Wyandot: Burial Ceremonies of the Hurons

An account of the burial customs of the Huron written by Jean de Brebeuf while at the residence of St. Joseph among the Hurons at the village called Ihonatiria, on the 16th of July, 1636.

The Wyandot people or Wendat, also called the Huron Nation and Huron people, in most historic references are believed to have been the most populous confederacy of Iroquoian cultured indigenous peoples of North America. The Huron today are much diminished, having faced the genocidal campaigns of the Six Nations on the losing end. The account of their burial customs that follows is a witness from the beginnings of French North America.
— Orly

BURIAL CEREMONIES OF THE HURONS.

Our savages are not savages as regards the duties which nature herself requires us to render to the dead. They do not yield in this respect to several nations much more civilized. You would say that all their labor and efforts were for scarcely anything but to amass means of honoring the dead. They have nothing too valuable for this purpose; they devote to this use the robes, the hatchets, and the shell beads in such quantities, that you would think to see them, on these occasions, that they were considered of no great value, and yet they are all the riches of the country; you may often see them in midwinter almost entirely naked, while they have good and fine robes in their chests, which they are keeping in reserve for the dead; this is, indeed, their point of honor. It is on this occasion especially that they wish to appear magnificent. But I speak here only of their peculiar funerals.

These good people are not like many Christians, who cannot suffer death to be spoken of, and who, in a mortal sickness, hesitate to break the news to the sick one for fear of hastening his death. Here, when the recovery of any one is despaired of, not only do they not hesitate to tell him that his end is near, but they even prepare in his presence all that is necessary for the burial; they often show him the shroud, the hose, the shoes, and the girdle which he is to wear; frequently they are enshrouded, after their custom, before they have expired, and they hold a feast of farewell to their friends, during which they sing, sometimes without showing any apprehension of death, which they regard very indifferently, considering it only as a change to a life very little different from this. As soon as the dying man has drawn his last breath, they arrange the body in the same position that is to be preserved in the tomb; they do not lay it out horizontally, as is our custom, but crouched, like a ball (en peloton), "quasi en la mesme posture que les enfants sont an ventre de la mere." Until this time they restrain their mourning. After having performed these duties, all in the cabin begin to utter sighs, groans, and lamentations; the children cry Aistan, if it is their father, and the mother Aien, Aien, "My son, my son." No one seeing them thus weeping and mourning would think that they were only ceremonial lamentations; they blend their voices all in one accord and in a lugubrious tone, until some one in authority calls for peace; at once they cease and the captain hastens to announce through all the cabins that such a one is dead. Upon the arrival of the friends they resume their mourning. Frequently some one of more importance will begin to speak and will console the mother and the children, now extolling the deceased, praising his patience, his kindness, his liberality, his magnificence, and, if he was a warrior, his great courage; now saying, "What do you wish? there is no longer any remedy; it was necessary for him to die; we are all subject to death;" and then, "He lingered a very long time," &c. It is true that on this occasion they do not lack for conversation; I am sometimes surprised to see them discourse a long time on this subject, and bring up, with much discretion, all considerations that may afford any consolation to the friends of the deceased.

Notice is also given of this death to the friends who live in other villages, and as each family employs another who has the care of their dead, they come as soon as possible to give orders about everything and to fix the day of the funeral. They usually inter the dead on the third day; in the morning the captain gives an order that kettles shall be boiled for the deceased throughout the village. No one spares his best efforts. They do this, in my opinion, for three reasons: First, to console each other, for they exchange dishes among themselves, and scarcely any one eats out of the kettle that he has prepared; secondly, on account of the arrival of those of other villages, who often come in large numbers, lastly and principally, to gratify the soul of the deceased, who, they think, takes pleasure in eating his share. All the kettles being emptied, or at least distributed, the captain informs all the village that the body is to be carried to the cemetery. All the people assemble in the cabin; the mourning is renewed, and those who have charge of the funeral prepare a litter upon which the body is placed, laid upon a mat and wrapped in a robe of beaver skin; they then raise it and carry it by the four corners. All the people follow in silence to the cemetery.

