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The High Chief Tsouharissen
Ritual Cannibalism in the Northeast
Ritual Cannibalism in Central America
Changes in Iroquoian Warfare
Smallpox, Drunkenness, and Debauchery
The Wampum Keeper Web site
The germ of The Wampum Keeper novel -- and the germ of my idea for a Wampum Keeper Web site 1 -- can both be found in a 1983 biography of the 19th century Ontario school teacher, museum curator, and archaeologist, David Boyle, written for the Ontario Heritage Foundation by Gerald Killan. While reading Dr. Killan's account of the energetic, hardworking Boyle, I learned of the 1879 discovery, in one of the caves in the Elora Gorge, of a cache of wampum beads. 2
The image of this cache stuck with me after I finished Killan's book. In the years that followed, I delved into the history and mythology of shell wampum, and into the history of the aboriginal people who had lived on the Niagara Peninsula near the Elora Gorge in the first half of the 17th century -- the Chonnonton, or 'people of the deer', or more precisely, 'the people who tend or manage deer'.
In time, I began to fashion a story out of the cache of wampum beads. The result is The Wampum Keeper, a novel set in 1651, in the Couchiching, Kawartha, and Niagara regions of present-day Ontario and New York State. Those who wish to get started reading the story can do so HERE. Others may wish to read on below and discover some of the history behind the novel.
A hundred years ago, when David Boyle was writing and illustrating his Archaeological Reports for Ontario's Ministry of Education, little was known about the Deer people. [Note: I refer here to the Chonnonton as 'the Deer people', as I do in The Wampum Keeper.]
In 1615, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain had dubbed the Deer people "the Neutral nation" [the name is still used by archaeologists today] despite knowing that they were a large and powerful Iroquoian-speaking nation, with a standing army of some 6000 braves. Champlain used the term "neutral" for only one reason: In 1615, the Deer people were at peace with their neighbours, the Huron, Champlain's allies -- a confederacy of four Iroquoian-speaking peoples living in today's northern Simcoe County, Ontario -- AND at peace with the Huron's long-standing enemy, the Iroquois, a league of five Iroquoian-speaking peoples living in what is now northern New York State.
In Champlain's day, the towns, villages, and hamlets of the Deer people -- with their adjacent corn fields -- were clustered around the lush woodlands of Ontario's Hamilton-Niagara district, and across the Niagara river in today's western New York State. Two hundred and seventy years later, when David Boyle set out to try to reconstruct the history and prehistory of the vanished Deer people -- and of the Deer people's once feuding Iroquois and Huron neighbours -- he used not only facts and findings from 18th and 19th century archaeological digs, but translations of Champlain's copious writings -- and of the writings of the French missionaries who had followed hard on the heels of the explorer, and who had visited the towns of the Deer people.
In 1627, the Récollet priest Joseph de la Roche Daillon, in a letter to a friend back in France, wrote about Tsouharissen, the Deer people's first ever high chief. Tsouharissen had acquired this honour, Daillon wrote, by his courage, and by having been many times at war against seventeen nations. Daillon also stated that Tsouharissen had brought back heads or brought back prisoners from all his campaigns, and that the Algonkian-speaking Fire Nation, competitors for the resources of the rich wetlands at the west end of Lake Erie, were deemed to be the Deer people's most traditionally hated and sworn enemies. 3
Fourteen years later, after smallpox epidemics had more than halved the Deer, Huron, and Iroquois populations, Jesuit priests Jean de Brébeuf and Joseph Marie Chaumonot journeyed to Niagara from their Huron mission fort of Sainte-Marie. During the winter of 1640-41, these two priests spent five harrowing months among the Deer people; the celebrated Jesuit Relations contains their account of Tsouharissen's powers. 4
David Boyle likely paid scant heed to these early French accounts of Tsouharissen's absolute powers. Champlain and the Catholic missionaries -- coming from a highly devout, authoritarian, and war-ravaged society -- seem to have taken in stride the notion of a blood-soaked Iroquoian high chief combining in his person the roles of war, civil, and religious leader. However, such a notion may have held little appeal for a skeptical late 19th century man of science like Boyle.
Gerald Killan writes that "evolutionary" archaeologists and anthropologists like Boyle -- and like Boyle's mentor, the famous New York Iroquoian scholar Lewis H. Morgan -- "read into the material remains of the past a chronicle of human progress from savagery through barbarism to civilization." 5 Killan makes clear that though Boyle -- and Morgan too -- were decent, kindly, estimable men, both were "tainted" with "racialist" views and with chauvinist opinions about superior Anglo-Saxons and childlike natives. 6 To David Boyle, Tsouharissen may well have been just another pagan name in the old French writings.
Today, some 350 years after Tsouharissen's death, it is an historical fact -- albeit a little known one -- that a renowned, long-lived, Iroquoian high chief once ruled over a union of devout, war-ravaged peoples on the Niagara peninsula. We know too that the Deer people did consider Tsouharissen both priest and chief, and that "Tsou", an honorific title, signified his high priestly status, and that "arissen" means "Child of the Sun".
In 1997, Tsouharissen's name was restored to Ontario's historical record. In the article "Neutral" on the Canadian Encyclopedia Plus CD-ROM, McMaster University archaeologist William C. Noble writes:
I am grateful to Dr. Noble and his colleagues for their three decades of work on the Deer people. By building on the archaeological work done by David Boyle, and by wringing every nuance of meaning out of the old French texts, AND by supplementing these two lines of research with oral history accounts from Tsouharissen's descendants who live today on a reserve in New York State, the McMaster group has put together as complete a picture as we have ever had of the people whose ancestors had lived for hundreds of years in the vicinity of the Elora caves.
In creating The Wampum Keeper, I have made extensive use of Dr. Noble's published account of the extraordinary story contained in the oral history provided to him by Tousharissen's descendants.
The 1898 Ontario Archaeological Report contained David Boyle's research into the pagan religious ceremonies of the Province's largest group of surviving Iroquoian-speakers -- who then lived, as they do today, on the Six Nations Iroquois Reserve near Brantford. Imitating L.H. Morgan -- who had gained his fame for studies of the religion of the New York Iroquois -- Boyle had set out to determine to what extent the ancient rites of Ontario's Iroquois had been changed by Christian influences. Dr. Killan writes that Boyle made several visits to the Brantford Reserve and that he studied the Spring Sun Dance and Green Corn Dance Festivals, and the Midwinter Festival with its ceremony of the Burning of the White Dog. In the end, confessing himself full of wonder at the amazing facts he had unearthed -- and again taking his cue from Morgan -- Boyle concluded that Iroquois paganism had been very little changed by Christian influences. 8
This statement was quite untrue, as David Boyle knew full well, and as L.H. Morgan had known before him. In the early 17th century, when French Catholic missionaries began their proselytizing, the central religious ritual in Iroquois, Huron, and Deer societies was the torture and burning of war prisoners, and the eating of their flesh.
The American mythographer Joseph Campbell is at pains to apologize for Morgan's refusal to come to grips with the essential facts of the old Iroquoian religion -- and for Morgan's knack of finding on the New York reserves signs of an ancient monotheism where none existed. 9 Much of what Campbell says about L.H. Morgan in this regard can be applied as well to David Boyle.
Despite their unfortunate biases, both men were deeply interested in -- and concerned for -- their subjects of study. Both had good reason for concern. Divided between the U.S. and Canada after the Revolutionary War, the Iroquois were, at the close of the 19th century, a shattered people. Once supreme from the Hudson to the Genessee, from Niagara to Pennsylvania, now they were hemmed in on piddling reserves, harried by school teachers and missionaries of every Christian stripe. Now they were hounded by government agents and police officers, by crooked lawyers and land speculators, by rum and brandy sellers. Now they suffered from poverty and despair, from disease and alcoholism. Worst of all, they were utterly despised by the rest of New York and Ontario society. L.H. Morgan and David Boyle knew well the public's disdain for the Iroquois. And they knew too that the one great reason for this disdain was the Iroquois' notorious history of cannibalism and ferocious cruelty.
