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The Huron

 

 Native American Nations | The Jesuits in North America                    

 

More than two centuries have elapsed since the Huron vanished from their ancient seats, and the settlers of this rude solitude stand perplexed and wondering over the relics of a lost people. In the damp shadow of what seems a virgin forest, the axe and plough bring strange secrets to light: huge pits, close packed with skeletons and disjointed bones, mixed with weapons, copper kettles, beads, and trinkets. Not even the straggling Algonquins, who linger about the scene of Huron prosperity, can tell their origin. Yet, on ancient worm-eaten pages, between covers of begrimed parchment, the daily life of this ruined community, its firesides, its festivals, its funeral rites, are painted with a minute and vivid fidelity.

The ancient country of the Huron is now the northern and eastern portion of Simcoe County, Canada West, and is embraced within the peninsula formed by the Nottawassaga and Matchedash Bays of Lake Huron, the River Severn, and Lake Simcoe. Its area was small,--its population comparatively large. In the year 1639 the Jesuits made an enumeration of all its villages, dwellings, and families. The result showed thirty-two villages and hamlets, with seven hundred dwellings, about four thousand families, and twelve thousand adult persons, or a total population of at least twenty thousand.

[Lalemant, Relation des Huron, 1640, 88 (Cramoisy). His words are, "de feux enuiron deux mille, et enuiron douze mille personnes." There were two families to every fire. That by "personnes" adults only are meant cannot be doubted, as the Relations abound in incidental evidence of a total population far exceeding twelve thousand. A Huron family usually numbered from five to eight persons. The number of the Huron towns changed from year to year. Champlain and Le Caron in 1615, reckoned them at seventeen or eighteen, with a population of about ten thousand, meaning, no doubt, adults. Brébeuf, in 1635, found twenty villages, and, as he thinks, thirty thousand souls. Both Le Mercier and De Quen, as well as Dollier de Casson and the anonymous author of the Relation of 1660, state the population at from thirty to thirty-five thousand. Since the time of Champlain's visit, various kindred tribes or fragments of tribes had been incorporated with the Huron, thus more than balancing the ravages of a pestilence which had decimated them.]

The region whose boundaries we have given was an alternation of meadows and deep forests, interlaced with footpaths leading from town to town. Of these towns, some were fortified, but the greater number were open and defenseless. They were of a construction common to all tribes of Iroquois lineage, and peculiar to them. Nothing similar exists at the present day. [The permanent bark villages of the Dahcotah of the St. Peter's are the nearest modern approach to the Huron towns. The whole Huron country abounds with evidences of having been occupied by a numerous population. "On a close inspection of the forest," Dr. Taché writes to me, "the greatest part of it seems to have been cleared at former periods, and almost the only places bearing the character of the primitive forest are the low grounds."] They covered a space of from one to ten acres, the dwellings clustering together with little or no pretension to order. In general, these singular structures were about thirty or thirty-five feet in length, breadth, and height; but many were much larger, and a few were of prodigious length. In some of the villages there were dwellings two hundred and forty feet long, though in breadth and height they did not much exceed the others. [Brébeuf, Relation des Huron, 1635, 31. Champlain says that he saw them, in 1615, more than thirty fathoms long; while Vanderdonck reports the length, from actual measurement, of an Iroquois house, at a hundred and eighty yards, or five hundred and forty feet!] In shape they were much like an arbor overarching a garden-walk. Their frame was of tall and strong saplings, planted in a double row to form the two sides of the house, bent till they met, and lashed together at the top. To these other poles were bound transversely, and the whole was covered with large sheets of the bark of the oak, elm, spruce, or white cedar, overlapping like the shingles of a roof, upon which, for their better security, split poles were made fast with cords of linden bark. At the crown of the arch, along the entire length of the house, an opening a foot wide was left for the admission of light and the escape of smoke. At each end was a close porch of similar construction; and here were stowed casks of bark, filled with smoked fish, Indian corn, and other stores not liable to injury from frost. Within, on both sides, were wide scaffolds, four feet from the floor, and extending the entire length of the house, like the seats of a colossal omnibus. [Often, especially among the Iroquois, the internal arrangement was different. The scaffolds or platforms were raised only a foot from the earthen floor, and were only twelve or thirteen feet long, with intervening spaces, where the occupants stored their family provisions and other articles. Five or six feet above was another platform, often occupied by children. One pair of platforms sufficed for a family, and here during summer they slept pell-mell, in the clothes they wore by day, and without pillows.] These were formed of thick sheets of bark, supported by posts and transverse poles, and covered with mats and skins. Here, in summer, was the sleeping place of the inmates, and the space beneath served for storage of their firewood. The fires were on the ground, in a line down the middle of the house. Each sufficed for two families, who, in winter, slept closely packed around them. Above, just under the vaulted roof, were a great number of poles, like the perches of a hen-roost, and here were suspended weapons, clothing, skins, and ornaments. Here, too, in harvest time, the squaws hung the ears of unshelled corn, till the rude abode, through all its length, seemed decked with a golden tapestry. In general, however, its only lining was a thick coating of soot from the smoke of fires with neither draught, chimney, nor window. So pungent was the smoke, that it produced inflammation of the eyes, attended in old age with frequent blindness. Another annoyance was the fleas; and a third, the unbridled and unruly children. Privacy there was none. The house was one chamber, sometimes lodging more than twenty families.