There is in the cemetery a tomb made of bark and raised on four stakes of from 8 to 10 feet in height. While the body is placed in this, and the bark is trimmed, the captain makes known the presents that have been given by the friends. In this country, as well as in others, the most agreeable consolations for the loss of relations are always accompanied by presents, which consist of kettles, hatchets, beaver skins, and necklaces of shell beads. If the deceased was of some importance in the country, not only the friends and neighbors but even the captains of other villages will come in person to bring their presents. Now, all these presents do not follow the body into the tomb; a necklace of beads is sometimes placed on its neck and near it a comb, a gourd-full of oil, and two or three small loaves of bread; that is all. A large part of them goes to the relatives to dry their tears; the rest is given to those who have had charge of the funeral, to pay them for their trouble. They also keep in reserve some robes or hatchets to make presents (largesse) to the young men. The captain places in the hand of one of them a stick about a foot long, offering a prize to any one who will take it from him. They throw themselves headlong upon him and remain engaged in the contest sometimes for an hour. After this each one returns peaceably to his cabin.

I forgot to say that generally throughout the ceremony the mother or wife stands at the foot of the sepulcher, calling the deceased, singing, or rather lamenting, in mournful tones.

These ceremonies are not always all observed; those who die in war they place in the ground, and the relatives make presents to their patrons, if they have any, which is generally the case in this country, to encourage them to raise soldiers and avenge the death of the warrior. Those who are drowned are also buried, after the most fleshy parts of the body have been taken away in pieces, as I have explained more particularly in speaking of their superstitions. The presents are doubled on this occasion, and all the people of the country are often there, contributing from their store; all this, they say, is to appease the Heaven or the Lake.

There are even special ceremonies for small children deceased under one or two months; they are not placed as others, in sepulchers of bark raised on stakes, but buried in the road, in order, they say, "que quelque femme passant par là, ils entrent secrètement en son ventre, et que derechef elle leur donne la vie et les enfante." I doubt that the good Nicodemus would have found much difficulty there, although he doubted only for old men, "Quomodo potest homo nasci cum sit senex."

This beautiful ceremony took place this winter in the person of one of our little Christians, who had been named Joseph in baptism. I learned it on this occasion from the lips of the father of the child himself.

When the funeral is over the mourning does not cease: the wife continues it all the year for her husband, the husband for the wife; but the grand mourning itself lasts only ten days. During this time they remain lying on their mats wrapped in their robes, with their faces against the earth, without speaking or replying to anything, save Cȣay, to those who come to visit them. They do not warm themselves in winter or eat warm things; they do not go to the feasts nor go out, save at night, for what they need; they cut a lock of hair from the back of the head and declare that it is not without deep sorrow, especially when the husband performs this ceremony on the death of his wife, or the wife on the death of her husband. Such is the great mourning.

The lesser mourning lasts all the year. When they wish to visit any one, they do not salute them nor say Cȣay, neither do they grease their hair. The women do this, however, when commanded to do so by their mothers, who have at their disposal their hair, and even their persons. It is also their privilege to send their daughters to the feasts, without which several will not go. What I think strange is that during the whole year neither the wife nor the husband marries again, else they would cause themselves to be talked about in the country.

The sepulchers are not perpetual, as their villages are only permanent for some years, as long as the wood lasts. The bodies remain in the cemeteries only until the feast of the dead, which usually takes place every twelve years. During this time they do not neglect to honor the dead often. From time to time kettles are boiled for their souls throughout the village, as on the day of the funeral, and their names are revived as often as possible. For this purpose presents are given to the captains to be given to him who will consent to take the name of the deceased; and if the latter was of consideration and had been esteemed in the country during his life, he who represents him, after giving a grand feast to all the people of the country, to introduce himself under this name, raises a body of free young men and goes to war to accomplish some brave feat which will show to the nation that he has not only inherited the name but also the bravery and courage of the deceased.

 

THE SOLEMN FEAST OF THE DEAD.

