The Three Sisters

From the Creation Story, the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) were given the corn, beans, and squash, which are referred to as the Three Sisters and teach one that “all plant life is relatives and living beings.”

 

Here is the Haudenosaunee Creation Story:

High above in the heavens, was a place called Karonhia:ke or The Sky World. In the The Sky World there lived some beings who were very much like human beings. These beings were male and female, and looked and acted very much like human men and women, but they were very powerful. Some of them were able make things happen just by thinking about it. In the center of the Sky World, there was a tree called the Tree of Life. On that tree grew many different kinds of fruit. Sky birds of many kinds came and made their nests on this tree. This tree also had many blossoms that glowed at night to light up the Sky World. The Sky People were instructed by the Creator, never to disturb the Tree of Life because it was a sacred tree. One day, a woman who was expecting a baby had a craving for a root that grew at the bottom of the Tree of Life. As much as she tried not to give in to this craving, the desire for this root grew uncontrollable. She begged her husband to dig for the root, but he refused, and reminded her of the instructions given to them by the Creator. Overcome by this craving, she decided to start digging for the root herself. She dug and dug, and had dug so deep in search of this root that she made a hole in the sky. Curious of the hole she had dug in the sky, and the light that was coming from it, she looked down into the hole. As she looked further into the hole, she lost her balance and fell in. As she started to fall, she grasped onto some of the branches and managed to grab a handful of seeds from the blossoms of the Tree of Life. Many people today call her the Sky Woman, because she fell from the sky. As she started to fall, a flock of geese were flying through the air, and one of them looked up to see the Sky Woman falling. He quickly passed the message to the geese to form a V and to all the other birds to flock together, and make a blanket with their bodies to catch her and soften her fall. They formed a V and flew together to try and bring her back to the Sky World but she was much too heavy with child, so they called to the turtle to form a landing for her on the water below.  The giant turtle came to the surface so that she could land on the shell on his back. The turtle called to the water animals to bring some dirt to the surface so that she could have some earth to survive. This became a competition between all the water animals. Many of them tried and failed. First the beaver, then the muskrat, and finally, the otter was successful in bringing some dirt from under the water and placed it on the turtle’s back. When this happened, the turtle’s shell became covered with earth to form a landing for Sky Woman. To this day, the North American continent, from the Queen Elizabeth Islands at the Arctic Circle to Guatemala at the Mexican border resembles a turtle. This is why we call the land where we live, “Turtle Island”. Sky Woman thanked the creatures of the air and water, and as she thanked them, she rejoiced by singing. She began to dance in a counter-clockwise direction, shuffling her feet as she moved, so that her feet would never leave the earth, and as she did so, the grains of the earth beneath her, and the turtle’s shell grew bigger and bigger. She dropped the seeds she brought with her from the Tree of Life, and because these seeds were magical, from another world, they grew instantly to form all sorts of plant life. As she continued to dance counter clockwise, she noticed that there was land and plant life for as far as she could see. This is why, to this day, the Haudenosaunee people dance on the earth in the counter-clockwise direction, and the women shuffle their feet when they dance our ceremonial dances. A few months passed and Sky Woman gave birth to a baby girl. The baby girl, not being of this world, grew very quickly, and before long became a young woman. She was told never to walk toward the west, but as many young people do, she disobeyed her mother’s instructions, and walked towards the west. As soon as she began her westward journey, a strong wind began to blow, and a cloud moved towards her. The cloud was shaped in the form of a man, which frightened the young woman and she fainted. When she awoke, she found two arrows crossed on top of her belly. She ran to tell her mother, Sky Woman, what had happened, and her mother told her that she had been visited by the Spirit of the West Wind, and had conceived of twin boys. The twin boys were very special. Their grandmother was Sky Woman, and their father was the Spirit of the West Wind. One was a right-handed twin and very gentle and kind, truthful and honest. The Other was a left-handed twin and was often stubborn and argumentative, lied and had troubling thoughts. While they were still growing inside their mother’s womb, they talked to each other, and often argued over how they would be born and the choices they should make once they arrived. The time came for the twins to be born, and the right-handed twin was born first, in