[One of the best descriptions of the Huron and Iroquois houses is that of Sagard, Voyage des Huron, 118. See also Champlain (1627), 78; Brébeuf, Relation des Huron, 1635, 31; Vanderdonck, New Netherlands, in N. Y. Hist. Coll., Second Ser., I. 196; Lafitau, Mœurs des Sauvages, II. 10. The account given by Cartier of the houses he saw at Montreal corresponds with the above. He describes them as about fifty yards long. In this case, there were partial partitions for the several families, and a sort of loft above. Many of the Iroquois and Huron houses were of similar construction, the partitions being at the sides only, leaving a wide passage down the middle of the house. Bartram, Observations on a Journey from Pennsylvania to Canada, gives a description and plan of the Iroquois Council-House in 1751, which was of this construction. Indeed, the Iroquois preserved this mode of building, in all essential points, down to a recent period. They usually framed the sides of their houses on rows of upright posts, arched with separate poles for the roof. The Huron, no doubt, did the same in their larger structures. For a door, there was a sheet of bark hung on wooden hinges, or suspended by cords from above.

On the site of Huron towns which were destroyed by fire, the size, shape, and arrangement of the houses can still, in some instances, be traced by remains in the form of charcoal, as well as by the charred bones and fragments of pottery found among the ashes.

Dr. Taché, after a zealous and minute examination of the Huron country, extended through five years, writes to me as follows. "From the remains I have found, I can vouch for the scrupulous correctness of our ancient writers. With the aid of their indications and descriptions, I have been able to detect the sites of villages in the midst of the forest, and by time study, in situ, of archaeological monuments, small as they are, to understand and confirm their many interesting details of the habits, and especially the funeral rites, of these extraordinary tribes."]

He who entered on a winter night beheld a strange spectacle: the vista of fires lighting the smoky concave; the bronzed groups encircling each,--cooking, eating, gambling, or amusing themselves with idle badinage; shriveled squaws, hideous with threescore years of hardship; grisly old warriors, scarred with Iroquois war-clubs; young aspirants, whose honors were yet to be won; damsels gay with ochre and wampum; restless children pell-mell with restless dogs. Now a tongue of resinous flame painted each wild feature in vivid light; now the fitful gleam expired, and the group vanished from sight, as their nation has vanished from history.

