Ambitions: Expansion of New France

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I DO NOT CLAIM here to put our Savages on a level with the Chinese, Japanese, and other Nations perfectly civilized; but only to put them above the condition of beasts, to which the opinion of some has reduced them, to give them rank among men, and to show that even among them there is some sort of Political, and Civil life. It is, in my opinion, a great deal to say that they live assembled in Villages, with sometimes as many as fifty, sixty, and one hundred Cabins,-that is, three hundred and four hundred households; that they cultivate the fields, from which they obtain sufficient for their support during the year; and that they maintain peace and friendship with one another. I certainly believe that there is not, perhaps, under heaven a Nation more praiseworthy in this respect than the Nation of the Bear. Leaving out some evil-minded persons, such as one meets almost everywhere, they have a gentleness and affability almost incredible for Savages. They are not easily annoyed, and, moreover, if they have received wrong from any one they often conceal the resentment they feel,-at least, one finds here very few who make a public display of anger and vengeance. They maintain themselves in this perfect harmony by frequent visits, by help they give one another in sickness, by feasts and by alliances. When they are not busy with their fields, hunting, fishing, or trading, they are less in their own Houses than in those of their friends; if they fall sick, or desire anything for their health, there is a rivalry as to who will show himself most obliging. If they have something better than usual, as I have already said, they make a feast for their friends, and hardly ever eat it alone. In their marriages there is this remarkable custom,-they never marry any one related in any degree whatever, either direct or collateral; but always make new alliances, which is not a little helpful in maintaining friendship. Moreover, by this so common habit of frequent visitation, as they are for the most part fairly intelligent, they arouse and influence one another wonderfully; so that there are almost none of them incapable of conversing or reasoning very well, and in good terms, on matters within their knowledge. The councils, too, held almost every day in the Villages, and on almost all matters, improve their capacity for talking; and, although it is the old men who have control there, and upon whose judgment depend the decisions made, yet every one who wishes may be present, and has the right to express his opinion. Let it be added, also, that the propriety, the courtesy, and the civility which are, as it were, the flower and charm of ordinary human conversation, are to some extent observed among these Peoples; they call a polite person Aiendawasti. To be sure, you nevertheless, they render certain duties to one another, and preserve, through a sense of propriety, certain customs in their visits, dances, and feasts,-in which if any one failed, he would certainly be criticized on the spot; and, if he often made such blunders, he would soon become a byword in the village, and would lose all his influence. When they meet, the only salutation they give is to call the other by name, or say,” my friend, my comrade,”-“my uncle,” if it is an old man. If a Savage finds himself in your Cabin when you are eating, and if you present to him your dish, having scarcely touched anything, he will content himself with tasting it, and will hand it back to you. But, if you give him a dish for himself, he will not put his hand to it until he has shared it with his companions; and they content themselves usually with taking a spoonful of it. These are little things, of course; but they show nevertheless that these Peoples are not quite so rude and unpolished as one might suppose. Besides, if laws are like the governing wheel regulating Communities,-or to be more exact, are the soul of Commonwealths,-it seems to me that, in view of the perfect understanding that reigns among them, I am right in maintaining that they are not without laws. They punish murderers, thieves, traitors, and Sorcerers; and, in regard to murderers, although they do not preserve the severity of their ancestors towards them, nevertheless the little disorder there is among them in this respect makes me conclude that their procedure is scarcely less efficacious than is the punishment of death elsewhere; for the relatives of the deceased pursue not only him who has committed the murder, but address themselves to the whole Village, which must give satisfaction for it, and furnish, as soon as possible, for this purpose as many as sixty presents, the least of which must be of the value of a new Beaver robe. The Captain presents them in person, and makes a long harangue at each present that he offers, so that entire days sometimes pass in this ceremony. There are two sorts of presents; some, like the first nine, which they call andaonhaan, are put into the hands of the relatives to make peace, and to take away from their hearts all bitterness and desire for vengeance that they might have against the person of the murderer. The others are put on a pole, which is raised above the head of the