Alexandre used an unusual dit name L’Ancien which means The Ancient One in French. Dit names, or referenced family names, were very often assigned by other people (or adopted by an individual) in the French/Native community for specific reasons. Mostly that’s how people would see him. Why would he be considered the Ancient One? ‘There are not many answers for this. Did he look extremely old? Unlikely. Did he tend to have deep thoughts as he interacted with the community? Maybe, but this, in itself, would not sufficiently stick in the minds of the people that would remember him or refer to him as The Ancient One. Human beings usually remember names in context to something else like, a story, an event, or something of importance. The French dit name L'Ancien is highly unusual. There are no French families in New France or Acadia that have used this dit name.
The answer may well come from Mi’kmaq and early Acadian French culture. Rev. Silas Tertius Rand, in 1893 wrote a book called LEGENDS OF THE MICMACS. The Reverend wrote this book in his own writing style possibly embellishing it for modern 18th century readers. The spirit of the story however would have been maintained. Among the stories told was a particular one called THE ORCHARD-KEEPER as related “by Nancy Jeddore, Feb. 7, 1871. She says she heard the story from her mother, who was a real Ninjun.]” (page 251). “Ninjun” was a colloquial term for Indian referring to an indigenous Mi’kmaq person. We do not have any reason for disqualifying Nancy Jeddore’s mother as being a member of the Mi’kmaq people.
THE ORCHARD-KEEPER seems not to be typical of an old Mi’kmaq legend. It is contextually more modern. Maybe this was the license of the author who recognized a moral Christian tale ---but there is no valid reason to believe that the story would have been altered by him. The story begins more like a French allegory with the following line:
“There was once an old man who had been an orchard-keeper to a king”.
“Orchard-keeper” and “king” would not be significant to the Mi’kmaq culture but would certainly be familiar by the 1670’s as relating to French culture; though the story was told as if it were a Mi’kmaq tale or legend and was very likely delivered in the Mi’kmaq language. Where was this done? It would not be unusual for the priest to call on a church member who could speak Mi’kmaq to deliver a message to the people who attended Sunday Mass. What better way than with a parable by someone among the Mi’kmaq family, like Alexandre Richard? The priest through observation and weekly compulsory confessions would determine the content of his Sunday sermon. Catholic Priests often did not learn local indigenous languages but used translators extensively.
Even so, the story would have entertainment value to the Mi’kmaq. Words like ‘orchard”, “plantation” and “gun” continues to point to French story telling but the following emphasizes something that the Mi’kmaq would know all too well as French religious culture as it would be delivered during Sunday Mass:
“The old people and the son were very devout and exemplary, but the girl was of a contrary disposition. She neglected her prayers, and was reckless in conduct.”
Never the less, it was a story-----and a Mi’kmaq listener probably wanted to know what was going to happen to the girl. Those among the congregation might very well know if they were implicated in the story!
“The old people and the son” could have been recognized as the typical French Roman Catholic family, while the girl, who is a part of the family, could have been seen as the mixed Mi’kmaq Catholics, or maybe the yet unconverted Mi’kmaq people. French Catholics of the 15th and 16th century had a great deal of baggage dealing with sex and the permissibility of sex. The “reckless conduct” of the young girl in the story would likely have to do with promiscuity as the story later reveals. As a Roman Catholic, I have heard sermon's on "improper conduct"( ie. drunkedness and illicit sex), on occasional Sunday mornings---not to mention catechism lectures by the priest on the consequences of "sex out of wedlock" and "masturbation", when I was a teenager.
Sex among the Mi’kmaq (and all indigenous people in Canada) was never taboo! Indigenous women were usually allowed the the privilege of choosing who she wanted as a sexual partner. This conduct was a scourge to Roman Catholic Priests who saw good Catholic Frenchmen pair up with indigenous women without church sanction. Priests were also not immune to the temptation of a young willing native girl.
Intermixed with the English rendition of the story are Mi’kmaq words like "welool (food)", "Mundoo (Satan)", "elegawagiku ((the king resided)", but it is the word "Sakawach (Old Times, or The Ancient One)" that falls squarely into Alexandre Richard dit name “L’Ancien”. "The old man" who also called himself "Nebookt (Forest)" in the allegory implies or suggests what is wrong with Mi’kmaq culture. In other words the Mi’kmaq lived a promiscuous and vagrant life style---contrary to 16th century French cultural norms.
The original story or parable would have been told in both French and Mi’kmaq to church congregations. The Mi’kmaq people were not separated from the general population. They were simply among the Acadian population. Catholic churches were not specifically build for the Mi’kmaq but for everyone including the Mi’kmaq, unlike New France (Kebec) churches. (This information can be googled).
Nothing is known about Alexandre Richard’s activity and responsibility in the Acadian Community. He was born and died there. His dit name suggests that he was the originator of this parable. A picture of the “The Ancient One” in the minds of listeners on Sunday morning would have influenced the dit name L’Ancien.
The old man, in the boys last journey in the parable, who called himself "The Ancient One" lived the "old times" in the large village where existed the essence of the "old times"----- namely,"promiscuity". Among those residing there was his sister. The boy, likely to mean the Catholic church, could not accept this way of life and had to leave (die) to reap the reward for being “devout and exemplary”----to the place called "Heaven" where good families were waiting for their loved ones.
It would have been a humorous jester by the Mi’kmaq and others to call him "The Old One" or L’Ancien accounting for the pervasion of the name in the memories of people in the parish. Though humorously derogatory in the beginning, Alexandre Richard’s dit name L’Ancien was probably accepted by him as a proud badge of his Roman Catholic Mi’kmaq story telling----in church on Sunday morning.
Rev. Silas Tertius Rand,
D.D., D.C.L., L.L.D.
Roland Belanger BA BEd