Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Did Mormon Mean & “Does Narrow Neck Mean Niagara Falls?”

Continuing with this fifth part of the meaning of words and statements 
3. “Niagara means “neck”…narrow neck of land in the case of the Book of Mormon” Ana M.
    Response: At present, there are two specific opinions on this matter, and they are strictly opinions.
”In the area we know today as Niagara River, including the Niagara Falls, the word “Niagara” first or originally appeared in the form “Onguiaahra,” in the writings of Jesuit priest Jérôme Lalemant, Superior to the Huron Mission, in 1641 (though he had not seen the area). However, Lalemant makes no comment as to the meaning of the name. But a survey of subsequent literature reveals two dominant interpretations:
1) “Thundering Waters” or some equivalent to “resounding with great noise.”
2) “Neck,” denoting the strip of water connecting the “head” and the “body” (Lakes Erie and Ontario).
    In 1603, Explorer Samuel de Champlain’s Des Sauvages, repeats a native account of “a fall that may be a league broad, over which an exceeding great current of water descends.” In 1612 on his map of New France, Champlain (though he had not seen the area) labels the falls “de au”, and in 1632, they are simply numbered “90” on his later map, and described in the legend as “Waterfall at the end of Lake St. Louis, of great height, where many kinds of fish are stunned in descending.” The words “sault de au” are French for “waterfall,” and Lake St. Louis at the time was the name for Lake Ontario.
    In 1641 the peninsula was occupied by the Neutral Indians, though what they called themselves is unknown—they were wiped out in 1651, and their language lost. The French referred to them as “la nation neuter” because of their refusal to become involved in the longstanding hostilities between the Huron and the Iroquois, though they themselves were far from peaceful. This left a 170-year gap between the Neutral Nation’s demise and the Iroquoi, Seneca or Mohawk languages from which much of the later information was received.
    When Lalemant first wrote to his superiors in France in 1641, it was from information he received from his two informants, fellow priests Jean de Brébeuf and Pierre Chaumonot, who told him of the term “Onguiaahra,” which they applied only to the river, not the Falls. As he described it:
    “This Stream or River is that through which the great lake of the Hurons, or fresh-water sea, empties: it flows first into the lake of Erié, or of the Nation of the Cat, and at the end of that lake, it enters into the territory of the Neutral Nation, and takes the name of Onguiaahra, until it empties into the Ontario or lake of saint Louys, whence finally emerges the river that passes before Quebec, called the St. Lawrence.”
Top: Red Arrow: Land of the Huron; Green Arrow: Land of the Iroquois; Blue Arrow: Land of the Onguiaahra along the Niagara Peninsula; Bottom; The topography of the area
    In this same report, Lalemant also mentions a Neutral village called Onguiaahra, and was evidently located close to the Niagara River, but where exactly and on which side of the river, is not certain. The village would have belonged to the Onguiarahronon, one of the constituent tribes of the Neutral peoples.
    While Lalemant makes no mention of the Falls, his successor Paul Ragueneau writes of the waters of Lake Erie being thrown “over a waterfall of a dreadful height” into Lake Ontario though he does not state its name. Not until 1656 are the Falls named, on a map by Nicolas Sanson, where they are called “Ongiara Sault.” Ongiara is believed a variant of Onguiaahra, with the same spelling on maps by Francesco Bressani in 1657 and François du Creuz in 1660.
A portion of Nicolas Sanson’s 1656 map of the Great Lakes area. Red Arrow: points to Ongiara Sault, “Ongiara Waters”
    In 1678, explorer Cavelier de La Salle, with a group of priests, including Louis Hennepin, who was the first European to publish an account of Niagara Falls based on personal observation. He wrote in his Desription de la Louisiane, published in 1683, “le grand Salt de Niagard,” and refers to the river as “la belle Riviere de Niagara.” From that point on the name in French became “Saut de Niagara,” the “waters of Niagara,” and the name of the later Fort de Niagara, established by the french at the mouth of the Niagara River in 1726.
    Between 1641 and 1726, however, there were 40 spelling variants of the name Niagara. Thomas Dongan, Governor of the Colony of New York spelled the name six differtent ways (Oneigra, Onijagar, Onyagaro, Onyagars, Onyagro and Onyegra) in letrters he himself wrote between February 1867 and February 1688, with five other spellings (Oneagoragh, Oniagoragh, Onjagra, Onnyagaro and Onyagra) appering in official documents composed by others.