murderer, and are called Andaerraehaan, that is to say, “ what is hung upon a pole.” Now each of these presents has its particular name. Here are those of the first nine, which are the most important, and sometimes each one of them consists of a thousand Porcelain beads. The Captain, speaking, and raising his voice at the name of the guilty person, and holding in his hand the first present as if the hatchet were still in the death wound, condayee onsahachoutawas, “There,” says he, “is something by which he withdraws the hatchet from the wound, and makes it fall from the hands of him who would wish to avenge this injury.” At the second present, condayee oscotaweanon, “There is something with which he wipes away the blood from the wound in the head.” By these two presents on their Native Land, and as if it had received the greater wounds, he adds the third present, saying, condayee onsahondechari, “This is to restore the Country;” condayee onsahondwaronti, etotonhwentsiai, “This is to put a stone upon the opening and the division of the ground that was made by this murder.” Metaphor is largely in use among these Peoples; unless you accustom yourself to it, you will understand nothing in their councils, where they speak almost entirely in metaphors. They claim by this present to reunite all hearts and wills, and even entire Villages, which have become estranged. For it is not here as it is in France and elsewhere, where the public and a whole city do not generally espouse the quarrel of an individual. Here you cannot insult any one of them without the whole Country resenting it, and taking up the quarrel against you, and even against an entire Village. Hence arise wars; and it is a more than sufficient reason for taking arms against some Village if it refuse to make satisfaction by the presents ordained for him who may have killed one of your friends. The fifth is made to smooth the roads and to clear away the brushwood; condayee onsa hannonkiai, that is to say, in order that one may go henceforth in perfect security over the roads, and from Village to Village. The four others are addressed immediately to the relatives, to console them in their affliction and to wipe away their tears, condayee onsa hoheronti, “Behold,” says he, “ here is something for him to smoke,” speaking of his father or his mother, or of the one who would avenge his death. They believe that there is nothing so suitable as Tobacco to appease the passions; that is why they never attend a council without a pipe or calumet in their mouths. The smoke, they say, gives them intelligence, and enables them to see clearly through the most intricate matters. Also, following this present, they make another to restore completely the mind of the offended person, condayee onsa hondionroenkhra. The eighth is to give a drink to the mother of the deceased, and to heal her as being seriously sick on account of the death of her son, condayee onsa aweannoncwa d’ocweton. Finally, the ninth is, as it were, to place and stretch a mat for her, on which she may rest herself and sleep during the time of her mourning, condayee onsa hohiendaen. These are the principal presents,-the others are, as it were, an increase of consolation, and represent all the things that the dead man would use during life. One will be called his robe, another his belt, another his Canoe, another his paddle, his net, his bow, his arrows, and so on. After this, the relatives of the deceased regard themselves as perfectly satisfied. Formerly, the parties did not come to terms so easily, and at so little expense; for, besides that the public paid all these presents, the guilty person was obliged to endure an indignity and punishment that some will perhaps consider almost as insupportable as death itself. The dead body was stretched upon a scaffold, and the murderer was compelled to remain lying under it and to receive upon himself all the putrid matter which exuded from the corpse; they put beside him a dish of food, him a present of seven hundred Porcelain beads, which they called hassaendista; as for the murderer, he remained in this position as long as the relatives of the deceased pleased, and, even after that, to escape it he had to make a rich present called akhiataendista. If, however, the relatives of the dead man avenged themselves for this injury by the death of him who gave the blow, all the punishment fell on them; it was their part also to make presents to those even who were the first murderers, without the latter being obliged to give any satisfaction,-to show how detestable they regard vengeance; since the blackest crimes, such as murder, appear as nothing in comparison with it, as it does away with them and attracts to itself all the punishment that they merit. So much for murder. Bloody wounds, also, are healed only by means of these presents, such as belts or hatchets, according as the wound is more or less serious..

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationConverging Worlds
Subtitle of host publicationCommunities and Cultures in Colonial America: A Sourcebook
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781136757440
ISBN (Print)9780415964968
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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