Monday, February 13, 2012

About Boeothick Indians of Canada


This was peculiar to the tribe, and consisted of but one garment—a sort of mantle formed out of two deer skins, sewed together so as to be nearly square—a collar also formed with skins was sometimes attached to the mantle, and reached along its whole breadth—it was formed without sleeves or buttons, and was worn thrown over the shoulders, the corners doubling over at the breast and arms. When the bow is to be used the upper part of the dress was thrown off from the shoulders and arms, and a broad fold, the whole extent of it, was secured round the loins, with a belt to keep the lower part from the ground and the whole from falling off, when the arms were at liberty. The collar of the dress was sometimes made of alternate stripes of otter and deer skins sewed together, and sufficiently broad to cover the head and face when turned up, and this is made to answer the purpose of a hood of a cloak in bad weather—occasionally leggings or gaiters were worn, and arm coverings, all made of deer skins—their moccasins were also made of the same material; in summer, however, they frequently went without any covering for the feet.

These, whether offensive or defensive, or for killing game, were simply the bow and arrow, spear, and club. The arrow-heads were of two kinds, viz.:—stone, bone or iron, the latter material being derived from Europeans, and the blunt arrow, the point being a knob continuous with the shaft—the former of these was used for killing quadrupeds and large birds, the latter for killing small birds—two strips of goose feathers were tied on to balance the arrow, and it has been remarked by many persons who have seen the Red Indians' arrows, that they have invariably been a yard long; the reason of this would seem to be that their measure for the arrow was the arm's length, that is, from the centre of the chest to the tip of the middle finger, that being the proper length to draw the bow—the latter was about five feet long, generally made of mountain ash, but sometimes of spruce.
Their spears were of two kinds—the one, their chief weapon, was twelve feet in length, pointed with bone or iron, whenever the latter material could be obtained, and was used in killing deer and other animals. The other was fourteen feet in length and was used chiefly, if not wholly, in killing seals—the head or point being easily separated from the shaft—the service of the latter being, indeed mainly, to guide the point into the body of the animal, and which being effected, the shaft was withdrawn, and a strong strip of deer skin, which was always kept fastened to the spear head, was held by the Indian, and who in this manner secured his prey.

These varied from sixteen to twenty-two feet in length, with an upward curve towards each end. Laths were introduced from stem to stern instead of planks—they were provided with a gunwhale or edging which, though slight, added strength to the fabric—the whole was covered on the outside with deer skins sewed together and fastened by stitching the edges round the gunwhale.

The language of the Boeothicks, Mr. Cormack is of opinion, is different from all the languages of the neighbouring tribes of Indians with which any comparison has been made. Of all the words procured at different times from the female Indian Shaw-na-dith-it, and which were compared with the Micmac and Banake (the latter people bordering on the Mohawk) not one was found similar to the language of the latter people, and only two words which could be supposed to have had the same origin, viz.: Keuis—Boeothick—and "Kuse" Banake—both words meaning "Sun,"—and moosin Boeothick, and moccasin, Banake and Micmac. The Boeothick also differs from the Mountaineer or Esquimaux language of Labrador. The Micmac, Mountaineer, and Banake, have no "r." The Boeothick has; the three first use "l" instead of "r." The Boeothick has the dipthong sh.—the other languages, as before enumerated, have it not. The Boeothicks have no characters to serve as hieroglyphics or letters, but they had a few symbols or signatures.

The Boeothicks appear to have shown great respect for their dead, and the most remarkable remains of them commonly observed by Europeans at the sea coasts are their burial places. They had several modes of interment—one was when the body of the deceased had been wrapped in birch rind, it was then, with his property, placed on a sort of scaffold about four feet from the ground—the scaffold supported a flooring of small squared beams laid close together, on which the body and property rested.
A second method was, when the body bent together and wrapped in birch rinds was enclosed in a sort of box on the ground—this box was made of small square posts laid on each other horizontally, and notched at the corners to make them meet close—it was about four feet high, three feet broad, and two-feet-and-a-half deep, well lined with birch rind, so as to exclude the weather from the inside—the body was always laid on its right side.
A third, and the most common method of burying among this people, was to wrap the body in birch rind, and then cover it over with a heap of stones on the surface of the earth; but occasionally in sandy places, or where the earth was soft and easily removed, the body was sunk lower in the earth and the stones omitted.

Their marriage ceremony consisted merely in a prolonged feast, and which rarely terminated before the end of twenty-four hours. Polygamy would seem not to have been countenanced by the tribe.
Of their remedies for disease, the following were those the most frequently resorted to:—
For pains in the stomach, a decoction of the rind of the dogberry was drank.
For sickness among old people—sickness in the stomach, pains in the back, and for rheumatism, the vapor-bath was used.
For sore head, neck, &c., pounded sulphuret of iron mixed up with oil was rubbed over the part affected, and was said generally to effect a cure in two or three days.

Brief as the foregoing statement is, yet, so scanty are the materials which relate to the subject, that it contains substantially all the facts which can now be gathered together of that interesting people, the original inhabitants of Newfoundland—a people whose origin and fate are alike shrouded in mystery, and of whom, in their passage across the stage of life, but little is certainly known, beyond the cruel outrages, the bitter wrongs they endured at the hands of the white man—before whose power, so mercilessly used, the tribe sank, and was either utterly annihilated, or, as is more probable, a remnant—worn out, harrassed beyond human endurance—left the homes of their fathers, and in another land sought that security for their lives which was denied them in this.