Concerning the Ways of the Indians
Their Customs, Dress, Methods
 of Hunting and Fishing, and
Their Amusements

Nicolas Denys

This account of the Micmacs as first published by Nicolas Denys in 1672.



Concerning the ways of the Indians, their policy and customs, their mode of life, their disposition and that of their children; of their marriages, their method of build­ing, of dressing, of speech-making, with other particulars.

    It remains for me now to set forth the ways of the Indians, their characteristics, their mode of life, their marriages, their burials, their work, their dances, their hunting, and how they governed themselves in former times, as I have been able to learn it from them, and the way in which they did things thirty-seven to thirty-eight years ago when I was first in that country. They had as yet changed their customs little, but they were already making use of kettles, axes, knives, and of iron for their arrow-heads. There were still but few of them who had firearms.

    They still lived long lives. I have seen Indians of a hundred and twenty to a hundred and forty years of age who still went to hunt the Moose; the oldest, who neared a hundred and sixty years, according to their account, no longer went. They count by moons.

    Before speaking of the way they live at present, it is necessary to look into the past. Their subsistence was of fish and meat roasted and boiled. To roast the meat they cut it into fillets, split a stick, placed it therein, then stuck up the stick in front of the fire, each person having his own. When it was cooked on one side, and in proportion as it cooked, they ate it. Biting into it, they cut off the piece with a bone, which they sharpened on rocks to make it cut. This served them in place of knives of iron and steel, the use of which we have since introduced among them.

    Having eaten all of it that was cooked, they replaced the meat in front of the fire, took another stick and went through the same process. When they had eaten all the meat from a stick, they always replaced it with more, keeping this up all the day.

    They had another method of roasting, with a cord of bark from trees, attached to a pole which extended across the top of their wigwam, or from one tree to another, or upon two forked sticks stuck in the earth. The meat was attached to the lower end of the cord, through which was thrust a stick with which it was twisted several turns. After it was let go, by this means the meat turned a long time first one side then the other to the fire. When it turned no longer




the cord was again twisted by means of the stick through its middle, and again allowed to go. The surface of the meat being cooked, they would bite the outside, and cut off the piece close to the mouth, continuing thus until the whole was eaten. They also roasted it upon coals.

    As for fish, they roasted it on split sticks which served as a grill, or frequently upon coals, but it had to be wholly cooked before it was eaten. All the children do their cooking like the others, with split sticks and upon the coals.

    All these kinds of roasts were only an entree to arouse the appetite; in another place was the kettle, which was boiling. This kettle was of wood, made like a huge feeding-trough or stone watering-trough. To make it they took the butt of a huge tree which had fallen; they did not cut it down, not having tools fitted for that, nor had they the means to transport it; they had them ready-made in nearly all the places to which they went.

    For making them, they employed stone axes, well-sharp­ened, and set into the end of a forked stick (where they were) well tied. With these axes they cut a little into the top of the wood at the length they wished the kettle. This done they placed fire on top and made the tree burn. When burnt about four inches in depth they removed the fire, and then with stones and huge pointed bones, as large as the thumb, they hollowed it out the best they could, removing all the burnt part. Then they replaced the fire, and when it was again burnt they removed it all from the interior and commenced again to separate the burnt part, continuing this until their kettle was big enough for their fancy, and that was oftener too big than too little.

    The kettle being finished, it had to be used. To this end they filled it with water, and placed therein that which they wished to have cooked. To make it boil, they had big stones which they placed in the fire to become red hot. When they were red, they took hold of them with pieces of wood and placed them in the kettle, (when) they made the water boil. Whilst these were in the kettle, others were heating. Then they removed those which were in the kettle, replacing them there by others. This was continued until the meat was cooked.

    They had always a supply of soup, which was their great­est drink; they drank little raw water formerly, as indeed they do at present. Their greatest task was to feed well




and to go a hunting. They did not lack animals, which they killed only in proportion as they had need of them. They often ate fish, especially Seals to obtain the oil, (which they used) as much for greasing themselves as for drinking; and (they ate) the Whale which frequently came ashore on the coast, and on the blubber of which they made good cheer. Their greatest liking is for grease; they eat it as one does bread, and drink it liquid.

    There was formerly a much larger number of Indians than at present. They lived without care, and never ate either salt or spice. They drank only good soup, very fat. It was this which made them live long and multiply much. They would have multiplied still more were it not that the women, as soon as they are delivered, wash the infant, no matter how cold it may be. Then they swaddle them in the skins of Marten or Beaver upon a  board, to which they bind them. If it is a boy, they pass his penis through a hole, from which issues the urine; if a girl, they place a little gutter of bark between the legs, which carries the urine outside. Under their backsides they place dry rotten wood reduced to powder, to receive the other excrements, so that they only unswathe them each twenty-four hours. But since they leave in the air during freezing weather the most sensitive part of the body, this part freezes, which causes much mortality among them, principally among the boys, who are more exposed to the air in that part than the girls. To this board there is attached at the top, by the two cor­ners, a strap, so arranged that when it is placed on the forehead the board hangs behind the shoulders; thus the mother has not her arms encumbered and is not prevented either from working or going to the woods, whilst the child cannot be hurt by the branches along the paths. They have three or four wives, and sometimes more. If one of them turns out to be sterile they can divorce her if they see fit, and take another. Thus they are able to have plenty of children. But if a woman becomes pregnant whilst she is still suckling a  child, she produces an abortion. A thing which is also ruinous to them is that they have a  certain drug which they use for this purpose, and which they keep secret among them­selves. The reason why they produce the abortion is, they say, because they cannot nourish two children at the same time, forasmuch as it is necessary that the child shall cease suckling of itself, and it sucks for two or three years. It is not that they do not give them to eat of that which they have, for in chewing a piece of anything they place it in their mouths and the infant swallows it.