#5 Suicide
     (Father Joseph Francois Laftau, 1712-1717)

This Land of Souls has also its different levels and all are not equally good. One of our missionaries drew this conclusion from what he heard a young girl say. This girl, seeing her sister dying from the quantity of water hemlock [Cicuta maculata] which she had taken in anger and determined not to take an antidote to save herself, wept bitterly and tired to appeal to her sister by the ties of blood and affection which united them. She repeated over and over, “It is then over, thou wishest us never to find one another again, never to see one another again?” The missionary, struck by these words, asked her the reason for them. “It seems to me,” he said, “that you have a Land of Souls where you are all to be united with your ancestors; why then, dost thou speak in this way to thy sister?” “It is true,” she answered, “that we are all going to a Country of Souls but the wicked, particularly those who have destroyed themselves by a violent death, bear there the penalty of their crime; they are separated by it from the others and have no communication with them; that is the reason for my sorrow,” In like manner, Virgil assigns a separate corner of Hades to Dido and a number of others who had been the unhappy victims of their own despair.

The Indians are enlightened enough to distinguish good from evil. Conscience leaves no one in ignorance. It is not surprising that they have known, like others, that there were penalties reserved for crime and recompenses destined for virtue.

The worst punishment given them [children] when they are still little is to throw water in their faces or to threaten them with it: when they grow older, the mothers satisfy themselves with pointing out to them their duties, which they are not always of a mind to obey. No one, moreover, would dare strike and punish them. In spite of that, the children are docile enough, they have sufficient deference for the members of their lodge, and respect for the elders from whom one scarcely ever sees them emancipated; a thing which indicates that in methods of bringing up children, gentleness is often more efficacious than punishments, especially violent ones. The Indians in general are, besides, so sensitive, that, for a little too bitter a reproach, it is not unusual to see them poison themselves with water hemlock and do away with themselves.

[#5] Father Joseph François Lafitau, Customs of the American Indians Compared with the Customs of Primitive Times, ed. William N. Fenton and Elizabeth L. Moore (Paris, 1724; Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1974, pp. 254-55, 301).

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