The fortified towns of the Huron were all on the side exposed to Iroquois incursions. The fortifications of all this family of tribes were, like their dwellings, in essential points alike. A situation was chosen favorable to defense,--the bank of a lake, the crown of a difficult hill, or a high point of land in the fork of confluent rivers. A ditch, several feet deep, was dug around the village, and the earth thrown up on the inside. Trees were then felled by an alternate process of burning and hacking the burnt part with stone hatchets, and by similar means were cut into lengths to form palisades. These were planted on the embankment, in one, two, three, or four concentric rows,--those of each row inclining towards those of the other rows until they intersected. The whole was lined within, to the height of a man, with heavy sheets of bark; and at the top, where the palisades crossed, was a gallery of timber for the defenders, together with wooden gutters, by which streams of water could be poured down on fires kindled by the enemy. Magazines of stones, and rude ladders for mounting the rampart, completed the provision for defense. The forts of the Iroquois were stronger and more elaborate than those of the Huron; and to this day large districts in New York are marked with frequent remains of their ditches and embankments.

[There is no mathematical regularity in these works. In their form, the builders were guided merely by the nature of the ground. Frequently a precipice or river sufficed for partial defense, and the line of embankment occurs only on one or two sides. In one instance, distinct traces of a double line of palisades are visible along the embankment. (See Squier, Aboriginal Monuments of New York, 38.) It is probable that the palisade was planted first, and the earth heaped around it. Indeed, this is stated by the Tuscarora Indian, Cusick, in his curious History of the Six Nations (Iroquois). Brébeuf says, that as early as 1636 the Jesuits taught the Huron to build rectangular palisaded works, with bastions. The Iroquois adopted the same practice at an early period, omitting the ditch and embankment; and it is probable, that, even in their primitive defenses, the palisades, where the ground was of a nature to yield easily to their rude implements, were planted simply in holes dug for the purpose. Such seems to have been the Iroquois fortress attacked by Champlain in 1615.

The Muscogee, with other Southern tribes, and occasionally the Algonquins, had palisaded towns; but the palisades were usually but a single row, planted upright. The tribes of Virginia occasionally surrounded their dwellings with a triple palisade.--Beverly, History of Virginia, 149.]

Among these tribes there was no individual ownership of land, but each family had for the time exclusive right to as much as it saw fit to cultivate. The clearing process--a most toilsome one--consisted in hacking off branches, piling them together with brushwood around the foot of the standing trunks, and setting fire to the whole. The squaws, working with their hoes of wood and bone among the charred stumps, sowed their corn, beans, pumpkins, tobacco, sunflowers, and Huron hemp. No manure was used; but, at intervals of from ten to thirty years, when the soil was exhausted, and firewood distant, the village was abandoned and a new one built.

There was little game in the Huron country; and here, as among the Iroquois, the staple of food was Indian corn, cooked without salt in a variety of forms, each more odious than the last. Venison was a luxury found only at feasts; dog-flesh was in high esteem; and, in some of the towns captive bears were fattened for festive occasions. These tribes were far less improvident than the roving Algonquins, and stores of provision were laid up against a season of want. Their main stock of corn was buried in "caches", or deep holes in the earth, either within or without the houses.