The feast of the dead is the most celebrated ceremony that takes place among the Hurons. They give it the name of festival for the reason, as I should say now, that when the bodies are taken from the cemeteries each captain makes a "feast to the souls" in his village. The most important and magnificent is that of the master of the feast, who is for this reason called, par excellence, the "Maistre du Festin."

This feast is full of ceremonies, but the chief one is evidently that of "boiling the kettle." This outdoes all the others, and the festival of the dead is spoken of, even in the most serious councils, only under the name Chaudiere (the kettle). They appropriate to it all the terms of cookery, so that when they speak of hastening or retarding the feast they say "rake out" or "stir up the fire under the kettle;" and when any one says "the kettle is overturned," that means there will be no feast.

There is generally only one festival in each nation. All the bodies are placed in the same grave. I say generally, for this year when the fête des Morts took place the kettle-boiling was divided and five villages at this point where we are stationed made a separate band and placed their dead in a separate grave. He who had been captain of the preceding feast, and who is like the chief at this point, made the excuse that his kettle and his feast had been spoiled and that he was obliged to make another. But, in fact, this was only a pretext. The real reason of this separation is that the great heads of the village have complained for a long time that the others took everything to themselves, that they did not share as they wished the knowledge of the affairs of the country, and that they were not called to the most secret and important councils and to the division of the presents.

This separation has been followed by distrust on both sides. God grant that it cause no hindrance to the spreading of the sacred Gospel. But I must touch briefly upon the order and the events of the feast.

The twelve years or more having expired, the old people and great men of the nation assemble to decide upon the time when the feast shall be held, so as to satisfy all the people of the country and the outside nations who are to be invited.

When the decision is made, as all the bodies are to be transported to the village where the common grave is made, each family takes charge of its dead with a care and affection that cannot be described. If they have relatives buried in any part of the country whatever they spare no trouble to go and bring them. They take them from the cemeteries, carry them on their own shoulders, and cover them with the finest robes they have in their possession. In each village a good day is chosen, and they repair to the cemetery, where those called Aiheonde, who have had the care of the sepulcher, take the bodies from the tomb in the presence of the relatives, who renew their tears and repeat the mourning of the day of the funeral.

I was present at this ceremony, and willingly invited all our servants, for I do not think that there can be seen in this world a livelier image or more perfect representation of the condition of man.

It is true that in France our cemeteries speak forcibly, and that all these bones heaped upon one another without distinction, the poor with the rich or the small with the great, are so many voices continually reminding us of death, the vanity of worldly things, and the insignificance of this present life. But it seems to me that the custom of our savages on this occasion shows us still more sensibly our wretchedness, for after the graves are opened all the bodies are laid out on the ground and left thus uncovered for some time, giving the spectators an opportunity for once to see what will be their condition some day. Some of the bodies are entirely devoid of flesh and have only a dry skin on the bones; others appear as if they had been smoked and dried and show scarcely any signs of decay. Others still are covered with worms.

The friends, being satisfied with this sight, cover them with handsome robes of beaver-skin, entirely new. Finally, after a while, they strip off the flesh and the skin, which they throw into the fire, together with the robes and mats in which the bodies have been buried. The complete bodies of those newly buried are left in the same condition and the friends content themselves with simply covering them with new robes. They touched only one old man, of whom I have spoken heretofore, who died this autumn on the return from fishing. This large body had only begun to decay a month ago, at the time of the first heat of spring; the worms were swarming all over it, and the pus which came from it caused an odor almost intolerable; nevertheless they had the courage to take the body from the robe in which it was enveloped, cleansed it as much as possible, took it up carefully and placed it in a new mat and robe, and all this was accomplished without exposing any of this corruption. Is here not a good example to animate the hearts of Christians, who should have more noble ideas to deeds of charity and works of pity towards their brethren? After this who will look with horror upon the misery of a hospital? And who will not feel a peculiar pleasure in serving a sick man covered with wounds, in whose person he serves the Son of God?

