M18836 | Manuscript

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Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Mi'kmaq
About 1790, 18th century
33.5 x 21.8 x 1.1 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Manuscript (11)
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Keys to History

To engage in trade, it is essential that both parties understand each other.

The encounters between the Mi'kmaq and Basque fishermen in the late 16th and early 17th centuries resulted in the emergence of a dialect that was used mainly for doing business.

Aboriginal societies also used marks and symbols to indicate unusual and important events. While watching young Mi'kmaq mark birchbark with pieces of charcoal, French priest Chrestien Leclercq was inspired, in the late 1670s, to invent a hieroglyphic alphabet to teach Catholic hymns and prayers.

The missionaries also tried to learn the Mi'kmaq language. One of them, Father Maillard, confessed that after eight years of study he had not succeeded in mastering the language.

  • What

    This page is from a manuscript written using hieroglyphic characters developed by French missionaries to teach religion, the lives of the saints and hymns to the Mi'kmaq.

  • Where

    This prayerbook has had a peripatetic existence, one indication of its great interest. Initially the property of a Mi'kmaq woman who wintered at Île St. Pierre, off the south shore of Newfoundland, it was bought by a Quebecer in 1836, sent to Paris in the first half of the 19th century and, finally, acquired by the McCord Museum.

  • When

    The prayerbook probably dates from the end of the 18th century. Following the departure of French missionaries for their homelands, many works in hieroglyphics were handed down within Mi'kmaq families, who preciously conserved them.

  • Who

    In the 1830s, the owner of the prayerbook explained that the prayers were written in the "language of her country" but that she did not read them; instead, she sang them because she knew them by heart. Mi'kmaq knowledge was transmitted orally.