The following excerpts are taken from The Historical Ethnography of the Micmac of the
Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries © Bernard Gilbert Hoffman. Published in 1955, it is considered to be
one of the most comprehensive studies of early Mi’kmaw people. The following selections are taken from the 836 page
Please note: Hoffman uses the word ‘Micmac’ throughout his thesis since it pre-dates the
Smith-Francis Orthography’s more correct ‘Mi’kmaq’ or `Mi’kmaw’.
Micmac Identity | Annual Subsistence Cycle | Dress & Ornament | Courtship & Marriage |
Sweating, Medicine, & Remedies | Old Age, Death & Burial| The Supernatural World
Grand Chiefs & Head Families | War | Hoffman Sums Up
When the French first attempted to colonize Nova Scotia, they found the country inhabited by a
tribe of Indians whom they designated as the “Souriquois”. In later times this term of reference fell into disuse,
so that we now have the problem of corelating those early Indians with a more recent tribal group. Fortunately we
have for this purpose a relatively long Souriquois word list from Lescarbot’s Histoire de la Novvelle France (1914,
pp.114, 117-120). Comparing this vocabulary list with later ones from the Maritime Peninsula, we may establish
beyond a doubt that the Souriquois were the ancestors of the modern Micmac Indians, who still live in the same area
(see Ganong in Lescarbot, 1914, pp.120-124, fn). At the time of Champlain and Lescarbot the Souriquois or Micmac
seem to have been occupying all of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and most of New Brunswick north and east
of the St. John River, including the southern section of the Gaspé Peninsula. At a slightly earlier date, this
latter feature seems to have been in the hands of the St. Lawrence Iroquois.
The Micmac language is a member of the Algonquian superstock of languages occupying the
northeastern sections of North America – i.e., the Labrador Peninsula (Canada east of Hudson Bay), New England, and
the Maritime Provinces, the Virginia tidewater areas, the Middle West – and possibly also the area to the west
around the United States – Canadian boundary. Within this large grouping its more specific affiliations lie with
the so-called Eastern Algonquian languages, comprising: Micmac, Malecite-Passamaquoddy,
Penobscot-Abanaki-Pennacook, Nipmuck-Pocumtuck, Massachusetts-Nauset-Wampanoag-Cowesit, Narragansett-Niantic,
Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk-Quinnipiac-Unqwachog-Naugatuck, Mahican, Nanticoke-Conoy, Delaware, Powhatan, and Pamticough
(Voegelin and Voegelin, 1946, pp.188-189). Although not expressed explicitly in the literature, Micmac, Malecite,
and Passamaquoddy may fall together into a somewhat larger unit than presented above – namely, as Micmac:
Malecite-Passamaquoddy. We may conclude this from statements in the literature to the effect that (a), Micmac and
Malecite are mutually intelligible, albeit with difficulty, and (b), that Passamaquoddy and Malecite are very
similar and may be practically identical (Michelson, 1912, p.289). Like Abanaki, Micmac shows a close relationship
with the Central Algonquian languages (e.g. Fox and Menomini), in which respect these two languages are somewhat
aberrant in the Eastern Algonquian category (Michelson, 1912, p.289). Siebert has summed up the linguistic position
of Micmac in the following words:
…In grammatical pattern Micmac approximates the other Northeastern languages, Arapaho-Atsina, and
to a less degree Central Algonkian. Micmac would seem to [fit] marginally into a loose Northeastern division, and
showing relationships to a few languages in the west…(Siebert, 1940, p.333).
The linguistic divisions and groupings listed in the foregoing paragraph are those recognized by
historians, ethnographers, and linguists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Although largely correct, they are in need
of some revision and correction in special cases – these cases concern the identification of the tribes known to us
as the Etechemin and the Kwedech.
According to the early sources (e.g., Biard, 1611; in JR., Vol.2, p.69; Biard, 1618; in JR.,
Vol.2, pp.205-207; Lescarbot, 1610: in JR., Vol.1, pp. 71-73; and Champlain, 1613; in 1922, pp. 297, 299, 325), the
Souriquois were bordered on the south by the tribe known as the Etechemin, a large and powerful group extending
from the St. John River to Casco Bay in the present state of Maine. Opinions have varied greatly as to the
affiliations of this group – some authors considering them as identical with the Abenaki, or with the Penobscot, or
with the Malecite, or as being “an unknown group”. Of all these speculations, the latter hits closest to the mark;
all, however, suffer from the fault of ignoring the only body of information capable of resolving the problem. This
information consists of two fragmentary Etechemin vocabularies dating from the very beginning of the 17th century.
The first is to be found in Lescarbot’s Histoire de la Novvelle-France, and consists of the numbers from
one to ten (Lescarbot, 1914, p.114). The second is to be found only in Purchas’ version of the Rosier account of
George Waymouth’s voyage to the Penobscot in 1605 (Purchas, 1625, Vol.4, pp.1659-1667). This vocabulary seems to
have been collected from the group of Indians whose chief was known as “Bashabe” of “Bashabez”, and this individual
is well known from other sources (such as Champlain, Lescarbot, Biard, and Smith), as having been the chief of the
natives living at the mouth of the Penobscot. Champlain provides us with the key to identification, telling us in
one passage that:
…the Indians, who had conducted me to the falls of Norumbega river [the Penobscot River], and who had gone to inform
Bessabez their chief, and other Indians…;
and in another that:
…and the tribe of Indians at Kennebec is called Etechemins, like those of Norumbega…(Champlain, 1613; 1922, pp.293-294,
We are thus enabled to conclude that the Waymouth vocabulary derives from an Etechemin group, and
may take it, along with Lescarbot’s list (which is specifically labeled) as being representative of the language
spoken by the Etechemin Indians. The question which then arises is – how is this language related to the other
known Algonquian languages of the Maritime Peninsula?
A definitive answer to this question is at present not possible, for this Etechemin list has
never been subjected to an adequate linguistic analysis. From a superficial examination, however, some points can
be clarified. First, the Etechemin vocabulary does belong to the Northeastern group of the Algonquian languages;
second, within this group, the affiliations of Etechemin fall more with the Micmac: Malecite-Passamaquoddy unit
than with Abnaki, or with other units; third, a superficial examination of the list is not sufficient to allow us
to decide between the following alternatives: (a), Etechemin is ancestral to the modern Malecite-Passamaquoddy
languages, but shows many specific differences from these; and (b), Etechemin is not directly ancestral to the
Malecite-Passamaquoddy languages (although it might have influenced the ancestor of these languages), but
constitutes a previously unrecognized and now extinct member of the Indian languages of the Maritime Peninsula-New
The Abenaki, with whom the Etechemin have often been confused, seem to have lived at the
beginning of the 17th century in the interior valleys of the Kennebec and Rivière Liniere headwaters, where they
practised agriculture and lived in fairly large villages. The seacoast below the Etechemin border (i,e., below
Casco Bay) was occupied by a large ethnic unit known to the French as the Armouchiquois (a term probably deriving
from the Micmac, and to be transcribed as ALMOCIKwCW) and including the Pennacook, the Massachusett, and the
Wampanoag. All sources point to the fact that a constant state of war existed between these Almouchiquois and the
Micmac and their allies (Biard, 1611; in JR., Vol.2, p.69; 1618; in JR, Vol.2, pp.205-207; Champlain, 1613; in
1922, p.321; 1632; in 1936, pp.43-45; Lescarbot, 1610; in JR., Vol.1, pp.71-73; 1618a; in 1914, p.114; Smith, 1616;
in Force, 1838, pp. 5-6, 15.).
Around the year 1617 the coastal tribes of New England were ravaged by a series of epidemics
introduced by European fishermen, and large sections of the coast were completely depopulated. According to Morton
(1838, Vol. 2, pp. 18-19), who gives us the most complete account of this event:
…It fortuned some few yeares before the English came to inhabit at new Plimmouth in New England;
that upon some distast given in the Massachusetts bay, by Frenchmen, then trading there with the Natives for
beaver, they set upon the men, at such advantage, that they killed manie of them burned their shipp then riding at
anchor by an Island there, now called Paddocks Island in memory of Leonard Peddock that landed there (where many
wilde Anckies haunted that time which hee thought had been tame), disturbing them into 5 sachems which were Lords
of the severall territories adjoyninge, they did keepe them so longe as they lived, onely to sport themselves at
them, and made these five Frenchmen fetch them wood and water, which is the general work they require of a servant,
one of these five men out livinge the rest had learned so much of their language, as to rebuke them for their
bloody deede, saying God would be angry with them for it; and that hee would in his displeasure destroy them; but
the Salvages (it seemes boasting of their strength,) replyed and say’d, that they were so many, that God could not
But contrary wise in short time after, the hand of God fell heavily upon them, with such a mortall stroake, that they
died on heapes, and they lay in their houses and the living; that were able to shift for themselves would runne away,
& let them dy, and let there Carkases ly above the ground without burial. For in a place where many inhabited,
there have been but one left for Crowes, Kites, and Vermin to pray upon. And the bones and skulls upon the severall
places of their habitations, amide such a spectacle that as I travailed in that Forrest, nere the Massachusetts, it
seemed to mee a new found Golgatha…
This story of decimination is confirmed in several other sources, such as Higginson (1806, Vol.
1, p.122), who tells us that “their subjects above twelve years since were swept away by a great and grievious
plague that was amongst them, so that there are verie few left to inhabit the country…”. Since Higginson wrote in
1629, this would date the plague at 1617. Of even greater interest to us however, is the account deriving from
Captain Thomas Dermer’s visit to Monhegan (slightly up the coast from the mouth of the Kennebec) in 1619, in which
he states that he “found some antient Plantations not long since populous, now utterly void.” In other places he
had found “remnants, but not free from sicknesse” (Thornton, 1857, p.163). From these references we may conclude
that this plague of 1617 was general along the entire New England coast, and that the Massachusetts (or
Armouchiquois) and Etechemin tribes were largely exterminated by it. In John Smith’s time the Tarentines or Micmac
(see Siebert, 1941, p.278) were separated from the New England tribes by the Etechemin; after 1617 this barrier or
buffer does not seem to have been present, for Mourt tells us in his Relation or Journal… (1832, p.57)
that “the sachin, or governour of this place [the Plymouth area] is called Obbatinewat, and though he live
in the bottom of the Massachuset Bay, yet he is under Massasoyt. He used us very kindly, he told us, he
durst not then remain in any settled place, for fear of the Tarentines…” Although the name Etechemin
appears in use after 1617, considerable confusion is present concerning its application, and we have no sure
evidence that it is being applied to the direct descendants of the pre -1617 Etechemins.
From the economic viewpoint, the sea and its products were of primary importance for the Micmac,
the sea providing them with possibly 90% of the food they consumed and keeping them adequately supplied for 10 of
the 12 months of the year. From the Micmac point of view, however, fishing seems to have been a low prestige
occupation – their attitude undoubtedly was that anybody could fish, but that only an individual with power and
skill could be a hunter (‘NTOOKSOOINOO). This attitude was strengthened by the fur trade, and was shared by the
Europeans who wrote our ethnographies and travel accounts. The fact remains, however, that the aboriginal Micmac
economy seems to have been based upon maritime resources – hunting activities requiring special weather conditions
and being capable of supporting the population for only short periods of time.
Our picture of the Micmac subsistence and economic cycle derives from three important types of
sources. First and foremost, we must mention Biard (1616; in JR., Vol. 3, pp.77-83), who gives us a complete
outline of the annual cycle – one which is substantiated and confirmed by scattered references in our other sources
(i.e., Lescarbot, 1914, pp.172, 218-245; Denys, 1908, pp.426-437; Le Clerq, 1910, pp.109-112, 274-287; Dièreville,
1933, pp.102-141), but is not duplicated in its entirety by any of these. Our second type of source consists of the
scattered statements made by our early authors (i.e., Lescarbot, Denys, Le Clerq, and Dièreville) concerning the
hunting and fishing methods employed by the natives. Our third category consists of the information available in
the zoological literature concerning the ecology of the region in question, which we must employ to fill in the
gaps left by the early writers and to round out our ecological reconstruction. In making this reconstruction it
will be convenient for us to begin the annual cycle with the first spawning runs in the spring. The Micmac year,
however, began with the Autumn season.
The Micmac fishing season began with the waning of the winter storms upon the Atlantic, the
breaking-up of the shore and river ice, and the resultant warming of the waters. At this time the population moved
to the sea coast, to the bays, estuaries, coves, and river mouths noted for their good runs, for
…our said savages, who know the haunt of each [fish], and the time of their return, go and wait for them in true
devotion to bid them return…(Lescarbot, 1914, p.236).
Here, while waiting for the spawning runs to begin, the Indians repaired their fishing tackle,
put their canoes in proper condition or built new ones, and replaced the weirs and fish-traps that had been carried
away by the winter ice and storms. The latter were placed across the mouths of streams and along the banks of
rivers and bays, and consisted of stakes riven side by side, “which they place almost erect, propped up by wooden
bars, like buttresses,” with “a space therein for the fish to pass, which find themselves caught at the fall of the
tide in such numbers that the savages allow them to rot” (Lescarbot, 1914, pp.236-237). These weirs were also
sometimes made partly of stone, as was observed by the crew of the Marigold at the northern tip of Cape
Breton Island in 1593 (Hakluyt, 1599-1600, Vol.3, p.192).
While preparing for the spawning runs the Micmac found a more than adequate subsistence fishing
for the numerous shallow water fish exposed by the melting ice. The most important of these was the winter flounder
(ANAGWAACH), which occupies relatively cold shoal water from northern Labrador to Georgia, appearing in the
southern part of its distribution only in winter. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence and along the coasts of the Maritimes
the winter flounder spawns in March and April; before this time it lives on mudflats in the low-tide zone, and in
the mouths of rivers and estuaries, where it can be speared, caught on lines, or trapped in weirs (Bigelow and
Welsh, 1925, pp.501-507).
Our early sources give us the locations of a number of places noted for their abundance of
flounders, namely; IPSIGIAG, Grand Paspecbiac, or Paspecbiac Harbour; the estuary of the LUSTEGOOCH or Restigouche
river; the basin of the NEPIGIGOUIT or Kepisiguit river; the POGOMOTJG (“where holes are made for fishing”) or
Pokemouche river; the mouth of the LISTOGOTJITJG or Miramichi; ANAGOEGATIG (“flounder place”) or Isaac Harbor,
below Canso on the east coast of Nova Scotia; PEPIGENISG (“passage”) or Port La Tour; and Annapolis Basin (Denys,
1908, pp.216, 212, 139; Dièreville, 1933, p.114). Winter flounder probably occurred along the entire Gulf of St.
Lawrence coast from Gaspé to Cape Breton, and in shallow water of the Atlantic coast of the Maritimes; in this
latter area Dièreville mentions that the rivers were completely filled with them (Dièreville, 1933, p.114). Denys
(1908, p.355) informs us that the flounder was harpooned with a shaft with “an iron pointed at one end, having a
little tooth which keeps it from coming out when the fish is struck.”
From the description given to us by Biard, the spawning runs of the Maritimes in pre-contact and
early historical times must have been a most spectacular sight. We are told that:
…In the middle of March, fish begin to spawn, and to come up from the sea into certain streams, often so abundantly
that everything swarms with them. Any one who has not seen it could scarcely believe it. You cannot put your hand into
the water, without encountering them. Among these fish, the smelt is the first; this smelt is two and three times as
large as that in our rivers; after ths smelt comes the herring at the end of April; and at the same time bustards,
which are large ducks, double the size of ours, come from the South and eagerly make their nests upon the Islands. Two
bustard eggs are fully equal to five hen’s eggs. At the same time come the sturgeon, and salmon, and the great search
through the Islets for eggs, as the waterfowl, which are there in great numbers, lay their eggs then, and often cover
the Islets with their nests. From the month of May up to the middle of September, they are free from all anxiety about
their food; for the cod are upon the coast, and all kinds of fish and shellfish; and the French ships with which they
traffic, and you may be sure that they understand how to make themselves courted…(Biard, 1616; in JR., Vol.3,
As stated by Biard, the smelt (KAKPASOW’) is the first fish to spawn in the Maritime Provinces.
This fish lives pelagically in cold coastal waters during the summer months; during the first week in October they
gather in harbors, bays, and estuaries; and by the time of ice formation they are at the head of the tidewater, and
can be caught through the ice throughout the winter. With the warming of the stream waters in the spring to a
required 4 degrees C., the smelt start their spawning run into fresh water – an event usually taking place in
southern Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the middle of March, and along the southern shores of the Gulf of St.
Lawrence in June. The adult smelt return to the saltwater immediately after spawning, thus providing the natives at
the river mouths with two opportunities to catch them (Ackerman, 1941, pp. 27-28; Bigelow and Welsh, 1925,
pp.143-147; Eddy, 1947, p.93; La Gorce, 1923, p.632; Rand, 1888, p.241).
The smelt is followed by the alewife (Biard’s “herring”, a French Canadian “Gaspereau”, the
Micmac SEGOONUMEKW’), a cold water anadromous form which was exceedingly abundant in the early historical period,
and about which one author wrote:
…Experience hath taught them at New Plymouth that in April there is a fish much like a herring that comes up into the
small brooks to spawn, and when the water is not knee deep they will press up through your hands, yea thow you beat at
them with cudgels, and in such abundance as is incredible…(La Gorce, 1923, p.612).
Because of its temperature requirements the alewife does not run up streams in southern Nova
Scotia until the middle of April, and up streams of northern New Brunswick until May… (Ackerman, 1941, pp.30,
34-38, 46; Bigelow and Welsh, 1925, pp.107-110, 113, 124; Ekman, 1935, p.121; Jespersen, 1936; 1944; La Gorce,
1923, pp.607,629; Rand, 1888, pp.119, 231; Rostlund, 1952, pp.254-255).
Following upon the heels of these smaller fish are such as sturgeon (KOMKUDAMOO) and the salmon
(PULAMOO). The first of these is a bottom feeder, spending the summer months along the shallow coast and in bays
and estuaries. During the winter it migrates southward or into deeper water, but returns in the late spring to
spawn in the rivers. The sturgeon may attain a length of 18 feet in old age; Denys implies that a more usual length
for those of the Maritimes was between eight and twelve feet, while those which he describes as passing in and out
of Nepisiguit Basin with the tide were “more than six feet in length” (Bigelow and Welsh, 1925, pp.74-77; Denys,
1908, pp.213, 353; La Gorce, 1923, pp.607-609; Rostlund, 1952, pp.248-249). The spring “run” of salmon mentioned by
a number of early authors was not actually a spawning run at all, but merely a return to inshore and freshwater
areas by the ocean-going salmon. The Atlantic salmon spawns in the upper reaches of the rivers of the Maritimes in
October. The cold winter tempreatures delay the hatching of the eggs until the following spring, and the fry or
“parr” remain in fresh water from one to six years. Upon reaching tidewater these lose their barred and spotted
pattern and become silvery, then become known as “smolts”. After remaining in the river mouths and estuaries for a
considerable period of time the smolts disappear to sea to join the adult salmon population, which carries out
seasonal migrations and occupies inshore regions during the spring in pursuit of the smaller spawning fish
(Ackerman, 1941, pp.29-30; Bigelow and Welsh, 1925, pp.130-138; La Gorce, 1923, pp.631-632; Rostlund, 1952,
In the Micmac territory the rivers with the largest drainage and the largest salmon runs, were
along the Gulf of St. Lawrence coast – the Restigouche, the Nepisiguit, the Miramichi, and the Richibucto. In Nova
Scotia the most important salmon river was the Tusket.
By late April and the beginning of May the cod (PEJOO) appeared off the coast, and with them the
fishing fleets. Since these fish are not anadromous, but merely approach the coast when the water has warmed
somewhat in pursuit of the smaller species, it is somewhat doubtful whether they ever played a major part in the
native economy, although some were undoubtedly taken by weir, line, and harpoon. At about the same time that the
cod appeared other fish also became available to the Micmac, such as the American plaice, the various skates
(KEGUNALOOECH), brook trout (ADAGWAASOO), and striped bass (CHEGAOO). The skates inhabit levels from 20 to 50
fathoms during the winter, but move up to shoalwater and tide level in May, to remain there during the summer,
autumn, and early winter months. When in shallow water, they can be taken in weirs, on hand lines, or by harpoon.
The plaice has roughly similar habits, except that it prefers water below 10 fathoms and therefore must be taken by
line. The brook trout is largely a freshwater fish, but certain individuals or populations have the habit of
running downstream at the end of autumn and wintering in the coastal saltwater – passing upstream again in May.