the usual way. The lefthanded twin was stubborn and had no patience, so he forced his way out by pushing his way out by tearing a hole in his mother’s side, killing his mother. Sky Woman was very saddened and told the twins they must bury their mother. They buried their mother and from her head grew corn, beans and squash. Those are the staple foods of the traditional Haudenosaunee diet. They are called The Three Sisters, because they grew together from the same mound of earth, and came from their mother’s body just as they did. They were sisters, because the plants were female and would produce fruit that bear seeds for future growth. From her heart grew sacred tobacco, Oionkwehonweh, which is used when there is a desire to communicate with the Creator. From her feet grew the wild strawberry Jiosohndohk, which is known as The Big Medicine, and grows along the path to the Spirit World, and all of the medicinal plants we have come to know. Even in her death, the mother of the two boys was still making sure that they had what they needed to survive. She is called Mother Earth and to this day she still supports all of the people, the animals and the plants. Sky Woman, the twins’ grandmother then told the boys that they have three sisters, but no brother. They should consider the sun to be their eldest brother because he provides us with light during the day so that we can go about our business, travel about and not get hurt. He provides us with a blanket of warmth to protect us from the cold, and over sees us in the daytime, just as an older brother would do. The twin boys grew very quickly, and before long grew into young men. They about the task of creating everything that is found in the natural world. As they went about creating, the twin brothers continued to compete with one another, and in doing so, represented different ways of living. The Right-handed twin created beautiful hills, lakes, birds that sing, blossoms and gentle creatures. Meanwhile, the Left-handed twin sabotaged his brother’s work, created jagged cliffs, whirlpools, put thorns on the rose, and made flies, mosquitoes, bugs and predators The Righthanded twin was always truthful, reasonable, good-hearted and a “straight arrow”, while the Left-handed twin lied, rebelled, fought and made “crooked choices”. The Right-handed twin created human beings, and has been called Sonkwiadihsoh, “Our Creator” and “The Master of Life”. The Left-handed twin helped him, but he caused people to make choices that were not always good, and he invented rituals of sorcery and healing. The world they built together, included both cooperation and competition, loving kindness and aggression. When Sky Woman passed away, the right-handed twin wanted to bury her next to their mother, but the left-handed twin objected, and in his anger, kicked his grandmother’s head and caused it to fly up into the night sky. She is still there. She is called Grandmother Moon. She watches over us at night. She helps the people keep track of time. She controls the rise and fall of the waters. She keeps company with the stars and the left-handed twin, the keeper of the night. She regulates the monthly cycles of all of the female life which guarantees that new life will be born. She is the leader of all the female life. After they had finished their creations, the Left-handed twin argued with his brother over who would rule over the new creations, and challenged his brother to a duel. They continued to compete in other ways, they gambled, played lacrosse and fourth each other with clubs. All at once, the Right-handed twin grasped a deer antler, and with it, killed his brother, then threw his body over the edge of the earth. The Right-handed twin prevailed over his brother in the natural world by day, but the Left-handed twin prevails over the darkness of night, and the beings of the underworld. The Haudenosaunee believe that both the Left-handed twin and his creations and the Right-handed twin and his creations are necessary for the world to be in balance. The tension and struggle for balance between the two brothers and the principles of live is incorporated into the Haudenosaunee ceremonies and cycles of life, including birth and death. Eventually, the human beings were made and were given instructions on how to give thanks for everything in creation, to remind them of their duties and to take care of these things. We are supposed to be the caretakers. We are supposed to make sure that everything stays in balance. However, as time passes, it is we, the human beings who keep forgetting what we are supposed to do. The sun still rises each day and provides us with light and warmth. The moon still watches over us at night and provides guidance for our calendars. She still controls the waters, the cycles of women and decides when babies are born. It is we, who are forgetting to take only what we need and to leave the rest for the future generations to experience and enjoy. We, the human beings are the ones who are forgetting that everything in the natural world is connected and is part of the same web of life and so should be respected. It is hoped that all of the people of the world will someday remember and respect the original instructions and take good care of our Mother Earth.”

