Nation Iroquoise: A Seventeenth-Century Ethnography of the Iroquois

Nation Iroquoise: A Seventeenth-Century Ethnography of the Iroquois

Nation Iroquoise: A Seventeenth-Century Ethnography of the Iroquois

Nation Iroquoise: A Seventeenth-Century Ethnography of the Iroquois

Synopsis

Nation Iroquoise presents an intriguing mystery. Found in the Bibliotheque Mazarine in Paris and in the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa, the unsigned and undated manuscript Nation Iroquoise is an absorbing and informative eyewitness account of the daily life and societal structure of the Oneida Iroquois in the seventeenth century. The Nation Iroquoise manuscript is arguably one of the earliest known comprehensive descriptions of an Iroquois group. Rich in ethnographic detail, the work is replete with valuable information about the traditional Oneidas: the role of women in tribal councils; mortuary customs; religious beliefs and rituals; warfare; the function of the clan system in tribal governance; the impact of alcohol; and the topography, flora, and fauna of the Oneida territory. It also offers important information about the famed Iroquois Confederacy during the 1600s Drawing on multiple strands of evidence and following a trail of clues within the Nation Iroquoise manuscript and elsewhere, Jose Antonio Brandao presents the results of a fascinating and convincing piece of detective work. He explains who might have written the manuscript as well as its contribution to our understanding of the Iroquois and their culture. The book includes the original French transcription and its English translation. Brandao also provides an illuminating overview of Iroquois culture and of Iroquois-French relations during the period in which the Nation Iroquoise manuscript was likely written.

Excerpt

I found the document that is published here in transla‐ tion for the first time in the National Archives of Canada in the late 1980s while doing research on Iroquois culture and on Iroquois-French relations. Titled "Nation Iroquoise," the document was a handwritten copy of an unsigned and undated French-language ethnography of the Iroquois left by someone who had been a captive among the Iroquois. The original document was housed in the Bibliothèque Mazarine in Paris and had lain buried there (as I later learned) since about 1789, and the transcript had been in Canada since it was made in 1931. I learned that the document was unused, but not unknown. Father Lucien Campeau, historian of the Hurons and of the Jesuit missions in Canada, and W. J. Eccles, historian of New France, had both seen the document and had made transcripts of it decades earlier. Indeed, as early as 1900 Louis Bertrand, a chronicler of the Sulpician order of missionaries, noted its existence, and Waldo Leland listed it in his 1932 guide to materials related to American history housed in Paris. Yet it appears that "Nation Iroquoise" remains little known and rarely cited, and the document's authorship is unresolved. Needless to add, it has remained outside the research scope of students of the Iroquois who do not read French.

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