Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

1635.] THE DROUGHT AND THE CROSS. 157 This was accordingly done; but the clouds still kept aloof. The Jesuits followed up their advantage.

"Your spirits cannot help you, and your sorcerers have deceived you with lies. Now ask the aid of Him who made the world, and perhaps He will listen to your prayers." And they added that if the Indians would renounce their sins and obey the true God, they would make a procession daily to implore His favor towards them. There was no want of promises. The processions were begun, as were also nine masses to St. Joseph; and as heavy rains occurred soon after, the Indians conceived a high idea of the efficacy of the French "medicine."1 In spite of the hostility of the sorcerers, and the transient commotion raised by the red cross, the Jesuits had gained the confidence and good-will of the Huron population. Their patience, their kindness, their intrepidity, their manifest disinterestedness, the blamelessness of their lives, and the tact which, in the utmost fervors of their zeal, never failed them, had won the hearts of these wayward savages; and chiefs of distant villages came to urge that they 1 "Nous deuons aussi beaucoup au glorieux sainct Ioseph, espoux de Nostre Dame, et protecteur des Hurons, dont nous auons touche au doigt l'assistance plusieurs fois. Ce fut vne chose remarquable, que la iour de sa feste et durant l'Octaue, les commoditez nous venoient de toutes parts." — Brcn>euf, Relation des Hurons, 1(335, 41.

The above extract is given as one out of many illustrations of the confidence with which the priests rested on the actual and direct aid of their celestial guardians. To St. Joseph, in particular, they find no words for their gratitude. would make their abode with them.1 As yet, the results of the mission had been faint and few; but the priests toiled on courageously, high in hope that an abundant harvest of souls would one day reward their labors. 1 Breleuf preserves a speech made to him by one of these chiefs, as a specimen of Huron eloquence. — Relation des Hurons, 1630, 123, CHAPTER VIL

1636, 1637. THE FEAST OF THE DEAD.

Huron Graves. Preparation For The Ceremony.DisinterMent.The Mourning. The Funeral March. The Great Sepjlchre. Funeral Games. Encampment Of The MournErs.Gifts. Harangues.Frenzy Of The Crowd. The Closing Scene. Another Rite. The Captive Iroquois.— The Sacrifice.

Mention has been made of those great depositories of human bones found at the present day in the ancient country of the Hurons.1 They have been a theme of abundant speculation;2 yet their origin is a subject, not of conjecture, but of historic certainty. The peculiar rites to which they owe their existence were first described at length by Bre"beuf, who, in the summer of the year 1636, saw them at the town of Ossossane".

The Jesuits had long been familiar with the ordinary rites of sepulture among the Hurons, — the corpse placed in a crouching posture in the midst of the circle of friends and relatives; the long, measured 1 See Introduction, 76-77.

1 Among thosw who have wondered and speculated over these remains is Mr. Schoolcraft. A slight acquaintance with the early writers would have solved his doubts. wail of the mourners; the speeches in praise of the dead, and consolation to the living; the funeral feast; the gifts at the place of burial; the funeral games, where the young men of the village contended for prizes; and the long period of mourning to those next of kin. The body was usually laid on a scaffold, or, more rarely, in the earth. This, however, was not its final resting-place. At intervals of ten 01 twelve years, each of the four nations which composed the Huron Confederacy gathered together its dead, and conveyed them all to a common place of sepulture. Here was celebrated the great "Feast of the Dead," — in the eyes of the Hurons, their most solemn and important ceremonial. In the spring of 1636, the chiefs and elders of the Nation of the Bear — the principal nation of the Confederacy, and that to which Ihonatiria belonged — assembled in a general council, to prepare for the great solemnity. There was an unwonted spirit of dissension. Some causes of jealousy had arisen, and three or four of the Bear villages announced their intention of holding their Feast of the Dead apart from the rest. As such a procedure was thought abhorrent to every sense of propriety and duty, the announcement excited an intense feeling; yet Bre"beuf, who was present, describes the debate which ensued as perfectly calm, and wholly free from personal abuse or recrimination. The secession, however, took place, and each party withdrew to its villages to gather and prepare its dead.

1636. |

DISINTERMENT.

161

The corpses were lowered from their scaffolds, and lifted from their graves. Their coverings were removed by certain functionaries appointed for the office, and the hideous relics arranged in a row, surrounded by the weeping, shrieking, howling concourse. The spectacle was frightful. Here were all the village dead of the last twelve years. The priests, connoisseurs in such matters, regarded it as a display of mortality so edifying, that they hastened to summon their French attendants to contemplate and profit by it. Each family reclaimed its own, and immediately addressed itself to removing what remained of flesh from the bones. These, after being tenderly caressed, with tears and lamentations, were wrapped in skins and adorned with pendent robes of fur. In the belief of the mourners, they were sentient and conscious. A soul was thought still to reside in them;1 and to this notion, very general among Indians, is in no small degree due that extravagant attachment to the remains of their dead, which may be said to mark the race. These relics of mortality, together with the recent corpses, — which were allowed to remain entire, but which were also wrapped carefully in furs, — were now carried to one of the largest houses, and hung to the numerous cross-poles, which, like rafters, sup

1 In the general belief, the soul took flight after the great cere mony was ended. Many thought that there were two souls, one remaining with the bones, while the other went to the land of spirits.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »