Wampum and the Jesuits

Fascinating.  Michael Paulson's blog, Articles of Faith, has this story of a Vermont museum featuring a display of "Wampum belts of faith," with a Jesuit connection: "Two 17th century beaded wampum belts made by Native Americans in New England for French Jesuit missionaries as expressions of Catholic faith have been shipped from a cathedral in France to a museum in Vermont where they are now on display.  Alexis Berthier, the spokeswoman for the Consulate General of France in Boston said the belts were given to the missionaries "as a sign of friendship" and that "they also signaled the conversion of some of these Native American people." Here's the story on Paulson's blog. (Though I admit to be a little baffled by the comment about the "Jesuits at Chartres").  

The above inscription, according to Paulson, can be translated as: "From the Hurons to the Virgin about to give birth." 


If you want to know more about the complex story of the Jesuits and their encounters with the native peoples of North America, a few books are helpful.  Jean de Brebeuf, by Joseph P. Donnelly, S.J., and Saint Among the Hurons by Francis X. Talbot, S.J., two favorites, as well as the sketches of the Jesuits called the "North American Martyrs" in Joseph Tylenda, S.J.'s Jesuit Saints and Martyrs are useful in understanding this complicated history, and are inspirational as well.  Also, in researching a new book on Ignatian spirituality, I came upon a fine collection of some the Jesuit "relations" or letters to superiors, from that time.  This group of letters is one of the main historical sources not only for those interested in understanding saints like Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brebeuf, and their companions, but also for historians and ethnographers interested in understanding the lives of the native peoples of the time.  The entire series runs many volumes, but this short collection is called Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents.

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9 years ago

I remember a history-teaching nun, and how she talked about the Native Americans; She said, "The English tried to exterminate them, the Spanish enslaved them, but the French embraced them.. all due to the particular theology of each group at  that time."

9 years ago

Jim: Good observations.  This Carol, written by Jean de Brebeuf, S.J., is an interesting example of the Jesuits' cultural adaptation of gospel images into terms and realities the First Peoples could relate to and understand. It is found in many Catholic hymnals   being published today - Rick Malloy, S.J.

The Huron Carol

('Twas In The Moon of Winter Time)

'Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim and wondering hunters heard the hymn,
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round
But as the hunter braves drew nigh the angel song rang loud and high
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free, O seed of Manitou
The holy Child of earth and heaven is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy who brings you beauty peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Words: Jean de Brebeuf, ca. 1643; trans by Jesse Edgar Middleton, 1926
Music: French Canadian melody (tune name: Jesous Ahatonhia)


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