Certainly Boyle and Morgan had no wish to heap further grief on the heads of their Iroquois friends. But in glossing over quickly -- or avoiding altogether -- the central rite in the old Iroquoian religion, the two scholars were also escaping an awkward problem for themselves. As evolutionists, Dr. Killan says, part of Boyle and Morgan's "theoretical baggage" was the concept of "survivals". "Survivals" were "traces of prehistory" and "helpful building blocks in the task of reconstructing the evolution of present-day institutions." 10 Presumably, the two men believed that their study of the northern corn growers' old ceremonies -- and there were ample descriptions of these in the 17th century Jesuit Relations -- would furnish valid information about the evolution of their own religious rituals.
But this is where it got sticky for people like Boyle and Morgan who held "racialist" views. In Christianity, there is a survival of ferocious cruelty and cannibalism, in the Eucharist, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the central ritual in Christianity.
David Boyle, before he died in 1911, no doubt read the first volumes of Sir James Frazer's celebrated work of modern anthropology, The Golden Bough. We will never know how much credence he gave to Frazer's accounts of pagan fertility rites, with their sacrificial killing and eating of kings, or to Frazer's cautious analogy between Jesus and the dying gods of the ancient Greeks. Certainly the Jesuits, in their famous Relations, professed ignorance as to the ritual nature of the cannibalism practiced by the Northeastern Iroquoians. However, 20th century writers have expressed skepticism on this point. The old scholar priests of New France, after all, read both Greek and Latin, and had known about the ritual cannibalism practiced by their own pagan forebears. Moreover, as University of Ottawa historian Cornelius J. Jaenen states: "That Frenchmen who believed in transubstantiation and literally eating their Lord in their communion service failed to understand this aboriginal cannibalism is surprising." 11
We will never know the private thoughts of Fathers Brébeuf and Chaumonot as they made their risky way through the Deer lands in the winter of 1640-41. But we do know that they tried to keep secret their belief that Communion wafers and wine were the body and blood of Christ. And we know too that they -- like David Boyle and L.H. Morgan in the 19th century -- held racist and chauvinist views. In their letters home to France they simply blamed the cannibalism of their potential converts on their inborn savagery and barbarism. This terrible slander by the French priests is what so damaged the Iroquois' reputation. On this subject, Prof. Jaenen writes: "...it has been shown that the long history of injustice to the Amerindians since the seventeenth century springs in some measure from a profound and deep-seated misunderstanding that passed into literary tradition in which emotional speculation and fiction often replaced fact." 12
In order to write The Wampum Keeper, I've had to research both ritual cannibalism and the origins of Christianity. I've learned that Sir James Frazer was very likely correct when he made his famous analogy between Jesus and the dying gods of the ancient Greeks. Today, many scholars -- chief among them members of the Anthropology Department of Cambridge University where Frazer taught for many years -- believe that the Eucharist, the Christian ritual of death and redemption, the sacrifice of holy mass, IS a survival of pagan mystery religion.
The American scholar Camille Paglia refers to herself as a 'disciple of the Cambridge School of Anthropology'. She writes succinctly about pagan mystery religion and Christianity. "Paganism," she states, "recognized, honored and feared nature's daemonism [i.e. its amalgam of both good and evil] and it limited sexual expression by ritual formulae. Christianity was a development of Dionysian mystery religion which paradoxically tried to suppress nature in favor of a transcendental other world." 13 Of the Greek god Dionysus, she writes: "Heir to the Great Mother of chthonian nature, he is, with Osiris, the greatest of the dying gods of mystery religion. Out of his worship came two rituals of enormous impact on western culture, tragic drama and Christian liturgy." 14
Paglia insists "that Christianity could not tolerate the pagan integration of sex, cruelty, and divinity." 15 In the passage below she explains how the worshippers of Dionysus integrated these three elements:
Paglia buttresses her arguments with quotations from the Greek biographer and moralist Plutarch who lived near the time of Jesus:
At the end of my researches, I was left -- like David Boyle and L.H. Morgan before me -- with the difficult decision of whether or not to write about a truly horrific religious ceremony, performed by followers of a pagan mystery cult that had flourished not in some remote place or time, but nearby, and as recently as 1651, and by the ancestors of Iroquoian peoples who today often live in conditions only marginally better than those of a hundred years ago.
