Jean de Brébeuf’s rules on interacting with the Hurons

  • September 15, 2011

The journey from theological debate at the University of Paris to a Huron village on the shores of Georgian Bay in the 17th century was long — physically and psychologically. St. Jean de Brebeuf’s “Instructions for the Fathers of our Society Who Shall Be Sent to the Hurons” hints at the cultural chasm Jesuits were prepared to cross.

In 1636 Brebeuf wrote:

You must have a sincere affection for the Huron — looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, and as our brethren with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.

To conciliate the Huron, you must be careful never to make them wait for you in embarking.

Tuck up your gowns so that they will not get wet and so that you will not carry either water or sand into the canoe.

Be careful not to annoy anyone in the canoe with your hat; it would be better to take your night cap.

You must provide yourself with a tinder box or with a burning mirror, or with both, to furnish them fire in the daytime to light their pipes, and in the evening when they have to encamp; these little services win their hearts.

Each one should be provided with half a gross of awls, two or three dozen little knives called jambettes... a hundred fish hooks, with some beads of plain or coloured glass, which to buy fish or other articles when the tribes meet each other...

You should try to eat their sagamite or salmagundi in the way they prepare it, although it may be dirty, half-cooked and very tasteless. As to the other numerous things which may be unpleasant, they must be endured for the love of God, without saying anything or appearing to notice them. It is well at first to take everything they offer, although you may not be able to eat it at all; for, when one becomes somewhat accustomed to it, there is not too much.

You must try to be, and to appear, always cheerful. You must so conduct yourself as not to be at all troublesome to even one of these Hurons.

Do not undertake anything unless you desire to continue it; for example, do not begin to paddle unless you are inclined to continue paddling.

Finally, understand that the Huron will retain the same opinion of you in their country that they will have formed on the way; and one who has passed for an irritable and troublesome person will have considerable difficulty afterwards in removing this opinion.

(Courtesy of Huronia Historical Parks, abridged from the Jesuit Relations, Vol. XII, 1637. Republished by R.G. Thwaites, N.Y.: Pageant Books, 1959 Pg. 117-123.)

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