 

The Three Sisters are considered to be divine gifts, received from the Creator,2  as the tree plants provide well balanced nutrition during the winter months, and agriculturally, sustainable food source:

“Cornstalks provided supports for climbing bean vines. Squash leaves provided shade, keeping the soil moist and preventing weeds from choking the crops. In this way, the soil remained fertile for years. When the soil became fallow, the entire village would move to a new location.”3

Various recipes for the soup made from these plants (combined) are found across the internet, but they are difficult to trace in the cookbooks. Here is one example:

Three Sisters Soup5

Ingredients

6 cobs of white corn or peaches and cream
1 cup each green and yellow beans
1 cup of cooked kidney beans or canned pinto beans
2 cups of cubed squash
1 cup of diced, uncooked potatoes with skins left on
1 small zucchini, cubed
1 cup of sliced carrots
1 cup pumpkin, diced (optional)
(in winter months, use frozen corn and frozen vegetables)

Directions

Wash and dice all vegetables, cut the corn off the cob and scape off the milky corn left on the cob; put in pot.

Add 2 quarters fresh water; add 1/2 tsp. Of salt or chicken stock powder. (optional).

Bring to a full boil, turn down and simmer for 2 hours.

Add salt to taste or a dollop of butter before serving.

Serves 8-10.

FullSizeRender 10

Bon Appetite!

 

 

 

End Notes:

  1. “Three Sisters Soup.” Six Nations Farmers Market. Accessed April 4, 2017. http://www.sixnationsfarmersmarket.com/recipes_three_sisters_soup.php.
  2. HAUDENOSAUNEE GUIDE FOR EDUCATORS. Smithsonian Institution, 2009. 2009. Accessed March 29, 2017. http://nmai.si.edu/sites/1/files/pdf/education/HaudenosauneeGuide.pdf.
  3. Ibid., 11.
  4. “Traditional Foods & Recipes on the Wild Side.” Native Women’s Association of Canada. Accessed April 4, 2017. https://www.nwac.ca/., 5, 6, 7.
  5. “Three Sisters Soup.” Six Nations Farmers Market. Accessed April 4, 2017. http://www.sixnationsfarmersmarket.com/recipes_three_sisters_soup.php.
  6. HAUDENOSAUNEE GUIDE FOR EDUCATORS. Smithsonian Institution, 11-12.
  7. “Traditional Foods & Recipes on the Wild Side.” Native Women’s Association of Canada. Accessed April 4, 2017. https://www.nwac.ca/.

 

Bibliography and recommended reading: 

King, Thomas. The Truth about Stories a Native Narrative. CBC Massey Lectures ; 42nd Ser. Toronto: CBC Audio/Ideas, 2003. – link to Messy Lectures: The 2003 CBC Massey Lectures, “The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative”

“Three Sisters Soup.” Six Nations Farmers Market. Accessed April 4, 2017. http://www.sixnationsfarmersmarket.com/recipes_three_sisters_soup.php.

“Traditional Foods & Recipes on the Wild Side.” Native Women’s Association of Canada. Accessed April 4, 2017. https://www.nwac.ca/.

Visitor, Lindsay. “Cree cook starts recipe page to honour traditional food.” CBC NEWS. May 02, 2015. Accessed March 20, 2017. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/cree-cook-starts-recipe-page-to-honour-traditional-food-1.3057796.

HAUDENOSAUNEE GUIDE FOR EDUCATORS. Smithsonian Institution, 2009. 2009. Accessed March 29, 2017. http://nmai.si.edu/sites/1/files/pdf/education/HaudenosauneeGuide.pdf.

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