These “sea-trout” may weigh as much as three or four pounds, as opposed to the usual half-pound of the freshwater
representatives. The striped bass inhabits shallow water which may be either salt, brackish, or fresh. Along the
southern coast of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick it enters brackish water to spawn in the month of May; within the
Gulf of St. Lawrence this usually happens in June. It can be taken through the ice throughout the winter, however,
and in certain places, such as Antigonish, constituted a major food resource (Bigelow and Welsh, 1925, pp.58-63,
66-140), 251-256, 482-491; Frost, 1940, pp.12-15; Rostlund, 1952, pp.260-261).
Still later in the fishing season, during the latter part of May and the beginning of June, a
number of other fish approach the coast, namely: the whitling or silver hake (NAGABETULOW), the white perch, the
mackerel (AMLAMEKW), and “elvers” or young eels (KATEL) returning to fresh water. None of these fish are
anadromous; the eel, in fact, is catadromous, ordinarily living in freshwater, but running down to saltwater in the
autumn to spawn in the open ocean in midwinter and to die there. The whiting and the sea perch live in shallow
water during the summer months and can be taken by harpoon or line. The mackerel approaches the coast during the
summer to feed upon smaller [fish] there; the St. Lawrence Iroquois whom Cartier met at Gaspé took it in nets and
the Micmac may have obtained it in their weirs (Bigelow and Welsh, 1925, pp.188-208, 78-83, 257-259, 386-396,
446-454; Townsend, 1923, p.159).
The principal methods used by the Micmac for catching and securing for their own use some part of
this enormous marine population were the weir, fish traps, the harpoon, and the hook and line. The nature and
construction of the weir has already been given; this implement was used primarily to capture such ground fish as
flounders, skates, sturgeons, cod, tomcod, white and squirrel hakes, sculpins, and plaice, as well as tidewater
fish such as young salmon (smolts), brook trout, smelt, male eels, striped bass, and the sea perch. For the
spawning runs the Micmac relied upon fish traps, about which we are told,
…at the narrowest place of the rivers, where there is the least water, they make a fence of wood clear across the river
to hinder the passage of a fish. In the middle of it they leave an opening in which they place a bag net like those
used in France, so arranged that it is inevitable the fish should run into them. These bag-nets, which are larger than
ours, they raise two or three times a day, and they always find fish therein. It is in spring that the fish ascend, and
in autumn they descend and return to the sea. At that time they placed the opening of their bag net in the other
direction…(Denys, 1908, p.437).
For such large fish as the sturgeon and the salmon, as well as for the sea or brook trout and the
striped bass, the Micmac seem to have preferred to use the harpoon. Denys tells us that
…it [the sturgeon] is taken with a harpoon, which is like a barbed rod, of eight to ten inches long, pointed at one
end, and with a hole at the other in which is attached a line. Then it is fastened at the end of a pole, so that it may
be used as a dart. The fishery is made at night. Two Indians place themselves in a canoe; the one in front is upright,
with a harpoon in his hand, and the other behind to steer, and he holds a torch of birch bark, and allows the canoe to
float with the current of the tide. When the Sturgeon perceives the fire, he comes and circles all around, turning from
one side to the other. So soon as the harpooner sees his belly, he spears it below the scales. The fish, feeling
himself stuck, swims with great fury. The line is attached to the bow of the canoe, which he drags along with the speed
of an arrow. It is necessary that the one in the stern shall steer exactly as the Sturgeon goes, or otherwise it will
overturn the canoe, as sometimes happens. It can swim well, but with all its strength it does not go with fury more
than a hundred and fifty or two hundred paces. That being over, the line is drawn in, and it is brought dead against
the side of the canoe. Then they pass a cord with a slip knot over the tail, and they draw it thus to land, not being
able to take it into the canoe because it is too heavy…(Denys, 1908, pp.353-354).
This method of fishing with torches, known as SAKSEGWA, was also used for salmon and sea trout
when these were in freshwater ponds and lakes. Denys states that 150 to 200 salmon could be taken in a single night
by this method. He also states that the Indians at Antigonish harpooned bass with lances fastened to a shaft some
seven feet in length, “and in an hour they load a canoe with them, which means about two hundred of these fish”
(Denys, 1908, pp.436-437, 173).
We have only slight information concerning the Micmac use of the hook and line, but the little we
have seems to indicate that this item was aboriginal among these people. Not only are fish hooks found in the
archaeological sites of the area, but cognates for the native term are to be found in the other Algonquian language
(Micmac. UMKUGUN: Malecite. UMKIKUN: Massachusett HOQUAUN or UHQUCH; Penobscot MEGI’KAN: Delaware, AMAN; Abanaki
CHAWAPENIGAN or CHAWPENIGAN; and Cree QUASQUIPIT-CHEGIN – Rand, 1888, p.133; Chamberlain, 1899, p.31; Williams,
1936, p.116; Speck, 1940, p.86; Zeisberger, 1887, p.96; Laurent, 1884, p.48; Harmon, 1820, p.390). The use of hooks
and lines is mentioned only casually in the textual sources, in one reference Le Clerq seems to imply that the
manufacture of these items was often a children’s occupation (Le Clerq, 1910, p.92).
Besides the bony fish just considered, the coming of spring and summer also enabled the Micmac to
take advantage of many different kinds of invertebrates, including whelks, oysters (NUMTUMOO), scallops
(SAKSKALAAS), the quahog or hard clam (UPKWAASK or BOOGOONUMOWAAS), the soft clam (A’SUK), and the common squid
(SEDAASOO), as well as the American lobster (WOLUMKWECH) and the northern crab (NUMJINEGECH). Aboriginal use of the
whelk is known only from its occurence in shell heaps at Cape Tormentine, on the mainland opposite Prince Edward
Island (Goodwin, 1893). The use of the oyster has a split distribution since this animal has been absent (in recent
times) from the cold waters of the Atlantic coast of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia, but is to be found along the
southern shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the Bras D’Or Lakes of Cape Breton Island, in a few harbors off the
coast of Maine, and southward from Cape Cod. In those areas where it was present it seems to have been of great
importance. Denys for example, referring to a small cove near TLAGATIG or Tracadie, informs us that,
…there are ponds of salt water in which are found quantities of good Oysters which are very large, and of Mussels in
yet greater abundance…Inside is an island which separates a large bay into two, into which fall two streams. Here is
found also an abundance of Oysters and Mussels… Muddy sands are formed where are found quantities of shell-fish of all
kinds good to eat. This forms the chief subsistence of the Indians during the spring…(Denys, 1908, p.171).
The distribution of the clam is similar to that of the oyster, being found in the relatively warm
water of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and in the Bras D’Or Lakes of Cape Breton, but not in the colder water
of the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. The aborigines seem to have used the fleshy parts for food,
and the shell for making wampum and other shell objects.
An interesting fishing technique was used to obtain squid. Denys tells us that the Indians waited
for a high tide at night, at which time they would build a fire at water’s edge. The squid would be attracted by
the light and approach, only to be stranded on the shore when the tide ebbed. This method worked only with the
young squid, the adults keeping to deep water (Denys, 1908, p.355). Lobsters were taken with the same kind of
harpoon as used for flounders (Denys, 1908, p.356).
whFor the Micmac, the spring and early summer was not only a time of spawning runs, but also of
bird migrations, at which time the not inconsiderable resident bird population was supplemented by great hordes of
northward moving species. Within the Maritime Peninsula the resident bird population included gannets (Moris
bassana), black ducks (Anas rubripes) red-breasted mergansers (Mergus serrator), ruffed
grouse (Bonasa umbellus), the great black-backed gull (Laris marinus), the herring gull (Larus
argentatus), common murres (Uria aalge), Atlantic puffins (Fractercula arctica), great
horned owls (Buba virginianus), and barred owls (Strix varia). The spring migration brought such
forms as the common loon (Gavia immer), great blue herons (Avdea herodias), American bitterns (Botaurus
lentiginosus), Canadian geese (Branta canadensis), common brants (Branta bernicla), white
winged scoters (Melanitta deglandi), ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), American woodcocks (Philohela
minor), Wilson’s snipes (Capella delicata), razor billed auks (Alca torda), and
guillemots (Uria lomvia), most of which also nested within the area. From the descriptions available to us
the migrant bird population must have been staggering. Denys, for example, found that at nesting time in Halifax
Harbor there was
…so great an abundance of all the kinds I have named [Wild Geese, Brant, Ducks, Teal, white and gray Geese, large and
small Snipe, Plover, and Curlews] that all my crew and myself, having cut clubs for ourselves, killed so great a
number, as well of young as of their fathers and mothers, which were very sluggish in rising from their nests, that we
were unable to carry them all away. And aside from these the number of those which were spared and which rose into the
air, made a cloud so thick that the rays of the sun could scarcely penetrate it…(Denys, 1908, pp.156, 141-142);
while at Nepisiguit there were,
…so great a quantity of Wild Geese, Ducks, and Brant…that it is not believable, and they all make so great a noise at
night that one has trouble to sleep…(Denys, 1908, p.212).
Both Lescarbot (1914, p.172) and Biard (1616; in JR., Vol.3, p.81) attest to the importance of
bird eggs during the spring, and to the aborigines’ habit of collecting them from the offshore islands. Le Clerq
confirms this, telling us also with reference to the ruffed grouse that “the hunting of them is easy, especially in
Spring, when they seek to lay their eggs; because then they make a noise, by beating their wings, and this reveals
them to the hunter. And they are so little wild that one can drive them like chickens before him: and they even
allow themselves to be approached near enough to permit one to extend a noose stretched to the end of a pole,
through which they pass the head, and thus render easy this method of capture”. (Le Clerq, 1910, p.281).
Besides the use of the head snare just described by Le Clerq, we must also note bird-stalking and
night-clubbing. Lescarbot (1914, pp.230-231) presents us with information concerning the former, telling us that,
…they creep along the grass, and assail the outards, or wild geese, which in the spring-time and in summer graze along
the meadows. Sometimes they also glide softly, and without noise, in their canoes and light vessels of bark, to the
shores where the ducks and other water-fowl are, and there strike them down…
Denys implies that this manner of bird hunting was only for children, however (Denys, 1908,
p.434), and proceeds to the description of another (and presumably more important) method:
…In certain closed coves which are under cover from the wind, the Wild Geese, the Brant, and the Ducks go to sleep out
upon the surface, for on land they would not be safe because of the Foxes. To those places the Indians went, two or
three in a canoe, with torches which they made of Birch bark; these burn more brightly than torches of wax. Reaching
the place where all these birds are, they laid down in the canoe, which they allowed to drift without their being seen.
The current carried them right into the midst of all these birds, which had no fear of them, supposing them to be logs
of wood which the sea was carrying from one place to another, something that often happens, which makes them accustomed
to it. When the Indians were in their midst they lighted their torches all at once. This surprised the birds and
obliged them all at the same moment to rise into the air. The darkness of the night makes this light very conspicuous,
so that they suppose it is the sun or other [such] thing. They all proceeded to wheel in confusion around the torches
which an Indian held, always approaching the fire, and so close that the Indians, with sticks they held, knocked them
down as they passed. Besides, by virtue of much wheeling about, these became dizzy, so that they fell off as if dead;
then the Indians took them and wrung their necks. As a result in a single night they filled their canoes…(Denys, 1908,
Besides fish, mollusks, and sea-birds, the sea also provided the Micmac with sea-mammals such as
whales, dolphins, porpoises, walruses, and seals, although not all of these were pursued. Evidence exists that our
Indians did hunt some of the smaller whales such as the white whale and the common blackfish, as well as the
Atlantic walrus, the harbor seal, and the gray seal, and it is possible that other dolphins and porpoises [were
hunted] as well. Of these mammals the harbor seal was probably the most common, and was probably the most used by
the natives. We are told that they occurred along the entire coast, and that “in good weather they are found ashore
on a sandy coast, or indeed upon the rocks, where they sleep in the sun…There are places where they land with two
to three hundred in a band.” At these places they were avidly pursued by the Indians, who found them good eating.
…An oil is obtained from them unlike that of the other Seals. This oil is to the Indians a relish at all the feasts
they make among themselves. They use it also to grease their hair…(Denys, 1908, p.349).
With the passing of summer and the beginning of autumn, the southward bird migrations began,
presenting the Micmac with even more varieties than in spring. The first birds to appear included the pied-billed
grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), the semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus), the black bellied
plover (Sqquatarolasquatarola), the Hudsonian curlew (Phaeopus hudsonicus), the Eskimo curlew (P.
borealis), the willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), the lesser yellow-legs (Totanus
flavipes), and the knot (Calidrus canutus). These were followed in September by the common
golden-eye (Glaucionette clangula), the passenger pigeon (Ectopistos migratorius), the yellow
rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis), and the American golden plover (Pluvialis aquatarola). The
month of October saw the appearance of the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), the Canadian
goose, the mallard (Anas platyrhnchos), the baldpate (Mareca americana), the green-winged teal (Nettion
carolinense), the bufflehead (Charitonette albeola), the lesser scaup (Nyroca affinis), the
American scoter (Oidemia americana), the mourning dove (Zenaidura macroura), and the dowitcher (Limnodromus
griseus). Of these, the Canadian goose, the common brant, the mallard, the green-winged teal, the
passenger pigeon, the mourning dove, the plovers, the curlews, and the lesser yellow-legs were present in great
enough numbers to be economically important.
With the passing of summer and the beginning of autumn the Micmac’s way of life saw a
reorientation towards the interior. As Biard tells us:
Now our savages in the middle of September withdraw from the sea, beyond the reach of the tide, to the little rivers,
where the eels spawn [sic], of which they lay in a supply; they are good and fat. In October and November comes the
second hunt for elks [sic- moose] and beavers; and then in December (wonderful providence of God) comes a fish called
by them ponamo [tomcod], which spawns under the ice. Also then the turtles bear little ones, etc…(Biard, 1616,
in JR., Vol 3, p.83).
At this same time, the adult salmon were returning downstream after having spawned, the autumn
bird migrations were under way, the male moose were in rutting mood and could be “called”, and the bears were fat
in preparation for their winter hibernation.
Although our early historical sources mention the use of eels by the Micmac, we lack descriptions
of the methods by which they were collected, and are forced to fall back upon the more recent ethnographical and
philological materials. Rand (1888) presents us with the following list of terms relating to eel-fishing:
KADABE, KADWAABE: an eel-pot
TA’ GALAKUN: the jaws of an eel-pot
KADAAGA: to fish for eels
NADOOEI’: to spear eels in the mud in winter
ALGOOME: hunting for something in the water; to fish for eels (spearing them)
from which we may conclude that the Micmac of Rand’s time secured eels by the eel-trap and harpoon. From an
illustration given by Speck (1922, Pl. XXVIII) we learn that this harpoon was of the leister type.
After a supply of eels had been secured and preserved, the Micmac turned their attention to the
moose. To hunt these at this time the hunters had to depend heavily upon stratagem and surprise, for at this time
the animals could not be run down as in winter.
…The Indians knew approximately the places where they could be found. In those localities they
beat the woods, going from one part to another to find their tracks. Having found one they followed it, and they
knew by their track, and even from the dung, whether it was male or female, and whether it was old or young. By its
track they knew also whether they were near the beast; then they considered whether there was any thicket or meadow
nearby where the beast was likely to be, judging from the direction it was taking. They were rarely mistaken. They
made a circle around the place where it was, in order to get below the wind so as not to be discovered by the
Moose. They approached it very softly, fearful of making noise enough to reveal themselves to it. Having discovered
it, if they were not near enough they approached closer until within arrow-shot, which is from forty-five to fifty
paces. Then they launched their blow against the beast, which rarely fell to a single arrow. Then it was necessary
to follow its track. Sometimes the beast would stop, hearing no more noise. Knowing this from its pace, they went
slowly and tried to approach it yet again, and gave it still another arrow shot. If this did not make it drop, they
had again to follow it, even to evening, when they camped near the beast, and in the morning went again to take up
the track. The animal being sluggish in rising because of the blood it had lost, they gave it a third shot, and
made it drop, [thus] accomplishing the killing. They then broke off some branches to mark the place, in order to
send their wives to find it…(Denys, 1908, pp.426-427).
Le Clerq states that the Indians also captured moose by the use of snares or nooses made from
large leather thongs set in game-paths (Le Clerq, 1910, p.276). The most successful method, however, was that of
moose-calling, which could only be employed at this time.
…The hunters, knowing the place on the river where it [the moose] is accustomed to resort when in heat, embark at night
in a canoe, and, approaching the meadow where it has its retreat, browses, and usually sleeps, one of them imitates the
cry of the female, while the other at the same time takes up water in a bark dish, and lets it fall drop by drop, as if
it were the female relieving herself of water. The male approaches, and the Indians who are on the watch kill with
shots from their guns. The same cunning and dexterity they also use with respect to the female, by counterfeiting the
cry of the male…(Le Clerq, 1910, p.276).
The Micmac also used their own Aboriginal breed of dog (LUNSUM) for moose hunting, particularly
in winter, but also at other times. These dogs were relatively small (compared to European dogs), having narrow
heads, long noses, large teeth, and a howl instead of a bark. From the descriptions available, they seem to have
been used chiefly to track down and worry the game, and were very highly prized (Butler and Hadlock, 1949; Denys,
1908, pp.428-431; Le Clerq, 1910, pp.275-276; Lescarbot, 1914, p.221).
In summer and autumn beavers were usually taken in traps, of which the deadfall was the most
common. Another method, however, was to break the dams and to lower the water in the reservoir until the houses
showed completely, at which point the beavers could be shot relatively easily with arrows. The demands of the fur
trade were such that the Indians preferred to hunt the beavers in the winter – a much more difficult task, as we
shall see. Before the contact period the Indians,
…never made an accumulation of skins of Moose, Beaver, Otter, or others, but only so far as they needed them for
personal use…They killed animals only in proportion as they had need of them…(Denys, 1908, p.426)
The Indians seem to have been amused by the French passion for beaver skins, for on one ocassion
one told Le Clerq:
…Tahoe messet kegoar pajo ne daeui dagq— mkobit. “In truth, my brother, the Beaver does everything to
perfection. He makes for us kettles, axes, knives, and gives us drink and food without the trouble of cultivating the
The Micmac also felt that the beavers had sense and formed a separate nation, for they said that,
…they would cease to make war upon these animals if these would speak, howsoever little, in order that they might learn
whether the Beavers are among their friends or their enemies…(Le Clerq, 1910, p.277).
Besides moose and beaver, the Micmac also hunted bear, otter, muskrat, and caribou during the
autumn months, although the hunt for the latter offered great difficulties in this season since the favorite
localities of these animals, the swamp barrens, were very wet at this time and the animals remained in the shrubby
margins where it was impossible to track them. Also, at this time the bears were very fat in preparation for their
winter hibernation, and were a great treat. The Micmac hunted them at this time by tracking them down; our sources
fail to mention whether or not dogs were used for this purpose (Denys, 1908, p.433; Dashwood, 1871, pp. 99-100).
With the passing of December and the end of the tomcod harvest, many of the Micmac entered the
most trying period of the year, during which it was necessary for them to subsist almost entirely upon the products
of the chase.
…In January they have the seal hunting; for this animal although it is aquatic, nevertheless
spawns upon certain Islands about this time. Its flesh is as good as veal; and furthermore they make of its fat an
oil which serves them as sauce throughout the year; they fill several moose-bladders with it, which are two or
three times as large and strong as our pig-bladders; and in these you see their reserve casks. Likewise in the
month of February and until the middle of March, is the great hunt for Beavers, otters, moose, bears (which are
very good), and for the caribou, an animal half ass and half deer. If the weather then is favorable, they live in
great abundance, and are as haughty as Princes and Kings; but if it is against them, they are greatly to be pitied,
and often die of starvation. The weather is against them if it rains a great deal, and does not freeze over, for
then they cannot put their dogs upon the chase, because they sink down: the savages themselves do not do this, for
they wear snowshoes on their feet which help them to stay on top; yet they cannot run as fast as would be
necessary, the snow being too soft…(Biard, 1616, in JR., Vol.3, p.79).
