Theme 5: The Jesuit Relations

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Theme 5: The Jesuit Relations

  1. 1. Theme 5The Jesuit Relations<br />History 140, Spring 2011<br />Shannon Lopez<br />
  2. 2. Introduction<br />The Relations are annual reports of French missionaries of the Society of Jesus on their efforts to convert the “pagan savages” to Catholic Christianity.<br />Their popularity, then and now, is the detailed description of the customs, habits, and cultures of the various native nations. <br />The Jesuits came to know the native people as few Europeans did and through the most eventful years of their Canadian mission, they published the annual Relations for the benefit of audiences back home in France: pious well-wishers, potential donors, and simply curious readers. <br />European writings about the New World generally divide into two distinct genres, each with its own roots in classical literature: the travel narrative, a personal chronicle of firsthand experiences; and the ethnographic description, an impersonal, encyclopedic catalog of the customs and beliefs of some unfamiliar culture. <br />The Jesuit Relations had their critics at the time; Protestants who viewed them as the personification of scheming evil, secular deists who saw them as defenders of superstition, and within the Catholic church, Jansenists who differed on theological issues. <br />
  3. 3. Introduction, Cont. <br />The first year-round French settlement was established in Acadia, present day Nova Scotia, in 1604 and two Jesuits tried to establish a mission there between 1611 and 1613.<br />However much the Jesuits may have tried to shield converts from secular European influences, the whole missionary enterprise was affected by the larger pattern of relations between Indians and French. <br />The French had a unique approach to colonization partly because they came to the New World in small numbers and partly because they made their fortunes in Canada by trading for furs with native hunter, they had to come to terms with native cultures and interact extensively with Indian peoples. <br />Even though they were not displaced or conquered, the Indian nations of the eastern woodlands certainly experienced profound and wrenching change in the 17th century, and the Jesuit Relations bear witness to the powerful forces that swept the region as a result of the French presence. <br />The Jesuit missionaries were witnesses to these profound historical processes, even though they did not control or even fully understand them. <br />
  4. 4. 3 - Disease and Medicine <br />Although the Jesuits rarely attempted to quantify the population loss through epidemics, their anecdotes and reports of “flourishing villages” transformed into “hospitals help us grasp the suffering that came when the Indians first encountered the viruses that were the Old World’s invisible agents of conquests.<br />Though knowledgeable by the standards of their day, they lived before modern science classified diseases, discovered how they spread, and developed preventative and medicinal drugs. <br />They brought with them various medicines, including sugar, widely regarded as cure-all in the 17th century and they were also eager to learn about native herbal remedies. <br />As they tried to explain the terrible epidemics they tended to focus more on the ultimate question of why, rather than on the immediate question of how, disease spread. They saw it as signs of God’s plan to punish the wicked, test the resolution of the virtuous, or simply gather souls to heaven.<br />The native peoples spiritual/medicinal specialists, the shamans, main objective was to help the sick, recover and they approached the task with a variety of therapeutic techniques by administering medicines made from roots, bark, or leaves of various plants and trees. <br />The Jesuit’s disapproval of most of the native medicine did not stem from their concern that these were ineffective but rather that the “pagan ceremonies” did cure illness.<br />
  5. 5. 3 – Disease and Medicine, Cont.<br />In 1636 the Huron villages where Jesuits resided were struck with a “fever”, most likely a strain of influenza coming from New England.<br />With great reason they believed that their medical emergency had something to do with the presence of the French missionaries in their midst and some approached the Jesuits to find out what they and their god required as the condition of ending the plague. <br />Oozing red sores, exhaustion, and fever; in 1639 these were the sure signs that smallpox had entered the Huron lands.<br />Although it was taking thousands of lives in Europe, in the Americas the native population was more effected by them never being exposed to it. <br />It is clear that far more Hurons perished with the plague of smallpox than the plague of influenza. <br />
  6. 6. 4 – Diplomacy and War<br />The Jesuit missions of New France were conducted throughout the 17th century in an atmosphere of tension, war, and shifting alliances involving the French and the various native Indians. <br />Unlike the Spanish in Mexico and South America, the French didn’t come to America as Christian conquerors; instead they established a place for themselves in the existing native alliance system. <br />The native wars became more intense and deadly in the 17th century due to the adoption of European weapons but also to the pressures and upheavals occasioned by epidemics, trade, and other effects of contact. <br />