As they were stripping the bodies they found in two of them a species of charm. The one that I saw with my own eyes was a turtle's egg with a leather strap (courroye); the other, which was examined by our fathers, was a small turtle the size of a nut. This leads to the belief that there were sorcerers in our village, on account of which some resolved to leave it as soon as possible. Indeed, two or three days after one of the richest men, fearing that some misfortune would befall him, transported his cabin two miles from us to the village of Arontaen.

Now, when these bones are well cleaned, part of them are placed in sacks, part in blankets, and they carry them on their shoulders, covering these bundles with other beautiful hanging robes. Entire bodies are put on a sort of litter and carried with all the others, each one taking his bundle into his cabin, where every family makes a feast to its dead.

Returning from this festival with a captain, who has considerable intelligence and who will be some day of high standing in the affairs of the country, I asked him why they called the bones of the dead Atisken. He explained as clearly as he could, and I learned from what he said that many believe that we have two souls, both divisible and material and yet both rational; one leaves the body at death, but remains, however, in the cemetery until the feast of the dead, after which it either is changed into a turtle-dove, or according to the more general belief, it goes immediately to the village of souls.

The other soul is attached to the body; it marks the corpse, as it were, and remains in the grave after the feast, never to leave it, "si ce n'est que quelqu'unl'enfante de rechef." He mentioned to me, as a proof of this metempsychosis, the perfect resemblance which somepersons bear to others who are deceased. Here is a grand philosophy. This is why they call the bones of the dead Atisken, "the souls."

A day or two before departing for the feast they carried all these bodies into one of the largest cabins of the village, where some of them were attached to the poles of the cabin, and others laid around it, and the captain entertained and made a grand feast in the name of the deceased captain, whose name he bore. I was present at this "feast of spirits," and observed four things in particular: First, that the offerings which were given for the feast by the friends, and which consisted of robes, necklaces of shell beads, and kettles, were hung on poles extending the whole length of the cabin from one side to the other. Second, the captain sang the song of the dead captain, according to the desire he had expressed before his death, that it should be sung on this occasion. Third, all the guests had the privilege of dividing among themselves all the good things they had brought, and even of carrying them home, contrary to the custom at ordinary feasts. Lastly, at the close of the feast, as a compliment to him who had entertained them, they imitated as they sang the cry of the spirits, and left the cabin crying haéé haé.

The master of the feast, and even Anenkhiondic, captain-general of all the country, sent to invite us several times with much solicitation. You would have thought that the feast could not be a success without us. I sent two of our fathers several days beforehand to see the preparations and to learn exactly the day of the feast. Anenkhiondic received them very kindly, and on their departure conducted them himself a quarter of a league from there to where the grave was dug, and showed them with much display of emotion all the arrangements, &c., of the feast.

This feast was to have taken place on the Saturday of Pentecost, but some affairs which came up unexpectedly, and the uncertainty of the weather, caused it to be put off until Monday.

The seven or eight days before the feast were passed in collecting the bodies (les âmes) as well as assembling the strangers who were invited; meanwhile from morning till night gifts were distributed by the living to the young men in honor of the dead. On one side women were drawing the bow to see who should have the prize, which was sometimes a girdle of porcupine quills or a necklace of beads; on the other hand, in several parts of the village the young men were drawing clubs upon any who would try to capture them. The prize of this victory was a hatchet, some knives, or even a beaver robe. Every day the remains were arriving. There is some pleasure in seeing these funeral processions which number sometimes from two to three hundred persons. Each one carries the remains of his friends, that is the bones, packed upon his back after the manner that I have described, under a beautiful robe. Some arranged their packets in the shape of a man, decorated with strings of beads, with a fine crown of red hair. On leaving their village the whole company cried haéé haé and repeated this "cry of the spirits" all along the way. This cry, they say, comforts them greatly, otherwise their burdens, although souls, would weigh very heavily and cause a weakness of the side (costé) for the rest of their lives. They travel by short stages; the people of our village were three days in going four leagues and in reaching Ossossané, which we call Rochelle, where all the ceremonies were to be held. As soon as they arrive near any village they shout again the haéé haé. The whole village comes out to meet them; many presents are again distributed on this occasion. Each one repairs to some one of the cabins; all find a place to put their bundles; this is done without confusion. At the same time the captains hold a council to decide upon the time that the company shall spend in this village. All the bodies of the dead of eight or nine villages were taken to Rochelle on Saturday of Pentecost; but the fear of bad weather obliged them, as I have said, to postpone the ceremony till Monday. We were lodged a quarter of a league from there, at the old village, in a cabin where there were at least a hundred skeletons hung up to the poles, some of which smelled stronger than musk.