The most important seal hunting site of the Micmac country seems to have been at Seal Islands off
Cape Sable Island at the southeastern tip of Nova Scotia, where, as Denys states, the seals came “for lying about
the month of February; they climb upon the rocks and take positions around the islands where they give birth to
their young”. Ganong identifies the species concerned as the gray seal (harbor seal), but this seems to be an error
since this animal whelps during the months of September, October, and November while that described by Biard and
Denys whelped during the months of January and February. This whelping date points rather to the hooded and harp
seals; at present these do not occur in this region but we have good reason to think that they did in the
prehistoric and early historic (Bartlett, 1927, pp.207-212; Cahalane, 1947, pp.308-313, 316-318; Denys, 1908,
pp.130-131; Ganong, in Denys, 1908, p.349, fn.; and Le Clerq, 1910, pp.283-284.)
With the end of the whelping season and the disappearance of the seal herds most of the Micmac
were reduced to dependence upon land game, and upon whatever remained of their stores of dried and smoked eels and
fish, and of ground nuts. As stated by Biard, the Micmac depended upon a fortunate combination of good luck and
good weather; if these failed they were faced with the dread spectres of CWOOLAKUMOOEJIT and CHENOO (famine and
cannibalism). With the establishment of French settlements and posts they often found it necessary to turn to them
for aid in surviving the months of February and March.
In winter the Micmac method of hunting was by snowshoe, with the hutners forcing the game to
travel and fatigue itself in the deep snows while they moved relatively unhindered across its surface. This method
worked best with moose, less well with caribou, and not at all with beaver.
As stated before, the necessary conditions for a successful hunt were heavy snow and a surface
crust, for at this time the Indians and their dogs had no trouble in staying on the surface, while the moose found
the going very difficult. The game was located by watching for places where the tender year old twigs of alder,
aspen, birch, striped maple, mountain ash, or shrubs, had been nibbled. The moose were usually not too far distant
and were approached directly and openly. If there was only one, the Indians gave chase immediately, wearing it out
and closing the gap between it and them until they were close enough to spear it with thier moose-lance, which was
armed with a large pointed bone. If there were several, the Indians took advantage of the mooses’ habit of
“yarding”, that is, of following each in single file along a widely circular path. One Indian would chase the herd
along the “yard” while the others would lie in ambush along it and spear one of the moose on each circuit –
eventually killing all (Denys, 1908, pp. 428-429; Le Clerq, 1910, pp.274-276; Lescarbot, 1914, pp. 221-222.)
In contrast with the case of moose, the winter hunt for beaver was extremely difficult, although
necessary since the coats were at their best in this season. According to Le Clerq,
…the following is necessary; one can break the ice in more than forty or fifty places: cut out the dams: must shatter
the houses: and must cause the waters to run off, in order to see and more easily discover the Beavers. These animals
make sport of the hunter, scorn him, and very often escape his pursuit by slipping from their pond through a secret
outlet, which they have the instinct to leave in their dam in communication with another neighbouring pond…(Le Clerq,
Denys’ description of the winter beaver hunt is so complete and brief that we can add little and
delete less. We may therefore consider it here in its entirety.
As for that [hunting] of the Beavers, it also was done in winter with Dogs, but they were only used to find the houses
in which they smelled the Beavers through the ice. Having found them, the Indians cut through the ice and made a hole
large enough to let through a Beaver. Then they made another hole twenty-five or thirty paces away, on the open surface
of the lake. In this place an Indian or two took their stand with a bow and an arrow which has a harpoon or bone at the
end, made like a barbed rod, like that which was used in fishing the Sturgeon, but smaller. It has also a cord to which
it is attached at one end, and the Indian took hold of the other. Everything being ready, another Indian went to the
other near the house of the Beavers. Lying down on his belly upon the ice, he placed his arm through the hole to find
the Beavers’ opening, that by which they place their tail in the water. There they are all arranged one against the
other, that is to say, all those of one Beaver family. Having found them,the Indian passed his hand very gently along
the back of one several times, and, approaching little by little to the tail, tried to seize it.
I have heard it said by the Indians that they have kept the arm so long in the water that the ice
froze all around the arm. When they once seized the tail they drew the Beaver all at one swoop out from the water
upon the ice, and at the same time gave it the axe upon the head. They killed it for fear lest the Beaver bite
them, for wherever these set their teeth they take out the piece. Having thus drawn one out they tried to obtain
another, which they did so in the same way, rubbing them gently. That does not put them to flight, for they imagine
they are touching one another. But nevertheless three or four of them having been removed, the ramainder take to
flight and throw themselves into the water. Not being able to remain long with[out] breathing, the daylight which
shows over the hole out on the surface leads them to go there to get air. The other Indians who are there in
ambush, so soon as they appear, give them an arrow shot; the harpoon, which has teeth, holds in some part of the
Beaver from which it cannot be drawn out. The cord is then pulled and the Beaver is drawn out through the hole;
then they raise it upon the ice and kill it. Some time after there comes another which is taken in the same way.
Few in a house are saved; they would take all. The disposition of the Indians is not to spare the little ones any
more than the big ones. They killed all of each kind of animal that there was when they could capture it. It is
well to remark here that they were more fond of the young than of the grown of various species of animals, whatever
these might be, to such a degree that often when they were chasing two Elks [moose], male and female, they quitted
the male if they perceived that the female was pregnant, in order to obtain the young ones, for ordinarily they
carry two, and it is for them a great dainty…(Denys, 1908, pp.431-433).
Lescarbot and Diéreville both mention variations of this technique. According to the former, the
Indians, after making the hole at the beavers’ house, would go over the lake pounding upon the surface of the ice
with sticks, frightening the beavers into returning to their houses, where they were caught by the method
previously described (Lescarbot, 1914, p.224). Diéreville tells us that the hunters smashed the beavers’ house with
…& the Beavers are forced to abandon them, & escape to the borders of the Lake, where
they conceal themselves between the ice & the bank, on which they lie upon their bellies; but in vain do they
seek immunity from death in this way; the Hunters set their Dogs to search all around the Lake, & they have
such good noses that they never fail to smell them, & indicate the place by stopping: then the ice is shattered
with great strokes of the axe. It is rather surprising that the Beavers do not flee from the noise thus made as
they would under other circumstances. When the holes are cut, the animals are uncovered, and their heads broken
with blows from an axe…(Diéreville, 1933, p.134).
It is doubtful whether this method is older than the use of iron axes of weight suitable for
frequent and rapid ice-breaking.
The Micmac also used their dogs to locate bear dens, whose inmates were routed out, if necessary,
and dispatched with spears and arrows. The smaller fur-bearing game, such as muskrats, otters, mink, martens,
fishers, and lynxs, was taken by means of traps, usually of the “dead-fall” variety.
A few general remarks need to be made concerning the Micmac hunting complex. We are told by
Lescarbot (1914, p.220) that their most important food source was fish, that this was followed by moose and then by
beaver. Fishing activities (including sea-mammel hunting) dominated the Micmac way of life during the late spring,
summer, autumn, and early winter; hunting dominated their way of life only during the months of February and March.
Within the hunting complex, the fact that moose and beaver were of primary importance has several interesting
implications. Both of these animals are residents of the hydrosere and are comparatively non-migratory – thus
contrasting sharply with the nomadic forest bison and caribou of the xerophytic central boreal forest. We find that
the tribes of the eastern hydrophytic boreal forest were characterized by localized and …limited family or band
“hunting territories”, within which each band practised a form of conservation. Among the Micmac these territories
were reassigned each year, for Le Clerq (1910, p.287) informs us that,
…it is the right of the head of the nation, according to the customs of the country, which serve as laws and
regulations to the Gaspesians, to distribute the places of hunting to each individual. It is not permitted to any
Indian to overstep the bounds and limits of the region which shall have been assigned him in the assemblies expressly
to make this assignment…
Although we have no evidence to support us, we may expect that these assemblies were formal
ceremonies in that they reassigned to extant bands and families those territories which they had traditionally used
and were still using; their most important function, undoubtedly was the reapportionment of territory to new
families or bands.
In the central and more xerophytic boreal forest hunting territories disappear – a fact which has
caused an amazing amount of controversy and speculation among anthropologists. The latest and most definitive
papers on this problem are those of Speck and Eisely (1942) and of Cooper (1946, pp.291-295).
For Micmac men of the early historic period the basic and minimum item of garb was the loin-cloth
made of a “very supple and very thin skin” which was “tied in front to a leathern strap which passing between their
buttocks joins at the back the other end of the said strap” (Denys, 1908, p.412; LEscarbot, 1914, p.131).
Besides this loin cloth the men also wore upon occasion cloaks made of the skins of moose,
beaver, marten, bear, lynx, and seal, these being thrown over the shoulders and tied under the chin with strings of
leather. This cloak arrangement was also worn passed over one shoulder and under the other, and, except during the
severest part of the winter, taken off indoors. In addition to the loin cloth and cloak, Micmac men – and also the
women – habitually wore buckskin leggings and moccasins. The leggings, which were worn for protection against the
brush, thorns, and brambles of the forest, and also against cold, were fastened to the belt and had no seat. They
were made from a single piece of leather each, with the seam on the outside, and were fringed. The moccasins were
of the woodland type, being made “of their old robes of Moose skin, which are greasy and better than new. Their
moccasins are rounded in front, and the sewing redoubles on the end of the foot, and is puckered as finely as a
chemise” (Denys, 1908, p.412). The Micmac called these MEZEZIN of ‘MKUSUN, whence probably derives the English term
(Denys, 1908, pp.411-412; Diéreville, 1933, pp.166-167; Le Clerq, 1910, pp.93-94; Lescarbot, 1914, pp.131-133).
The customary garment of the Micmac women seems to have been similar to that of the men, except
that the skin cloak was worn in a somewhat different manner.
The women wear this robe in Bohemian fashion. The opening is on one side. They attach it with cords in two places, some
distance apart, in such a way that the head can pass through the middle and the arms on the two sides. Then they double
the two ends one above the other, and over it they place a girdle which they tie very tightly, in such a manner that it
cannot fall off. In this manner they are entirely covered. They have sleeves of skin which are attached together
behind. They have also leggings of skin, like stirrup stockings without feet; the men wear these likewise (Denys, 1908,
These garments were made of carefully dressed and tanned hides, usually of moose or caribou if the hair was to be
To dress their skins, these are soaked and stretched in the sun, and are well-heated on the skin
side for pulling out the hair. Then they stretch them and pull out the hair with the bone instruments made on
purpose, somewhat as do those who prepare a skin for conversion into parchment. Then they rub it with bird’s liver
and a little oil. Next, having rubbed it well between the hands, they dress it over a piece of polished wood made
shelving on both sides just as is done to dress the skins for making gloves upon an iron. They rub it until it
becomes supple and mangeable. Then they wash it and twist it with sticks many times, until it leaves the water
clean. Then they spread it to dry.
For the skins dressed with the hair, these are only treated with the livers, with which they are
well rubbed by hand; they are passed repeatedly over the sticks to dress them well. If they are not then soft
enough, more of the livers is added and they are once more rubbed until they are pliable; then they are
dried…(Denys, 1908, pp.411-412).
In winter the covering of the men seems to have been somewhat more complete. Le Clerq (1910,
p.93) tells us that they wore coats that were “large and broad”, by which possibly may have been meant the
caribou-skin capete (QALI’BUA’ZI) known to have been used by the Micmac at a later date. These were also made of
sealskin. In other regions they are known as “parkas” A-TIGE, or “dickies” (Speck, 1922, pp.34-37). In any case,
the early Micmac coats apparently had detachable sleeves, for Le Clerq tells us:
…the sleeves are not attached to the body, but are separate therefrom, and tied together by two thongs, separated into
equal parts by an opening which serves for the passing of the head. One of these sleeves falls in front, and covers
only half of the arm; the other falls behind, and clothes the entire shoulders…(Le Clerq, 1910, pp.93-94).
This distinctive cultural trait – sleeves separate and distinct from the garment – has been
described by Wissler (1915, pp.71-82) as being characteristic of a wide intermediate zone between the area of “true
sleeves” and that in which they are entirely lacking. This area includes the Plains Cree, the Ojibway, the
Blackfoot, the Assiniboin, the Eastern Dakota, the Naskapi, the Pawnee, the Cheyenne, and the Iroquois. We must
obviously add the Micmac to this distribution.
For such occasions as weddings and feasts the Micmac wore garments of the type just described,
but made with skins prepared and decorated with greater care. Denys informs us that,
…for all these festivities of weddings and feasts they adorn themselves with their most beautiful clothes. In summer
the men have robes of Moose skin, well dressed, white, ornamented with embroidery two fingers’ breath wide from top to
bottom, both close and open work. Others have three rows at the bottom, some lengthwise, and others across, others in
broken chevron, or studded with figures of animals, according to the family of the workman.
They work all these fashions in colours of red, violet, and blue, applied to the skin with some
isinglass. They had bones fashioned in different ways which they passed quite hot over the colours, in a manner
somewhat like that in which one gilds the covers of books. When these colours are once applied, they do not come
off with water…(Denys, 1908, p.411).
According to Le Clerq these decorations were put on in only four kinds of colors: red, white,
black, and yellow. The red and yellow were probably derived from ochres; the white from powered or burned shell;
and the black either from bog manganese or charcoal. Another very vivid red used only in staining porcupine quills
may possibly have been derived from the roots of bedstraw (Galium tinctorium Linn.) (Le Clerq, 1910, pp.
Le Clerq also informs us that the ceremonial regalia of the Micmac, and the special items worn on
formal occasions – such as certain colllars, belts, and bracelets – were decorated “in a very simple manner with
the bead-work and with quills of porcupine, which they color in red or in yellow, according to their taste and
fancy” (Le Clerq, 1910, p.95). Dièreville (1933, p.167) tells us that moccasins were decorated with dye and an
“edging those who wish to procure them for display in their Land”. In other words, the Micmac were already creating
items for sale to tourists.
From a legend collected in the 19th century, but apparently referring to the 17th century, it
would seem that European trade items played an important part of the costume of some Micmac warriors. The legend
deals with a war between the Micmac and the “Canibas” or Indians of Kennebec, and tells us that after the peace had
been concluded the Micmac and the Canibas engaged in games and in gambling, in the course of which the latter lost
After the games were ended, the Kenebek chief gives the word: Noogoo elnumook: (“Now pay the stakes!”). A
large blanket is spread out to receive them, and the Kenebeks strip themselves of their ornaments, and cast them in;
the following articles were enumerated by the historian: ‘mchoowale (epaulets), pugalak (breastplates), niskumunul (brooches), nasaboodakun (nose-rings), nasogwadakunul (finger
rings), nasumigunul (a sort of large collar loaded with ornaments, more like a jacket than a collar), epelakunul (hair
binders), egatepesoon (garters, sometimes made of silver, as in the present case), ahgwesunabel (hat
bands). These articles were piled in, and the blanket filled so full that they could scarcely tie it; then another was
put down and filled…
Lescarbot tells us that none of the Micmac wore hats of their own make, and that those that they
had were derived from the French. In place of hats they decorated the hair itself:
To distinguish the men and the women from the boys and the girls by their ornaments; the first have the hair cut below
the ears. The boys wear their of full length; they tie it in tufts on the two sides with cords of leather. The dainty
ones have theirs ornamented with coloured Porcupine quills. The girls wear theirs also full length, or tie it behind
with the same cords. But the belles, who wish to appear pretty, and who know how to do good work, make ornamental
pieces of the size of a foot or eight inches square, all embroidered with Porcupine quills of all colours. It is made
on a frame, of which the warp is threads of leather from the unborn Moose, a very delicate sort; the quills of
Porcupine from the woof which they pass through these threads, just as one makes tapestry, and it is very well made.
All around they make a fringe of the same threads, which are also encircled with these Porcupine quills in a medley of
colours. In this fringe they place wampum, white and violet. They make of it also pendants for the ears, which they
have pierced in two or three places…Such is the ornamentation of the girls. As soon as they are married, the mother in
delivering them to their husbands, cuts their hair. ..(Lescarbot, pp.414-415).
In Lescarbot’s description of Micmac hairstyle, which apparently also applies to the married
adults, we are told that “both men and women wear their hair loose upon their shoulders, unbound and untied, save
that the men tie a knot of them upon the crown of the head, some four fingers long, with a leather lace, which they
let hang down behind”.(Lescarbot, 1914, pp.133-134)
Le Clerq’s account essentially parallels that given previously, but presents us with some
interesting additional information. We are told that “our Indians also, very often, make for themselves a kind of
crown from the two wings of the birds which they have killed in their hunting; but they never make use of hats or
caps until the French had given them the use thereof. They allow their hair to hang down. Sometimes they tie it up
behind; or else they make tresses of it, which they tie suitably, and which they ornament with little strings of
beadwork or of wampum” (Le Clerq, 1910, p.99). Dièreville gives us still a different account:
they bind their Hair with Rassade, a variety of small Beads, which are black & white, & it is made into a large
knot, which barely reaches below the Ear. This adornment is as common among Man as it is among Women, & the former
have no more beard than the latter. Their hair never turns white, & it is always very straight; they use so much
animal fat & Fish oil, especially on their faces, that they are almost invariably dripping with it, & this is
their usual perfume (Dièreville, 1933, p.168).
Other authors, such as Denys (1908, p.413), Le Clerq (1910, p.98), and Lescarbot, (1914, p.139),
abundantly confirm this latter statement concerning the Micmac use of grease and oil upon the body and hair.
According to Lescarbot this provided some protection against the numerous mosquitoes. Le Clerq informs us that a
shiny or greasy appearance was the height of fashion, and was called for on public occasions.
The Micmac women pierced their ears in several places for the purpose of wearing pendants of
wampum, shell, or quill-work, as well as little bells, solz-marquez, and deniers which they obtained from the
French (Denys, 1908, p.414; Le Clerq, 1910, pp.98-99; Lescarbot, 1914, p.157). Nose ornaments were apparently not
used, although they were known to the Micmac – being worn by the “Nez-percez” or AMIKOUAS (“Beaver”) tribe
of the Algonkins, situated on the northern shore of Georgian Bay (Le Clerq, 1910, p.99; JR., Vol. 10, p.322).
Besides hair and ear ornaments, the Micmac women also wore MATACHIAS “about their necks,
bodies, arms, and legs”, meaning that they decorated arm and leg bracelets, as well as their girdles, with shell,
wampum, quill-work, and beads, and also wore necklaces of these items (Lescarbot, 1914, p.157).
Supplementing such ornaments, and their painted skin robes, the Micmac used considerable
quantities of face paint, but do not seem to have used body paint.
When, now, we say that the Indians paint themselves, that is equivalent to saying that they daub
their faces, which is done sometimes with black and sometimes with red, just as it pleases them. The most
capricious make a mixture of these two colours. Some paint themselves with a single colour, or with several; others
daub all the forehead with red, and the remainder of the face with black. Others again, still more fanciful than
the first, draw a line wholly of black from the middle of the forehead clear to the end of the nose, while the two
cheeks will be all mottled and streaked with white, yellow, black, and red. This painting is precisely that which
they make use of on the days of their feasts, and of their leading diversions. They use it also in mourning, for,
in order to mark their sorrow and affliction when they hear of the death of some one of their kinsmen, they paint
the whole face in black. But when they go to war, then they make use of red, in order, they say, that neither their
enemies nor yet their own companions may be able to detect the different expressions of countenance which fear very
often causes to appear in even the most intrepid and the bravest persons (Le Clerq, 1910, pp.96-97).
Father Maillard has left us an even more detailed description of the Micmac manner of applying
After this [tearing a captured beast into pieces and eating it raw] they bring out Oorakins, (bowls of bark)
full of that coarse vermillion which is found along the coast of Chibucto, and on the west side of Acadia (Nova Scotia)
which they moisten with the blood of the animal if any remains, and add water to compleat the dilution. Then the old,
as well as the young, smear their faces, belly and back with this curious paint; after which they trim their hair
shorter, some of one side of the head, some of the other; some leave only a small tuft on the crown of their head;
others cut their hair entirely off on the left or right side of it; some again leave nothing on it but a lock, just on
the top of their forehead, and of the breadth of it, that falls back on the nape of the neck. Some of them bore their
ears, and pass through the holes thus made in them, the finest fibril-roots of the fir, which they call Tooboo, and
is commonly used for thread; but on this occasion serve to string certain small shells…(Maillard, 1758, pp.21-22).
Tattooing is described for the Micmac by both Dièreville and Maillard, while Champlain,
Lescarbot, …and Le Clerq make no mention of it. Dièreville …that we are led to believe that he actually saw the
Let us speak of another thing which they regard as adornment. They have themselves marked under the skin in various
parts of the body & even on the face; but they must fortify themselves with great patience & great courage; it
takes a long time to do & they must suffer much pain in submitting to it…They [the marks] are made with Bermillion
& gunpowder, which are never mixed together. These ingredients are reduced to powder separately & they are
applied with a needle.
