This website's purpose is to make available to scholars and interested members of the general public a reproduction of an important cultural object of the Mi'kmaw band of Conne River, Newfoundland and Labrador (known to the Mi'kmaq as 'Miawpukek' or 'middle river place'). The Miawpaukek Prayer Book is a manuscript collection of prayers and other ecclesiastical texts according to Roman Catholic observance. What makes it strikingly different from any other kind of collection of religious texts is the script in which they are written, a system of hieroglyphic symbols unique to the Mi'kmaw tradition which constitute the earliest indigenous script in North America north of Mexico. This writing system, which the Mi'kmaq called Komqwej-wikasikl was in use by the Mi'kmaq when Roman Catholic missionaries arrived who then adapted it as a means of preserving the texts of liturgical offices for recitation. Surviving manuscript copies of the prayer book are rare and this one is the oldest extant copy. A watermarked page with a date of 1807 proves it to be of English origin but a reference to Bay Despair dated 1830 on page 121 confirms its presence in Conne River in the early 19th Century.
The Mi'kmaw script has considerable scholarly interest. The number of symbols it makes use of is more than 2,700. Scholarly opinion is divided between those who believe their primary purpose was as a mnemonic device for texts which the Mi'kmaw worshippers already knew and those who judge the original "hieroglyphs" to be a glottographic writing system that enabled the Mi'kmaq to read texts not previously known to them.
In its chequered history the Miawpukek Mi'kmaw prayer book endured a great deal or wear and tear to the point where, towards the end of the 20th century, expert intervention was necessary to stabilize it against further deterioration. In 1995, at the request of the Conne River band, the Queen Elizabeth II Library of Memorial University submitted a request to the Canadian Conservation Institute for full conservation of the prayer book. The application was successful and in 1997 a method of treatment was selected in consultation with the Conne River band. The repairs required re-sequencing of some of the pages of the book for which the crucially important guidance of the Mi'kmaw educator, Helen Silliboy, was obtained. The repaired book was then returned to the Conne River band. One of the by-products of the conservation treatment was a reproduction in microform of the prayer book in its restored condition, a copy of which was given to the Queen Elizabeth II Library and it is that copy which provides the text from which this digital reproduction has been made.
The conservation process was not able to reverse the all effects of dirt and damp on the condition of the book as will be evident from the quality of the images of this reproduction. However, individual prayers and catechetical readings can still be recognized by someone who knows the symbols well.
The first part of this project has been to make digital copy accessible on the Web together with an illustrated account of the conservation treatment. The site will continue to grow incrementally as permissions are granted and contributions by experts are added.
The following people were instrumental in the creation of this website:
Elizabeth Browne, Cataloguer, Memorial University, QEII Library
Ian Gillies, Library Assistant, QEII Library (who helped with the graphics)
Pamela Cline Howley, Metadata Librarian, Memorial University, QEII Library
Martin Howley, Humanities Librarian, Memorial University, QEII Library
Bernie Francis, Mi'kmaw Educator (who recorded the Mi'kmaw version of the Lord's Prayer included on this site)
David Hanington, Conservator (retired), Canadian Conservation Institute
Gerald Penney, Archaeologist and Heritage Consultant
We would like to thank the Miawpukek Band Council for permission to do the digital reproduction of the Prayer Book; and the Canadian Conservation Institute for permission to include the slide collection illustrating the conservation measures followed by David Hanington.