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The Fathers’ slumbers were brief and broken. Winter was the season of Huron festivity; and as they lay stretched on their hard couch, suffocating with smoke and tormented by an inevitable multitude of fleas, the thumping of the drum resounded all night long from a neighboring house, mingled with the sound of the tortoise-shell rattle, the stamping of moccasined feet, and the cadence of voices keeping time with the dancers. Again, some ambitious villager would give a feast, and invite all the warriors of the neighboring towns; or some grand wager of gambling, with its attendant drumming, singing, and outcries, filled the night with discord.
But these were light annoyances, compared with the insane rites to cure the sick, prescribed by the “medicine-men,” or ordained by the eccentric inspiration of dreams. In one case, a young sorcerer, by alternate gorging and fasting, — both in the interest of his profession, — joined with excessive exertion in singing to the spirits, contracted a disorder of the brain, which caused him, in mid-winter, to run naked about the village, howling like a wolf. The whole population bestirred itself to effect a cure. The paune demi journée, une ou deux journées apres son baptesme, par ticulièrement quand c'etoit un petit enfant !” – Lettre du Père Gar. nier à son Frère, MS. This form of benevolence is beyond heretic appreciation.
* La joye qu'on a quand on a baptisé un Sauvage qui se meurt peu apres, & qui s'envole droit au Ciel, pour devenir un Ange, cer tainement c'est une joye qui surpasse tout ce qu'on se peut imagi ner." - Le Jeune, Relation, 163), 221 (Cramoisy),
CURE OF A MADMAN.
tient had, or pretended to have, a dream, in which the conditions of his recovery were revealed to him. These were equally ridiculous and difficult; but the elders met in council, and all the villagers lent their aid, till every requisition was fulfilled, and the incongruous mass of gifts which the madman's dream had demanded were all bestowed upon him. This cure failing, a “medicine-feast” was tried; then several dances in succession. As the patient remained as crazy as before, preparations were begun for a grand dance, more potent than all the rest. Brébeuf says, that, except the masquerades of the Carnival among Christians, he never saw a folly equal to it. “Some,” he adds, “had sacks over their heads, with two holes for the eyes. Some were as naked as your hand, with horns or feathers on their heads, their bodies painted white, and their faces black as devils. Others were daubed with red, black, and white. In short, every one decked himself as extravagantly as he could, to dance in this ballet, and contribute something towards the health of the sick man.”] This remedy also failing, a crowning effort of the medical art was essayed. Brébeuf does not describe it, for fear, as he says, of being tedious; but, for the time, the village was a pandemonium.2 This, with other ceremonies, was supposed to be ordered by a certain image like a doll, which a sorcerer placed in his tobacco-pouch, whence it uttered its oracles, at the same time moving as if alive. “Truly," writes Brébeuf, “here is nonsense enough; but I greatly fear there is something more dark and mysterious in it.”
1 Relation des Ilurons, 1636, 116.
2 “Suffit pour le present de dire en general, que iamais les Bac chantes forcenées du temps passé ne firent rien de plus furieux en leurs orgyes. C'est icy à s'entretuer, disent-ils, par des sorts qu'ils s'entreiettent, dont la composition est d'ongles d'Ours, de dents de
But all these ceremonies were outdone by the grand festival of the Ononhara, or Dream Feast, — esteemed the most powerful remedy in cases of sickness, or when a village was infested with evil spirits. The time and manner of holding it were determined at a solemn council. This scene of madness began at night. Men, women, and children, all pretending to have lost their senses, rushed shrieking and howling from house to house, upsetting everything in their way, throwing fire-brands, beating those they met or drenching them with water, and availing themselves of this time of license to take a safe revenge on any who had ever offended them. This scene of frenzy continued till daybreak. No corner of the village was secure from the maniac crew. In the morning there was a change. They ran from house to house, accosting the inmates by name, and demanding of each the satisfaction of some secret want revealed to the pretended madman in a dream, but of the nature of which he gave no hint whatever. The person ad
Loup, d'ergots d’Aigles, de certaines pierres et de nerfs de Chien, c'est à rendre du sang par la bouche et par les narines, ou plustost d'vne poudre rouge qu'ils prennent subtilement, estans tombez sous le sort, et blessez; et dix mille autres sottises que ie laisse volon tiers.” — Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 117.
THE DREAM FEAST.
dressed thereupon threw to him at random any article at hand, as a hatchet, a kettle, or a pipe; and the applicant continued his rounds till the desired gift was hit upon, when he gave an outcry of delight, echoed by gratulatory cries from all present. If, after all his efforts, he failed in obtaining the object of his dream, he fell into a deep dejection, convinced that some disaster was in store for him."
The approach of summer brought with it a comparative peace. Many of the villagers dispersed, — some to their fishing, some to expeditions of trade, and some to distant lodges by their detached corn-fields. The priests availed themselves of the respite to engage in those exercises of private devotion which the rule of St. Ignatius enjoins. About midsummer, however, their quiet was suddenly broken. The crops were withering under a severe drought, a calamity which the sandy nature of the soil made doubly serious. The sorcerers put forth their utmost power, and, from the tops of the houses, yelled incessant invocations to the spirits. All was in vain; the pitiless sky was cloudless. There was thunder in the east and thunder in the west; but over Ihonatiria all was serene. A renowned “rain-maker,” seeing his reputation tottering under his repeated failures, bethought him of accusing the Jesuits, and gave out that the red color of the cross which stood before their house scared the bird of thunder, and caused him to fly another way. On this a clamor arose. The popular ire turned against the priests, and the obnoxious cross was condemned to be hewn down. Aghast at the threatened sacrilege, they attempted to reason away the storm, assuring the crowd that the lightning was not a bird, but certain hot and fiery exhalations, which, being imprisoned, darted this way and that, trying to escape. As this philosophy failed to convince the hearers, the missionaries changed their line of defence.
1 Brébeuf's account of the Dream Feast is brief. The above particulars are drawn chiefly from Charlevoix, Journal Historique, 356, and Sagard, Voyage du Pays des Hurons, 280. See also Lafitau, and other early writers. This ceremony was not confined to the Hurons, but prevailed also among the Iroquois, and doubtless other kindred tribes. The Jesuit Dablon saw it in perfection at Onon. daga. It usually took place in February, occupying about three days, and was often attended with great indecencies. The word monhara means “turning of the brain."
“You say that the red color of the cross frightens the bird of thunder. Then paint the cross white, and see if the thunder will come.”
1 The following is the account of the nature of thunder, given to Brébeuf on a former occasion by another sorcerer:
“ It is a man in the form of a turkey-cock. The sky is his palace, and he remains in it when the air is clear. When the clouds begin to grumble, he descends to the earth to gather up snakes, and other objects which the Indians call okies. The lightning flashes whenever he opens or closes his wings. If the storm is more violent than usual, it is because his young are with him, and aiding in the noise as well as they can.” — Relation des Hurons, 1636, 114.
The word oki is here used to denote any object endued with supernatural power. A belief similar to the above exists to this day among the Dacotahs. Some of the Hurons and Iroquois, however, held that the thunder was a giant in human form. According to one story, he vomited from time to time a number of snakes which, falling to the earth, caused the appearance of lightning.