Monday at midday, word was sent that they were ready and that the ceremony would begin. The bundles of skeletons were at once taken down and the friends unfolded the wrappings to say their last farewells. Their tears flowed anew. I admired the tenderness of one woman towards the remains of her father and children. She is the daughter of a captain who died at a great age and who formerly occupied a high position in the country. She combed his hair; she touched the bones one after another with as much affection as if she would have given them life; she placed near him his Atsatonesai, that is, his packet of rods (bûchettes) of the council, which are all the books and papers of the country. As for her children, she put upon their arms bracelets of shells and glass beads and bathed their bones with her tears. She could hardly be separated from them, but they were in haste, and it was necessary to start at once. The one who carried the body of this old captain walked at the head, the men following and then the women. They marched in this order until they arrived at the grave.

The following is the arrangement of this place: There was a space about as large as the Place Royale at Paris. In the center was a large grave about 10 feet (pieds) deep and 5 fathoms (brasses) in diameter, round it a scaffolding and a sort of stage nicely made, from 9 to 10 fathoms (brasses) in diameter and 9 or 10 feet high; above the stage there were several poles raised and well arranged, and others laid across them on which to hang all the bundles of skeletons. The entire bodies, as these were to be placed at the bottom of the grave, were laid under the scaffolding the day before, resting on bark, or mats raised on stones to the height of a man around the grave. The whole company arrived with the bodies about an hour after midday, and divided into parties according to the families and villages, and laid their bundles upon the ground, almost as the pots of earth were made at the village fairs; they also unfolded their robes and all the offerings they had brought and hung them upon the poles which extended for from 500 to 600 fathoms (toises); there were nearly twelve hundred gifts which remained thus on exhibition for two whole hours, to give strangers an opportunity to see the riches and magnificence of the country. I did not find the company as great as I had expected; there were not more than two thousand persons. About 3 o'clock each one fastened up his bundles and folded his robes. Meanwhile each captain, in order, gave a signal, and all immediately took up their bundles of bones, ran as if at the assault of a city, mounted upon this stage by means of ladders which were placed all around, and hung them (the bundles) to the poles; each village had its department. This done, all the ladders were taken away. Some of the captains remained upon the platform and spent the rest of the afternoon, until 7 o'clock, in announcing the lists of presents which were given in the name of the deceased to some particular persons. For instance, they would say, here is what such a one, deceased, gives to a certain relative.

About 5 or 6 o'clock they lined (pauerent) the bottom of the grave and bordered it with large new robes, the skins of ten beavers, in such a way that these extend more than a foot out of it. As they were preparing the robes which were to be used for this purpose, some of them descended into the grave, and came from it with their hands full of sand. I inquired what this ceremony meant, and learned that they believed that this sand will render them happy at their games (au ieu).

Of the twelve hundred offerings that had been exhibited on the platform, forty-eight robes were to line and trim the grave, and each complete body had, besides the robe in which it was wrapped, another one, and some even two others, to cover it. This is all: so that I do not think [? but] that each body had one to itself, taking one with another, which is the least that it could have for its burial; for these robes of beaver skin are what the clothes and shrouds are in France. But what becomes then of the rest? We will see presently.

At 7 o'clock the bodies were lowered into the grave. We had great difficulty in approaching it. Nothing ever pictured better to me the confusion among the damned. You could see unloaded on all sides bodies half decayed, and everywhere was heard a terrible uproar of confused voices of persons who were speaking without hearing one another; ten or twelve men were in the grave and were arranging the bodies all around it, one after the other. They placed, exactly in the center, three large kettles, which were of no use save for the spirits; one was pierced with holes, another had no handle, and the third was worth little more. I saw a few necklaces of shell beads there; it is true, many of them were put on the body. This was all that was done on this day.

