Hiawatha: An Attempt To Understand Cultures And Peace

The publication of “The Song of Hiawatha” in 1855 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow marked an early attempt in Western literature to join native American concepts with a Finnish epic’s meter.

On the Mountains of the Prairie,
On the great Red Pipe-stone Quarry,
Gitche Manito, the mighty,
He the Master of Life, descending,
On the red crags of the quarry
Stood erect, and called the nations,
Called the tribes of men together.

There’s little connection between Longfellow’s hero and the sixteenth-century Iroquois chief Hiawatha who founded the Iroquois League. Longfellow took the name from works by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, whom he acknowledged as his main sources. In 1856 Schoolcraft published The Hiawatha Legends, based on this material.

Despite this it is an enduring symbol of the attempt by North American writers to discover and understand the native American culture that mainstream society was largely ignorant of. I can’t help feeling it mirrors many of the challenges facing the outsider trying to understand the Maya and their descendants in Guatemala.

Here below is a full reading of the poem “The Song of Hiawatha”. You can download the original here from Project Gutenberg or view it online here.


BBC R4 – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ (abridged)
Music by Mia Soteriou
Pipes by William Lyons
Abridged by Tom Holland
Produced by Viv Beeby and Jeremy Howe
Broadcast May 21, 2000

Narrator – Timothy West
Hiawatha – Chris Garner
Gitche Manito – Burt Caesar
Little Hiawatha – Sam Fry
Iagoo – Chris Harris
Chibiabos – Peter Polycarpou
Pau-Puk-Keewis – Gary Sharkey
Mudjekeewis – Bill Wallis
Nokomis – Mia Soteriou
Minnehaha – Nicole Arumugam
Chorus – Tom Espiner and Chris Grimes

Categories: Culture

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