Between the skin and flesh, Guf! I believe
The pain is mine! Tis gently thrust, yet
Must it in any case cause keen distress;
With much dexterity they then insert
A portion of the powder in the mark
So made, the colors used alternately.
The colors are thus differentiated under the skin, & all kinds of Devices are reproduced,
…Names of Jesus, Flowers; anything in fact that may be desired, & these marks never come off…(Dièreville, 1933,
Maillard informs us that during courtship a maiden imprinted on various parts of her suitor’s
body “curious devices and flourishes, all relative to their love, which she pricks in and rubs over with a
composition that renders the impresison uncancellable” (Maillard, 1758, p.55). From these various references it
would seem safe to conclude that the Micmac practised tattooing during the late French period, and that they may
have practised it earlier, since the method of applying the powder to the body seems Aboriginal.
In contrast to other aspects of the individual’s life cycle, the courtship and marriage customs
of the Micmac are described at great length by most of our authors, so that we are able to present a rather
complete account of this part of Micmac life. Maillard (1758) here stands as one of our best sources, and his
observations confirm and extend those of earlier writers. It will therefore be necessary for us to lean heavily
upon his writings, although it derives from a period following that being considered in this study.
Some difference of opinion exists between Le Clerq and Maillard as to the exact manner in which a
courtship is initiated; this may reflect temporal or regional variation in custom more than error upon the part of
the observers. The account given by Le Clerq is the earlier, and tells us that,
…the boys, according to the usual custom of the country, never leave the wigwams of their fathers except to go live
with some of their friends, where they hope to find girls whom they may marry. A boy has no sooner formed the design to
espouse a girl than he makes for himself a proposal about it to her father, because he well knows that the girl will
never approve the suit, unless it is agreeable to her father. The boy asks the father if he thinks it suitable for him
to enter into his wigwam, that is to say, into relationship with him through marrying his daughter, for whom he
professes to have much inclination. If the father does not like the suit of the young Indian, he tells him so without
other ceremony than saying it cannot be; and this lover, however enamoured he may be, receives this reply with
equanimity as the decisive decree of his fate and of his courtship, and seeks elsewhere some other sweetheart. It is
not the same if the father finds that the suitor who presents himself is acceptable for his daughter; for then, after
having given his consent to this lover, he tells him to speak to his sweetheart, in order to learn her wish about an
affair which concerns herself alone. For they do not wish, say these barabrians, to force the inclinations of their
children in the matter of marriage, or to induce them, whether by use of force, obedience, or affection, to marry men
whom they cannot bring themselves to like. Hence it is that the fathers and mothers of our Gaspesians leave to their
children the entire liberty of choosing the persons whom they think most adaptable to their dispositions, and most
comfortable to their affections, although the parents, nevertheless, always keep the right to indicate to them the one
whom they think most likely to be suitable for them…(Le Clerq, 1910, pp.259-260).
This manner of initiating courtship is also described by Dièreville (1933, p.141), who adds the
information that after the youth has obtained the consent of the girl’s father he must obtain that of the mother.
…The boy, then, after obtaining the consent of the father, addresses himself to the girl, in order to ascertain her
sentiments. He makes her a present from whatever important things he possesses; and the custom is such that if she is
agreeable to his suit, she receives and accepts it with pleasure, and offers him in return some of her most beautiful
workmanship. She takes care, they say, not to receive the least thing from those who seek her in marriage, in order not
to contract any engagement with a young man whom she has not the intention of marrying.
The presents having been received and accepted by both parties, the Indian returns to his home,
takes leave of his parents, and comes to live for an entire year in the wigwam of his sweetheart’s father, whom,
according to the law of the country, he is to serve, and to whom he is to give all the furs which he secures in
hunting…It is necessary then that he show himself a good hunter, capable of supporting a large family: that he make
himself pleasant, obedient, and prompt to do everything which is connected with the welfare and the comfort of the
wigwam; and that he be skilled in the usual exercises of the nation; this he does in order to merit the esteem of
his mistress and to make her believe that she will be perfectly happy with him. The girl, for her part, also does
her best with that which concerns the housekeeping, and devotes herself wholly, during this year, if the suit of
the boy be pleasing to her, to making snowshoes, sewing canoes, preparing barks, dressing skins of moose or of
beaver, drawing the sled – in a word, to doing everything which can give her the reputation of being a good
As they are all equally poor and rich, self-interest never determines their marriages. Also there
is never a question of dowry, of property, of inheritance, of a contract, or of a notary who arranges the property
of the two parties in case of divorce. If they possess a blanket, or some beaver robe, it is sufficient for setting
up housekeeping, and all that even the richest can hope for is a kettle, a gun, a fire-steel, a knife, an axe, a
canoe, and some other trifles. These are all the riches of the newly-married couples, who do not fail,
nevertheless, to live content when this little is wanting, because they hope to find in hunting that with which to
supply in plenty their needs and necessities.
Many persons are persuaded but too easily that the young man abuses his future spouse during this
year which he is obliged to spend in the wigwam of his sweetheart. But aside from the fact that it is a custom and
an invariable law among the Gaspesians, which it is not permissible to transgress without exposing the entire
nation to some considerable evil, it is true to say that these two lovers live together like brother and sister
with much circumspection. I have never heard, during all the time that I lived in Gaspesia, that any disorder
occurred between them, considering likewise that the women and the girls, as we have said, are themselves as modest
as not to permit in this matter any liberty which would be contrary to their duty…(Le Clerq, 1910, pp.260-262).
Dièreville gives us some slightly different information, telling us that “if the Maiden be of
higher standing than himself, she is only given to him in exchange for gifts” (Dièreville, 1933, p.142): Biard’s
account may possibly throw some light on the custom which Dièreville seems to have had in mind.
Contrary to our custom, in their marriages the father does not give a dower to his daughter to establish her with some
one, but the lover gives beautiful and suitable presents to the father, so that he will allow him to marry his
daughter. The presents will be in proportion to the rank of the father and the beauty of the daughter: dogs, beavers,
kettles, axes, etc. But they have a very rude way of making love; for the suitor, as soon as he shows a preference for
a girl, does not dare look at her, nor speak to her, nor stay near her, unless accidentally; and then he must force
himself not to look her in the face, nor to give any sign of passion, otherwise he would be the laughingstock of all,
and his sweetheart would blush for him. After a while, the father brings together the relatives, to talk over the match
with them, – whether the suitor is of proper age, whether he is a good and nimble hunter, his family, his reputation,
his youthful adventures; and if he suits them, they will lengthen or shorten, or make stipulations as to the time and
manner of his courtship as they may think best…(Biard, 1616; in JR., Vol.3, p.99).
It is possible that the customs observed and recorded by Briard and Dièville are those associated
with the daughters of chiefs, and that those described by Le Clerq and Denys relate to the daughters of commoners.
To continue our account of Micmac courtship and marriage we need to turn from Le Clerq to Denys. We learn that.
…the term being expired, it was time to speak of the marriage. The relatives of the boy came to visit those of the
girl, and asked them if it were pleasing to them. If the father of the girl was favourable to it, it was then necessary
to learn from the two parties concerned if they were content therewith; and if one of the two did not wish for
marriage, nothing further was done. They were never compelled. But if all were in agreement, a day was chosen for
making a banquet; in the meantime the boy went a hunting, and did his very best to treat the entire assembly as well to
roast and to boiled meat, and to have especially an abundance of soup, good and fat.
The day having arrived, all the relatives and guests assembled, and everything being ready the
men and elder boys all entered the wigwam, the old men at the upper end near the mother and father. The upper end
is the left in entering the wigwam, and a circuit is made passing to the right. No other woman entered save the
mother of the boy. Each one having taken his place, all [except the woman] seated themselves upon their buttocks,
like Apes, for that is their posture. The bridegroom brought in the meat in a huge bark dish, divided it, and
placed it on as many plates as there were persons, as much as they could hold. There was in each plate enough meat
for a dozen persons. He gave each one his plate, and they devoted themselves to eating. The bridegroom was there
also with a great dish of soup, which he gave to the first one that he might drink his fill. He, having
sufficiently quenched his thirst, passed his dish to his neighbour, who did the same. When it was empty it was
filled again. Then having drunk and feasted well, they took a [comfortable] posture. The oldest of them made a
speech in praise of the bridegroom, and gave an account of his genealogy, in which he was always found descended
from some great chief ten or twelve generations back. He exaggerated everything good that they had done, as well in
war as in hunting, the spirit they showed, the good counsel they had given, and everything of consequence they had
done in their lives. He commenced with the most ancient, and descending from generation to generation, he came to a
conclusion with the father of the bridegroom. Then he exhorted the bridegroom not to degenerate from the worth of
his ancestors. Having finished his speech, all the company made two or three cries, saying hau, hau, hau. After
this the bridegroom thanked them, promising as much as, more than, his ancestors; then the assembly gave the same
cry. Then the bridegroom set about dancing; he chanted war songs which he composed on the spot and which exalted
his courage and worth, the number of animals he had killed, and everything that he aspired to do. In dancing he
took in his hands a bow, arrows, and a great shaft in which is set a bone of Moose, sharply pointed, with which
they kill animals in winter when there is a great depth of snow. This sort of thing [they did] one after the other,
each having his song, during which he would work himself into a fury, and seemed as if he wished to kill everybody.
Having finished, the entire assembly recommenced their hau, hau, hau, which signifies joy and contentment.
After this they commenced again to eat and drink until they were full. Then they called their
wives and children who were not far off; these came and each one gave them his plate from which they proceeded to
eat in their turn.
If there were any women or girls who had their monthlies, she had to retire apart, and the others
brought to each one her portion…(Denys, 1908, pp.407-409).
Although Denys mentions only game as being served at this wedding, fish could also be served, for
Le Clerq (1910, p.262) states that “the entertainment is more or less magnificent according as he [the bridegroom]
makes a hunt or a fishery more or less successful”. Dièreville gives us a slightly different version; according to
him it is the bride’s father who talks to the assembly in honor of his new son-in-law, telling “about His exploits,
and the skill and courage of His Ancestors, and all that they had done to benefit the Indian Race” (Dièreville,
The descriptions which have just been presented concerning Micmac marriage customs derive from
Lescarbot, Biard, Denys, Dièreville, and Le Clerq, and therefore largely reflect the practices of the natives of
the Port Royal- La Have district of Nova Scotia. The practices described by Maillard, however, seem to be those of
the Micmac of Cape Breton, and show considerable differences in detail from those of the more southern natives.
Maillard’s account is as follows.
In their unconverted state, their manner of courtship and marriage is as follows: When a youth
has an inclination to enter into the connubial state, his father, or next relation, looks out for a girl, to whose
father the proposal is made; this being always transacted between the parents of the parties to be married. The
young man, who is commonly about thirty years of age, or twenty at the least, rarely consults his own fancy in this
point. The girl, who is always extremely young, is never supposed to trouble her head about the measures that are
taken to marry her. When the parents on each side have settled the matter, the youth is applied to, that he may
prepare his calumet as soon as he pleases.
The calumet used on these occasions is a sort of spungeous reed, which may furnish, according to
its length, a number of calumets, each of which is about a foot long, to be lighted at one end, the other serving
to suck in the smoak at the mouth, and is suffered to burn within an inch of the lips.
The speech made to the youth on this occasion is as follows: “Thou may’st go when thou wilt, by
day or by
“night, to light thy calumet in such a cabbib. Thou must
“observe to direct the smoak of it towards the person
“who is designed for thee, and carry it so, that she may
“take such a taste to this vapor, as to desire of thee
“that she may smoak of they calumet. Show thyself worthy
“of they nation, and do honor to thy sex and youth. Suffer
“none in the cabbin to which thou art admitted, to want
“any thing thy industry, thy art, or thy arrows can procure
“them, as well for food, as for peltry, or oil, for the
“good of their bodies, inside and outside. Thou hast four
“winters given thee, for a trial of thy patience and
At this the youth never fails of going to the place appointed. If the girl (who knows the meaning
of this) has no particular aversion to him, she is soon disposed to ask his calumet of him In some parts, but not
in this where I am, she signifies her acceptance by blowing it out. Here she takes it from him, and sucking it,
blows the smoak towards his nostrils, even sometimes so violently, as to make him qualm-sick, at which she is
highly delighted. Nothing, however, passes farther against the laws of modesty, though she will tress his hair,
paint his face, and imprint on various parts of his body curious devices and flourishes, all relative to their
love; which she pricks in, and rubs over with a composition that renders the impression uncancellable.
If the parents of the girl are pleased with the procedure of the suitor, they commonly, at the
end of the second year, dispense, in his favor, with the rest of the probation time; and indeed, they could not
well before, the girl almost always wanting, from the time she is first courted, at least two years to bring on the
age of consummation. They tell him, “Thou may’st now take a small part of the covering of the beloved whilst she
sleeps.” No sooner is this compliment made him, than, without saying any thing, he goes out of the cabbin, armed
with his bows and arrows, and hurrying home acquaints his friends, that he is going to the woods, whence he shall
not return till it pleases his beloved to recall him.
Accordingly he repairs forthwith to the woods, and stays there for two or three days, diverting
himself with hunting; at the end of which time it has been agreed on, to send all the youths of the village to
fetch him: and they come back loaded with game of all sorts, though the bridegroom is not suffered to carry any
thing. There is also great provision made of seal and sea-cow for the wedding feast.
The head Juggler [shaman] of the village, meets the bridegroom who is at the head of the
procession, takes him by the hand, and conducts him to the cabbin of the bride, where he is to take part of her
bed; upon which he lies down by her side, and both continue unmoveable and silent like two statues, whilst they are
obliged to hear the long tedious harangues of the Juggler, of the parents of both, and of their oldest relations.
After that, they both get up, and are led, the one by the young men, the other by the girls, to the place of
entertainment, all singing, shooting, and dancing.
The bridegroom is seated amongst the young men on one side, and the bride amongst the girls on
another. One of his friends takes an Oorakin [bark dish], loads it with roast-meat, and sets it down by
him, whilst one of her’s does the same thing, with an Oorakin of the same size, and nearly alike, which is
placed by the bride’s side. After this ceremony of placing the Oorakin, the Juggler pronounces certain
magical words over the meat: he foretells, especially to the bride, the dreadful consequences she must expect from
the victuals she is about to eat, if she has in her heart any perfidiousness toward her husband: that she may be
assured of finding in the Oorakin that contains them, a certain prognostic of her future happiness or
unhappiness: of happiness, if she is disposed never in her life to betray her nation, nor especially her husband,
upon any occasion, or whatever may befal her: of happiness, if through the caresses of strangers, or by any means
whatever she should be induced to break her faith to him, or to reveal to the enemy the secrets of the country.
At the end of every period, all the assistants signify their assent to the Juggler’s words, by a
loud exclamation of Hah!. While he is talking, the particular friend of the bridegroom, and that of the
bride, keep their eyes fixed on the two Oorakins; as soon as he has done, the bride’s friend making as if
she did not think of what she was about, takes the Oorakin allotted for the bridegroom, and carries it to
the bride, whilst the bridegroom’s friend, (the thing being pre-concerted) acts the like mummery of inadvertance,
and sets before the bridegroom the Oorakin belonging to the bride; after which dishes are served in to the
rest of the company. When they are all served, the two friends of the parties musing a little, pretend to have just
then discovered their exchange of the bride and bridegroom’s Oorakins. They declare it openly to each
other, at which the Juggler takes up his cue, and with a solemn face says,
“The Manito has had his designs in this mistake: he has
“vouchsafed to give an indubitable sign of his approbation
“of the strait alliance this day contracted. Which is
“the one’s, is the same as the other’s. They are hence-
“forward united, and are as one and the same person. It
“is done. May they multiply without end!”
At this the assistants all start up, and with cries of joy, and congratulation, rush to embrace the bride and
bridegroom, and to overwhelm them with caresses. After which they sit very gravely down again to the entertainment
before them, and dispatch it in great silence. This is followed by dances of all kinds, with which the feast for the
day concludes…(Maillard, 1758, pp.53-60).
A comparison of Maillard’s account with those of Biard, Denys, and Le Clerq reveals significant
differences of detail. For example, Maillard pictures the families of the two parties concerned as arranging the
marriage; the other sources specifically state that the boy took the initial step of approaching the girl’s father,
or arranging for him to be approached. Maillard’s “calumet” ceremony at the occasion of the boy’s visit to the girl
is unique, and the type of “calumet” here used is unusual. Maillard’s oorakin ceremony also is unknown
from our other sources; also, Maillard fails to mention a recitation of genealogies, although he does mention
elsewhere that this was a regular feature of feasts.
A number of reasons may be advanced to explain the divergences between Maillard’s account and our
other early French sources: Maillard’s descriptions are inaccurate or fictional; Maillard’s descriptions apply only
to the Cape Breton Micmac, and reflect considerable cultural difference (in ceremonial, at least) between these
Indians and the Port Royal – La Have natives described by our other references; Maillard’s account reflects
temproal differences and culture change.
From the external and internal evidence available to us the first of these possible “reasons”
seems improbable. We may doubt that Maillard failed to observe with interest Micmac ceremonialism in those fields
where it overlapped with Catholic ritual, and his 22 years of residence in the Micmac country before the writing of
his letter gave him ample time to collect information. The accuracy of his observations can be checked in a number
of cases – with regard to feasts for visitors and for war, with regard to shaminism, and with regard to menstrual
practices – and must be considered as high. Furthermore, Maillard’s habit of presenting us with recordings or
paraphrasings of long Indian speeches illustrates his command of the Micmac language, and leads us to suspect that
he, (a) was intimately familiar with Micmac style of oratory on various occasions, and could reproduce; (b) had
notes at his disposal on ceremonies witnessed; or (c), used an informant. In any case he would seem to be a
reliable authority, and we must look to the second and third “reasons” for an explanation of the cultural
differences observed. Unfortunately, little evidence can be brought to bear upon this problem.
Turning from the marriage ceremony to the institution of marriage we find that polygyny was
present but rare. Biard tells us that,
….according to the custom of the country, they can have several wives, but the greater number of them that I have seen
have only one; some of the Sagamores pretend that they cannot do without this plurality, not because of lust (for this
nation is not very unchaste) but for two other reasons. One is, in order to retain their authority and power by having
a number of children; for in that lies the strength of the house; the second reason is their entertainment and service,
which is great and laborious, since they have large families and a great number of followers, and therefore require a
number of servants and housewives; now they have no other servants, slaves or mechanics but the women…(Biard, 1616; in
JR., Vol.3, pp.99-101).
Lescarbot (1914, p.166) noted with amazement that “although one husband may have many wives…yet
there is no jealousy among them.” As we have already seen… the head wife in a polygynous household was the one who
had borne the first boy.
Denys (1908, p.410) informs us that the Micmac “observe certain degrees of relationship among
them which prevents their marrying together. This is never done by brother to sister, by nephew to niece, or cousin
to cousin, that is to say, so far as the second degree, for beyond that they can do it.” Le Clerq confirms this,
adding the information that marriage between an uncle and a niece was also taboo (Le Clerq, 1910, p.238).
Our source gives us only a brief mention of the levirate arrangement of the Micmac, Le Clerq
informing us that,
…after the death of one’s brother, it is permissible to marry his wife, in order that she may have children of the same
blood if she has not had any by her first husband.
If, when the father of a family is dead, the widow contracts a second marriage, it is necessary that the eldest son
take care of his brothers andi sisters, and that he build a separate wigwam. This is for the purpose of avoiding bad
treatment by their step-father, and in order not to cause any trouble in the housekeeping…(Le Clerq, 1910, p.238).
In the same passage Le Clerq states that it was the duty of the head men and chief to watch over the welfare of
orphans,and to locate them into new homes:
…The chiefs are obliged to distribute them among the wigwams of the best hunters, in order that they may be supported
and brought up as if they were the own children of the latter…
From the statements of Denys, Le Clerq, and Maillard it is apparent that the binding element of
Micmac marriages was children, and that the failure of a wife to have these was adequate grounds for divorce. It is
not surprising, therefore, to have Maillard tell us that,
…at stated times they [the women] repair to particular places in the woods, where they recite certain formularies of
invocation to the Manitoo, dictated to them by some of their oldest Sagamees, or principal women, and
more frequently by some celebrated Juggler of the village, that they may obtain the blessing of fruitfulness. For it is
with them…that barrenness is accounted opprobrious. A woman is not looked upon as a woman, till she has proved it, by
fulfilling what they consider as one of the great ends of her creation. Failing that, she is divorced from her husband,
and may then prostitute herself without scandal. If she has inclination or relish for this way of life, they compel her
to it, in regard to their young men, who do not care to marry, till they are arrived at full-ripe years, and for whom,
on their return from their warlike or hunting expeditions, they think it necessary to provide such objects of
amusement. They pretend withal, that they are subject to insupportable pains in their loins, if such remedy is not at
hand to relieve them…(Maillard, 1758, pp.51-52).
