Joseph François Lafitau

Lafitau, Joseph François


Born 1670 in Bordeaux; died there in 1740. French Jesuit missionary, student of the ways of life of North American Indians.

Lafitau wrote the first general work on Indian tribes, entitled The Customs of the American Savages Compared With the Customs of Ancient Times (vols. 1–2, 1724), in which he compared the way of life of the Indians of his time with similar features in the way of life of the peoples of ancient Europe. Since the comparisons were often superficial, Lafitau came to erroneous conclusions; for instance, he held that the Indians were the descendants of the ancient peoples of Europe. The very attempt, however, to use the comparative-ethnographic method in the study of backward peoples was an important step forward at that time. Lafitau’s description of the matriarchal customs of the Iroquois and Hurons is also very important.