Mohawk Saint: Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits

By Allan Greer | Go to book overview

5
Body
and
Soul

MODERN SCHOLARS SOMETIMES TREAT CHRISTIANIZATION AS SOMETHING IMPOSED upon hapless native victims, but the history of Kahnawake suggests a very different process. Converts might better be viewed as active investigators probing the exotic myths and arcane rituals of a complex foreign religion. Jesuits seem to get all the credit for their ethnographic achievements in coming to terms with the strange ways of the other, but parallel native efforts to bridge the gap of cultural difference and comprehend the European Other are just as noteworthy. Both before and after baptism, Indian converts faced formidable challenges to their intelligence and to their religious imagination as they struggled to apprehend the intricacies of Catholicism. And like the missionaries, they examined the Other, necessarily, from the vantage point of their own culture, and with their own purposes and concerns.

One lesson the Iroquois seem to have learned at an early stage of their research is that there were basically two distinct versions of Catholic Christianity: the rites and knowledge that the Jesuits wished to share with Indians and another, secret, religion that the Jesuits kept to themselves. During the course of visits to Montreal and Quebec, it must have been evident to them that a similar split prevailed within the French population. The majority, including even eminent war leaders, had mainly indirect access to the powers associated with Jesus and Mary; heavenly protection came to them mostly through the intermediary of a class of spiritual specialists. In addition to the Jesuits, this latter category included other groups of male

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