Today is a departure from my usual post where I feature a recent acquisition, and talk about it and the artist who created it.
I want instead to talk about a Christmas Carol that is unique to Canada and to the First Nations people who were the original inhabitants of the land, and whose art I collect.
During the first half of the 17th century, and also prior to that, European settlement was thinly spread along the Atlantic Seaboard, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico and sovereignty was divided anong the French, English, Spanish, Basque, Dutch and Swedish trading settlements that sprang up and sometimes failed just as quickly.
Success in these trading ventures was usually related to how well the Native population could be persuaded to assist the adventurers in their businesses.
The French seemed better able to adapt to the First Nations way of life and also invested a great deal of energy in recruiting the population to convert to Christianity, and wherever they settled or travelled, they seemed to integrate the First Nations adaptations more readily into their view of the world than did their competitors.
So, by the end of the first quarter of the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries were widely spread in a westerly and north westerly direction in French Canada, and had fanned out from the seaports of Quebec and Montreal up the Ottawa River and into the river and lake system of mid-central Ontario. Around 1639 they were tasked by the Jesuit order in France with establishing a mission outpost at Ste. Marie among the Hurons, close to present-day Midland, Ontario on Georgian Bay. From there individual priests traveled a circuit from village to village, preaching and converting, and administering the sacraments.
By 1649 the Huron nation had become decimated by tribal warfare which had been made more deadly by European weaponry, and by diseases brought by the Europeans to a group of peoples who had no immunity to them; and in their weakened condition the Huron were overrun by the Iroquois, and their settlements including Ste. Marie emptied. In total, 8 Jesuit priests in the various communities, including Jean de Brebeuf, were martyred; while those Hurons who survived fled to Quebec. It is said that the victorious Iroquois ritually ate Brebeuf’s heart in order to acquire some of his fortitude in facing torture and death.
It was later decided by remaining Jesuits t0 destroy the settlement at Ste. Marie rather than have it in the hands of the Iroquois.
Father Jean de Brebeuf was born March 25, 1593 in Normandy and was educated in Caen. He was delayed in his ordination when tuberculosis interrupted his studies, and he resumed them after a successful recovery. He left for Quebec in 1625, settling among the Hurons and applying himself to learning their customs and language. In 1643 he wrote a hymn we call the Huron Carol, using concepts and descriptions that would have meaning for a nomadic hunter/gatherer people who relied on agriculture only in a limited way, and domesticated no animals other than dogs. The language used, of course, was Huron/Wendat: the title being Jesous Ahatonhia. The haunting melody was based on a traditional French Folksong called “Une Jeune Poucelle” (a young maiden)
The English lyrics were written and published in 1926 by Jesse Edgar Middleton and are still under copyright.
The use of this carol has spread among the First Nations of Canada and been translated into many of their languages: here it is in Mi’kmaw, the language most common among east coast Mi’kmaw and Malecite people.
Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn, the group Crash Test Dummies, Burl Ives in the USA have all recorded the Huron Carol; and more recently Tom Jackson, the First Nations actor and musician, who made it his trademark during the 17 years that he toured the show “Huron Carole” with other performers across Canada to raise money for Canadian Food Banks.
More recently, there was a small book and cd, brilliantly illustrated by Moses Beaver of the fly-in community of Nibinamik, 500 miles north of Thunder Bay in North Western Ontario; poetry by David Bouchard, a prairie Metis; and translated and musically interpreted by Susan Aglukark into Inuktitut. This is a book that despite its appeal aimed to children, transcends age and appeals to adults as well. (Much in the same way that Antoine de St.Exupery’s Le Petit Prince has done.)
The Christmas stamps isued by Canada Post in 1977 are depicted below – they were created by children’s book illustrator Ronald G. White.
Another departure from my usual style of post is my desire to share with one of my readers the gift of a copy of the book and cd illustrated at the top of this post.
MY GIVEAWAY: comment on this post between now and December 31, 2010 and on the stroke of midnight I will do a draw using Random.org to ensure fairness – please make sure you leave your email address in the comment so I can notify the winner. Only one comment per person please and good luck! Open to any person wherever Canada Post mails parcels.
FINALLY: MY VERY BEST WISHES FOR A SAFE AND HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON AND A PROSPEROUS AND FULFILLING NEW YEAR!!!! MICH