In respect to the arts of life, all these stationary tribes were in advance of the wandering hunters of the North. The women made a species of earthen pot for cooking, but these were supplanted by the copper kettles of the French traders. They wove rush mats with no little skill. They spun twine from hemp, by the primitive process of rolling it on their thighs; and of this twine they made nets. They extracted oil from fish and from the seeds of the sunflower,--the latter, apparently, only for the purposes of the toilet. They pounded their maize in huge mortars of wood, hollowed by alternate burnings and scrapings. Their stone axes, spear and arrow heads, and bone fish-hooks, were fast giving place to the iron of the French; but they had not laid aside their shields of raw bison-hide, or of wood overlaid with plaited and twisted thongs of skin. They still used, too, their primitive breastplates and greaves of twigs interwoven with cordage. [Some of the northern tribes of California, at the present day, wear a sort of breastplate "composed of thin parallel battens of very tough wood, woven together with a small cord."] The masterpiece of Huron handiwork, however, was the birch canoe, in the construction of which the Algonquins were no less skilful. The Iroquois, in the absence of the birch, were forced to use the bark of the elm, which was greatly inferior both in lightness and strength. Of pipes, than which nothing was more important in their eyes, the Huron made a great variety, some of baked clay, others of various kinds of stone, carved by the men, during their long periods of monotonous leisure, often with great skill and ingenuity. But their most mysterious fabric was wampum. This was at once their currency, their ornament, their pen, ink, and parchment; and its use was by no means confined to tribes of the Iroquois stock. It consisted of elongated beads, white and purple, made from the inner part of certain shells. It is not easy to conceive how, with their rude implements, the Indians contrived to shape and perforate this intractable material. The art soon fell into disuse, however; for wampum better than their own was brought them by the traders, besides abundant imitations in glass and porcelain. Strung into necklaces, or wrought into collars, belts, and bracelets, it was the favorite decoration of the Indian girls at festivals and dances. It served also a graver purpose. No compact, no speech, or clause of a speech, to the representative of another nation, had any force, unless confirmed by the delivery of a string or belt of wampum. [Beaver-skins and other valuable furs were sometimes, on such occasions, used as a substitute.] The belts, on occasions of importance, were wrought into significant devices, suggestive of the substance of the compact or speech, and designed as aids to memory. To one or more old men of the nation was assigned the honorable, but very onerous, charge of keepers of the wampum,--in other words, of the national records; and it was for them to remember and interpret the meaning of the belts. The figures on wampum-belts were, for the most part, simply mnemonic. So also were those carved on wooden tablets, or painted on bark and skin, to preserve in memory the songs of war, hunting, or magic. [Engravings of many specimens of these figured songs are given in the voluminous reports on the condition of the Indians, published by Government, under the editorship of Mr. Schoolcraft. The specimens are chiefly Algonquin.] The Huron had, however, in common with other tribes, a system of rude pictures and arbitrary signs, by which they could convey to each other, with tolerable precision, information touching the ordinary subjects of Indian interest.

Their dress was chiefly of skins, cured with smoke after the well-known Indian mode. That of the women, according to the Jesuits, was more modest than that "of our most pious ladies of France." The young girls on festal occasions must be excepted from this commendation, as they wore merely a kilt from the waist to the knee, besides the wampum decorations of the breast and arms. Their long black hair, gathered behind the neck, was decorated with disks of native copper, or gay pendants made in France, and now occasionally unearthed in numbers from their graves. The men, in summer, were nearly naked,--those of a kindred tribe wholly so, with the sole exception of their moccasins. In winter they were clad in tunics and leggings of skin, and at all seasons, on occasions of ceremony, were wrapped from head to foot in robes of beaver or otter furs, sometimes of the greatest value. On the inner side, these robes were decorated with painted figures and devices, or embroidered with the dyed quills of the Canada hedgehog. In this art of embroidery, however, the Huron were equaled or surpassed by some of the Algonquin tribes. They wore their hair after a variety of grotesque and startling fashions. With some, it was loose on one side, and tight braided on the other; with others, close shaved, leaving one or more long and cherished locks; while, with others again, it bristled in a ridge across the crown, like the back of a hyena. [See Le Jeune, Relation, 1638, 35.--"Quelles hures!" exclaimed some astonished Frenchman. Hence the name, Huron.] When in full dress, they were painted with ochre, white clay, soot, and the red juice of certain berries. They practised tattooing, sometimes covering the whole body with indelible devices. [Bressani, Relation Abrégée, 72. --Champlain has a picture of a warrior thus tattooed.] When of such extent, the process was very severe; and though no murmur escaped the sufferer, he sometimes died from its effects.

