Hiawatha, The Song of, an epic poem (1855) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A historical Hiawatha was active in forming the Iroquois Confederacy about 1570, but he also became a legendary hero. The name means “he makes rivers,” and clearing rivers of obstructions was one of the feats ascribed to Hiawatha. He also sought to end murder, strife, and war.
Longfellow based his poem on Ojibway (Chippewa) legends collected by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who had identified Hiawatha with the Ojibway hero Manabozho. Longfellow patterned his meter after that of the Finnish epic Kalevala.
Longfellow's Hiawatha is brought up by his grandmother Nokomis, daughter of the Moon. He learns the language of the birds and beasts, who tell him the secrets of nature. A leader of his people, he guides them into civilized ways. He woos and wins Minnehaha (“Laughing Water”). After she dies of sickness, he departs to rule the kingdom of the Northwest Wind.