Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

X

Navigate / Profile / Search

Profile

Enter Title

Mohawk

How do you pronounce the word "Mohawk"? What does it mean?


It's pronounced "mo-hawk." It comes from a name their Algonkian enemies used to call them, meaning "man-eaters." In their own language, the Mohawk people call themselves Kanienkehaka, which means "people of the flint."


Where do the Mohawks live?

The Mohawks are original people of New York state. Some Mohawk people still live in New York today, but most Mohawks retreated to Canada in the 1700's.

What language do the Mohawks speak?

Most Mohawk people speak English today, but some Mohawks also speak their native Mohawk language. Mohawk is a complex language with many sounds that are unlike the sounds in English. If you'd like to know a few easy Mohawk words, "she:kon" (pronounced similar to shay-cone) is a friendly greeting, and "nia:wen" (pronounced similar to nee-ah-wenh) means 'thank you.'

How do Mohawk Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?

They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Mohawk children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But Mohawk children did have toys and games. Mohawk girls liked to play with cornhusk dolls, and boys played a game where they tried to throw a dart through a moving hoop. Lacrosse was also a popular sport among Mohawk boys as it was among adult men.

Mohawk mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs--a custom many American parents have adopted.

What were men and women's roles in the Mohawk tribe?

Mohawk men were in charge of hunting, trading, and war. Mohawk women were in charge of farming, property, and family. These different roles were reflected in Mohawk government. Mohawk clans were always ruled by women, who made all the land and resource decisions for each clan. But Mohawk chiefs, who made military decisions and trade agreements, were always men. Only men represented the Mohawks at the Iroquois Great Council, but only women voted to determine who the Mohawk representatives would be. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Mohawk homes like in the past?


The Mohawk people lived in villages of longhouses, which were large wood-frame buildings covered with sheets of elm bark. One Mohawk house could be a hundred feet long, and an entire clan lived in it--up to 60 people!

What was Mohawk clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
 
Mohawk men wore breechcloths with leggings. Mohawk women wore wraparound skirts with shorter leggings. Men did not originally wear shirts in Mohawk culture, but women often wore a poncho-like tunic called an overdress. Mohawk Indians usually wore moccasins on their feet. In colonial times, the Mohawks adapted European costume like cloth shirts and blouses, decorating them with beadwork and ribbon applique.

Mohawk men wore traditional Iroquois headdresses, which are feathered caps with a different insignia for each tribe. (The Mohawk headdress has three eagle feathers on top.) Mohawk women sometimes wore special beaded tiaras. In times of war, Mohawk men shaved their heads except for a scalplock or a crest down the center of their head--the hairstyle known as a roach or a "Mohawk." Sometimes they added feathers or artificial roaches made of brightly dyed porcupine and deer hair. Mohawk women only cut their hair when they were in mourning otherwise they wore their hair long and loose or plaited into a long braid. Men sometimes decorated their faces and bodies with tattoo art, but Mohawk women generally didn't paint or tattoo themselves.

What was Mohawk transportation like in the days before cars?

There were two types of Mohawk canoes. A canoe made from elm bark was light and fast. A dugout canoe, made from hollowed-out logs, was long and could carry many people. Over land, the Mohawks used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) During the winter the Mohawks used sleds and laced snowshoes to travel through the snow.

What was Mohawk food like in the days before supermarkets?

The Mohawk Indians were farming people. Mohawk women planted crops of corn, beans, and squash and harvested wild berries and herbs. Mohawk men hunted for deer and elk and fished in the rivers. Traditional Mohawk foods included cornbread, soups, and stews, which they cooked on stone hearths.

What were Mohawk weapons, tools, and artifacts like in the past?

Mohawk hunters used bows and arrows. Mohawk fishermen used spears and fishing poles. In war, Mohawk men used their bows and arrows or fought with clubs, spears and shields.

Other important tools used by the Mohawks included stone adzes (hand axes for woodworking), flint knives for skinning animals, and wooden hoes for farming. The Mohawks and other Iroquois were skilled woodworkers, steaming wood so that it could be bent to make curved tools.

What are Mohawk arts and crafts like?
    
The Mohawk and other Iroquois tribes were known for their mask carving, which is considered such a sacred art form that outsiders are still not permitted to view many of these masks. Beadwork and the more demanding porcupine quillwork are more common Mohawk crafts. The Mohawks also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What kinds of stories do the Mohawks tell?

There are lots of traditional Mohawk legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Mohawk Indian culture. Here is a Mohawk story about the origin of the Rabbit Dance.