Concerning the Ways of the Indians
Their Customs, Dress, Methods
of Hunting and Fishing, and
This account of the Micmacs as first
published by Nicolas Denys in 1672.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
piece close to the mouth, continuing thus until the
whole was eaten. They also roasted it upon coals.
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.
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
butt of a huge tree which had fallen; they did not
down, not having tools fitted for that, nor had they
means to transport it; they had them ready-made in nearly all the
places to which they went.
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
again burnt they removed it all from the interior and
commenced again to separate the burnt part, continuing this
their kettle was big enough for their fancy, and that
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.
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
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.