Thursday, March 29, 2012

Iroquoian Military-Religious Torture

Torture was a common occurrence between the warring Algonkians and Iroquoians at the time of contact with Europeans.  Jim Miller's Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens notes that prisoners were subjected to excruciating treatment by fire and blade.  Captured soldiers were expected to remain calm while the captors subjected them to this degradation.  Miller notes, "it would be even better if he laughed at his torturers and told them that he was enjoying the treatment he was receiving." (p.12)
Canadian Military Heritage Gateway

The tortured were kept alive throughout the night, and revived if they passed out from the pain.  Iroquoians adapted a form of sun worship in which the prisoner was finally put out of his misery when the sun rose in the morning.  Cannibalism was not uncommon.  Those who were particularly stoic would have their heart cooked and distributed among the young men to eat.
Champlain and Huron Allies attacking an Iroquois Fort on the Richelieu in 1610.  CMHG

Miller notes that these practices were both sun worship and a masculine "cult of prestige". (p.13)  By eating a portion of a brave soldier's heart, the young men could gain some of their captive's bravery.  Interestingly, after contact,  Europeans also participated in the desecration of their Native opponent's bodies. Desmond Morton notes is his A Military History of Canada that while such mutilation was part of Iroquoian religious ceremony, the Europeans had no such cultural justification for their actions.

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