The whole company passed the night on the spot, having lit a great many fires and boiled kettles. We retired to the old village with the intention of returning the next day at daylight when they were to cast the bones into the grave; but we barely arrived in time, notwithstanding all the diligence we employed, on account of an accident which happened. One of the skeletons, which was not well fastened, or perhaps was too heavy for the cord which held it, fell of itself into the grave. The noise it made awoke the whole troupe, who ran and immediately mounted, in a crowd, to the platform and emptied, without order, all the bundles into the grave, reserving, however, the robes in which they had been wrapped. We were just leaving the village at that time, but the noise was so great that it seemed almost as though we were there. Approaching we saw suddenly an image of the infernal regions. This great space was filled with fire and smoke and the air resounded on all sides with the mingled voices of the savages. This noise, nevertheless, ceased for a while, and was changed to singing, but in a tone so doleful and weird that it represented to us the terrible sadness and the depth of despair in which condemned souls are forever plunged.

Nearly all the bones had been cast in when we arrived, for it was done almost in a moment, each one being in haste for fear that there was not room for all these skeletons; nevertheless we saw enough of it to judge of the rest. There were five or six men in the grave, with poles, to arrange the bones. It was filled up within 2 feet of the top with bones, after which they turned over upon them the robes that bordered the grave all around, and covered the whole with mats and bark. The pit was then filled up with sand, rods, and stakes of wood which were thrown in promiscuously. Some of the women brought dishes of corn, and on the same day and the following days several cabins of the village furnished basketfuls of it, which were cast into the pit.

We have fifteen or twenty Christians buried with these infidels. We say a De profundis for their souls, with the firm hope that if the Divine goodness does not cease His blessings on His people this feast will be made no more, or will be only for Christians, and will be celebrated with rites as holy as these are foolish and useless. They also begin to be a burden upon the people for the excess and superfluous expenses that are caused by them.

All the morning was spent in distributing gifts (largesses), and most of the robes that had been wrapped around the bodies were cut in pieces and thrown from the top of the platform into the midst of the crowd for whoever could seize them first. There was great sport when two or three contested the possession of one beaver skin. In order to settle it peaceably it was necessary to cut it into so many pieces, and thus they came out nearly empty-handed, for these tatters were hardly worth the picking up. I admired here the industry of one savage. He did not hurry himself to run after these flying pieces; but, as there is nothing so valuable this year in the country as tobacco (petun), he held some pieces of it in his hand, which he presented at once to those who were disputing over the skin, and thus acquired it for himself.

Before leaving the place we learned that, on the evening when presents had been given to the foreign nations, on the part of the master of the feast, we also had been named; and, in fact, as we were going, Anenkhiondic came and presented a new robe composed of ten beaver skins, in return for the necklace which I had given them in the midst of the council to show them the heavenly way. They were so much obliged for this present that they wished to show some acknowledgment of it in so good an assembly. I would not accept it, however, saying to him that, as we had made them this present only to persuade them to embrace our faith, they could not oblige us more than in listening to us willingly and believing in Him who rules over all. He asked what I desired that he should do with the robe. I replied that he could dispose of it in whatever way he deemed best, with which he remained perfectly satisfied. Of the rest of the twelve hundred presents forty-eight robes were used to adorn the grave. Each body wore its robe and some of them two or three. Twenty were given to the master of the feast, to reward the nations who had assisted at it. A number were distributed on the part of the dead, through the captains, to their living friends. A part of them were only used for show, and were returned to those who had exhibited them. The old people (anciens), and great leaders of the country, who had the administration and management of it, privately took a great deal, and the rest were cut in pieces, as I have said, and scattered through the assembly. However, it was only the rich who lost nothing, or very little, at this feast. The mendicants and poor people brought and left there all they possessed of any value, and suffered much by striving to appear as well as others in this celebration. Every one stood upon this point of honor.