  7. 7. 4 – Diplomacy and War, Cont.<br />From 1645 to 1647 a truce was established between the Mohawks and their enemies, the Algonquins and the French.<br />Father BarthelemyVimont listened through the use of an imperfect interpreter because at the time the Jesuits did not fully understand the Mohawk language but the use of gestures, repetition, and symbols bridged the gap.<br />As in all native ceremonies, gift giving played a big role and with every remark made by the Mohawk emissary, Kiotseaeton, a “wampum belt” or as the French called it a collier or porcelain, was presented.<br />War begun again in the spring of 1647 when a Huron-French diplomatic mission to the Mohawk country was accused of treachery and evil magic and the emissaries were killed.<br />The Mohawks then launched raids into the St. Lawrence and Ottawa valleys, taking several Algonquin bands and their objective most importantly was to capture prisoners. <br />In the late 1640s, other Iroquios armies began attacking the Huron country farther west and when they had traditionally tried to capture prisoners, they now seemed focus on destroying the people.<br /> In March 1649 the Hurons were taken by surprise by a large Iroquois invasion before the summer season of travel, trade, and warfare.<br />Because over the years their military strength had been weakened by population loss caused by the epidemics, the Huron nations collapsed as a result. <br />
  8. 8. 5 – Writings on the Natural Environment <br />At the time of the early Jesuit missions, North America remained, for the French, a forbidding and mysterious region and they would comment on the stars above and the the appearance of unusual objects in the night sky.<br />Scientific curiosity led them to observe and record the appearance of comets, eclipses, and other “celestial phenomena” for the benefit of researchers in Europe. <br />They tended to regard these events as signs from God, and they wondered whether they should interpret them as warnings of disaster or signs of good fortune. <br />The Algonquian and Iroquoian people also speculated about the causes of these mysterious celestial phenomena through stories featuring figures that combined human, animal, and magical/spiritual qualities. <br />
  9. 9. 5 – Writings on the Natural Environment, Cont.<br />The Jesuit Relations contain numerous stories about the wild animals of North America and frequently these are presented as the embodiment of vices and virtues. <br />As an example, the beaver was a figure of endless fascination and so too were creatures that displayed aggressive qualities valued in men a properly masculine. <br />In 1663 nature went insane in New France; there were various strange spirits appearing in the sky and then a violent earthquake struck with aftershocks occurring over a 6 month period.<br />The fact that these phenomena occurred at a time of war against the Iroquois convinced many French and native that God intended them as signs. <br />The North American environment was a treasure trove of resources that, if put to good use by the French colonists, could provide material benefit for them and revenue for their king.<br />In 1665, after defeating the Mohawks and now at peace with the Iroquois and secure from raids, the settlements of the St Lawrence Valley grew and prospered. <br />
  10. 10. 7 – Martyrs and Mystics<br />The Jesuits loved to recount the heroic deeds of exemplary figures, but their biographical sketched tended to be fashioned on the pattern of the saint’s life. <br />Missionaries who died for the faith were revered as martyrs, while mystical women, such as the hospital nun Catherine de St. Augustine and the Ursuline Marie de St. Joseph, were held up for admiration because of their ascetic practices and religious visions, such as depriving themselves of food and comfort and deliberately inflicting pain on their bodies. <br />
  11. 11. 7 – Martyrs and Mystics, Cont.<br />Saint Isaac Jogues was the first of the Jesuit martyrs of New France and his ordeal took place in two stages separated by a 4 year period in which he had the opportunity to write his own obituary. <br />From the memoirs he left behind along with background information sketched in by the Jesuit superior, Jerome Lalemant, we know of his capture by a Mohawk raiding parity in 1642, his harrowing journey to the town of Gandaouague, the tortures he suffered there, and the many months he spent in captivity, never knowing when he might be executed. <br />European missionaries of the early modern era were not in the habit of recognizing “mere Indians” as paragons of Christian holiness, so the fact that the accounts of Catherine Tegahkouita, a native woman, sets it apart from others.<br />Catherine, or KateriTekakqitha as she is known today, was a Mohawk who lived the last 4 years of her life at the Jesuit mission of Sault St. Louis/Kahnawake, near Montreal and she was a central figure in the group of native women who in the 1670s pursued a life of Christian perfection. <br />

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