Jesuit Relations

 Anue stands as he speaks. The leader of the Cord People, he is a lean man with both sides of his skull shaved clean, his face painted ochre and crimson.

He holds aloft a bundle wrapped in deerskin. “I tell you this. Our enemies the Hadenosaunee have already made an alliance. Not with the French, but the other strangers.They bring countless new things, many of which are useful. Axes such as the one I showed you. Bowls of a liquid stone that does not burn. The English and the French are enemies, so it is natural that the French become our friends. I have spoken to their chief who has made a village on the Great Water, Champlain. He fought with me against the Hadenosaunee. He does not speak our tongue, but one of the Crows with him did.”

“I heard they are sorcerers,” says Tsayanehn, an older warrior with one eye.

What Pegman Saw


This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress L’Incarnation,  which is largely set in New France in the mid 1600s. In this scene, a delegation of the Wendat Cord People has come to the council lodge of the Wendat Deer People to persuade them to take one of the  French Jesuit missionaries into their village. The French leader Samuel d’Champlain made the inclusion of the Jesuits a condition of trade, so most villages reluctantly took them in despite many misgivings. Over the  course of eighty years these missionaries produced an extraordinary record of life among these native peoples. Often extremely judgmental, The Jesuit Relations nonetheless accurately convey many details of a culture that had all but vanished by the mid-1700s. 


17 thoughts on “Jesuit Relations

  1. My enemy’s enemy is my friend? An understandable logic but it wasn’t always a good one for native peoples. Loved Anue’s voice – different but credible and not patronsing. Well written Josh

    1. Thanks! There’s a lot of scholarship on the wendat words. There are still a few native speakers of the language, but much of the nuance has been lost. When a language disappears, so do the ideas that it expresses.
      “These Sauvage were incorrigible in their desire to make war, and it was becoming clear that salvation for most of them was out of the question. They seemed incapable of grasping the essentials of Christ’s teaching. They were men, certainly, and as such were created in God’s image, yet they also had something of the animal about them. Many Sauvage were kind despite their innate brutality. They enjoyed laughter and fellowship, they told stories about the world around them and even possessed a philosophy of sorts. The average Huron knew far more about the plants and animals of the world than Jogues could ever learn, but the animal savagery could not be erased. The willful animal ignorance.
      And their philosophy consisted of strange beliefs that defied logic. Principal among these was that everything had a spirit, spirits equal to or greater than the spirit of a man. A bird, an elk, a stone in a river. Beneath all these spirits was a Great Spirit that bound all together. But it was not the One God, not the Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. The Orenda, as they called it, was beneath and through, not above.”

      1. Did any native people in America have a written tradition? I remember seeing year records for a Sioux tribe done in pictograms because they didn’t have a written alphabet. Mind you, pronunciation would still be an issue even if the language were recorded,

        1. Not as far as I know. Remember, at first contact in the late 15th century, most Europeans could neither write nor read. Isaac Jogues, one of the Jesuits who livd among the Wendat, did what he could to preserve as many words as he could (mostly in an effort to train the other missionaries in the language), but they themselves had no concept of writing. In fact, some of the medicine people believed that books were just another form of sorcery.

          1. Of course, too early for widespread education, though perhaps some of the priests had some Latin? I can see why people would think books were sorcery – trapping ideas, events, descriptions of places and peoples and beliefs with squiggles on a piece of paper? Sounds like sorcery to me too :)

      2. They clearly had no respect for animism, understandable from their viewpoint, I suppose, though we would be more willing to applaud this view these days, giving equal repect to plants and animals as well as people. Really interesting Josh

        1. Well, hopefully I will finish this novel in my lifetime. It’s by far the most challenging thing I have ever undertaken. My first three novels took about a year apiece, but this one is only halfway done at the two-year mark. Thanks for the great comments!

          1. Sounds like a tough one to write though. The research alone must have taken you months – years? For what it’s worth, I think your writing is excellent. You are always one of the writers whose stories I look forward to reading. No false flattery here either :) Best of luck with the novel, Josh

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