The Black Robe
The movie “Black Robe” aptly named due to garments worn by the main protagonist Father LaForgue was in a sense a movie created to show the similarities and differences between two very distinctive cultures that were worlds apart. It must be noted though that black robes can have different interpretations. While in the film it was obvious that it referred to the style that LaForgue dressed in however elements in the film where various Native Americans called him a demon that would bring about their destruction were not far from the truth. Historically speaking it was due to the incursions of the French into the region as well as the different religious missions that exposed the Native Americans to diseases coming from Europe that caused the Native American population in Canada to be decimated. Black robes can also be interpreted as harbingers of death as evidenced by both history, popular fiction as well as what happened in the movie.
In the film it can be said that both the culture of the Native Americans and that of the Europeans meet into an uneasy truce of superstition and spirituality wherein both learn a little bit of the other and as a result gain an understanding of the other. This is evidenced by a particular scene in the movie wherein LaForgue states that “maybe dreams are reality” this is in reference to the Native American belief that dreams are visions of things to come or messages trying to impart a greater meaning. It is at this point that LaForgue somewhat separates himself from the group clearly in internal conflict between what he has learned through his Jesuit training in France and from lessons and examples in spirituality that he gained from the Native Americans
. It can be said that in the movie it was the Europeans who were portrayed as being the more powerful and dominating group. It can be seen that the Europeans instead of trying to adapt to the ways of the Native Americans tried to force their culture and ways of thinking onto them. In the form of Jesuit missions, trade in products as well as other forms of Europeanization. This may be due in part to what is portrayed in the film wherein it can be seen that the European settlers felt a sense of isolation due to their distance from their homeland and a sort of spiritual oppression due to the environment they were in surrounded by supposed savages that were godless heathens. As such this attempt to change them into a more European frame of mind would probably be just a way for them to cope with the environment and create a second version of their homeland there in Canada. Evidence of this is in the actions of LaForgue wherein he shows that he is afraid of the Native Americans he is with even though he has to trust them with his life and that he continuously states that the devil is in this land along with no apparent attempt to adjust to the wilderness he is in.
The film actually showed a microcosm of the state of world affairs at the time namely the dominance of the European culture and the way in which they tried their utmost to influence the culture of other societies without regard for the consequences or trying to adapt. Even though in the film it was shown that the Native Americans were able to kidnap, torture and subsequently removed the finger of LaForgue it was still shown that due to their fear of what LaForgue represented that it showed that it was still the Europeans that were the more important and dominant group.
What was seen as important by both groups was the concept of an afterlife. That when they die there was a concept of a second life after death. This shows a distinct similarity between both the Europeans and the Native Americans that even if both cultures developed their belief systems oceans apart the idea of an afterlife was what connected the two. Evidence of this is in two parts of the movie wherein LaForgue was talking to Daniel stating that the reason for him being there was to help the natives reach paradise through conversion to Christianity. Daniel points out to LaForgue that the Native Americans have an idea of an afterlife and that this view may not be entirely different than the interpretation of the afterlife by Christians. Since with the Native Americans they believe that once they die they will be revived in a forest where they can hunt an endless supply of animals while in the Christian version people are sitting on clouds looking at and praising clouds. While the interpretations of both afterlife’s are different they both represent an ideal situation. For the Native American’s being in a forest full of animals where they could hunt all they want is in stark contrast to the foreboding and bleak forests they live in presently where it isn’t easy to hunt. For the Christians a world without conflict and being with God represents the best possible outcome, a sort of reward as it were. This shows that both cultures interpreted the afterlife as being a better place than the one they left behind as opposed to other cultures comparatively that of the Norse mythology where they believe in a rather fatalistic view of the afterlife where Ragnarok, end of the world and heaven as we know it, would eventually come and even if they fought to the death they would still lose. It must be noted though that in the film it was shown that while the Native Americans believed in demons they didn’t apparently have a concept of hell while in Christianity there is a belief in hell. The second part of the movie which shows the belief of the Native American’s in an afterlife is when Chomina dies and he supposedly see She-Manitou before him. She –Manitou is referred to as a spirit but it can also refer to their version of a deity. This shows that not only did they believe in an afterlife but also in otherworldly spirits similar to the Christian belief in guardian angels, spirits of dead family members and friends guiding them or even the Holy Spirit.
A modern day equivalent to this is when Christian overseas workers work in Middle Eastern countries. While their purpose may not be to spread their religious faith their entry into Muslim countries creates a situation wherein they have to deal with a culture that has had a violent if not brutal association with their own religion. In this case though as evidenced by the actions of the local community in the U.A.E especially in Abu Dhabi through the creation of a local church and the begrudging acceptance of a different form of faith in their country shows religious tolerance for these people entering their country. This is due to the fact that these individuals bring with them needed skills and knowledge needed to develop the region into an industrial powerhouse. As such both groups develop a relationship of tolerance and acceptance for the others different practices.
List of References
(2008). Religious Groups in the Middle East. Current Events, 107(23), 6. Retrieved from
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Haavik, K. (2007). In Defense of Black Robe A Reply to Ward Churchill. American Indian
Culture & Research Journal, 31(4), 97-120. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier
McCoy, W. (1985). Black Robe (Book). Library Journal, 110(6), 159. Retrieved from Academic
Search Premier database.