Female life among the Huron had no bright side. It was a youth of license, an age of drudgery. Despite an organization which, while it perhaps made them less sensible of pain, certainly made them less susceptible of passion, than the higher races of men, the Huron were notoriously dissolute, far exceeding in this respect the wandering and starving Algonquins.1 Marriage existed among them, and polygamy was exceptional; but divorce took place at the will or caprice of either party. A practice also prevailed of temporary or experimental marriage, lasting a day, a week, or more. The seal of the compact was merely the acceptance of a gift of wampum made by the suitor to the object of his desire or his whim. These gifts were never returned on the dissolution of the connection; and as an attractive and enterprising damsel might, and often did, make twenty such marriages before her final establishment, she thus collected a wealth of wampum with which to adorn herself for the village dances.2 This provisional matrimony was no bar to a license boundless and apparently universal, unattended with loss of reputation on either side. Every instinct of native delicacy quickly vanished under the influence of Huron domestic life; eight or ten families, and often more, crowded into one undivided house, where privacy was impossible, and where strangers were free to enter at all hours of the day or night.

Once a mother, and married with a reasonable permanency, the Huron woman from a wanton became a drudge. In March and April she gathered the year's supply of firewood. Then came sowing, tilling, and harvesting, smoking fish, dressing skins, making cordage and clothing, preparing food. On the march it was she who bore the burden; for, in the words of Champlain, "their women were their mules." The natural effect followed. In every Huron town were shrivelled hags, hideous and despised, who, in vindictiveness, ferocity, and cruelty, far exceeded the men.

To the men fell the task of building the houses, and making weapons, pipes, and canoes. For the rest, their home-life was a life of leisure and amusement. The summer and autumn were their seasons of serious employment,--of war, hunting, fishing, and trade. There was an established system of traffic between the Huron and the Algonquins of the Ottawa and Lake Nipissing: the Huron exchanging wampum, fishing-nets, and corn for fish and furs. [Champlain (1627), 84.] From various relics found in their graves, it may be inferred that they also traded with tribes of the Upper Lakes, as well as with tribes far southward, towards the Gulf of Mexico. Each branch of traffic was the monopoly of the family or clan by whom it was opened. They might, if they could, punish interlopers, by stripping them of all they possessed, unless the latter had succeeded in reaching home with the fruits of their trade,--in which case the outraged monopolists had no further right of redress, and could not attempt it without a breaking of the public peace, and exposure to the authorized vengeance of the other party. [Brébeuf, Relation des Huron, 1636, 168 (Cramoisy).] Their fisheries, too, were regulated by customs having the force of laws. These pursuits, with their hunting,--in which they were aided by a wolfish breed of dogs unable to bark,--consumed the autumn and early winter; but before the new year the greater part of the men were gathered in their villages.

Now followed their festal season; for it was the season of idleness for the men, and of leisure for the women. Feasts, gambling, smoking, and dancing filled the vacant hours. Like other Indians, the Huron were desperate gamblers, staking their all,--ornaments, clothing, canoes, pipes, weapons, and wives. One of their principal games was played with plum-stones, or wooden lozenges, black on one side and white on the other. These were tossed up in a wooden bowl, by striking it sharply upon the ground, and the players betted on the black or white. Sometimes a village challenged a neighboring village. The game was played in one of the houses. Strong poles were extended from side to side, and on these sat or perched the company, party facing party, while two players struck the bowl on the ground between. Bets ran high; and Brébeuf relates, that once, in midwinter, with the snow nearly three feet deep, the men of his village returned from a gambling visit, bereft of their leggins, and barefoot, yet in excellent humor. [Brébeuf, Relation des Huron, 1636, 113.--This game is still a favorite among the Iroquois, some of whom hold to the belief that they will play it after death in the realms of bliss. In all their important games of chance, they employed charms, incantations, and all the resources of their magical art, to gain good luck.] Ludicrous as it may appear, these games were often medical prescriptions, and designed as a cure of the sick.