Indeed, it was only by a chance that we were not also participants of the feast. During this winter the Captain Aenons, of whom I have spoken before, came to make us a proposal on the part of all the anciens of the country. At that time the boiling of the kettle (chaudiere) was not yet divided. They proposed to us then that we should consent to exhume the remains of the two Frenchmen who had died in this country, to wit, Guillaume Chaudron and Estienne Bruslé, who was killed four years ago, and that their bones might be placed in the common grave of their dead. We replied at first that this could not be done; that it was forbidden; that as they had been baptized, and were, as we hoped, in heaven, we respected their bones too highly to allow them to be mixed with the bones of those who had not been baptized. Besides, it was not our custom to exhume the bodies of those who had been buried.

We decided, however, after all, that as they were interred in the wood and since the people desired it so much, we would consent to take up their bones on the condition that they allowed us to put them in a particular grave, with the bones of all that we had baptized in the country.

Four reasons especially persuaded us to give them this final answer. First, as it is the greatest expression of friendship and good-will that can be shown in this country, we yielded to them readily in this point that which they wished, and thus showed that we desired to love them as brothers and to live and die with them. Second, we hoped that God would be glorified in it, especially, in that separating by consent of all the nation the bodies of the Christians from those of the unbelievers, it would not be difficult afterwards to obtain special permission that their Christians should be interred in a separate cemetery, which we would bless for that purpose. Third, we claimed to bury them with all the rites of the Church. Fourth, the old men, of their own accord, desired us to raise there a beautiful and magnificent cross, as they showed us afterwards more particularly. Thus the cross would have been established by the authority of the whole country and honored in the midst of this heathenism, and they would have been careful not to impute to it afterwards, as they have done in the past, all the misfortunes that befell them.

This captain thought our proposition very reasonable and the old men (anciens) of the country remained very well contented with it. Some time after, the chaudiere was divided, and, as I have said, five villages of our part of the country resolved to hold their feast apart.

In the spring a general assembly of all the principal men was held, to consult about the feast and to endeavor to prevent this schism and reunite the cooking of the kettle. These dissatisfied ones were there and I also was invited. They made me the same proposition as before. I replied that we were very well satisfied, provided that this was done under the conditions that we had demanded. I was reminded of the division, and they asked me, since there were two feasts (chaudieres), that is, two graves, on which side I desired to have our special grave. To this I answered, in order to offend no one, that I would leave it to their judgment; that they were just and wise and they could decide between themselves. The master of the feast of Rochelle said, thereupon, with condescension, that he did not claim anything and that he was willing that the other, who is the chief at this place, should have on his side the remains of our two Frenchmen. The latter replied that he laid no claim to the one that had been buried at Rochelle, but that as for the body of Estienne Bruslé it belonged to him, as it was he that had engaged with him and led him into this country. So here the bodies were separated, one on one side, the other on the other side. At this some one said privately that indeed he (the chief) had the right to demand the body of Estienne Bruslé, and that it was reasonable that he should render some honor to his bones, since they had killed him. This could not be said so discreetly but that the captain had a hint of it; he concealed his feelings, however, at the time. After the council, as we had already gone, he raised this reproach and began to talk with the captain of Rochelle, and finally gave over entirely the body of Bruslé, in order not to embitter and make bloody this sore, of which the people of this point have not yet cleared themselves. This caused us to resolve, that we might keep in favor with those of Rochelle, not to meddle with either the one or the other.

Truly there is reason to admire the secret judgments of God, for this infamous man certainly did not merit that honor; and to tell the truth we had hesitated much in resolving to make on this occasion a particular cemetery, and to transport to holy ground a body that had led so wicked a life in the country and given the savages such a wrong impression of the manners of the French. At first some thought hard of it that we should have this opinion and were offended, alleging that this being so they could not boast as they hoped among strange nations of being related to the French, otherwise it would be said to them that they did not have much appearance of it, since we had not wished to put the bones of our people with theirs. Afterwards, however, having heard all our reasons, they decided that we had acted prudently and that it was the best means of maintaining our friendship with each other.

