The Origin of Tobacco Amongst the Iroquois


After the Tekanawita had finished giving the message of Skennen, Kanikonriio and Kasatsensera to the Onkwehonwe, he said, “Now I have completed my duty given to me by Rawenniio.   

I have tried to unite all the native peoples on this island, but I have made little progress. But, finally, I was able to get the consent of the Wisk Nihonwentsake; Kanienkehaka, Oneiote’aka, Onontake’aka, Kaionke’aka and the Onontowanen’aka, to accept the Kaianerekowa, and that is a start.  

Photo by Alex Fu on

I have planted the Tioneratase’kowa, and its Four White Roots of Peace shall go out in all directions.  So that if any nation traces these roots to their source and desire to follow the laws I have laid down, they may join the League of the Great Peace. 

I now leave it in the hands of you, the united people, to carry on the ways of Rawenniio.  So that other nations shall know the law and join with you for the future good and welfare of all native peoples’.  

Now I must go across the great water to an evil people.  They have forgotten the ways and instructions of Rawenniio, and it is my duty to bring the message to them.

Before Tekanawita left, the people asked him, “How will we know of your well-being? And when will you return?”

Tekanawita replied, “There is a certain tree that you must chop in the spring, and if blood should flow from it, you will know I have been killed.  But if nothing flows from the wound, then you will know I am well.  You will see me return in my stone canoe, which will glow in the distance in the direction of the horizon of the rising sun.”  

Then he walked to the river with the people, who wished Tekanawita good luck on his journey.  He put his stone canoe in the water and paddled swiftly in the direction of the rising sun until he could no longer be seen in the distance. Finally, the people returned to their homes.

Every spring, as Tekanawita instructed them, the people chopped this particular tree.  But no blood flowed from it, and they knew he was alive and well. So every spring, the people carried this out for many years until they chopped the tree, and blood flowed from it one day. Then, the people said, “Tekanawita has been killed, and he shall return.”

In the distance, the people saw a bright light coming over the eastern horizon, and they went to gather by the riverside, waiting for Tekanawita to arrive.  They came with food, drink, clothes and gifts to offer him on his return.

When Tekanawita arrived in his stone canoe, the people rushed forward to welcome him back.  They wanted to kiss and hug him because they were glad to see him once again.  

But Tekanawita said to them, “Do not touch me, for I am not the same as you anymore, for I no longer have a living body such as yours.”

The people were saddened and asked Tekanawita what had happened to him in the land across the great water.  He replied that he spoke to these people about the message from Rawenniio, and they listened to him.   For many years he tried to reason with these people, but they did not want to follow the laws of Rawenniio.  They became angry with him, put him upon two pieces of wood, put holes in his hands and feet with metal spikes, and placed a wreath of thorns on his head.  They speared him, tortured him, spat at him and ridiculed him.

Now that they had killed his body, Tekanawita would go into the woods to cover himself with bark.  The people asked him, “Who will be our leader now that you will be gone? How will we communicate with you now that you will no longer be here in body? ”

Tekanawita replied, “Tharoniawakon will be your leader; he never grows old, and he never will die. So I will tear off a piece of my flesh and throw it on the ground.  From this will grow oienkwa’onwe which you will use to communicate with Rawenniio and me.  

You must always plant it, harvest it and respect it, for it shall be how you shall communicate your words to Rawenniio and thanks for all of his creation.  

You must always burn this oyenkwa’onwe on a wood fire since I have covered myself in the bark. So I will rest here in the woods and listen and watch over you forever.  

If you should ever be saddened, depressed, or have any problems which you cannot solve, grab hold of a tree, and you shall become well again. But, should troubled times ever return to the people and the world become evil once again, you must burn this oyenkwa’onwe on a wood fire and call my name three (3) times, and I shall return.”

Tekanawita then went into the forest and covered himself with bark.  There he still rests in spirit, listening and watching over the affairs of the Onkwehonwe peoples in the hope that all peoples will hear, understand and accept the Kaianerekowa.  And abide by the principles of Skennen, Kanikonriio and Kasatsensera, the ways of Rawenniio.

Michael Rice @copyright 1987