Again like Boyle and Morgan, I had no wish to heap further grief on the heads of native people. Nonetheless, I realized I could not write my novel without tackling the subject of human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism. To cope with this difficult task, I've employed a variety of stratagems, the most important of which has been my choice of protagonist, the wampum keeper.
In old 'pre-contact' Iroquoian societies, wampum keepers performed multiple roles: of archivists, of statesmen, of guardians of custom, tradition, and religious myth. My hero, Shalinka, however, is wampum keeper in 1651, some four decades after French fur traders first began to visit the Deer people in their Niagara settlements, and more that two decades after French priests and Huron converts made their first appearances on the peninsula. My Shalinka has recently renounced his people's central religious myth, together with that myth's symbolic representation, the ghastly "heart ceremony". My Shalinka is no Christian convert, though his decision to abandon the heart ceremony has been influenced in part by the Quebec fur trader Étienne Chaboyer. Nonetheless, the major factor in Shalinka's decision has been a centuries-old -- and very different -- religious tradition in his own Iroquoian culture.
Before speaking of the very different religious tradition that influenced Shalinka, it is necessary to say a little about the human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism practiced by the ancient peoples of today's Mexico and Central America.
Today, many scholars believe that the remote ancestors of the Northeastern Iroquoians originated in the well-developed, agriculturally-based civilization known as the Mississippian, which from about 800 A.D. to the time of the arrivals of the first European explorers was centered primarily in the lower Mississippi valley. 18 This region lay near the lands of the Mayas and the lands of the Toltecs and Aztecs where, Joseph Campbell says,
Campbell maintains that in early Central American corn planting cultures -- as in early planting cultures around the world -- two outstanding themes were present which help to explain human sacrifices. One theme is that of death as the generator of life, the other, of self-offering as the way to self-validation.
Campbell quotes St. Augustine's comment that Jesus had gone to the cross "as a bridegroom to his bride", and he states that "this was very much the attitude, apparently (my italics), of many of those sacrificed...on the summits of the temple towers." Campbell ends this discussion by stating that the methodical torture of captives reported of the Iroquois and their neighbours, "was almost certainly a distant reflex of the Middle American sacrifice." 21
What struck me about this passage in Campbell was his tentativeness in claiming for the sacrifice victims a triumphant and welcoming attitude. And I was delighted -- and not the least surprised -- to read in a work by Princeton's David L. Carrasco that not every Middle American aborigine had been thrilled with the practice of human sacrifice. Among the Aztecs, Carrasco writes, there was an alternate world view to that of the mystico-military religion of the Aztec warrior class, a world view that used language -- poetry and song -- instead of blood to communicate with and make offerings to the gods. 22
After reading Carrasco, I felt I could use this alternate world view in The Wampum Keeper. It seemed to me, if the one world view had been carried up into the Northeast, surely the other -- the more humane, more practical view -- had as well. Needless to say, it is this alternate world view which has chiefly influenced my aging Shalinka to renounce what I call "the cult of the Chosen Ones".
Poetry and song -- and dancing -- have always been central to the lives of the native peoples of the Americas. Jamake Highwater states that, "The Indian sees music as indistinct from dancing, and dancing as indistinct from worship, and worship as indistinct from living. The purpose and use of song and dance is ritualistic." 23 They are used in an effort "to move closer to the centers of power in nature". 24
Among the old Northeastern Iroquoian-speakers -- as among the old Aztecs and the old pagan Greeks -- in normal times songs and dances generally were deemed sufficient to move the people closer to the centers of power in nature. It was in times of crisis -- of rampant disease, of ecological disaster, of heightened warfare -- that stronger measures were needed.
