Monday, November 7, 2011

Allies in War, Partners in Peace

As promised in a few posts ago I am back to share the story of one of the most interesting and beautiful sculptures I have ever seen. You will find it on the fourth floor of The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC. Called "Allies in War, Partners in Peace", this statue is rich with symbolism. It is made of bronze and is a gift from the Oneida Nation, New York. It stand 19-1/2 feet tall, weighs 2,200 lbs. and was created by Utah-based sculptor Edward Hlavka. You can see more of Mr. Hlavka's work here.
Here you can see General George Washington, Oneida Chief Oskanondonha (also known as Chief Shenendoah) and a very brave Oneida lady, Polly Cooper.

I read that this work honors the bond forged between the Oneida Nation and the just beginning United States during the Revolutionary War. Oneidas fought alongside the colonists in many key battles and helped sustain American soldiers during the darkest hours of the Revolutionary War. In the winter of 1777-78, a group of Oneidas walked more than 400 miles from Oneida territory (what is now central New York) to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, carrying corn to feed the starving soldiers.

Polly Cooper, the Oneida lady in the statue, taught the soldiers how to cook the corn - one of The Three Sisters, the sustainers of life, along with beans and squash. After the Oneida men returned home, she remained and helped the troops. Accepting no payment for her services, she eventually accepted a gift bonnet and shawl from Martha Washington. What an amazing lady she must have been. Her shawl is still in existence today and you can read more here. Since I was a little girl I have always been fascinated by traditional clothing. The details on this statue were just beautiful.

Below you can see the basket of corn she is holding, one of the Three Sisters mentioned above, and all represented in the intricate work of the statue.
Chief Oskanondonha (Skenandoah, Shenandoah) played a key role in the Oneida Nation's decision to side with the colonists. He was the wampum keeper and creator of government-to-government agreements, a highly respected individual among the Oneidas and was instrumental in forging government-to-government relations with the colonists during the War of Independence. He chose to fight with them basing that decision on his great friendship with the Reverend Samuel Kirkland, missionary to the Oneidas and founder of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.
The Chief is wearing a traditional Oneida headdress known as a kostoweh. It has two feathers, one straight up and one down, which denotes it from other members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
Chief Oskanondonha's prized possession was a silver pipe given to him by New York State Govenor Daniel Tompkins.
George Washington, as seen in the photo below and who went on to become the first President of the United States, asserted that during the Revolutionary War, "the Oneidas have manifested themselves the strongest attachment to us throughout the dispute." He is also seen holding a wampum belt which symbolizes an agreement between the United States and the Oneida Nation, not to interfere in the affairs of the other.

If you get a chance to look at this statue, be sure to walk all around for behind it stands a little girl who appears to be looking into the tree. The little girl represents the future, the seventh generation to come. She is holding onto a no-face doll, which points to an allegory told by the Oneidas to teach children about the foibles of vanity.

According to legend, the doll constantly marveled at her beauty and was warned by the Creator not to do so. After ignoring the warning, a hawk snatched the doll's face. And if like me you had forgotten what the word 'allegory' means, I looked it up and the definition is that of a story, poem or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral of some kind.

The bear, turtle and wolf represent the three clans of the Oneida.
Other symbolisms:

The White Pine which stands high above the central figures. The pine is significant to the Oneidas and other members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga and Tuscarora).
The Peacemaker united the warring nations with his message of the Great Law of Peace, unearthing the white pine and burying the weapons of war, such as a hatchet and a war club, underneath it. The roots of the tree are visible and extend in the four directions, welcoming others to embrace peace and live under the branches of the tree in harmony.
The tree is home to an Eagle, perched at the top, ready to warn nations of approaching danger.
There are the five bound arrows which denote strength in unity and symbolize the union of the Haudenosaunee. They are located at the back of the piece.

Rock is located in the tree. The rock was used by Oneidas to mark boundary lines.
The Oneida belt is seen at the base of the sculpture but unfortunately I wasn't aware so did not take a photograph of it. It comprises six squares joined together, each representing one of the nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.


  1. Thank you so much for this detailed explanation of a very beautiful sculpture. Things I would never have known/seen without you.

  2. That is a wonderful statue! Thanks for the great pics and explanations.

  3. Plenty of info on this wonderful statue.Great post.

  4. OH Denise, What an awesome post... I enjoyed reading every word and seeing the gorgeous sculpture.. The Oneidas were awesome, weren't they???? Wow---what a story. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Denise this was a wonderful post! And so much early history too. It's a beautiful statue and I'm amazed at the small details. I think I could spend alot of time just looking at this.

  6. Thank you for sharing something so nice. What forgiving people they were.

  7. you captured it's details beautifully....i love washington!!

  8. I NEVER knew these details!
    should be read by students.

    Brilliant, D !

    Aloha from Honolulu

    Comfort Spiral

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  9. Awesome post! I enjoyed learning about the features and symbolism of this beautiful sculpture. I particularly like the pine tree.

  10. Wow, what a great post about a wonderful sculpture. The detail is great, I love all the symbology.

    I appreciate the research that you did for this post.

  11. oh Denise....I´ve a history class with you..thanks

  12. Amazing recount of early America!
    Stories that change the stories (hence histories) of nations are great moments meant to be retold. A gem worth knowing.

    The portrait is also excellent.
    Thanks Denise for such a thorough and passionate retelling ;-)

  13. A fabulous sculpture and an interesting story.

  14. i really enjoyed this post.

    great info on this marvellous statue.

    thanks so much for sharing.

  15. What an amazing story, so fascinating, and I love stories about Indian tribes, especially true ones. Those statues are so beautifully sculptures and a lot of detail went into creating them. Thank you Denise for the links, which were a nice read. Thank you for being a true friend and I read back through your blogs, which I always enjoy. Have a nice week.

  16. Denise
    thank you for your very informative post.

  17. This statue was so very beautifully photographed. Its beauty stands on its own merit, but having your explanation brings it to life. This is such a great post, Denise.

  18. Thank you for all the nice comments, always enjoyable to read and I do appreciate them.