Their feasts and dances were of various character, social, medical, and mystical or religious. Some of their feasts were on a scale of extravagant profusion. A vain or ambitious host threw all his substance into one entertainment, inviting the whole village, and perhaps several neighboring villages also. In the winter of 1635 there was a feast at the village of Contarrea, where thirty kettles were on the fires, and twenty deer and four bears were served up. [Brébeuf, Relation des Huron, 1636, 111.] The invitation was simple. The messenger addressed the desired guest with the concise summons, "Come and eat"; and to refuse was a grave offence. He took his dish and spoon, and repaired to the scene of festivity. Each, as he entered, greeted his host with the guttural ejaculation, Ho! and ranged himself with the rest, squatted on the earthen floor or on the platform along the sides of the house. The kettles were slung over the fires in the midst. First, there was a long prelude of lugubrious singing. Then the host, who took no share in the feast, proclaimed in a loud voice the contents of each kettle in turn, and at each announcement the company responded in unison, Ho! The attendant squaws filled with their ladles the bowls of all the guests. There was talking, laughing, jesting, singing, and smoking; and at times the entertainment was protracted through the day.

When the feast had a medical or mystic character, it was indispensable that each guest should devour the whole of the portion given him, however enormous. Should he fail, the host would be outraged, the community shocked, and the spirits roused to vengeance. Disaster would befall the nation,--death, perhaps, the individual. In some cases, the imagined efficacy of the feast was proportioned to the rapidity with which the viands were despatched. Prizes of tobacco were offered to the most rapid feeder; and the spectacle then became truly porcine. [This superstition was not confined to the Huron, but extended to many other tribes, including, probably, all the Algonquins, with some of which it holds in full force to this day. A feaster, unable to do his full part, might, if he could, hire another to aid him; otherwise, he must remain in his place till the work was done.] These _festins à manger tout_ were much dreaded by many of the Huron, who, however, were never known to decline them.

Invitation to a dance was no less concise than to a feast. Sometimes a crier proclaimed the approaching festivity through the village. The house was crowded. Old men, old women, and children thronged the platforms, or clung to the poles which supported the sides and roof. Fires were raked out, and the earthen floor cleared. Two chiefs sang at the top of their voices, keeping time to their song with tortoise-shell rattles.3 The men danced with great violence and gesticulation; the women, with a much more measured action. The former were nearly divested of clothing,--in mystical dances, sometimes wholly so; and, from a superstitious motive, this was now and then the case with the women. Both, however, were abundantly decorated with paint, oil, beads, wampum, trinkets, and feathers.

Religious festivals, councils, the entertainment of an envoy, the inauguration of a chief, were all occasions of festivity, in which social pleasure was joined with matter of grave import, and which at times gathered nearly all the nation into one great and harmonious concourse. Warlike expeditions, too, were always preceded by feasting, at which the warriors vaunted the fame of their ancestors, and their own past and prospective exploits. A hideous scene of feasting followed the torture of a prisoner. Like the torture itself, it was, among the Huron, partly an act of vengeance, and partly a religious rite. If the victim had shown courage, the heart was first roasted, cut into small pieces, and given to the young men and boys, who devoured it to increase their own courage. The body was then divided, thrown into the kettles, and eaten by the assembly, the head being the portion of the chief. Many of the Huron joined in the feast with reluctance and horror, while others took pleasure in it.4 This was the only form of cannibalism among them, since, unlike the wandering Algonquins, they were rarely under the desperation of extreme famine.

A great knowledge of simples for the cure of disease is popularly ascribed to the Indian. Here, however, as elsewhere, his knowledge is in fact scanty. He rarely reasons from cause to effect, or from effect to cause. Disease, in his belief, is the result of sorcery, the agency of spirits or supernatural influences, undefined and indefinable. The Indian doctor was a conjurer, and his remedies were to the last degree preposterous, ridiculous, or revolting. The well-known Indian sweating-bath is the most prominent of the few means of cure based on agencies simply physical; and this, with all the other natural remedies, was applied, not by the professed doctor, but by the sufferer himself, or his friends.