Still, despite the central role that poetry and song played in aboriginal life throughout the Americas, it is a fact that in the Northeastern Iroquoian societies the Europeans encountered in the early 17th century, young and middle-aged men and women routinely engaged in small-scale ritual warfare which often ended in human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism. With the commencement of the European fur trade and the introduction of iron weapons, both the scale and the causes of Iroquoian warfare changed dramatically.
Although scholars tend to disagree on the causes of 'post-contact' warfare among the Iroquoian and Algonkian peoples of the lower Great Lakes region, there is agreement on the changes in scale. In his celebrated history of the Huron people, McGill University anthropologist Bruce G. Trigger makes clear that in 'pre-contact' days, the loss of just a very few braves usually resulted in the halt of Huron war campaigns. 25 He then recites Champlain's famous story of the Iroquois' first recorded encounters with European firearms:
In 1609, Champlain and two other Frenchmen armed with muskets accompanied sixty Montagnais, Algonquin, and Huron warriors on a raid into Iroquois country. At the south end of today's Lake Champlain, they intercepted and defeated a raiding party of two hundred Mohawk warriors: about fifty Mohawks, including two chiefs, were slain and ten or twelve more taken prisoner. 26 In 1610, Champlain and his allies attacked a fortified Mohawk war camp located a short distance up the Richelieu River: of the one hundred braves in this camp, fifteen were taken prisoner and the rest killed. 27 Trigger uses the word "catastrophic" to describe such losses for a people whose entire population in these two years may not have exceeded 5000.
In 1643 -- after the catastrophe of the smallpox epidemics -- the Jesuits reported that Tsouharissen's warriors marched some 800 captives back to Niagara from the Fire Nation lands, and of that number seventy of the best warriors were burned. 28 "This," William C. Noble writes, "was massive warfare." 29
By 1651 -- when The Wampum Keeper opens -- the native population of the lower Great Lakes region had been greatly reduced by disease and warfare. Two years earlier, in a series of final, devastating raids, Iroquois armies had assaulted the main towns of the Huron confederacy. The Huron nations had been routed and forced off their lands; the lucrative French-Huron fur trade had been destroyed; and the Jesuits had been forced to burn their mission fort of Sainte-Marie and to retreat to Quebec with the relics of their martyrs.
In the spring of 1651 -- when my wounded hero Shalinka arrives in the abandoned Huron lands -- Iroquois armies were busy driving the last of the Huron off today's Christian Island in Georgian Bay, and, as you will discover in The Wampum Keeper, pursuing a new war in Niagara against the late Tsouharissen's Deer people.
By 1651, some fifteen years after the catastrophe of the "Great Dying", the goal of the Iroquois' dominant war faction -- a goal attested to by 17th century Jesuits and accepted as such by most historians today -- was to coerce, by force if necessary, all surviving Northeast Iroquoian-speakers into their own Iroquois league.
The frenzy of war, of excessive religiosity, of drunkenness and debauchery that erupted in the lower Great lakes region in the middle of the 17th century, to my knowledge, has never been fully explored. In my researches into this subject, Camille Paglia and C.J. Jaenen have proved especially helpful.
Paglia, writing of the bubonic plague that in 1348 killed up to 40 percent of Europe's population, states: "The Black Death weakened social controls. It had a polar effect, pushing some towards debauchery and others, like the flagellants, toward religiosity." 30 I've come to believe that a similar "polar effect" was at work in the lower Great Lakes after the smallpox epidemics.
Jaenen, in his study of early French-Amerindian cultural contact, devotes considerable space to a discussion of native drunkenness and debauchery. 31 He also discusses the bizarre behaviour of many of the Jesuits' Christian converts. Among several examples, he notes that "At Tadoussac in 1645 the Jesuits had to intervene to terminate scenes of spontaneous public penance accompanied by bloody self-flagellation." 32 Another example of excessive religiosity -- this time by the region's pagan traditionalists -- would be the Jesuits' report, cited above, of the huge numbers of prisoners sacrificed in 1643 by Tsouharissen and his warriors.
