#4 The Suicide of Children
     (reported by Wallace, citing LeMercier, 1600s)

[re 1600’s] “Some Savages,” reported LeMercier of the Huron, “told us that one of the principal reasons why they showed so much indulgence toward their children, was that when the children saw themselves treated by their parents with some severity, they usually resorted to extreme measures and hanged themselves, or ate of a certain root they call Audachienrra, which is a very quick poison. “The same fear was recorded among the Iroquois, including the Senecas, in 1657. And while suicides by frustrated children were not actually frequent, there are nevertheless a number of recorded cases of suicide where parental interference was the avowed cause. And mutatis mutandis, there was another rationalization for a policy of permissiveness: that the child who was harshly disciplined might grow up, some day, to mistreat his parents in revenge (pp. 38-39).

When sober, the Iroquois tended to be depressed and even suicidal. A sympathetic missionary at Buffalo Creek summarized this aspect of the problem: “Indians, as has been observed, bear suffering with great fortitude, but at the end of this fortitude is desperation. Suicides are frequent among the Senecas. I apprehend this despondency is the principal cause of their intemperance. Most of the children and youth have an aversion to spiritous liquor, and rarely taste it until some trouble overtakes them. Their circumstances are peculiarly calculated to depress their spirits, especially these contiguous to white settlements. Their ancient manner of subsistence is broken up, and when they appear willing and desirous to turn their attention to agricultural, their ignorance, the inveteracy of their old habits, the disadvantages under which they labor, soon discourage them; though they struggle hard little is realized to their benefit, beside the continual dread they live in of losing their possessions. If they build they do not know who will inhabit.” An unusually strong tendency for the humiliated Iroquois to commit suicide during this period is not easy to document with specific cases. One instance, however, was the suicide of Big Tree, who stabbed himself to death in Wayne’s camp during the winter of 1793-94. Apparently he had felt publicly dishonored: He had been pro-American during the revolution, had been an associate of Cornplanter’s thereafter, had urged the western Indians to accept the American terms, and at the last was reputed to have become melancholic and discouraged.

 [#4] Anthony F.C. Wallace, Death and Rebirth of the Seneca. New York: Random House, 1972, pp. 38-39, 200-201 (field date 1951-1956).

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