Although our other sources do not mention prostitution on the part of sterile women, all agree
that sterility was the most common cause of divorce.
…If a young married woman has not children by her husband at the end of two or three years, he can divorce her, and
turn her out to take another. He is not held to service as in the case of the first; he simply makes presents of robes,
skins, or wampum…He is obliged to make a feast for the father of the girl, but not so impressive a one as on the first
occasion. If she becomes pregnant he gives a great feast to his relatives; otherwise he drives her out like the first,
and marries another. This wife being pregnant, he sees her no more…(Denys, 1908, p.410).
Although we have little evidence upon the subject, it seems that the Micmac regarded adultery as a major crime, and it
may possibly have been punished with death (see Le Clerq, 1910, p.237, fn.)
If all went well with a Micmac marriage, the pattern of conjugal living seems to have been quite
pleasant and satisfactory
…It can be said with truth that the children are then the dissoluble bonds, and the confirmation, of the marriage of
mother and father, who keep faithful company without ever separating, and who live in so great a union with one
another, that they seem not to have more than a single heart and a single will. They are very fond of one another, and
they agree remarkably well. You never see quarrels, hatred, or reproaches among them. The men leave the arrangements of
the housekeeping to the women, and do not interfere with them. The women cut up, slice off, and give away the meat as
they please, but the husband does not get angry; and I can say that I have never seen the head of the wigwam where I
was living ask of his wife what had become of the meat of moose and of beaver, although all that he had laid in had
diminished very quickly. No more have I ever heard the women complain because they were not invited to the feasts of
the councils; because the men amused themselves and ate the best morsels: because they themselves worked incessantly
going to fetch wood for fires, building the wigwams, dressing the skins, and occupying themselves with severe labours,
which are done only by the women. Each does her little duty quietly, peaceably, and without debate. The multiplication
of children does not embarrass them, the more they have the more they are content and satisfeid…(Le Clerq, 1910,
For the curing of minor illness the Micmac used various herbs, practiced blood-letting, applied
poultices and emetics, and sweated. For more serious ailments recourse was to the shaman. We will consider here
only non-shamanistic cures and remedies…
For emetics the Micmacs used the roots of various milkweeds (Asclepias), the seeds of
the leatherwood (Dirca palustris), and the seeds of the black alder (Ilex verticillata). These
were steeped in a bark dish in some water or broth for some ten or twelve hours before the infusion was given to
the patient (Le Clerq, 1910, p.296 and fn.)
For minor aches or boils blood-letting was practised, Lescarbot informing us that “if any
swelling makes its appearance, either on arm or leg, they lance the places where the evil is, and they make several
incisions with the same instruments in order more readily to suck out the foul blood, and to remove all its
corruption”. (Lescarbot, 1914, pp.297-298).
For wounds a number of different remedies were used. The wounds could be licked and sucked by the
shaman, “using a beaver’s kidney, of which they put a slice upon the wound”. This possibly acted as an absorbent,
drawing out the blood and pus (Lescarbot, 1914, p. 186). The Indians also dressed wounds with a composition made
from the balsam of the fir; of this Le Clerq had the following to say:
The balsam of the fir, which some call turpentine, and which is a kind of sovereign balm for every kind of sore and for
wounds of axe, knife, or gun, is the first and most usual remedy which our Gaspesians employ, and with success, in
making their very fine cures. Since this balsam is a little too irritating to the patients, they have the ingenuity to
temper its activity by masticating the pellicle which is found attached to the fir after they removed the outer bark.
They spit the water which comes from it upon the affected part, and make of the remainder a kind of poultice, which
alleviates the evil and cures the wounded man in a very short time…(Le Clerq, 1910, p.298).
This balsam or turpentine remedy was also employed for broken bones; this usage is well described
…If the Indians break their Arms or Legs, the bones are reset evenly, & large pads of soft fine moss are made,
which are saturated with their Turpentine, & wrapped around the broken limb; outside of that is placed a piece of
Birch-bark, which readily conforms to the shape of the part; splints are not forgotten, and, to hold all this secure,
they use long strips of thinner bark which make suitable bandages. The patient is then laid in this position on a bed
of moss, & this method always succeeds very well. If such an accident were to overtake an Indian when he was alone,
he would fire his Musket to summon help; or, if he had arms, he would make smoke, the usual signal between them, one
that never fails in time of need. A Wigwam is made at the place where the accident has occurred. This is the manner in
which it is constructed. Fifteen or sixteen poles, more or less according to its size, are set up in a circle, two feet
apart; they are a fathom or a fathom and a half in height, & their upper extremities are joined in a point, &
fastened together; the Poles are covered with branches of fir, & large pieces of bark from the same tree, or from
Birch, & sometimes with skins; a hole is left at the bottom that is only large enough to go in & out of, on all
fours. Inside, a Pole traverses it at a height of four or five feet, & on it the Kettle is hung over a fire, which
is kept low, & built in the centre of the rear part of the Wigwam. The Comrades of the injured Man go hunting,
& care for him until he is once more able to walk as well as themselves…(Dièreville, 1933, p.177).
It would seem that the Micmac methods of first-aid did not lack in wisdom and effectiveness.
One of the most important medical practices of the Micmac was that of the sweathouse (unkunumakun
ogoon) or sweatbath. To make this, the men first dug a pit in the ground and covered this with wood,
placing large flat stones on top. This was then fired. As soon as the flames had died down and only coals were
left, a wigwam frame was erected around the pit, of such a size that even eight or more men could be accommodated.
The frame was then covered with bark, skins, and garments, only a very small opening being left for an entrance.
All the men who wished to sweat then entered the wigwam completely naked and seated themselves on their buttocks
around the pit. Balsam or fir boughs were then placed on top of the red-hot stones; their wives, or some boys, then
passed a big dish full of water into the wigwam, along with a small dish for pouring the water upon the boughs.
…This water which they poured upon the rocks made a steam which filled the cabin, and heated it so much that it made
them sweat. When they commenced to sweat they threw on more water only from time to time. When the rocks were cold they
threw them outside, and they were given others all red-hot. They did not make haste in the sweating, but heated up
little by little, but so thoroughly that the water trickled over them in all parts, and these they wiped down from time
to time with the hand. They remained there as long as they could, and they stuck to it an hour and a half or two hours.
During this time they chanted songs, and told stories to make themselves laugh. When they wished to come out, they
dashed on the water as much as they could from head to foot, and then, making a run, went to throw themselves into the
sea or a river. Being refreshed they put their robes upon them; and then went into their wigwams as composed as
ever…(Denys, 1908, pp.416-417).
Lescarbot tells us that during the time in the sweatlodge the shaman would sing to the clapping
of hands, the others accompanying him with shouts of Heh, Heh, Heh!. They would also “take a particular
pleasure in throwing water from time to time upon the stones, in order to see who will have the most endurance…this
continues until some of them, unable to endure this heat, are obliged to rush out as quickly as they can”
(Lescarbot, 1914, pp.185-186; Le Clerq, 1910, p.297; Dièreville, 1933, pp.175-176; Hagar, 1896b, p.258).
Biard adds the information that after sweating or bathing, the Indians also massaged themselves,
…rubbing the whole body with seal oil, causing them to emit an odor which is very disagreeable to those not accustomed
to it. Nevertheless, when this oiling process is over, they can stand heat and cold better, and their hair is not
caught in the branches, but is slippery, so that rain and tempest do not injure the head, but glide over it to the
feet; also that the mosquitoes (which are very vicious there in summer, and more annoying than one would believe) do
not sting so much in the bare parts, etc….(Biard, 1616, in Jr., Vol. 3, pp.115-117).
Lescarbot’s statement that a shaman participated in sweating, and that there was shamanistic
singing accompanied by the clapping of hands, is our only clue that the use of the sweathouse had ritual
significance to the Micmac. In this respect, the sweatbath as a religious ceremony is characteristic of the Central
Algonquian groups. Here,
…it is a rite of purification and healing, undertaken both to restore and to maintain bodily health, but undertaken
even more generally as a preliminary for participation in religious exercise…In the Indian’s eyes the sweatbath was of
far more than a simple physical efficacy. It brought him intimately and directly into contact with the Powers which
uphold his world, giving the universal health and sanity of nature. All the elements, fire, stony earth, water, and
vaporous air, entered into the ritual healing, which was preceded by chants and prayers and was felt to bring a new
birth into the life of that greater community of being in which man’s existence is only a participation…(Alexander,
1953, p.46). …the ceremonial and religious practices of the Micmac show so many similarities to those of the Central
Algonquians that we may with some justificaiton look towards these latter Indians for an explanation of Micmac beliefs
relating to the sweatbath rite.
Dièreville notes a rather unusual cure for drowning, namely, the use of tobacco smoke as an
enema. We are told that,
…these wretched People are very liable to be drowned; it happens only too frequently, because their bark canoes capsize
at the slightest provocation. Those who are fortunate enough to escape from the wreck make haste to rescue those who
remian in the water. They then fill with Tobacco smoke the bladder of some animal, or a long section of large bowel,
commonly used as receptacles for the preservation of their Fish & Seal oil, & having tied one end securely,
they fastern a piece of Pipe or Calumet into the other, to serve as an injection Tube; this is introduced into the
backside of the Men who have been drowned, & by compressing it with their hands, they force into them smoke
contained in the bowel; they are thereafter tied by the feet to the nearest tree which can be found, & kept under
observation; almost always follows the satisfaction of seing that the smoke Douche forces them to disgorge all the
water they had swallowed. Life is restored to their bodies, and before long this astonishing & beneficent result is
made manifest by the twitching movements of the suspended Men…(Dièreville, 1933, p.180).
We may note that the use of the bulbed syringe and enema tube has already been noted by Heizer
(1939) for the following tribes: Catawba, Eastern Cree, Saulteaux-Ojibwa, Norway House Cree, Cross Lake Cree,
Winnebago, Oto, Dakota, Omaha, Pnnca, Luiseòo, Gosiute, Kwakiutl, and Bella Coola. The occurence of the trait among
the Micmac extends the distribution considerably to the east.
Although our historical sources are relatively unexplicit, enough information can be gleaned from
them to provide us with some idea of the role of the aged in Micmac culture.
With the passing of years and the accumulation of prestige from hunting and warfare, a man played
an increasingly more active part in the public life of his tribe. It was the old men who spoke first at public
feasts, and who constituted the council of elders. These were accorded respect as befitted their age and deeds; the
youths were silent before them.
The elders were also favoured with respect to the food taboos, for the “little foetuses of bears,
moose, otters, beavers, and porcupines, which are still inside the bellies of their mothers, are delicate morsels
which are reserved for the old men, the young men not being permitted to taste them, because they would feel, said
they, great pains in the fact when they went hunting” (Le Clerq, 1910, pp.225-226). Similarly, only the old men
could eat the entrails of bears, the hearts of bears, marrow, or other various delicacies.
For the women old age seems to have been more difficult for with it came a taboo that was often a
great handicap. Le Clerq tells us that
…widows never eat of that which has been killed by the young men; it is necessary that a married man, an old man, or a
prominent person of the nation shall be the one who hunts or fishes for their support. So scrupulously do they observe
this superstitious custom that they still at this day relate with admiration how a Gaspesian widow allowed herself to
die of hunger rather than eat moose or beaver which was left in her wigwam even in abundance, because it was killed by
young men, and widows were not permitted to eat it.
In the winterings I have made with the Indians in the woods, I have seen one of the widows who
remained three days without eating, with as much cheerfulness as if she had the best fare in the world. I said
everything I could to her to make her break her Lent, for it is thus that they name this abstinence, but it was in
vain; and I could never persuade her to eat, although there was meat in abundance in her wigwam. Even her children
murmured against me because I solicited their mother to abandon the customs of their ancestors, saying to me that
the Indians had their manner of living, as well as the French, and that we should follow our maxims without wishing
to oblige them to abandon theirs. This woman begged me to accompany the Indians in a hunt for beaver, to which they
had invited me in order to give me the entertainment of it; and she assured me that she would willingly eat that
which I might kill, if I had enough cleverness to capture any, because she considered me as their father and as one
of their elders. I was fortunate enough to take two of them, of which I broke the heads. I carried them to her
wigwam, and made her a present thereof. She ate them both all alone by herself, for she was not permitted to eat
with the others, nor the others to eat with her…(Le Clerq, 1910, p.228)
Except for the women affected by this custom, old age was probably a time of relaxation of
restraints. It was no longer necessary for them to undergo menstrual seclusion; they were cared for by their
children or relatives, and were given respect and consideration by the younger people; and their advice was sought
in matters concerning illness and the use of herbs. Furthermore, this was probably the time when a few of them
could gain genuine prestige by becoming shamans (Le Clerq, 1910, pp.229-233). However, when an individual became so
old and feeble that he constituted a hindrance to the band, particularly during the winter, he would be abandoned
in the middle of the woods or otherwise put to death (Le Clerq, 1910, p.92).
Proceeding to death, and to the Micmac mortuary customs, we find our sources to be somewhat
voluminous, detailed, and contradictory. We will attempt to indicate the variances as briefly as possible, without,
however, slighting this important aspect of the culture.
Biard tells us that when an individual felt himself to be very sick and stretched himself out
near the fire, his companions said, “Ouescouzy, Ouescouzy, ‘he is sick’”. Both Biard and Le Clerq agree
that he was given no special consideration, for,
…they do not know how to take care of them, nor how to prepare food which would be good for them; they give them
indifferently everything which they desire, both to drink and to eat, and whenever they ask it…”
…when his turn comes, they give him his share of whatever they have boiled, roasted, or dragged over the coals, just
the same as the others, for they are not accustomed to seek or prepare any special food for him…
If the sick individual ate what was given to him, it was considered a good sign; otherwise, if the herbs, decoctions,
and the usual remedies had no effect,
…and the friends of those who are ill do not hesitate to call in the aid of the Bouhine, that is to say the Juggler,
who blows all over them, and especially upon the affected part, in order to chase out the germ, or the Devil, which is
tormenting him. He makes the usual invocations, contortions, and cries, in the manner we have already described in
speaking of the superstitions of these Indians.
Le Clerq then proceeds with the information that after the visit of the shaman
…from the moment when he no longer eats or smokes any more tobacco, or when he loses speech, they abandon him entirely,
and never speak to him a single word of tenderness or comfort. This is because these barbarians think it an altogether
useless trouble to speak to a person who cannot reply, and who is preparing for the voyage to join his compatriots and
his ancestors in the Land of Souls. Hence it comes about that very often persons die without any of those in the wigwam
taking notice of them, though these preserve, nevertheless during all the time of agony, a profound silence, and show
in their look of consternation the affliction and grief which they feel at this sorrowful separation…(Le Clerq, 1910,
Biard’s account reveals to us a somewhat more unusual custom, in which the sick man, if he felt
his end approaching but still had some strength left, gave a feast for his friends and gave his own funeral
oration. We are told that after the shamanistic curing rite, the shaman rests and observes the course of the
…according to the symptoms which he observes, he declares that he is either to live or to die. He is not so foolish as
to say that he will live, if the symptoms are not encouraging. He will then say, for instance, that he will die in
three days. Hear now in what a fine way he verifies his prophecies. In the first place, the sick man, since he has been
thus appointed to die, does not eat, and they are no longer offering him anything. But if he does not die by the third
day, they say that he has something of the Devil in him, I know what, which does not permit him to die so easily, so
they rush to his aid. Where? To the water. What to do? To bring full kettles of it. Why? To pour the cold water over
his navel, and thus extinguish all vital heat, if any remain to him. He is indeed obliged to die the third day, since
if he is not going to do it of himself, they kill him…
The sick man having been appointed by the Autmoin to die, as we have said, all the relations and
neighbors assemble and, with the greatest possible solemnity, he delivers his funeral oration; he recites his
heroic deeds, gives some directions to his family, recommends his friends; finally, says adieu. This is all there
is of their wills. As to gifts, they make none at all; but quite different from us, the survivors give some to the
dying man, as you will hear. But we must except the Tabagie [feast], for it is a general injunction which must be
observed everywhere, so that the ceremonies may be according to law.
So if the dying man has some supplies on hand, he must make Tabagie of them for all his relatives
and friends. While it is being prepared, those who are present exchange gifts with him in token of friendship;
dogs, skins, arrows, etc. They kill these dogs in order to send them on before him into the other world. The said
dogs are afterwards served at the tabagie, for they find them palatable. Having banqueted they begin to express
their sympathy and sorrowful Farewells, their hearts weep and bleed because their good friend is going to leave
them and go away; but he may go fearlessly, since he leaves behind him beautiful children, whom are good hunters
and brave men: and good friends; who will avenge his wrongs, etc. They go on in this way until the dying man
expires…(Biard, 1616; in JR., Vol.3 pp.123-129).
The practice of a dying man giving his own funeral oration was witnessed first hand by Biard. The
individual concerned was, in fact, Membertou’s son, Actaudin, who had an illness from which he was not expected to
recover. Biard is very specific in his description of this incident, telling us that he went to Membertou’s camp to
see what he could do for Actaudin, and first found him in a fine state:
…They were just about to celebrate tabagie, or a solemn feast over his last farewell. Three or four immense kettles
were boiling over the fire. He had his beautiful robe under him (for it was summer), and was preparing for his funeral
oration. The oration was to close with the usual adieus and lamentations of all present. The farewell and the mourning
are finished by the slaughter of dogs, that the dying man may have forerunners in the other world. This slaughter is
accompanied by the tabagie and what follows it – namely, the singing and dancing. After that it is no longer lawful for
the sick man to eat or to ask any help, but he must already consider himself one of the “manes”, or citizens of the
other world. Now it was in this state that I found my host…(Biard, 1612a; in Jr. Vol. 2, p.17).
In this case Biard finally prevailed upon the patient and upon his father to allow him to treat
the sick man, with the result that the patient survived. Although part of Biard’s account must have been obtained
from informants, the larger part of it was actually observed by the author, and cannot be questioned as to
Our sources are in relatively close agreement over the events which took place after an
individual had drawn his last breath, though not all the accounts cover the same points. The first reaction seems
to have been a general wailing and weeping augmented by the deceased person’s relatives and friends. This wake was
carried on for three or four days, or longer, depending upon the greatness of the deceased, during which time
nothing was eaten by the mourners.
The ceremonies which flowed depended upon the circumstances. If the family of the deceased had
sufficient provisions for a funeral feast, this then followed. If this was not the case, or if the body had to be
transported to be buried in home ground, it was embalmed. This latter custom is reported to us by both Lescarbot
and Le Clerq, and also occurs in later Micmac legends. The first named author mentions it in connection with the
death of Panoniac among the Armouchiquois; the second in connection with the burial customs of Gaspesians. Lescrbot
tells us that the said Panoniac was killed on the Kennebec, and that the body was “brought back to the cabins of
the river St. Croix [St. John], where our savages wept for him and embalmed him. Of what kind this balm is I could
not discover, not having enquired upon the spot; I believed they cut up the dead bodies and dry them.” (Lescarbot,
1914, pp.273-274). In Le Clerq’s account we read that
The chiefs of their nation formerly entrusted the bodies of the dead to certain old men, who carried them sacredly to a
wigwam built on purpose in the midst of the woods, where they remained for a month or six weeks. They opened the head
and the belly of the dead person, and removed therefrom the brain and the entrails; they removed the skin from the
body, cut the flesh into pieces, and, having dried it in the smoke or in the sun, they placed it at the foot of the
dead man, to whom they gave back his skin, which they fitted on very much as if the flesh had not been removed…(Le
Clerq, 1910, p.302).
Le Clerq also describes a somewhat different method of preserving the dead:
If an Indian dies during the winter at some place remote from the common burial place of his ancestors, those of his
wigwam enwrap him with much care in barks painted red and black, place him upon the branches of some tree on the bank
of a river, and build around him with logs a kind of little fort, for fear lest he be torn by wild beasts or birds of
prey. In the spring the chief sends the young men to fetch the body, and it is received with the same ceremonies which
have just been described (Le Clerq, 1910, p.302)
Hagar, investigating Micmac death customs at a much later time, report that,
in later times corpses were wrapped in skins and deposited in the ground, but the tradition of Cape Breton and of Nova
Scotia proper agrees that formerly human bodies after death were cut in pieces; then the viscera were removed, the
pieces were smoked and dried over a fire, were carefully sewn together again, closely wrapped in the best skins and
furs obtainable and finally deposited on the ground in the kootoodakun-akade or burial place. Some time ago a
mummied [sic] head was found on the banks of the river Richibucto in New Brunswick.(Hagar, 1896b, p.258).
