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ARCHIVED - Codex canadensis

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About the Manuscript

The Codex canadensis is a 79-page document written circa 1700. Illustrated with 180 drawings, it describes the First Nations, plants, mammals, birds and fish of Canada, making it of great importance to our country's ethnology and natural history.

The text begins with a three-page dedication praising King Louis XIV of France and celebrating France's victories over Holland during the War of Devolution (1668) and over Germany (1673-1674), as well as the ascension of Philip V to the throne of Spain (1700). It was this last event that enabled Baron Marc de Villiers, the first editor of the Codex, to date the document. However, the handwritten captions on each page seem to have been added later, making it difficult to determine the exact date of the drawings.

The dedication is followed by 19 pages describing the First Nations. It can be proven that the author drew the outlines of his figures based on engravings in Historiae canadensis seu Novae Franciae Libri Decem, written by the Jesuit François du Creux and published in Paris in 1666. But the details are his own creation and offer a wealth of information. The author took great pains to show the tattoos, pipes (archaeologists usually recover only the bowls), hairstyles and more or less elaborate clothing, as well as accessories such as the tobacco pouch on page 6, and weapons such as the tomahawk on pages 7 and 9, and the shield, bow and arrows on page 12. A highlight of the document is an actual portrait of Iskouakite, an Outaouais chief respected by the Jesuits because he urged his people "to pray." This image and that of Catherine Tekakouita are the only known portraits of First Nations in all New France.

The last eight pages in this section are of the greatest interest. They form a short ethnographic treatise, in advance of its time, detailing means of subsistence (particularly fishing), transportation (including the Inuit kayak on page 17), types of dwellings and even a torture scene that the author claims to have witnessed (page 22). On this last page the author tries to describe the magnificent Iroquois masks of a curing society known as the False Face Society, in an awkwardly expressed effort that is, nevertheless, unique for that era.

This section also includes a map of the whole territory and another showing the entire Mississippi basin, which the author calls the Manitounie in tribute to the discoveries of Joliette and Father Marquette in 1673.