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The Huron-Wendat Feast of the Dead

Indian-European Encounters in Early North America

"Two thousand Wendat (Huron) Indians stood on the edge of an enormous burial pit... they held in their arms the bones of roughly seven hundred deceased friends and family members. The Wendats had lovingly scraped and cleaned the bones of the corpses that had decomposed on the scaffolds. They awaited only the signal from the master of the ritual to place the bones in the pit. This was the great Feast of the Dead."

Witnesses to these Wendat burial rituals were European colonists, French Jesuit missionaries in particular. Rather than being horrified by these unfamiliar native practices, Europeans recognized the parallels between them and their own understanding of death and human remains. Both groups believed that deceased souls traveled to the afterlife; both believed that elaborate mortuary rituals ensured the safe transit of the soul to the supernatural realm; and both believed in the power of human bones.

Appreciating each other’s funerary practices allowed the Wendats and French colonists to find common ground where there seemingly would be none. Erik R. Seeman analyzes these encounters, using the Feast of the Dead as a metaphor for broader Indian-European relations in North America. His compelling narrative gives undergraduate students of early America and the Atlantic World a revealing glimpse into this fascinating—and surprising—meeting of cultures.

About the Author

Erik R. Seeman is an associate professor of history at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and author of Pious Persuasions: Laity and Clergy in Eighteenth-Century New England, also published by Johns Hopkins, and Death in the New World: Cross-Cultural Encounters, 1492–1800.

Reviews

"The major value of this book is in its extensive discussion of Wendat spirituality and especially of their collective burial rite."

- Branka Arsic - Common Knowledge

Endorsements

"This book does everything an instructor could wish for by offering a historically rich, dramatic, and vividly rendered narrative that should at once engage and challenge students at all levels."

- Neal Salisbury, Smith College
Johns Hopkins University Press
Witness to History
From 13 To 17

9780801898549 : the-huron-wendat-feast-of-the-dead-seeman
Hardback
176 Pages
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176 Pages
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