The Great Law of Peace (Gayanashagowa)

The Great Law of Peace (Gayanashagowa)

Friday July 27 |

Gayanashagowa or the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee) Six Nations (Oneida, Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, the Seneca and Tuscarora) is the oral constitution whereby the Iroquois Confederacy was bound together. The law was written on wampum belts, conceived by Deganwidah, known as The Great Peacemaker, and his spokesman Hiawatha. The original five member nations ratified this constitution near present-day Victor, New York, with the sixth nation (the Tuscarora) being added in ca. 1720.

Historians once thought the Iroquois Confederacy started in the 16th century, but a more recent estimate dates the confederacy and its constitution to between 1090 and 1150 CE. These estimates were based on the records of the confederacy leadership and astronomical dating related to a total solar eclipse that coincided with the founding of the Confederacy.

The laws were first recorded and transmitted not in written language, but by means of wampum symbols that conveyed meaning. In a later era it was translated into English. The Great Law of Peace is divided into 117 articles. The united Iroquois nations are symbolized by a Eastern White Pine tree, called the Tree of Peace. Each nation or tribe plays a delineated role in the conduct of government.