To me, Jaenen's accounts of abnormal native behaviour after the small-pox epidemics seem to exemplify Paglia's statement of the effects of the Black Death on mid-14th century Europeans. I felt, too, that in The Wampum Keeper the "Great Dying" might also help to explain -- again only in part -- Shalinka's dramatic renunciation of the "cult of the Chosen Ones" and the ghastly "heart ceremony".
To return now to David Boyle, and to my idea for a Web site to go along with The Wampum Keeper novel.
In his biography of Boyle, Gerald Killan writes that Boyle was a gifted teacher, inspired by the "child-centered" approach of the radical Swiss educator, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. Emulating Pestalozzi, Boyle rejected the rote method of learning; instead of having his students memorize undigested facts, he adopted the "object lesson" method, using everyday materials to unlock the mysteries of arithmetic, and field trips to the Elora Gorge to promote a love of botany, entomology, geology, and history. In the 1870s, from Toronto's Educational Depository, founded by Chief Supt. of Common Schools, Egerton Ryerson -- another advocate of Pestalozzianism -- Boyle acquired charts, maps, apparatus, and specimens for use in his isolated Elora classroom. 33 What he'd have made of today's wired classroom, with its TVs, PCs, CD-ROMs, www.coms, and eBooks, we will never know. But I think he would have been pleased.
1. The Wampum Keeper Web site is located at www.wampumkeeper.com. There you will find links to online museum sites, to historical monument sites, and to sites dealing with other subjects explored in the novel. Each link or set of links is annotated.
2. Gerald Killan, David Boyle: From Artisan to Archaeologist (Toronto: University of Toronto Press and Ontario Heritage Foundation, 1983) 56.
3. W.C. Noble, "Tsouharissen's Chiefdom: An Early Historic 17th century Neutral Iroquoian Ranked Society", Canadian Journal of Archaeology 9.2 (1985): 137.
4. The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, edited by R.G. Thwaites (Cleveland:Burrows, 1896-1901) 21: 187-237.
5. Killan 105-106.
6. Killan 182.
7. W.C. Noble, "Neutral" Canadian Encyclopedia Plus CD-ROM (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1997).
8. Killan 184.
9. Joseph Campbell, Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Vol. II The Way of the Seeded Earth, Part 2 Mythologies of the Primitive Planters: The Northern Americas (New York: Harper & Row, 1989) 131-142.
10. Killan 181.
11. Cornelius J. Jaenen, Friend and Foe: Aspects of French-Amerindian Cultural Contact in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1976) 143.
12. Jaenen 148.
13. Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (New York: Random House, 1991) 25.
14. Paglia 88-89.
15. Paglia 138.
16. Paglia 95.
17. Paglia 95-96.
18. Campbell, Historical Atlas, Vol. II, Part 2, 133.
19. Campbell, Historical Atlas, Vol. II, The Way of the Seeded Earth, Part 1, The Sacrifice (New York: Harper & Row, 1988) 39.
20. Campbell, Historical Atlas, Vol. II, Part 1, 39.
21. Campbell, Historical Atlas, Vol. II, Part 1, 39.
22. David Carrasco, Religions of Mesoamerica: Cosmovision and Ceremonial Centers (New York: Harper & Row, 1990) 58-91.
23. Jamake Highwater, Arts of the Indian Americas: Leaves from the Sacred Tree (New York: Harper & Row, 1983) 346.
24. Highwater 337.
25. Bruce G. Trigger, The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 166o (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1976, reprinted with a new preface 1987) 68.
26. Trigger 247-256.
27. Trigger 256-259.
28. The Jesuit Relations Vol. 27: 25-27.
29. W.C. Noble, "Tsouharissen's Chiefdom: An Early Historic 17th century Neutral Iroquoian Ranked Society", Canadian Journal of Archaeology 9.2 (1985): 138.
30. Paglia 141.
31. Jaenen 110-115.
32. Jaenen 69.
33. Killan 24-26.
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