening ot the peculiar music, a loud voice was heard coming from up the river.

As they looked toward the sound of the voice, they saw floating toward them a large canoe filled with strange beings. These peculiar people were beating a large kettle drum which was in the center of the canoe. They were chanting a strange song.

By their peculiar dress, the singers appeared to be medicine men.

As the canoe floated toward the village, the loud voice was again heard coming from the canoe.

It told the inhabitants of the village to go back to their homes, and to remain indoors. It said that if they disobeyed, bad luck would come to them.

The people became very frightened, and most of them rushed for their houses.

There were some who refused to be frightened by the strange beings. They stood upon the bank of the river and watched the approaching canoe.

As the canoe floated by them, those men who had remained on the river bank fell dead.

The canoe with the strange singing men continued floating on downstream, and disappeared around the bend of the river.

The next day on of the relatives of the dead men organized a war party.

In their canoe, the paddled down the river in search of the strange canoe. They were seeking revenge for the death of their relatives.

After traveling for a day, they came upon the canoe floating in a sheltered bay. In each end of the canoe, fast asleep, was one of the strange beings.

As the warriors looked at the peculiar beings the voice was again heard coming from the canoe. The loud voice said that if these strange beings were destroyed, a great blessing would come to the People of the Longhouse.

After the strange voice had ceased speaking, the warriors hid in the forests bordering the stream.

A single warrior approached the river. Taking a stone, he threw it at one of the beings who awoke with a shout. The single warrior stuck out his tongue at the strange creatures.

He pretended to be frightened, and ran from them.

Seeing this, the two beings beached their canoe and took after the fleeing man.

The warrior led them to a nearby bark house, and after he had decoyed them into it, he gave his war cry. With his war club, he faced his two pursuers.

At the sound of their comrade's war cry, the other warriors immediately came to his aid. They surrounded the two strange beings.

In a short time, the two beings were killed.

Gathering a great pile of brush and placing the two dead creatures upon it, the warriors set fire to the brush. Soon the two bodies were ashes.

From the ashes of the dead bodies rose a strange plant. It was the tobacco plant.

The strange voice was heard coming from the Earth. It instructed the warriors how to prepare the plant and how to use it. It was a great gift to the People of the Longhouse.

Please do not reprint this without asking.

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