The shaman who frightened priests
Joseph Oumosotiscouchie, who the French people called La Grenouille (The Frog) and who lived around 1640 was considered an influential and feared shaman to his people. He knew how to heal by dreams and the use of sacred drums. A man of great eloquence, he was not afraid of the priests who he openly defied and long objected to the Algonquins abandoning their spiritual practices to convert to Catholicism.
Joseph Oumosotiscouchie was the first to point at the priests as the possible cause of all diseases that affect his people. Oumosotiscouchie understood that these previously unknown sicknesses of his people had arrived at the same time as the white men. In particular, he noted that whenever the Jesuits were settled in a community, it was soon a victim of this evil and he did not hesitate to point to the religion of white men as the source of these evils. When he was himself affected by the disease, the Jesuits asserted that Oumosotiscouchie was struck by the wrath of God for his defamatory remarks.
Very close to chief Tessouat, the two men exercised some influence on the Algonquin people in general and particularly on the powerful group of Kichisipirinis. Oumosotiscouchie had also presented Tessouat as his uncle. Historical accounts do not agree on the role of each. If La Grenouille is considered a shaman, he is also designated as Captain (term used by Euro-Canadians to talk about community leaders) of the Algonquin Kichisipirinis, while Tessouat also beared that tittle.
In 1643, La Grenouille was converted along with Tessouat, but the conversion will be of short duration and it was shown that the two men had accepted baptism to improve relations with the French authorities. At that time, epidemics ravaged several indigenous nations, including the Algonquin, and Iroquois new attacks weakened their remaining warriors. We learned that Oumasatikouchie had previously accepted baptism, but was quickly returned to his traditions.
"Oumasatikouchie was baptized at Trois-Rivières and was a notorious apostate, who was openly hostile to the missionaries in Trois-Rivières and Richelieu. Tessouat, unbaptized, was also in Trois-Rivières and Richelieu, and was the main obstacle to the Jesuits’ preaching. "(Campeau, 1993, p. 68).
What had so suddenly caused the conversion of La Grenouille and two days afterwards, that of Tessouat? Presumably the fact that the Sieur de Maisonneuve had promised to give a musket to the newly baptized may have played a role. Because they feared that one day these weapons could be used against them, the French authorities and especially the religious authorities, refused to sell weapons to the natives, even amongst their allies, while the Dutch, who had established a trading post in the New York area had no qualms about arming the Iroquois. However, this ban would be relaxed, and even became an instrument to force indigenous people to convert, since only those who were baptized were allowed to obtain such a weapon.
Was it really dedication to the Christian God that pushed Tessouat and La Grenouille to convert, or the need to defend and strengthen ties with their former allies?
Considered as a "snake" by religious authorities, loved by many members of his nation, The Frog remains a character that played an important role during this time in our history.
Image from the movie « Robe Noire » (1991)