Rand recites a legend in which an old woman dies; “she was properly prepared, rolled up in birch
bark, and placed in the family vault.” (Rand, 1894, p.281).
From the accounts available we must conclude that the Micmac had some philosophical injunction to
bury an individual in the “common burial-place of his ancestors”, for they went to great lengths to accomplish
this. In the case of Panoniac, just cited, the body was brought from the Kennebec River to the St. John, and then
was transported to Port Royal (where the wake was held), and was finally buried on the ancestral burying ground on
a desolate island, “towards Cape Sable, some five or twenty or thirty leagues from Port Royal” (Lescarbot, 1914,
The exact sequence of events at a funeral seems to have been rather variable; in most cases this
seems to have been determined largely by circumstance, but regional differences in the funeral pattern also may be
involved. The nature of this variation may perhaps be best illustrated by sketch outlines of the funeral
The first Micmac funeral of which we have any information is that of Panoniac. Our sources here
are Champlain and Lescarbot. It has already been mentioned that this Indian was killed on the Kennebec River, and
that his body was brought back to Port Royal after being embalmed. The sequence of events then seems to have been
1. Initial wake: “As soon as the body was brought on shore, the relatives and friends began to make outcries beside it,
their faces being painted all over with black, which is their manner of mourning. After a great deal of weeping, they
took a quantity of tobacco and two or three dogs and other things belonging to the deceased, and burnt them upon the
shore some thousand paces from our settlement. Their cries continued until they had returned to their wigwams.”
(Champlain, 1613; in 1922, pp.443-444).
2. Decoration of the body “The next day they took the body and wrapped it in a red coverlet which Membertou, the chief
of these parts, has much importuned me to give him, inasmuch as it was handsome and large. This he presented to the
relatives of the dead man, who thanked me very much for it. Then after having bound up the body, they decorated it with
many kinds of ornaments, such as beads and bracelets of several colors; painted his face, and upon his head stuck many
feathers and objects the fairest they had, Then they placed the body on its knees between two stakes, with another
supporting it under the arms; and about the body were his mother, his wife, and other relatives and friends, both women
and girls, who howled like dogs.” (Champlain, 1613; in 1922, pp.444-445).
3. Call from chief for revenge: “Whilst the women and girls were lamenting, the Indian named Membertou made a speech to
his companions upon the death of the deceased, inciting each to take vengeance for the wickedness and treachery
committed by the subjects of Bessabes, and to make war on them as soon as possible. All promised him to do so in the
spring.” (Champlain, 1613; in 1922, p.445).
4. Body taken to the cabin or wigwam of the parents; pipes smoked by the assembled company; body wrapped in moose-skin
and kept in the cabin until spring, when the war party assembled (Lescarbot, 1914, p.283; Champlain, 1613; in 1922,
5. Wake for the dead, ended by burning of possessions (the position of this rite within the sequence of events is not
specified, but seems to belong here): “But because they are accustomed to make lamentations for a long period of days,
of about a month, fearing to offend us by their cries (for their cabins were but some five hundred paces from our
fort), Membertou came to beg M. de Poutrincourt to consent to their mourning after the wonted manner, promising that
they would remain but eight days; which he easily granted them; and thereat they began on the next day at daybreak
their weepings and cryings, which we heard from our said fort, taking some intermissions during the day. And they mourn
in turn, every cabin on his set day, and every person in his turn.
After our savages had wept for Panoniac, they went to the place where his cabin stood while he was alive, and there
burnt all that he had left, his bows, arrows, quivers, his beaver skins, his tobacco (without which they cannot live),
his dogs, and his other small furniture, to the end that none should quarrel over his succession” (Lescarbot, 1914,
6. Final funeral ceremony held following year gifts to dead and to deceased individual’s brother; dances; and
condolence: “[The following May the French] saw the funeral ceremonies over the corpse of a savage who had died in the
land of the Etechemins. The body was resting upon a plank supported by four stakes, and covered with skins. The next
day a great crowd of men arrived, who performed their customary dances around the corpse. One of the old men held a
long pole, upon which were dangling three of their enemies’ heads; others carried other trophies of their victories;
and thus they continued to sing and dance for two or three hours, chanting the praises of the dead instead of the Libera of
Christians. Afterwards each one made him a gift of some kind, such as skins, kettles, hatchets, knives, arrows, Matachiaz,
and articles of apparel” (Lescarbot, 1612c; in JR., Vol. 2, pp.133-135).
“[The scaffolds of the Souriquois] are smaller and lower [than nine and ten feet], made in the form of cages, which
they cover very orderly, and therein they lay their dead”(Lescarbot, 1914, p.284).
“[They preserved the corpse] until there should be a large number of Indians present, from each of whom the brother of
the dead man expected to receive presents, since it is their custom to give such to those who have lost their fathers,
mothers, wives, brothers, or sisters” (Champlain, 1613; in 1922, pp.445-446).
7. Final burial: “Before they went on the warpath they made an end of his funeral, and carried him (according to their
custom) to a desolate island, towards Cape Sable, some five and twenty or thirty leagues distant from Port Royal. Those
isles which serve them for graveyards are secret amongst them, for fear some enemy should seek to disturb the bones of
their dead. After they have laid the dead to rest, every one makes him a present of the best thing he has. Some cover
him with many skins of beavers, of otters, and other beasts; others present him with bows, arrows, quivers, knives,
matachias, and other things [probably the same gifts given to the dead in step 6] . They have this custom from the
first days of their fathers who in giving to their dead their furs, matachias, bows, arrows, and quivers, gave things
of which they had no need” (Lescarbot, 1914, pp.283, 285, 288).
Lescarbot also gives us the additional information that, “where we were, they stain their faces
with black when they will, but not always; if their husband has been killed, they will not remarry, nor eat flesh,
until they have had vengeance for his death.” (Lescarbot, 1914, p.167).
Biard’s description of a funeral ceremony is somewhat shorter than that given by Lescarbot,
probably because some of the events have already been taken care of in his description of the pre-death activities
of Actaudin (namely, the feast of the dead, the presentation of gifts, the funeral oration).
1.Wake, lasting day and night, sometimes lasting a whole week; black paint applied for mourning (Biard, 1616)
2. Body tied up and prepared for burial: “First they swathe the body and tie it up in skins; not lengthwise, but with
the knees against the stomach and the head on the knees, as we are in our mother’s womb”(Biard, 1616; in JR., Vol. 3,
3. Body taken to cemetery and buried with gravegoods; grave covered with pyramid of logs: “afterwards they put it in
the grave, which has been made very deep, not upon the back or lying down as we do, but sitting. A posture which they
like very much, and which among them signifies reverence. For the children and the youths seat themselves thus in the
presence of their fathers, and of the old, whom they respect when the body is placed, as it does not come up even with
the ground on account of the depth of the grave, they arch the grave over with sticks, so that the earth will not fall
back into it, and they cover up the tomb. If it is some illustrious personage they build a Pyramid or monument of
interlacing pole. If it is a man, they place there as a sign and emblem, his bow, arrows, and shield; if a woman,
spoons, matachias or jewels, ornaments, etc.
They bury with the dead man all that he owns, such as his bag, his arrows, his skins and all his other articles and
baggage, even his dogs if they have not been eaten. Moreover, the survivors add to these a number of other such
offerings, as tokens of friendship. These obsequies finished, they flee from the place, and, from that time they hate
all memory of the dead. If it happens that they are obliged to speak of him sometimes, it is under another and new
name. As for instance the Sagamore Schoudon being dead, he was called “the Father” , [Pere] Membertou was called the
“Great Captain”, and so on (Biard, 1616; in Jr., Vol. 3, pp.129-131).
We must note that the wake, and the subsequent rites, were subject to postponement, for Biard
tells us that the wake, feast, etc., lasted “according to how great the deceased is, and to the amount of
provisions for the mourners. If there are none at all, they only bury the dead man, and postpone the obsequies and
ceremonies unitl another time and place, at the good pleasure of their stomachs” (Biard, 1616; in JR., Vol. 3,
While the accounts of Lescarbot, Champlain, and Biard apply to the Port Royal Micmac of 1607 to
1611, the description given by Denys seems to derive from this author’s experiences in the La Have- Port Rossignol
district around 1633-1645, for in his book written in 1671-1672, he states that he is describing the Indians as
they were 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 [i.e. c. 1633] when I was first in that country” (Denys, 1903, p.399). Denys
gives us the following sequence of events:
1. Immediately after the death, the friends and relatives held the wake: at this time the funeral oration was held, all
the people present speaking in turn, reciting the genealogy of the deceased, the fame of his ancestors, and what he
himself had done for the nation. This lasted three or four days.
2. The feast of the dead was then held.
3. The body of the deceased was then placed upon a scaffold, and left there for a year.
4. At the end of this time the body was taken down and transported to the tribal cemetery. Here it was reburied, along
with the necessary gravegoods for life in the next world (Denys, 1908, pp.437-441).
The funeral customs reported by Le Clerq for the Gaspesian and Miramichi Indians differ from
those described by Denys in that scaffold burial and later reburial do not appear. Le Clerq gives the following
general picture of Micmac burial practices:
1. The wake begins immediately after death; the chief sends out announcements of the death.
2. The body is taken to the tribal burial ground and buried with all the personal possessions of the deceased. A log
“mausoleum” is then constructed on top of the grave.
3. After the completion of the burial, the chief of the tribe invites all the people to the feast of the dead.
4. At the feast of the dead, the chief recounts “the good qualities and the most notable deeds of the deceased”, and
then orders the feast proper to begin (Le Clerq, 1910, pp.300-303).
For a specific case cited by Le Clerq, the funeral arrangements were somewhat different. After
the death of his wife and child as a result of the burning of his wigwam, Koucdedaoui mourned at his wife’s grave
for many days. He then invited the “Nation of the Cross-bearers” (the Miramichi Indians) to a feast of the dead,
which he began with a funeral oration describing “the fine qualities of his wife and everything that her ancestors
had done of most importance for the interests of the nation. At length he finished his discourse by pronouncing a
eulogy on his son, claiming that he would have become some day a good hunter, a great warrior, and the worthy heir
of the valour and the bravery of his father.” After this he danced, and began the feast. Afterwards he burned or
gave away all the belongings of his former wife. In this case, also, the body had to be buried at the scene of the
accident, instead of being transported to the ancestral ceremony. (Le Clerq, 1910, pp.182-187).
From those differing accounts it can be seen that the more constant or persistent elements in the
Micmac funeral complex oration; a feast of the dead; burial in the ancestral cemetery with the necessary gravegoods
for life in the next world; a log pyramid or structure on top of the grave if the deceased had been a person of
importance; the destruction of the property of the deceased. The order in which these elements occurred was subject
to considerable variation, but from the information available it would seem that the final burial did not usually
take place until after the funeral oration and the feast of the dead had been given. In some cases this final
burial was considered necessary; in other cases, however, burial took place soon after death.
Our sources seem to agree that for the state of mourning the Micmac painted their faces black,
and “cut the end of their hair; it is not permissible for them to wear this in tresses, nor to adorn it with
strings of beadwork and of wampum during the period that they are in mourning, which lasts a year altogether”.
During the mourning period the widows of the deceased wept together whenever they met each other. Afterwards they
could not remarry until their husband’s death had been avenged; in this respect Denys states that “usually if they
had children who could support them, they did not remarry at all, and lived always with their children in
widowhood” (Lescarbot, 1914, p.167; Champlain, 1613; in 1922, pp.443-444; Denys, 1908, pp.438-439; Le Clerq, 910,
The wake proper seems to have been the first spontaneous reaction of the close relatives of the
deceased to his death, with friends and more distant relatives giving comfort and support by their presence. Wakes
seems to have been held also at later times; at these times they seem to have been highly formalized, with specific
groups taking part only at specific intervals. Le Clerq tells us that immediately after a death
the leading person and the chiefs give directions that the bark of the wigwam of the dead man be struck, the words Ouè,
Ouè, Ouè, being said for the purpose of making the soul come forth. Then certain young Indians are appointed
to go and announce to all the people, and even to French settlements, the death of their relatives and friends. These
deputies approach the wigwams to which they send, climb into a tree, and cry out three times with all their strength
that such an Indian is dead. After this they approach, and give to those whom they find an account of the circumstances
of the illness and of the death of their friend, inviting them to assist in his funeral (Le Clerq, 1910, p.300).
Although we have only one description of this sending forth of heralds, the custom would seem to
have been generally practiced since our other sources imply that tribal gatherings were quickly called forth for
the purpose of holding funerals.
In most cases the feast of the dead was initiated by the funeral orations, these following the
general pattern for all orations at feasts. The first to talk was the chief, or the individual of highest rank, who
set forth in his address,
the good qualities and the most notable deeds of the deceased. He even impresses upon all the assembly, by words as
touching as they are forceful, the uncertainty of human life, and the necessity they are under of dying in order to
join in the Land of Souls their friends and relatives, whom they now are recalling to memory (Le Clerq, 1910, p.301).
If the deceased was a person of considerable note, the chief apparently was followed by other
speakers, for Denys tells us that,
each one spoke one after another, for they never spoke two at a time, neither men nor women. In this respect these
barbarians give a fine lesson to those people who consider themselves more polished and wiser than they. A recital was
made of all the genealogy of the dead man, of that which he had done fine and good, of the stories that he [the orator]
had heard told of his ancestors, of the great feasts and acknowledgements he had made in large number, of the animals
he had killed in the hunt, and of all the other matters they considered it fitting to tell in praise of his
predecessors. After this they came to the dead man; then the loud cries and weepings redoubled. This made the orator
strike a pose, to which the men and women responded from time to time by a general groaning, all at one time and in the
same tone. And often he who was speaking struck postures, and set himself to cry and weep with the others. Having said
all that he wished to say, another began and said yet other things than the first. Then one after another, each after
his fashion, made his panegyric on the dead man. This lasted three or four days before the funeral oration was finished
(Denys, 1908, pp.437-438).
The funeral oration given by Koucdedaoui for his wife and child seems to have differed somewhat
from the pattern just presented in that only the husband spoke. After presenting eulogies on his wife and baby,
a profound silence followed at once on this speech, and he stopped abruptly with his eyes fixed upon the ground as if
he were plunged in the lowest of all the melancholies. This he did in order better to express the bitterness which he
had in his heart because of the death of his wife and child. Then suddenly carrying his hand to his eyes, in order to
wipe away some tears which he had shed before this assembly, he gave a cry of joy, and said, at the same time, that if
he had shed tears which he was unable to refuse to the dead persons whom he loved as tenderly, he wished, nevertheless,
to stop their flow in accord with the esteem which all the Indians had conceived for the greatness of his courage. He
added that we were all mortal; that too much sadness and grief made Indians lose their spirit; and that, in fact, it
was needful to console ourselves for all the grievous accidents which come to us in life, because He who made all and
who governs all things, has permitted it thus.
All those assembled answered this speech by three or four whoops which they forced from the
depths of their stomachs, saying, as usual hè, hè, hè. It is thus that they express approval, as a rule,
of the reasoning of the one who makes the speech. Our Koucdedaoui had no sooner received these public approvals,
than he set himself to dancing his very best, and to chanting some songs of war and the chase, in order to testify
to the assembly that he had banished from his heart all the regret, grief, and sadness he had previously felt.
After this he drank a good dram of brandy and gave the rest of the bottle to the oldest men, to be distributed to
the assembly with the sagamite of the feast (Le Clerq, 1910, pp.186-187).
The sudden switching of the emotions from sad to cheerful here described seems to have been a
formal feature of the death feast, for Le Clerq mentions it again in his general discussion of the funeral oration
(Le Clerq, 1910, p.301); after the chief has recounted the necessity of dying.
He stops a moment, then suddenly assumes an expression more bright and less sad, and orders the distribution of the
things prepared for the feast, which is followed by the usual dances and songs.
Only one of our sources gives us an explanation of why the feast of the dead was held. Denys
tells us that after the funeral oration was finished,
it was necessary to make great tabagie, that is to say festival, and to rejoice in the great gratification the deceased
will have in going to see all his ancestors, his relatives and good friends, and in the great joy that each of them
will have in seeing him, and the great feasts they will make for him. They believed that, being dead, they went into
another land where everything abounded plentifully, and where they never had to work (Denys, 1908, p.438).
A study of the ritual associated with ordinary Micmac feasts presents us with several additional
clues, however, and permits us to make a number of conclusions and speculations. From the nature of the funeral
speeches made before the feast it would seem that the feast of the dead was given in honor of the deceased, and
that he may have been regarded as the host, although his family provided the refreshments. From this we are led to
wonder whether the dead man was also thought to be present in spirit. A number of clues may possibly point to
something like this: one is the custom, already mentioned, of killing dogs at the time of death so that they could
precede the deceased to the Land of Souls as heralds or forerunners; another clue appears in the passage just
quoted, concerning the reason for the feast of the dead, the deceased’s passage to the Land of Souls is described
in the future tense, as if he had not yet gone or arrived at the time of the feast.
As an aid to the deceased in his journey to, and life in, the land of the dead, it was necessary
for the living to provide him with all the items and utensils which he used in this life. Therefore, when the body
was taken to the tribal cemetery and placed in the grave, the friends and relatives also placed therein bows,
arrows, snow-shoes, spears, robes of Moose, Otter, and Beaver, stockings, moccasins, ad everything that was needed
for him in hunting and in clothing himself. All the friends of the deceased made him each his present, of the
finest and the best they had. They competed as to who would make the most beautiful gift. At a time when they were
not yet disabused of their errors, I have seen them give to the dead man guns, axes, iron arrowheads, and kettles,
for they held all these to be much more convenient for their use than would have been their kettles of wood, their
axes of stone, and their knives of bone, for their use in the other world.
There have been dead men in my time who have taken away more than two thousand pounds of
peltries. This aroused pity in the French, and perhaps envy with it; but nevertheless one did not dare to go take
the things, for this would have caused hatred and everlasting war, which it was not prudent to risk since it would
have ruined entirely the trade we had with them. All the burials of the women, boys, girls, and children were made
in the same fashion, but the weeping did not last so long. They never omitted to place with each one that which was
fitting for his use, nor to bury it with him…(Denys, 1908, p.439).
Le Clerq gives us some more information as to what was commonly placed in graves:
…If it was a man, they added his bow, arrows, spear, club, gun, powder, lead, porringer [soup bowl], kettle, snowshoes,
&c.; if it was a woman, her collar for use in dragging the sled or carrying wood, her axe, knife, blanket,
necklaces of wampum of beads, and her tools used for ornamenting and painting clothes, as well as needles for sewing
the canoes and for lacing the snowshoes…(Le Clerq, 1910, p.301).
The Micmac explanation as to why graveyards were necessary appears in several places in the
sources. Briefly, it was that the spirits of those objects would accompany the dead person to the “Land of Souls”,
and there do him service. French attempts to stop the practice of gravegoods were apparently concentrated upon
trying to dissuade the Micmac from this belief, for we are told,
…it has been troublesome to disabuse them of that practice, although they have been told that all these things perished
in the earth, and that if they would look there they would see nothing that had gone with the dead man. That was
emphasized so much that finally they consented to open a grave, in which they were made to see that all was decayed.
There was there among other things a kettle, all perforated with verdigris. An Indian having struck against it and
found that it no longer sounded, began to make a great cry, and said that some one wished to deceive them. “We see
indeed”, said he, “the robes and all the rest, and if they are still there it is a sign that the dead man had not had
need of them in the other world, where they have enough of them because of the length of time that they have been
“But with respect to the kettle,” said he, “they have need of it, since it is among us a utensil
of new introduction, and with which the other world cannot [yet] be furnished. Do you not indeed see,” said he,
rapping again upon the kettle, “that it has no longer any sound, and that it no longer says a word, because its
spirit has abandoned it to go to be of use in the other world to the dead man to whom we have given it?”
It was indeed difficult to keep from laughing, but much more difficult to disabuse him. For being
shown another which was worn out from use, and being made to hear that it spoke no word more than the other – “ha,”
said he, “that is because it is dead, and its soul has gone to the land where the souls of kettles are accustomed
to go”. And no other reason could be given at that time. Nevertheless, they have been disabused of that in the end,
though with much difficulty, some by religion, [some by] the example of our own customs, and nearly all by the need
for the things which come from us, the use of which has become to them an indispensible necessity…(Denys, 1908,
Some information concerning Micmac scaffold burials has already been noted, but we may here take
cognizance of some more. Among the Micmac scaffold burial seems to have been only a temporary means of disposal..
The body was wrapped in skins and placed within a kind of bark coffin, probably painted black and red. This coffin
was then placed on a special staging built some eight or ten feet above the ground. Denys tells us that the body
was left here about a year, “until the time when the sun had entirely dried the body”; in the case of Panoniac,
however, the body was placed on a scaffold inside his parents’ cabin. It would seem that Denys was in error
thinking that the mummification process took place on the scaffold, although the time period mentioned seems to
correspond to that given in other sources (Champlain, 1613; in 1922, p.445; Lescarbot, 1914, p.283; Le Clerq, 1910,
p.302; Denys, 1908, p.438).
Two burial grounds of the Micmac are mentioned specifically in our sources; one of these
Lescarbot’s burial between Port Royal and Cape Sable has already been discussed. The other cemetery was that of
TESENIGEG, Tisniguet, or Heron Island, east of the mouth of the Restigouche. Le Clerq tells us that this
was ” a noted place and an ancient cemetery of the Gaspesians of Ristigouche,” and informs us that he found there
“in the woods a grave built in the form of a box, containing a quantity of skins of beavers and of moose, some
arrows, bows, wampum, beadwork, and other trinkets.” Later sources indicate burial grounds at LNOG ELISOLTITJIG
(Indian Graves) on the Richibucto; on the Black River some ten miles south of the mouth of the Richibucto; and
possibly at TLAGATIG or Tracadie (Lescarbot, 1914, p.283; Le Clerq, 1910, pp.302-303; Pacifique, 1928, p.145;
Ganong, 1906, p.80).
Of our early authors, only Lescarbot explicitly mentions burning as a means of disposing of a
dead person’s possessions. Alternate methods are described by Le Clerq:
It is a custom, generally observed y our Gaspesians, to reserve none at all of the things which have been in use by
sick men when these come to die, in order, say they, to remove so far as possible from before their eyes all objects
which, as remembrances or memorials of their relatives and friends, could recall their troubles. They burn all the
clothes which have been used by the deceased during life, or rather, they bury these with them, in order, they say,
that the spirits of these things shall accompany their owners into the other world; or else they present the things to
strangers in gratitude for the services which these may have rendered to the deceased. Koucdedaoui gave everything
which his wife had possessed to the Indians who had aided her during her illness (Le Clerq, 1910, p.187).
The same philosophy which prescribed the destruction of the personal possessions of the deceased
also operated in connection with personal names. Once an individual was dead, his name could not be mentioned, “to
avoid the sorrow that the remembrance of the deceased might bring unto” his relatives. Therefore if it became
necessary to refer to somebody deceased circumlocutions had to be used. Biard tells us that when the “Sagamore
Schoudon” died, he was referred to as the “Father”; and that when Membertou died, he became known as the “Great
Captain”. If a deceased individual had a younger brother or son who carried his name with a diminutive attached, it
was necessary for this latter person to take a new name. Thus, after the death of Semcoud, Semcoudech took the name
Paris since he had lived there. Also, after Panoniac’s death, his brother dropped his name Panoniagues and took the
Micmac form of the French name Roland, namely Loland (Lescarbot, 1914, pp.81-82; Biard, 1616; in JR., vol. 3,
The effects of a death upon the survivors seems to have varied considerably. For women the
culture permitted violent and overt grief and mourning, all of which probably had a helpful cathartic affect. For
men the culturally condoned attitude was different. For them it was considered a sign of weakness, and unmanly act,
to show signs of grief; therefore the psychological strain resulting from attempting to live up to the behaviour
expected by the society was much greater, and caused reactions quite different from those occurring in women. Le
Clerq tell us:
One cannot express the grief of a Gaspesian when he loses his wife. It is true that outwardly he dissimulated as much
as he can the bitterness which he has in his heart, because these people consider it a mark of weakness unworthy of a
man, be he ever so little brave and noble, to lament in public. If, then, the husband sheds tears, it is only to show
he is not insensible to the death of his wife, whom he loved tenderly; although it can truly be said that in his own
privacy he abandons himself entirely to melancholy, which very often kills him, or takes him to the most distant
nations, there to make war and to drown in the blood of his enemies the sorrow and grief which overwhelm him (Le Clerq,
The Micmac seems to have been fully cognizant of the cause of this reaction, and seem to have met
it by keeping a constant suicide watch on the individual concerned until such a time as he regained his composure.
It is, however, surprising to see that this melancholy and despair become dissipated almost in a moment, and that these
people, however afflicted they seem, instantly check their tears, stop their sighs, and recover their usual
tranquility, protesting to all those who accompany them, that they have no more bitterness in their hearts. “Ndgouche,
say they, “apche mou, adadaseou, apche mou ouahgahi, apche mou kedoukichtonebilchi“. “There is my melancholy
gone by; I assure thee that I shall lament no more, and that I have lost any intention to hang and strangle myself!”
(Le Clerq, 1910, pp.249-250).
Before attempting a reconstruction of Micmac concepts of the supernatural, we must consider our
sources and our method of approach. One all-important fact must be kept clearly in mind – that the French Relations
of the 16th and 17th centuries do not present us with a clear or adequate picture of this aspect of Micmac culture.
Because of the climate of French thought at the time, because of the interests and biases of the French priests,
and because of the nature of Micmac supernaturalism, we have early information pertaining to some aspects of the
Micmac “Great Spirit”, to some of the ritual prayers, and to some aspects of shaminism. We have very little
information concerning the sacred or supernatural beings which inhabited the Micmac country, the relationships
which existed between these beings and Man, or of the spirit worlds which surrounded the world of Man.
From the sources at our disposal, both ancient and modern, it is most difficult to reconstruct
the Micmac view of the universe. First and foremost in their consciousness, it seems, was the land of the Micmac –
the land of the living. Away from this land, in the seven directions, things became increasingly mystical and
supernatural. Between the northeast and the south winds stretched the UKCHIGUM of “great sea”; between the
northeast and the southwest winds lay the land, in the fartherest reaches of which were the mystical places where
the great supernaturals (Glooscap, the Master of the dead, etc.) resided. At least one ATOOKWOKUN seems to
reflect a belief in an underground world, although this is not explicitly stated and may be open to a different
interpretation (Rand, 1894, pp.44-45). A belief in a sky world is clearly expressed, however, for this realm being
above the stars and much like the land of humans, except that the sky beings had much greater magical power (Rand,
1894, pp.160-162, 306-310; Hagar, 1900, pp.94-95).
The Micmac legends preserve for us, although in a fragmentary and incomplete form, the widespread
concept of the milky way as a pathway for spirits passing to the land of the dead. The belief is also expressed
most clearly in the Micmac word for the milky way – KETAKSOOWOWCHR – “the spirits’ road”. No Micmac tale
is nearly as explicit, however, as the Passamaquoddy “Song of the Stars”:
We are the stars which sing,
We sing with our light;
We are the birds of fire,
We fly over the sky.
Our light is a voice;
We make a road for spirits,
For the spirits to pass over.
among us are three hunters
Who chase a bear;
There never was a time
when they were not hunting.
we look down on the mountains.
This is the Song of the Stars
Unfortunately, we have no further information by which we can relate this idea of the milky way
as a spirits’ pathway to the other Micmac concepts concerning spirit worlds (Leland, 1884, pp.307, 379; Rand, 1888,
According to a legend preserved by Le Clerq, the Micmac first learned of the existence of the
“Land of the Souls” when:
…one of the most prominent men of the nation fell dangerously ill, and after having lost the use of all his faculties
in the strange convulsions of his disease, came to himself, and said to the Indians, who asked him where he had been so
long, that he came from the Land of Souls, where all the souls of the Gaspesians who died betook themselves after their
death. He added that by an extraordinary favour, which never before had been accorded to anyone whatsoever,
Papkootparout, governor and ruler of this country, had given him permission to return to the world, in order to give
the Gaspesians news of the Land of Souls, which had been up to that time unknown to them, and to present to them on his
behalf certain fruits, which he gave assurance were the food of these souls, which he was going to rejoin for ever. He
died in fact in ending these words; and this imposture, which they took for an indubitable truth, was more than enough
to persuade them that souls, after departure from their bodies, had a place to which they went to remain. It did not
require anything more to make some of the more hardy of our Indians determine to make a voyage thereto in body and in
spirit during their lives, since this land was distant and separated from them only by a passage of forty to fifty
leagues over a pond that could be crossed with ease by fording.
A favourable opportunity to carry out their curious resolution very soon presented itself through
a chance to render service to one of their friends who, unable to console himself for the death of his only son,
whom he loved tenderly, implored them all, and engaged them by the usual presents, to keep him company in the
voyage which he had resolved to make to the Land of Souls in order thence to bbring back his son. He had not much
trouble to persuade to this voyage men who asked nothing better than to undertake it. They were very soon all ready
to start and to begin this perilous venture… However, these voyagers, furnished with all the provisions they
needed, and armed with their bows, arrows, quivers, clubs, and with a number of poles of nine to ten feet in
height, took to the water, and, with much trouble and fatigue, travelled by forced marches. The evening having
arrived, they stuck some of their poles into the sand in order to form a kind of arbour or camp, in which they
might rest during the night, something which they did every night in the continuation of this arduous voyage, which
lasted until several among them were dead of fatigue. The five or six others who remained still alive, arrived
happily at length in the Land of Souls, which they had sought so eagerly.
Our Gaspesians, in common with all the other Indians of New France, have believed up to the
present that there is in every thi8ng, even in such as are inanimate, a particular spirit which follows deceased
persons into the other world. in ordre to render them as much service after death as these had received therefrom
during life. Consequently, they say that our voyagers were equally surprised and comforted to see on their arrival
an infinity of spirits of moose, beavers, dogs, canoes, and snowshoes, which hovered pleasingly before their eyes,
and which, by I knew not what unknown language, made them understand that these things were in the service of their
fathers. But a moment later they thought they should die of fear and terror when, approaching a wigwam like these
which they had in their own country, they saw a man, or rather a giant, armed with a mighty club, and with abow,
arrows, and quiver, who, with his eyes gleaming with anger, and a tone of voice which indicated the completeness of
his wrath, spoke to them in these words: “Whoever you are, prepare yourselves to die, since you have had the
temerity to make this journey, and to come all alive intot he Land of the Dead. For I am Papkootparout the
guardian, the master, the governor, and the ruler of all souls.” In fact, distracted to fury as he was at the
outrage our Indians had committed, he was about to slay them with great blows of that horrible club which he had in
his hand, when this poor father, keenly penetrated by grief for the death of his only son, implored him, more by
tears and sighs than by words, to excuse the temerity of this enterprise, which in truth deserved all pinishment
from a just anger, if he wal not willing to soften the rigour of it out of consideration for a father who
considered himself blamable only because he had too much tenderness and affection for his child. “Discharge against
us if you wilt, all the arrows of thy quiver; crush me by the weight of thy club,” continued this afflicted father,
presenting to him his stomach and his head to receive the blows of one and of the other, “since thou art the
absolute master of my life and my death; but indeed, if there still remain in thee any sentiments of humanity, of
tenderness, and of compassion for mortals, I beg thee to accept the presents which we have brought from the Land of
the Living, and to receive us among the number of thy friends.” These words, so submissive and so respectful,
touched the heart of this little Pluto with compassion, and he, becomingalive to the grief of this afflicted
father, told him to be of good courage; that he would pardon him this time for the outrage he had committed; and
that finally, to overwhelm him with favours and with consolation, he would give him before his departure the soul
of his son; but that in awaiting this extraordinary favour, he wished to amuse himself with him, and to play a hand
of Ledelstaganne [Indian dice], which is the usual game of our Gaspesians.
This friendly discourse dissipated entirely all the uneasiness and apprehension or our voyagers,
who staked at the play everything of importance which they had brought from Gaspesia. Papkootparout staked, for his
part, Indian corn, tobacco, and some fruits, which he assured them were the food of these souls. They played with
close application from morning until evening. Our voyagers, however, remained the victors. They won the Indian corn
and the tobacco of Papkootparout, who gave both to them with so much the more pleasure, since he believed these men
deserved to live who had had the good fortune to win all the most precious and rarest things which the dead
possessed in the Land of Souls. He commanded them to plant these in Gaspesia, assuring them that all the nation
would receive therefrom and inconceivable advantage. This, say our Indians of today, is the manner in which the
Indian corn and the tobacco have come into their country, according to the tradition of their ancestors.
Whilst the father was rejoicing in his good fortune, it happened that the son arrived invisibly
in the wigwam. The chant of a number of spirits, and the rejoicing that was made among these souls was, in fact,
heard very distinctly. But this was not that which the father had asked. He hoped, in accord with the promise which
had been made him, to obtain the soul of his son, which remained always invisible, but which became in an instant
the size of a nut by the command of Papkootparout, who took it in his hands, wrapped it very closely in a little
bag, and gave it to our Indian. Therewith he gave him orders to return at once to his own country: to lay out,
immediately after his arrival, the body of his son in a wigwam made for the purpose; to replace this soul in the
body; and above all to take care that there be no opening, for fear, said he to the father, lest the soul come out
through that and return to this country which it was leaving only with extreme repugnance.
The father received with joy this animated bag, and took leave of this Indian Pluto, after having
seen and examined attentively everything which there was of much importance in the principality of Papkootparout.
That is to say, he saw the place of shades where lay the wicked souls; this was overlaid with nothing but dried up
and badly arranged branches of fir. But the plac eof the good Indians had nothing except that which was charming
and agreeable. with an infinity of fine barks adorning the outside and the inside of thier wigwams, into which the
sun came to comfort them twice each day, renewing the branches of fir and of cedar, which never lost their natural
verdure. Finally, there was an infinity of spirits of dogs, canoes, snowshoes, bows, and arrows, of which the souls
were making use for their pleasure.
Note, if you please, that since this imaginary voyage the Indians have not only believed that
souls were immortal, but they have also been persuaded, by a strange fancy, that in everything of which they make
use, such as canoes, snowshoes, bows, arrows, and other things, there is a particular spirit which would always
accompany after death the one who made use thereof during life; and it is actually for this reason, and in this
foolish fancy, that they bury with deceased persons everything which these possessed while on the earth, in the
belief that each article in particular renders them the same service in the Land of Souls that it did to its owner
Our voyagers, however returned joyously into their own country, and having arrived there they
gave to all the Gaspesian nation a full account of the marvels which they had seen in the Land of Souls, and
commanded all the Indians, on behalf of Papkootparout, to plant forthwith the Indian corn and the tobacco which
they had won playing with him at Leldestaganne. The orders which were given them on behalf of the governor of souls
were faithfully executed, and they cultivated with success the Indian corn and the tobacco for the space of several
years. But the negligence of their ancestors, say they, deprives them today of all these conveniences so useful and
so essential to the nation as a whole.
One knows not how to express the astonishment and the joy of these people when they heard of all
these marvellous fancies, and that the father had brought back in a bag his son’s soul, which would instruct them
in everything from the moment when it was seated again in the body. The extreme impatience which these Gaspesians
felt to learn news of the other world induced them to build promptly a wigwam in the very manner Papkootparout had
directed. Their hopes, however, were vain and useless, for the father, having entrusted the bag to the care of an
Indian woman, in order to assist and to dance more freely at the public festivals which were made for his happy
return, this woman had the curiosity to open it, and the soul escaped immediately and returned whence it had come.
The father, on hearing the news hereof, died of chagrin, and followed his son to the Land of Souls, to the great
regret of all the Gaspesian nation. This it is, and only this, which make our Indians believe in the immortality of
From these false premises, based upon a tradition so fabulous, they have drawn these extravagent
conclusions – that everything is animated and that souls are nothing other than the ghost of that which had been
animated; that the ration ghost is a sombre and black image of the man himself; that it had feet, hands, a mouth, a
head, and all other parts of the human body: that it had still the same needs for drinking, for eating, for
clothing, for hunting and fishing, as when it was in the body, whence it seems that in their revels and feasts they
always serve a portion to these souls which are walking, say they, in the vicinity of the wigwams of their
relatives and of their friends; that they went hunting the souls of beavers and of moose witht he souls of their
snowshoes, bows, arrows; that the wicked, on their arrival at the Land of Souls, danced and leaped with great
violence, eating only the bark of rotten trees; in punishment for their crimes, for a certain number of years
indicated by Papkootparou [sic]; that the good, on the contrary, lived in great repose at a place removed from the
noise of the wicked, eating when it pleased them and amusing themselves with the hunting of beavers and of moose,
whose spirits allowed themselves to be taken with ease. Such is the reason why our Gaspesians have always observed
invariably the custom of burying with the deceased everything which was in their use during life…(Le Clerq, 1910,
This extremely interesting and ancient Gaspesian legend forms one of the foundations from which
we must reconstruct Micmac belief and therefore deserves considerable comment. We will give particular attention to
the following elements: the Land of Souls and reward and punishment after death; spirits of animate and inanimate
objects and the practice of gravegoods; Papkiitparout, his visitors, and his gifts; and finally the legend of the
origin of corn.
The first question which demands explanation is whether the concept here put forward regarding
reward and punishment after death is Aboriginal or Christian. The following information leads us to conclude that
the belief is Aboriginal. In his account of his 1535-1536 voyage to the St. Lawrence, Cartier tells us that the St.
Lawrence Iroquois believed,
…in a god they call Cudouagny, and …say that when he gets angry with them, he throws dust in their eyes. They believe
furthermore that when they die they go to the stars and descend on the horizon like the stars. Next, that they go off
to beautiful green fields covered with fine trees, flowers, and luscious fruits…(Cartier; in Biggar, 1924, p.179).
Thevet, writing in 1570 from unknown Cartier sources, informs us that these same Indians,
…believe that the soul is immortal, and if a man does evil, when he dies a great bird takes his soul and carries it
away; otherwise, the soul goes inot a place adorned with many beautiful trees and birds singing melodiously. This is
what the Seigneur of the Country of Canada, called Donacona AGUANNA, told us…(Thevet, 1878, p.407)
The Papkootparout legend presents us with some of our most specific information concerning Micmac
beliefs regarding the soul. We deduce that every object, animate or inanimate, was thought to have a soul: that
these souls were “sombre and black” images of the objects they inhabited: that their departure or injury meant the
death or sickness of the objects of which they were the souls. This latter point is clearly brought out by our
sources, for Denys tells us that when the Indians wanted to say that an object no longer was of use
…they say that it is dead. For example, when their canoe is broken, they say that it is dead, and thus with all other
things out of service…(Denys, 1908, p.441) Also in the case of the kettle already quoted, the fact that it was worn out
and no longer “spoke” or sounded meant that it was dead, and that its soul had “gone to the land where the souls of
kettles are accustomed to go” (Denys, 1908, p.440.)
Despite this information the sources leave us somewhat in doubt concerning the nature of the
Micmac “soul”. Hultkrantz (1953, p.75), using historical sources, states that “the Micmac seem to have
diferentiated between a free-soul, called the “shadow”, and an entity “life, soul, seat of life ” mentioned in a
story of the external soul…This entity was probably a life soul.” Hulkrantz defines the “free-soul” as the soul
active outside the body, as man’s extra-physical form of existence. Within a regular dualistic soul-system such as
claimed for the Micmac, “the free-soul is a shadowy representative of the individual himself, a commonly neutral
mirror-image of the living, psycho=physical individual, with whom it stands in a constant reciprocal relation. The
free-soul appears whdn the physical man does not appear as an actively operating being…” (Hultkrantz, 1953,
pp.241-242). The same author defines the “life-soul” as,
…the real organ or function-soul of the body, the “motor” responsible for the vital manifestations of the individual
and evincing itself accordingly, in the respiration, the activity of the heart, the beat of the pulse, the circulation
of the blood and the muscle-movements…(Hultkrantz, 1953, p.149).
The “external soul” of the Micmac is considered to be merely a mystical extension of the
life-soul concept (Hultkrantz, 1953, pp.75, 330-338).