Shall I finish for the present with this funeral? Yes; since it is a mark sufficiently clear of the hope of a future life which nature seems to furnish us in the minds of these people, as a good means of making them understand the promises of Jesus Christ. Is there not reason to hope that they will do this, and that as soon as possible? Certainly I dare to assert that with this prospect we have reason to fortify our courage and to say of our Hurons what St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: "Confidens hoc ipsum, quia qui cœpit in vobis opus bonum, perficiet usque in diem Christi Iesu." These poor people open their ears to what we tell them of the kingdom of heaven; they think it very reasonable, and do not dare to contradict it. They are learning the judgments of God in the other life; they are beginning to have recourse with us to His goodness in their necessities, and our Lord seems to favor them sometimes with some particular assistance. They procure baptism for those who they think are about to die; they give us their children to be instructed, even permitting them to come three hundred leagues for this purpose, notwithstanding the tender affection they have for them; they promise to follow them one day and show us that they would not give us such precious pledges if they did not desire to keep faith with us. You would say that they were waiting only to see some one among them to be the first to take this bold step and dare to go contrary to the custom of the country. They are, finally, a people who have a permanent home (demeure arrestée), are judicious, capable of reason, and well multiplied.

I made mention, the past year, of twelve nations entirely sedentary and harmonious, who understand the language of our Hurons; and the Hurons make in, twenty villages, about 30,000 souls; if the rest is in proportion, there are more than 300,000 who speak only the Huron language. God gives us influence among them; they esteem us, and we are in such favor with them, that we know not whom to listen to, so much does each one aspire to have us. In truth we would be very ungrateful for the goodness of God if we should lose courage in the midst of all this, and did not wait for Him to bring forth the fruit in his own time.

It is true that I have some little apprehension for the time when it will be necessary to speak to them in a new way of their manners and to teach them "à clouër leur chairs" and restrain themselves in the honesty of marriage, breaking off their excesses for fear of the judgment of God upon their vices. Then it will be a question of telling them openly, "Quoniam qui talia agunt regnum Dei non possidebunt." I fear that they will prove stubborn, when we speak to them of assuming Jesus Christ, wearing his colors, and distinguishing themselves in the quality of Christians from what they have been formerly, by a virtue of which they scarcely know the name; when we cry unto them with the Apostle: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from fornication, that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor: not in the passion of lust, like the gentiles that know not God." There is, I repeat, reason to fear that they may be frightened with the subject of purity and chastity, and that they will be disheartened with the doctrine of the Son of God, saying with those of Capernaum, on another subject, "Durus est hic sermo et quis potest eum audire?" Nevertheless, since with the grace of God we have already persuaded them, by the open profession we have made of this virtue, neither to do or say in our presence anything which may be averse to it—even to threaten strangers when they forget themselves before us, warning them that the French and especially the "black robes," detest these intimacies—is it not credible that if the Holy Spirit touches them once, it will so impress upon them henceforth, in every place and at all times, the reverence which they should give to His divine presence and immensity, that they will be glad to be chaste in order to be Christians, and will desire earnestly to be Christians in order to be chaste? I believe that it is for this very purpose that our Lord has inspired us to put them under the charge of St. Joseph. This great saint, who was formerly given for a husband to the glorious Virgin, to conceal from the world and the devil a virginity which God honored with His incarnation, has so much influence over the "Sainte Dame," in whose hands His Son has placed, as in deposit, all the graces which co-operate with this celestial virtue, that there is almost nothing to fear in the contrary vice, for those who are devoted to Him, as we desire our Hurons to be, as well as ourselves. It is for this purpose, and for the entire conversion of all these peoples, that we commend ourselves heartily to the prayers of all those who love or wish to love God and especially of all our fathers and brothers.

Your very humble and obedient servant in our Lord,
JEAN DE BREBEUF.

From the residence of St. Joseph, among the Hurons, at the village called Ihonatiria, this 16th of July, 1636.

 

FINIS

 

Source:  Burial Mounds of the Northern Sections of the United States, Prof. Cyrus Thomas (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology)

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Mound Builder: Metallurgy

Mound Builders: Inventory and Classification