Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Longfellow’s Great Lakes region can be seen as the mythic and Edenic vanished land of the Ojibwa, as well as a place in which Europeans were settling in ever greater numbers, encouraged by the region’s rich ore deposits. Thus, for Longfellow’s readers, the location of the poem presents a paradox: On one hand, it depicts the romantic notion of the “noble savage” living at one with nature; on the other hand, it depicts the contemporary reality of logging camps and copper and iron mines. It does so, however, without blaming the intrusive white population for the destruction of a way of life; rather, there is an air of inevitability in the poem, which suggests that the Ojibway land must fade from existence as states such as Michigan and Minnesota are taking shape.
Vale of Tawasentha (tah-wah-SEHN-thah). Located somewhere in Ojibway land, the Vale of Tawasentha is the location of Longfellow’s mythic singer, Nawahada, who tells the story of Hiawatha. The description of the vale suggests a golden, prehistoric paradise where Native Americans lived in harmony with nature. Further, Longfellow attempts to connect his poem with the oral traditions of the Native American singer by inventing Nawahada.
Red Pipestone Quarry. Place where Gitche Manito, the Master of Life, calls the tribes of men to gather, entreats them to make peace with each other, and teaches them to make peace pipes. While it is not possible to identify accurately this location geographically, it is likely that Longfellow was thinking about the pipestone quarries of southern Minnesota where native peoples have long gathered to collect the precious pipestone for fashioning into sacred relics and pipes. One such Minnesota quarry is the Pipestone National Monument. By using this location as the site for the important ritual meeting of the tribes, Longfellow ties his poem to actual Native American customs as well as to contemporary American geography, all while preserving the sense of a prehistoric, mythic past.
Gitche Gumee (GIT-chee GEW-mee). Indian name for Lake Superior–which is also called Big-Sea-Water–by which Hiawatha grows up. The largest of all the Great Lakes, Superior is also the Great Lake that extends farthest north and west. Lands surrounding the lake include Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. As one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, Superior is of suitable size and grandeur to be associated with Longfellow’s vision.
*Dakota land. Area west of Ojibway land, including parts of present-day Canada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana that was the traditional home of the Dakota peoples. The “Dakotahs” to whom Longfellow refers are probably Sioux. Their land plays an important role, because it is here that the young Hiawatha finds his beloved, Minnehaha, the daughter of an arrow maker. Traditionally, the Falls of Minnehaha are associated with waterfalls in present-day Minneapolis. Structurally, it is important for the poem as a journey quest that Hiawatha leaves his own people and goes to the land of the enemy to find his mate. Moreover, this union produces peace among the Ojibway and the Dakotah.