Long before European colonizers set foot in what we now call Pennsylvania, indigenous tribes lived mostly peacefully albeit purposely separate from groups competing for land, resources, and wildlife. Shock and surprise rippled therefore through the Lenape community emptying their longhouses one morning to see Nanatchies, the son of Onutpe, the most celebrated hunter of the tribe, bound in cords and fibers to an Iroquois stranger. The two were fully naked and roughly escorted by a scouting team who announced that the pair had been discovered like dogs in heat in a forest within Lenape territory.
The crowd opened a corridor among themselves to make way for Onutpe and the Sachem to face Nanatchies. “And what,” said Onutpe flicking his hand toward the Iroquois, “is this?”
Nanatchies, standing firmly upright replied without hesitation, “His name is Ho-sa-gowwa.”
“I am a man of the Longhouse, the Mohawk tribe,” Ho-sa-gowwa unashamedly announced.
Onutpe addressed his son, “I do not know if I am more appalled by your spending your seed on another man or that you bring a rival into our fold.”
“A crime of intrusion punishable by death,” intoned the Sachem.
Nanatchies fell to his knees and begged the Sachem to relent. “Ho-sa-gowwa’s tribe is our rival, but not our enemy. This man intends no harm; he followed me here for love. Perhaps a love my father cannot understand, but love, nonetheless. Let him go.”
“So, you can follow him to Iroquois land?” demanded Onutpe.
Nanatchies turned to the Sachem. “Chief, if you allow Ho-sa-gowwa to return to his people, I swear to remain here to follow my father’s path and plans for me.” He added, “I love this Mohawk that much.”
“What if we were to set your friend far upstream on the opposite bank of this River Where There Are Forks. Do you love him enough to swim to him so to release him from a death sentence?”
“I do,” said Nanatchies.
“The river is deep, rapid, and treacherous this time of year,” the Sachem reminded Nanatchies.
“I would rather die than forego the chance to save Ho-sa-gowwa.”
The Sachem ordered the scouts to take the Mohawk, hands and feet bound, in a canoe upriver for the time it takes to skin a deer. There, they were to dump Ho-sa-gowwa on the shore. If Nanatchies drowned in the river, the scouts would build a fire to which they would feed Ho-sa-gowwa.
Soon after the canoe departed, the Sachem ordered Onutpe to undo the remaining cords from his son and lead him to the river for his struggle against its current.
The Sachem and Onutpe followed soon after in another canoe to ensure that the swimmer did not drag himself to land on which he could run to rescue his lover. What they would have done if an exhausted Nanatchies floundered in the flow we shall never know, for the young man proved himself more powerful than the river. When he reached the Mohawk, he embraced him before turning to his father and chief as they disembarked from their canoe. “We both shall live,” whispered an exhausted Nanatchies.
“Together in our community.”
The Sachem nodded.
An abundance of crops and venison was delivered annually to the Mohawk clan to compensate for the defection of Ho-sa-gowwa who became with Nanatchies the most revered and beloved of the Lenape’s braves.
Expat New Yorker James Penha (he/him🌈) has lived for the past three decades in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work is widely published in journals and anthologies. His newest chapbook of poems, American Daguerreotypes, is available for Kindle. His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha