Introduction The key to the popularity of the Relations then and now is the detailed description of the customs, habits and cultures of various native nations. Jesuit Relations can be seen as the combined product of immersion in Native American society and an unparalleled ability to communicate with European audiences. Jesuits were members of a religious order, the Society of Jesus, and they took special vows of poverty and obedience that distinguished them from regular parish priests. Founded by the Spanish ex-soldier Ignatius of Loyola in 1534.
Introduction Instead of taking refuge from profane influences by retreating, after the fashion of medieval monks, they went out into the world. Algonquians depended on hunting, foraging and fishing, consequently living in small, mobile bands. The Iroquoians cultivated corn and other crops, which allowed them to live in concentrated, year-round settlements. Missions showed signs of success in the 1640’s when substantial numbers of adult natives accepted Catholicism as the natives were attacked by Iroquois, European disease, and economic dependency.
Chapter 1 – Montagnais Hunters of the Northern Woodlands Earliest published Jesuit Relations were written by Father Paul Le Jeune, the first superior of the New France mission. Religion of the Algonquin-Montagnais was of great interest to the Jesuits. They saw different spirits in natural phenomena (such as thunder or waterfalls) and in animals. This is classified as “animism”. Made use of primitive sleighs to transport belongings thru snow. The natives would march for a long time using snowshoes to the next campsite, often without a meal during the day. Natives had stubborn superstitions about what to do with the bones of the beaver once caught.
Chapter 1 – Montagnais Hunters of the Northern Woodlands Believed “Atahocam” created the world, and “Messou” restored it after the great flood.2 seasonal gods: Nipinoukhe brings the spring and summer, and Pipounoukhe brings the fall and winter. Indians possessed many physical advantages. They were tall, erect, strong, well-proportioned and agile. They didn’t assassinate each other to gain social status or value material wealth. They never visibly angry, and had great mental strength. They were terrified of death however. They did not believe in harsh punishment of children.
Chapter 2 – Jean de Brebeuf on the Hurons Jean de Brebeuf was tortured and killed during the Iroquois invasion of 1649. Huron language had different consonants and more vowels. They had no words to describe learning or government. They used compound words more often. Their words are universally conjugated and some are double conjugated. They also had relative nouns. To speak of a deceased loved one is to insult the person you are speaking to. Huron beliefs in their creation were flawed and inconsistant, and if pressed for answers, would yield nothing. They viewed their dreams as decrees, and to delay execution of them would be a crime. Huron Indians valued feasts., to gain respect to commemorate, or to prepare for war.
Chapter 2 – Jean de Brebeuf on the Hurons They were not easily annoyed, they concealed resentment, and very few every displayed anger or vengeance. They visited one another during sickness, and were very social with eachother. They were most civil. They still punished murderers, thieves, traitors, and witches. Huron used metaphors constantly. Vengeance was regarded as worse than murder. Sorcerers could be killed on sight, and thieves could be dealt with immediately. War was never undertaken without reason, the most common being lack of retribution after a killing. During council meetings, they will adjourn an entire meeting if even one or two people are not present. “Feast of the Dead”, a ceremony where the buried dead were unearthed, redressed, and then stripping them again, burning what was stripped.
Chapter 3 – Disease and Medicine Jesuits did not see themselves as doctors. Their priority was saving souls. When epidemics struck, they put most of their efforts into baptizing the dying, rather than helping the living. Jesuits tried to focus on why, rather than how, the disease spread. Hurons attributed illness to natural and supernatural causes. The shamans had skilled bone-setting ability, and could perform surgery to extract arrows and bullets, but they relied on magic and herbs to cure disease.
Chapter 3 – Disease and Medicine Social customs encouraged the spread of disease. European customs called for isolation of the sick, while Huron custom called for the sick to be the focus of activity. Hurons believed that dances could cure sickness, or games such as lacrosse, dish or straw. Entire villiages would be summoned to play a game for the health of one person. After the game, the sick person would thank them and profess to be cured, and instead, die a few days later. Hurons blamed the Jesuits for the outbreak of smallpox.
Chapter 4 – Diplomacy and War The French did not come to America as Christian conquerors. They established a place for themselves in the existing native alliance system. War between the Iroquois and the northern nations was interrupted by occasional peace, but was not unilateral and was usually a short breathing space in which a prisoner exchange was conducted. The peace negotiations were conducted using a 17-beaded wampum. Each bead represented something different, but was a symbolic gesture of something peaceful. After a brief truce, war resumed in the Spring of 1647. A Huron-French diplomatic mission to the Mohawks was accused of treachery and evil magic. The emissaries were killed, and the Mohawks launched raids into St. Lawrance and Ottawa valley regions. The raids were stealthy and the objective was to take prisoners.
Chapter 4 – Diplomacy and War “There are no hunters so eager for game as the Indians are when hunting men” March 1649 – Hurons attacked by a large Iroquois invasion. After years of effort, the Jesuits finally succeeded in converting Hurons to Christianity, and accordingly, they withdrew from many of the ceremonies that played an important part in bringing communities together. The Huron nation collapsed as a result of the Iroquois attacks in 1649.