This article explores the development of native Christianity in the mid-eighteenth century at the site of a Moravian mission in the Mahican village of Shekomeko. Two native women, baptized Sarah and Rachel, appear prominently in the vast mission records, providing a unique opportunity to study the gendered meanings of Christian ritual for native women. Combining the techniques and insights of ethnohistory and recent scholarship on "lived religion," this article examines the implications of a century of colonial encounter on Mahican culture and the meanings infused in Christian ritual by native practitioners within this context of dramatic culture change.
Focusing on the lives of these two women, this article examines the development of native interpretations of Christianity by exploring the overlap and the divergences between Moravian and Mahican understandings of Christian ritual. It was in the performance of these rituals that many Shekomekoans engaged in the process of forming a new identity that they hoped might carry them through the severe trials of colonization. By exploring the meanings of these rituals for both Moravian and Mahican, this article attempts to enrich and complicate our understanding of the process of cultural and religious negotiation and adaptation undertaken in mission communities. Further, this study offers a ground level perspective on Indian encounters with Christianity that has rarely been possible for this time period. Finally, the often intensely personal and affecting nature of those sources representing Mahican sentiments allows for a more complex and personalized understanding of Indian responses to Christianity.
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