[The Indians had many simple applications for wounds, said to have been very efficacious; but the purity of their blood, owing to the absence from their diet of condiments and stimulants, as well as to their active habits, aided the remedy. In general, they were remarkably exempt from disease or deformity, though often seriously injured by alternations of hunger and excess. The Huron sometimes died from the effects of their "festins à manger tout".]

The Indian doctor beat, shook, and pinched his patient, howled, whooped, rattled a tortoise-shell at his ear to expel the evil spirit, bit him till blood flowed, and then displayed in triumph a small piece of wood, bone, or iron, which he had hidden in his mouth, and which he affirmed was the source of the disease, now happily removed.5 Sometimes he prescribed a dance, feast, or game; and the whole village bestirred themselves to fulfil the injunction to the letter. They gambled away their all; they gorged themselves like vultures; they danced or played ball naked among the snow-drifts from morning till night. At a medical feast, some strange or unusual act was commonly enjoined as vital to the patient's cure: as, for example, the departing guest, in place of the customary monosyllable of thanks, was required to greet his host with an ugly grimace. Sometimes, by prescription, half the village would throng into the house where the patient lay, led by old women disguised with the heads and skins of bears, and beating with sticks on sheets of dry bark. Here the assembly danced and whooped for hours together, with a din to which a civilized patient would promptly have succumbed. Sometimes the doctor wrought himself into a prophetic fury, raving through the length and breadth of the dwelling, snatching firebrands and flinging them about him, to the terror of the squaws, with whom, in their combustible tenements, fire was a constant bugbear.

Among the Huron and kindred tribes, disease was frequently ascribed to some hidden wish ungratified. Hence the patient was overwhelmed with gifts, in the hope, that, in their multiplicity, the desideratum might be supplied. Kettles, skins, awls, pipes, wampum, fish-hooks, weapons, objects of every conceivable variety, were piled before him by a host of charitable contributors and if, as often happened, a dream, the Indian oracle, had revealed to the sick man the secret of his cure, his demands were never refused, however extravagant, idle, nauseous, or abominable.6 Hence it is no matter of wonder that sudden illness and sudden cures were frequent among the Huron. The patient reaped profit, and the doctor both profit and honor.


1 Among the Iroquois there were more favorable features in the condition of women. The matrons had often a considerable influence on the decisions of the councils. Lafitau, whose book appeared in 1724, says that the nation was corrupt in his time, but that this was a degeneracy from their ancient manners. La Potherie and Charlevoix make a similar statement. Megapolensis, however, in 1644, says that they were then exceedingly debauched; and Greenhalgh, in 1677, gives ample evidence of a shameless license. One of their most earnest advocates of the present day admits that the passion of love among them had no other than an animal existence. (Morgan, League of the Iroquois, 322.) There is clear proof that the tribes of the South were equally corrupt. (See Lawson, Carolina, 34, and other early writers.) On the other hand, chastity in women was recognized as a virtue by many tribes. This was peculiarly the case among the Algonquins of Gaspé, where a lapse in this regard was counted a disgrace. (See Le Clerc, Nouvelle Relation de la Gaspésie, 417, where a contrast is drawn between the modesty of the girls of this region and the open prostitution practised among those of other tribes.) Among the Sioux, adultery on the part of a woman is punished by mutilation.

The remarkable forbearance observed by Eastern and Northern tribes towards female captives was probably the result of a superstition. Notwithstanding the prevailing license, the Iroquois and other tribes had among themselves certain conventional rules which excited the admiration of the Jesuit celibates. Some of these had a superstitious origin; others were in accordance with the iron requirements of their savage etiquette. To make the Indian a hero of romance is mere nonsense.

