Friday, April 13, 2012

April 13, 2012

Through Native Eyes

How your fellow humans remember you during your lifetime can make a big difference in how you are remembered centuries after you are gone. In the case of the French Huguenots who settled Fort Caroline in current-day Jacksonville, Florida, the shaky relationship between Frenchmen and Timucua Indians was overcome by the respect and interest the Native Americans had for their European neighbors. That is not to say there were not violent incidents . . . as with any culture clash, there were quite a few. Yet I find it interesting to note how the Timucua remembered the French even after many Huguenot men had been killed at La Caroline and women and children had been captured and sent toward fates unknown.

It has been said that, for an indeterminate amount of time after the French language ceased to ring out on Floridian shores, the native Timucuans would curiously seek out any travelers with some variation of the question, “are you French or not?” Unlike other nations of the day, the French did not actively seek to convert the Indians. Nor did they force their beliefs upon them. As a result, many of the natives became quite interested in the fledging and brutally-crushed Protestant faith simply by witnessing its practice, and they actively memorized Psalms they heard the Frenchmen sing. One of these was Psalm 128.

“Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in obedience to him.
You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the LORD.”

It always stirs compassion and longing in my soul when I ponder that these devout Protestants never got to enjoy their brave new world. They were plucked from life for the simple reason that they were Calvinists and Frenchmen. Yet I think the way they witnessed was quite beautiful. It is impossible to forcibly change a man’s heart, to make him believe a religion he finds distasteful. 

The Spanish approach to converting the Native Americans of Florida was largely successful but in many cases led to hard feelings. The French, however, taught by doing. They did not seek out the Indians’ presence but neither did they condemn them. They simply sang Psalms and worshiped as they saw fit, oblivious to the eyes watching their services. As a result, the Timucuans took a liking to the French and remembered them long afterwards as devout souls, as the “lesser of the two evils,” perhaps, when it came to these “invader” Europeans.

How many years, I wonder, did the Timucuans retain fond memories of the gentle Frenchmen who sang Psalms with gratefulness and devotion in their hearts? How many years after the last French voice had faded from the land did the Native Americans look hopefully toward the river? How long after the ugly, bloody downfall of the French colony and the subsequent massacre at Matanzas did the Timucua scan newcomers hopefully, peppering them with questions? “Are you French or not?”

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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