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A short piece on Handsome Lake and Kaliwihyo

By Lou Williams Jr.

In the late eighteenth century the Haudenosaunee were stricken by the negative influences of the mind changer, or alcohol. Shakoyatisu/ or “the one who created us”, decided to send the four messengers to a Chief, named Skanatalihyo/ or Handsome Lake, in the country of the Seneca, the Keepers of the Western Door. Shakwayatisu chose Skanatalihyo because he was afflicted by alcohol and seemed utterly irredeemable from his responsibility of Chief. His spirit was faded to near death. After numerous battles with alcohol he finally collapsed in the doorway of his longhouse. For four days he laid unconscious in his bed. During his sleep the four messengers were sent to him. He heard their voices share the wisdom of what his people, including himself, needed to do to make things right with Creation. They had strayed from their original instructions once again. The messengers arranged it so Skanatalihyo would have medicines brought to him when he arose with consciousness. After this medicine was used he would no longer have cravings for alcohol and he would begin to regain his strength.

One of the messengers told Skanatalihyo that he is never to think that he was chosen because he is special, the Creator enjoys all he has created equally. Another told him that through the Great Feather Dance the people’s spirits are elevated. Combined with drinking the juice from the strawberry the people will rebuild their spirit and recover. Skanatalihyo told the people the specifics that Shakoyatisu wanted to be relayed to them.

He said, “I have a message to deliver to you who are gathered. I have been told by the servants of the Creator that I should live upon the earth to teach the onkwehonwe (Haudenosaunee) the things that will please the Creator again. The Creator has seen that you have transgressed from the things that he taught you. He made you so that you could have good lives and not do harm to others. He sees that you have accepted the sins brought to you by Sawiskela’s Islanders. The worst thing that you have done is to take the fire water which you know to be the mind changer. The Creator says you have to stop this.”

He continued, “All this came about because your ancestors took it from the White man. You have suffered ever since because of it. Those that did this have never gotten to the Creator’s world in the sky. This was not made for you. It was made for the White man as a medicine on his island. By drinking to excess, they too have violated the will of the Creator who blew life into all of you. The Creator says that to be drunk is forbidden, and he wants you to stop. In fact, he forbids you to continue this evil habit. If you leave it behind, much of your suffering will end, and your children will be happy once again. The Creator is sad that, because of it, there is so much crime and wickedness on the earth. There are some things that were never intended for his Red children.” (Brian Rice, PhD from Wampum Chronicles Website)

The Messages go on to tell of other behaviors that go against the Creator’s intentions for the onkwehonwe. Skanatalihyo began relaying the Kaliwihyo/ or “the Good Message” to all of Haudenosaunee country. This message came directly from the four spiritual beings, Sakwayatisu’s helpers. Some of the people came to believe it, some did not. After Skanatalihyo departed from this world he left the Good Message in the hands of others. Over time, that message was written down in English, diluting the original meaning of the Message that came directly from Shakwayatisu via Skanataliyo.

The Good Message reaffirms traditional culture and The Great Law of Peace.

The Good Message is also known as Kaliwihyo, or The Code of Handsome Lake. There are Ceremonies that are done once a year, in the Haudenosaunee Longhouse Communities, to remind us of these. We give our thanks and gratefulness to the Creator for blessing us with these messages and ways to conduct ourselves.