    By 1715, however, the name Niagara, or the Great Fall of Niagara, became standardized in English on Hermann Moll’s map. The British retained the name Niagara when Fort de Niagara was captured from the French in 1759, and the first Loyalist settlement on the west bank of the Niagara River in 1780 was called the Settlement at Niagara. The name was subsequently applied to the Town and Township of Niagara in 1798, the Niagara Peninsula in 1820, the Niagara Escarpment in 1850, and many others thereafter.
    When the Iroquois killed off the Neutral Indians, they used this area between the lakes as a routeway, though they did establish some villages along the Peninsula, but by the century (1690s), they were ousted by the Mississauga Ojibwa, who built villages along Lake Ontario, but left the Niagara Peninsula largely uninhabited, which is one reason the Peninsula was basically empty when European settlement began, there having been no significant native presence close to the Canadian side of the Niagara River since the elimination of the Neutral Nation in 1651.
    As for meaning, there is no agreement or consensus regarding the meaning of “Niagara,” though Alan Rayburn, considered dean of modern Canadian toponymists, insists that the word means “neck” (Oxford University Press, 1997); however, he gives no source for his conclusions, and even he recognizes there are no records to indicate that meaning since no information was ever written in the 1600-1700s regarding its meaning. To complicate matters, we have Steward (1945) stating it means “point of land cut in two,” Harder (1976) “at the neck,” or “across the neck,” or “bisected bottom lands,” while Hamilton (1978) claims “thunder of waters” or “resounding with great noise.” In the 1930s, Armstrong gave several suggestions: from the Neutral Nation words of unknown origin (or possibly simply a variant of the Neutral Nation word applied to them), a Huron word meaning “thunder of waters, resounding with great noise,” or an Iroquois word meaning “connecting water,” “bisected bottom land,” or “divided waterfalls.”
Two suggestions, however, appear more accepted than others, both given by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864), a 19th century explorer, geologist and ethnologist who, among other things, worked for the American government as an Indian agent and became an authority on North American native cultures, and located the source of the Mississippi River. He lays claim to : 1) Thundering Waters, or 2) Neck.
    According to Schoolcraft, and in the earliest known written statement on the meaning of the word Niagara, “Niagara is an Iroquois words said to signify the “thunder of waters,” and the word is still pronounced by the Senecas is O-Ni-áá-gáráh, being strongly accented on the third syllable, while the interjection O, is so feebly uttered that without a nice attention, it may escape notice.”
    Not for another twenty-five years did another suggestion by Schoolcraft appear, in which he wrote: “This name is Mohawk. It means, according to Mrs. Kerr, “the neck” the term being first applied to the portage or neck of land between lakes Erie and Ontario.” He cites that Mohawk word for neck—onhara—as proof, and lists the equivalents in Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca (oniawl, oniaah, onyaa, and kaniasa).
    As a source, Schoolcraft’s informant, “Mrs. Kerr,” would have been Elizabeth, widow of Dr. Robert Kerr, an important surgeon in early Upper Canada. As the daughter of Sir William Johnson and Mary (Molly) Brant and the niece of Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, Elizabeth Kerr would have been quite familiar with the Mohawk tongue.
    The problem lies in whether or not there is a single meaning to the word Niagara. If both are correct, though both of the Iroquois Nation, to the Iroquois the word then meant “thundering waters,” and to the Mohawk, it meant “neck.”
    However, it should be kept in mind that linguistics was still at an early stage of development in the 19th century, and people like Schoolcraft were not only self-taught but they were pioneers breaking new ground in the study of Ameridian languages. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that no consensus exists.
    So we are left with two principal interpretations of the name, each quite different from the other, plus a number of other meanings, and no obvious way of deciding which is correct. The conclusion, is obviously inescapable—we may never know for certain what the word “Niagara” really means.
    Thus, making an issue between the narrow neck of land of the book of Mormon and trying to claim it referred to the Niagara Peninsula is outside the range of scholarly research and serves no purpose but to further one’s own personal views.

No comments:

Post a Comment