Huron Carol, The (Jesous Ahatonhia)
DESCRIPTION: The Christmas story in Indian terms: "'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 wand'ring hunters heard the hymn...."
AUTHOR: Father Jean de Brebéuf (1593-1649); English text by J. E. Middleton, 1926
EARLIEST DATE: c. 1642
KEYWORDS: Christmas Jesus religious Indians(Am.)
1634 - the Jesuit Jean de Brebeuf leads the first missionary party to evangelize by living among the Hurons
1639 - Father Jemore Lalemant founds the mission of Ste-Marie.
FOUND IN: Canada(Que)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Fowke/Johnston-FolkSongsOfCanada, pp. 130-132, "The Huron Carol (Jesous Ahatonia)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke/Mills/Blume-CanadasStoryInSong, pp. 29-31, "The Huron Carol" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "Une Jeune Pucelle" ("A Young Maiden") (tune)
NOTES [552 words]: Having been unable to teach the Indians old Catholic hymns, Father Brebéuf created this song for the Hurons in 1641 or 1642 (long after the first permanent missions to the Hurons were created in 1625). They sang it every Christmas until 1648, when the Hurons were attacked by Iroquois (the Hurons had by then been badly weakened by the white man's diseases).
In a twist of irony, few Hurons showed to that time had shown any interest in Catholicism; Catholic ways were very different, the French themselves brought disease, and often they looked down on native ways.
To an extent, the Iroquois attack changed that. The Iroquois set out starting in 1645 to destroy all their neighbors (which they would succeed in doing by 1655); the Huron were the 1648 victims.
This caused some Hurons to turn Catholic. The Iroquois were winning with the white man's weapons; perhaps the Hurons thought the white man's religion might answer. But it was too late; Huronia was destroyed in 1649. (A severe blow to the French settlement, which was closely allied to the Hurons.)
Father Jean de Brebéuf (1593-1649) and Father Gabriel Lalemant (the nephew of Jerôme Lalemant of Ste.-Marie), the leading spirits of the Jesuit missions, refusing to flee to safety, were captured, tortured, and killed. (We should note that they were not tortured for their faith; the Iroquois simply tortured captives as part of a policy of terror.)
Even then, the song continued to be sung in Huron circles; it was collected by another Jesuit, Father de Villeneuve, and was translated into French (as "Jesus est ne") as well as English. According to LindaJo H. McKim, Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993, p. 61, the English translation by Jesse Edgar Middleton (1872-1960) was made in 1926.
"Gitchi Manitou" -- in other Algonquian-language-family traditions, Keeche Keeche Manitou -- is "The Great, great Spirit... the master of life... [who] leaves the human race to their own conduct, but has placed all other living things under the care of [lesser] Manitos" (from the notes of the early explorer David Thompson, though he was writing of the Cree, not the Huron; the Huron language is part of the Iroquoian family, which is not Algonquian, so there appears to be some cultural contamination here).
McKim, p. 61, says that the Presbyterian church lists the song under the name "'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime," and calls the tune "Une Jeune Pucelle," which some consider related to the German "Von Gott Will Ich Nicht Lassen."
There is an ironic side to this story, although I truly don't know which way the irony points. William F. Fowler, Jr., Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763, 2005 (I use the 2006 Walker paperback), p. 7, summarizes the story of the founding of the Iroquois as follows:
"According to Iroquois history, sometime long before Europeans arrived, a virgin Huron living near the Bay of Queinte, was visited by a heavenly messenger who announced that she would be the mother of a son to be named Dekanahwideh, whose mission would be to bring peace to the warring Mohaw, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Oneida nations who lived in the Mohawk Valley between Lake Ontario and the Hudson River." The similarities to the Christian story are obvious. - RBW
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