2 "Il s'en trouue telle qui passe ainsi sa ieunesse, qui aura en plus de vingt maris, lesquels vingt maris ne sont pas seuls en la jouyssance de la beste, quelques mariez qu'ils soient: car la nuict venuë, las ieunes femmes courent d'une cabane en une autre, come font les ieunes hommes de leur costé, qui en prennent par ou bon leur semble, toutesfois sans violence aucune, et n'en reçoiuent aucune infamie, ny injure, la coustume du pays estant telle."--Champlain (1627), 90. Compare Sagard, Voyage des Huron, 176. Both were personal observers.

The ceremony, even of the most serious marriage, consisted merely in the bride's bringing a dish of boiled maize to the bridegroom, together with an armful of fuel. There was often a feast of the relatives, or of the whole village.

3 Sagard gives specimens of their songs. In both dances and feasts there was no little variety. These were sometimes combined. It is impossible, in brief space, to indicate more than their general features. In the famous "war-dance,"--which was frequently danced, as it still is, for amusement,--speeches, exhortations, jests, personal satire, and repartee were commonly introduced as a part of the performance, sometimes by way of patriotic stimulus, sometimes for amusement. The music in this case was the drum and the war-song. Some of the other dances were also interspersed with speeches and sharp witticisms, always taken in good part, though Lafitau says that he has seen the victim so pitilessly bantered that he was forced to hide his head in his blanket.

4 "Il y en a qui en mangent auec plaisir."--Brébeuf, Relation des Huron, 1636, 121.--Le Mercier gives a description of one of these scenes, at which he was present. (Ibid., 1637, 118.) The same horrible practice prevailed to a greater extent among the Iroquois. One of the most remarkable instances of Indian cannibalism is that furnished by a Western tribe, the Miamis, among whom there was a clan, or family, whose hereditary duty and privilege it was to devour the bodies of prisoners burned to death. The act had somewhat of a religious character, was attended with ceremonial observances, and was restricted to the family in question.--See Hon. Lewis Cass, in the appendix to Colonel Whiting's poem, "Ontwa."

5 The Huron believed that the chief cause of disease and death was a monstrous serpent, that lived under the earth. By touching a tuft of hair, a feather, or a fragment of bone, with a portion of his flesh or fat, the sorcerer imparted power to it of entering the body of his victim, and gradually killing him. It was an important part of the doctor's function to extract these charms from the vitals of his patient.--Ragueneau, Relation des Huron, 1648, 75.

6 "Dans le pays de nos Huron, il se faict aussi des assemblées de toutes les filles d'vn bourg auprés d'vne malade, tant à sa priere, suyuant la resuerie ou le songe qu'elle en aura euë, que par l'ordonnance de Loki (the doctor), pour sa santé et guerison. Les filles ainsi assemblées, on leur demande à toutes, les vnes apres les autres, celuy qu'elles veulent des ieunes hommes du bourg pour dormir auec elles la nuict prochaine: elles en nomment chacune vn, qui sont aussi-tost aduertis par les Maistres de la ceremonie, lesquels viennent tous au soir en la presence de la malade dormir chacun auec celle qui l'a choysi, d'vn bout à l'autre de la Cabane et passent ainsi toute la nuict, pendant que deux Capitaines aux deux bouts du logis chantent et sonnent de leur Tortuë du soir au lendemain matin, que la ceremonie cesse. Dieu vueille abolir vne si damnable et malheureuse ceremonie."--Sagard, Voyage des Huron, 158.--This unique mode of cure, which was called Andacwandet, is also described by Lalemant, who saw it. (Relation des Huron, 1639, 84.) It was one of the recognized remedies.

For the medical practices of the Huron, see also Champlain, Brébeuf, Lafitau, Charlevoix, and other early writers. Those of the Algonquins were in some points different. The doctor often consulted the spirits, to learn the cause and cure of the disease, by a method peculiar to that family of tribes. He shut himself in a small conical lodge, and the spirits here visited him, manifesting their presence by a violent shaking of the whole structure. This superstition will be described in another connection.


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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867

Jesuits in North America

 

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