A number of statements in the sources imply that it was the “death” of the MEMAJOOOKUN or life
principle which caused the death of an individual. Biard tells us, for example, that if it had been prophesied that
an individual was to die, but he did not, “they say that he has something of the Devil in him…,” and “pour the cold
water over his navel, and thus extinguish all vital heat, if any remain to him” (Biard, 1616; in JR, Vol. 3,
p.123). The legends pertaining to the CHEBOO or cannibal beings inform us that these had hearts of solid ice which
had to be completely melted and destroyed by fire; otherwise these could resurrect themselves (Leland, 1884,
pp.233-254, 330-332; Rand, 1894, pp.190-199,246-249,250-252;Hagar, 1896a, p.172;Mechling, 1914,pp.75-77). The
importance of the MEMAJOOOKUN to an individual is also touched upon in the stories of Kitpooseagunow (“Taken from
Guts”) and the “Invisible Boy” (Rand, 1894, p.64;p.106).
The peculiar relationships existing between the body, the free-soul, and the life-soul are
indicated best byt he Micmac tales concerning animal and human reincarnation and resurrection. Resurrection, as
described in the Papkootparout legend, seems to involve the return of the free- soul to its former body and the
reintroduction in some manner of a life principle. Reincarnation, on the other hand, seems to involve the
reintroduction of both a free-soul and a life-soul into a body recreated in some mystical manner from the remains
of former bodies. These remains were frequently bones, whose mystical role in the reincarnation cycle imposed an
elaborate system of taboos upon the Micmac. According to our historical sources, the bones of moose, beaver,
caribou, bear, and marten could not be given to the dogs or burned, else the spirits of the animals would report
“to their own kind of the bad treatment they had received among the Indians”, and no more would be caught.
Similarly “they never singe the feet of Ducks, Geese, Swans, or any other web-footed Waterdowl, believeing these
that survuved would no longer be able to alight on the sand, & for that reson few would be caught” (Denys,
1908, p.430; Dieèreville, 1930, p.161;Le Clerq, 1910, p.226).
The Micmac concept of reincarnation is preserved for us in an important collection of Micmac
folktales collected by Elsie Clews Parsons in the summer of 1923. Two of these tales deal with a being
named…”Animals Bring Back Man” living a long distance from the Micmac in the land of the Supernaturals (and in one
of the tales at least seeming to represent Glooscap)…
That this concept is an aboriginal one is indicated by its occurence among the Passamaquoddy in
the tale of the “Fight with the Giant Witch”.
The Micmac soul concepts demonstrate another curious feature. From the material reviews it would
seem that the souls of animals traveled toa spirit land (the Land of Souls?), there probably to go through another
reincarnation cycle. We know also that the souls of gravegoods accompanied the soul of the deceased human to the
Land of Souls, and that souls of other objects which were worn out or broken also went to a spirit land. Therefore
we are led to conclude that after the soul of a slain animal had departed for its spirit-land the different parts
of the bosy, such as the skin (used for robes) and the bones (used for tools) acquired their own souls. How this
was thought to happen is not stated in the literature.
Of all the aspects of Micmac culture treated by our early historical sources, that dealing with
the native beliefs concerning supernatural beings comes off worst, for here our authors were treading in a field so
foreign to their thinking and to their own system of belief that they were entirely unable to graps the
fundamentals involved. Only in a few places, almost by accident, do the accounts give us any real clues to the
Micmac concepts – elsewhere we are told only that the “Indians have no religion”.
The concept basic to the entire Micmac philospohy of supernatural beings is that of MANITOU or
BOOOIN. These words refer to supernatural, mystical, impersonal power, and to the objects which possess it. To the
Micmac, anything which causes a vague sense of “something strange, something mysterious, something intangible,”
whcih creates a sense of wonder, which leads one to feel overwhelmed by an all-encompassing presence, in short,
something whcih causes and emotional esperience, is BOOOIN. The word may be applied to the mystical force thought
to be causing the experience, it may be applied to a spirit-being possessing such power, or it may be applied to a
human possessing power. BOOOIN may be transferred from one spirit-being to another, or from a spirit-being to a
human, this transfer may be purely mechanical. BOOOIN may also be possessed in large or small quantities, resulting
in a ranking of the supernatural beings according to the “strength” of their power. Since one’s position in this
system of rank can only be determined by individual tests of strength – i.e., by shamanistic combat – the Micmac
legends relating to these BOOOIN read like a roll of gladitorial combats.
This ranking of the supernaturals on the basis of their BOOOIN provides us with a means of
classification which we will employ to order our discussion. Proceeding from supernaturals with the strongest
BOOOIN towards those with the least, we may first distinguish between beings known as MEGUMOOWESCO, and those known
From the materials on hand it would seem that Glooscap and some of his powerful friends and
contemporaries were MEGUMOOWESOO, while most human shamans or BOOOIN were BISANATKWETCH. The two categories are not
sharply divided in the legends, however, and the situation is often confused by the fact that the power of prophecy
is neither affirmed nor denied for a particular being.
Another type of distinction may be made, however, between the MEGUMOOWESOO and the BISANATEWETCH.
Many of the former seem to do without the spirit-familiar oor nagual which is such a characterisitc
feature of the latter. In the latter situation, the spirit-familiar is a supernatural or mystical being whose
magical power is at the disposal or command of the shaman, whose form the BOOIN can assume, and swhose welfare is
intimately tied up with that of the shaman. Such a helper seems to have been unnecessary in the case of the
From the materials reviewed we may conclude that the Micmac held the concept of a Great Spirit,
and that this concept was broadly similar to that held by the Central Algonqiuan tribes with respect to the KITCHI
MANITO. The “Great Spirit” or “Creator” of the Micmac seems to have been central figure of the religious ritual, in
that he seems to have been the only being to which prayers were offered – these usually being made to one of his
aspects as the sun or moon. Offerings of propitiation and appeasement were made on occasions to spirits of places
or things, and individuals did address themselves to spirit-helpers or naguals; these relationships were
on a different level, however, than that with the NICHEKAMINOU. We know of no prayers addressed to Glooscap.
Glooscap’s position among the Micmac is defined in somewhat modern terms by a tale collected by
Speck in Cape Breton (Speck, 1915b, pp.59-60):
Gluskap was the god of the Micmacs. The great deity, Ktcini’ sxam, made him out of earth and then breathed on him, and
he was made. This was at Cape North, Cape Breton, on the eastern side. Gluskap’s home was at Fairy Holes (Gluska’be
wi’gwom, “Gluskap’s wigwam”). Just in front of the caves at this headland are three little islands in a straight line,
long and narrow as Ciboux Islands. These are the remains of Gluskap’s canoe, where he left it when it was broken. At
Plaster Cove (Two’bute, “Looking Out”) two girls saw his canoe broken into three pieces; and they laughed, making fun
of Gluskap. At this he told them they would remain forever where they are; and today there are two rocks at Plaster
Cove which are the remains of these girls. Next, a little farther north, at Wreck Cove, Gluskap jumped from his canoe
when it foundered, lifting his moose-skin canoe-mat out, and left it on the shore to dry. It is there today. There is
still to be seen a space of fifteen acres of bare ground where the mat lay. Then he started on and went to Table Head,
on the south side of Bras d’Or Lake. Here he had his dinner. Next he struck into Bras d’Or Lake straight to Wycogamagh,
on the western end, where, at Indian Island, he started a beaver and drove him out, following Bras d’Or Lake to St.
Patrick’s Bay. At Middle River he killed a young beaver whose bones are still to be seen there. Then Gluskap followed
the big beaver until he lost track of him for a while. He stood at Wi’sik (Indian Island), and took a piece of rock and
threw toward the place where he thought the beaver was. This rock is now Red Island. This started the beaver up, and he
ran back through St. Peter’s Channel and burrowed underneath, which is the cause of the crooks and windings there now.
Then the chase continued outside the ocean, when the beaver struck out for the Bay of Fundy. Here at Pli’gank (“Split
Place”), Split Point, Gluskap dug out a channel with his paddle, forming Minas Basin, Nova Scotia. There he killed the
beaver. Near here is a small island, which is the pot in which he cooked the beaver; and there, too, is another rock,
near Pot Rock, which is Gluskap’s dog left behind at this time. Turtle (Mi’ktcik) was Gluskap’s uncle. Here with his
pot and dog he turned Turtle into a rock, and left them all there. Near where he killed the beaver are still to be seen
the bones turned to rock. When he broke the channel here in Minas Basin to drain the water out, in order to uncover the
beaver, he left it so that today the water all drains out at each tide. So Gluskap caused the Bay of Fundy tides. Then
he crossed over eastward [sic] and came out at Pictou, where there were many Indians living. While there, he taught the
Micmacs how to make all their implements for hunting and fishing – bows, arrows, canoes, and the like. After a while he
prepared to leave, and told the Indians, “I am going to leave you. I am going to a place where I can never be reached
by a white man.” Then he prophesied the coming of the European and the baptism of the Micmacs. Then he called his
grnadmother from Pictou, and a young man for his nephew, and departed, going to the other side of the North Pole with
them. Again he said, “From now on, if there should ever be war between you and any other people, I shall be looking
back to help you.” He is there now, busy in making bows, arrows, and weapons for the day the white man may bother the
Micmacs. The Micmac are Gluskap’s children.
This summary enables us to define the position of the Glooscap tales within the Micmac oral
tradition. These tales are etiological in nature, explaining the origin of geographical landmarks and features, the
sites of animals and their relaitonships with Man, and the beginnings of human culture. Glooscap appears as the
hero-transformer who made the world a place in which Man could reside. Among the more recent tales of neighboring
tribes Glooscap takes on some of the aspects of a creator….Among the Micmac, however, the creator-elements are
largely absent, and Glooscap appears simply as the hero-transformer (e.g.,Leland, 1884, pp.28-31; 62-67; 114-126;
Rand, 1894, pp.232-237; Parsons, 1925, pp.85-90; Mechling, 1914, pp.1-40).
In the survey of the Micmac political divisions and chieftainships…it has been necessary for us
to distinguish between different kinds of chiefs, namely: local chiefs, district chiefs, and “grand chiefs”. This
arrangement, although well known from more southern agricultural tribes, is quite unexpected among such a northern,
nonagricultural, Algonquian group, and deserves further consideration.
As has been stated previously, Micmac chieftainship was the product of kinship affiliations and
superior personal ability, and was customarily passed down through families having a tradition of chieftainship and
members capable of assuming the role. That such an arrangement also held for the “grand chiefs” is indicated by a
number of sources. In one, for example, Speck (1915, p.506) mentions that “here [in Cape Breton] resides the Grand
Chief John Denys in whose family the life chieftaincy of the tribe is an inheritance.” Other authors support this
Faced with this pattern of chieftaincy residing in certain families, we may ask whether this
information we have gathered concerning the various Micmac chiefs gives us any additional data upon specific
families. We find that such is the case. Manach’s list gives evidence that more than one chief could come from a
single family: for example Claud and Jeannot Piguidawalwet were chiefs at Shubenacadie and Cape Breton
respectively; while Reni and Baptiste La Morue were chiefs at Pomquet and Malpaque (P.E.I.). Evidence is also
available to demonstrate the persistence of a line of chiefs in time, namely, the following list of legendary and
historic reknowned Micmac leaders.
1. Chief Tumel – legendary Micmac chief, warrior, and shaman, who lived at TJIGOG on the
Resitgouche, who defeated the Kwedech in one of the first battles after the start of the Micmac – Kwedech war, and
who gave the name LISTOGOTJG to the region.
2.Chief Ulgimoo – a famous legendary figure who was also a warrior and shaman, who lived in the vicinity of Cumberland
Basin, prpbably before 1600, and had a fort near Sackville. He was a major figure in the Kwedech war, and had a younger
3. Mejelabegadasich or Tied-in-a-hard-knot – a legendary BUOWIN, GINAP, and SAKUMEN who lived near Miramich, probably
before 1600. In his old age he took part in the last battle with the Kwedech, killing the Iroquois chief Wohooweh or
PATGOITAGANETJG (“little anvil”) near the mouth of the Tabusintae river.
4. Chief Membeltou (in French Henri Membertou) – a famous BUOWIN, GINAP, and SAKUAW who lived at St. Mary’s Bay or
Annapolis Bay, and was chief from circa 1550 to 1611. He was famous for his part in wars against the Almouchiquois of
the Kennebec region, and may have been a “grand chief”.
5. Chief Kaktoogo or Toonale (Thunderer) – GINAP and SAKUMOW at Merigomish sometime after 1600; famous [for] his part
in the last battle with the Kennebec Indians at Pictou.
6. “Chief Denis” (Micmac name unknown) – a powerful Richibucto chief who was greatly feared by his people and who
probably was in his heyday around 1640-1670.
7. Chief Algimoosh (“Little Algimoo”; known to the English as Argimoosh) – a “formidable and stalwart” chief called the
“Great Witch” by Cooney, who led the Micmac and Penobscot attack against Canso around 1724. Chief at Richibucto.
8. Joseph Algiman – chief of Chignecto in 1760 according to the Manach list.
9. Tomah Denys – “grand chief” of the Micmac, residing in the Cumberland district before 1759, and then moving to
Escasoni in Cape Breton.
10. John Denys – “grand chief” of the Micmac around 1900 and great grandson of Tomah Denys. Still located at Escasoni.
The first family to be considered is that of the Denyses. The line clearly runs back from John to
Tomah Denys; beyond this last individual our historical sources fail us, but we do have reasonable grounds for
supposing that Chief Denis of Richibucto may have been an earlier link in this line of chiefs.
From Lescarbot’s comments on Micmac naming customs it seems highly probable that Argimoosh or
Algimoosh of the Richibucto was a descendant of the line represented by Ulgimoo… we may also suspect Joseph Algiman
of being a member of this line.
Two “head families” thus seem to be indicated: the Denyses and the Ulgimoos. Since both Chief
Denis and Algimoosh resided at Richibucto, the question arises whether these might not actually have been related –
whether the Denyses might not have been Ulgimoos? This question is intriguing, but its resolution with the present
evidence is doubtful. With the information at our disposal the Membertou family of southern Nova Scotia seems
unaffiliated with those further to the north.
Despite many claims to the contrary, it is evident from the materials just considered that the
Micmac were stratified socially, and that distinctions of rank were important in Micmac eyes. We may distinguish
three general classes – chiefs, commoners, and slaves or war prisoners.
The statement is often made that the Micmac chiefs had little actual authority over their people,
that they were merely the heads of families, and that any male individual with some superior ability could attain
chieftainship. The material which we have considered leads us to a different conclusion. It is true that by
European standards of the 17th and 18th centuries – standards based on the concept on the divine right and absolute
authority of kings – the Indian system seemed anarchic in the extreme. Nevertheless, the examples given by
Membertou and by Chief Denis warn us that the Micmac political structure was far from being non-existent or
non-authoritarian. It is also true that the Micmac seem to have considered it theoretically possible for a commoner
to become a chief; the qualifications required, however, were such that this probably rarely happened, and the
evidence available on specific chiefs, or lines of chiefs, seems to confirm this.
From the material previously presented we may distinguish local chiefs, district chiefs, and
“grand chiefs”; how this ranking was reflected in the various privileges and honors accorded the various chiefs has
not been preserved for us. The descriptions do tell of honors and privileges given to elders and “honored” men at
feasts, but the accounts do not differentiate this category.
From comments made in various sources it is clear that the chiefs as a whole were rendered
respect and attention. Their words and opinions carried weight, and the women, children, and undistinguished young
men were silent before them. The chiefs were supplied with the choicest pieces of meat deriving from the hunt,
whether or not they had participated, and also received skins and furs. The chiefs and the old men also had
reserved for them such special delicacies as roasted porcupines, foetuses of bears, moose, otters, beavers, and
porcupine, the entrails of bears, marrow, and certain other items. During the feasts of the Micmac nation, the
chiefs were seated in the place of honor, and were served first with the tenderest parts. From the statements made
by Biard, and by Denys concerning the Richibucto chief, it is also obvious that the chiefs had retinues of young
men upon occasions requiring pomp, and that salutes of gunshots were accorded visitors and hosts. This last custom
was extended to include the French, for Le Clerq informs us that
…they are fond of ceremony, and are anxious to be accorded some when they come to trade at the
French establishments; and it is consequently, in order to satisfy them that sometimes the guns, and even the
cannon, are fired on their arrival. The leader himself assemblies all the canoes near his own and ranges them in
good order before landing, in order to await the salute which is given him, and which the Indians return to the
French by the discharge of their guns. Sometimes the leaders and chiefs are invited for a meal in order to show to
all the Indians of the nation that they are esteemed and honoured. Rather frequently they are even given something
like a fine coat, in order to distinguish them from the commonality. For such things as this they have a particular
esteem, especially if the article has been used by the commander of the French. It was, perhaps, for this reason
that a good old man who loved me tenderly was never willing to appear in any ceremony, whether public or private,
except with a cap, a pair of embroidered gloves, and a rosary which I had given him. He held my present in so much
esteem that he believed himself something more grand than he was, although he was then all that he could be among
his people, of which he was still head man and chief at the age of more than a hundred and fifteen years…(Le Clerq,
Although those male commoners who were not associated with a large extended family or group
holding many kinship affiliations could not hope to attain the necessasy prerequisites for chieftainship, they
could aspire to prestige and reputation through their activities in war or in hunting (although these usually were
thought to require special supernatural power). We have already discussed the nature of the struggle for status,
and its toll in terms of the individual’s personality. We need only repeat again that with the accumulation of
prestige and the attainment of old age a commoner could also look forward to certain honors and privileges, and to
having his voice heard and his words weighed in the councils of the nation.
Only Lescarbot treats Micmac slavery at length; from his description it is apparent that slaves
were war captives, and could be either male or female. In his section on warfare, Lescarbot tells us that “in
victory they kill all who can make resistance, but pardon the women and children” (Lescarbot, 1914, p.269). Le
Clerq, after stating that the Micmac sometimes tortured their male prisoners, informs us that “they are not,
however, so cruel with regard to the women and children, but quite on the contrary, they support them and bring
them up among those of their own nation. Or, indeed, they not infrequently send them back to their own homes again,
without doing them any injury. However, sometimes they break their heads with blows of an axe or a club.” (Le
Clerq, 1910, p.272).
Various passages in the sources seem to indicate that even warriors may have been taken alive and
were later returned to their tribe. In one such passage we read that when Poutrincourt visited Saco in 1606,
…Marchin and the said Olmechin brought M. de Poutrincourt a Souriquois prisoner, and therefore their enemy, whom they
freely handed over to him. Two hours later two Indians arrived, the one an Etechemin, named Chkoudun, the chief of the
river St. John, which is called by the Indians Oigoudi, the other a Souriquois, named Messamoet, chief or Sagamos in
the river Port de Lahave, where this prisoner had been taken…(Lescarbot, 1911, p.322).
From our best source, Lescarbot, we learn that captives often did not wait to be exchanged or
sent back, but attempted to escape; the price of recapture seems to have been death.
If we may extrapolate from conditions in other tribes, a male prisoner may have considered his
fate to be worse than death, because he – a warrior and hunter – was reduced to gathering firewood and carrying
water for women. Women prisoners undoubtedly also served as labourers, and as concubines.
To the Micmac male, there were no occupations more glorious than hunting and war: the one and the other provided the
means of acquiring honor and prestige, of displaying one’s courage and valor, and of receiving privileges in the
councils and feasts of the nation. Warfare seems to have been practised largely for the purpose of obtaining honors,
and for obtaining vengeance – and these two aims in great part defined the war complex as here found. Lescarbot informs
…Our savages do not found their wars upon the possession of the land. We do not see that they encroach one upon another
in that respect. They have land enough to live on and to walk abroad. Their ambition is limited by their bounds. They
make war as did Alexander the Great, that they may say “I have beaten you”; or else for revenge, in remembrance of some
injury received, which is the greatest vice I find in them, because they never forget injuries…(Lescarbot, 1914,
These causes of conflict seem to have functioned only between the major tribal units. No cases of warfare are recorded,
for example, between the different divisions of the Micmac nation. According to Biard (1616; in J.R. Vol.3, p.91)
…Their wars are nearly always between language and language, or country and country, and always by deceit and
Within the historical and ethnographical sources the Micmac are depicted as fighting, at various times, the Kwedech,
the Almouchiquois, the Esquimeaux, and the Malecite – in other words, all of their immediate neighbours.
Once cause for war had arisen, the matter was decided one way or the other in formal council.
Lescarbot tells us that,
…when therefore they wish to make war, the Sagamos most in credit among them sends the news of the cause and the
rendezvous, and the time of the muster. On their arrival he makes them long orations on the subject which has come up,
and to encourage them. At each proposal he asks their advice, and if they consent they all make an exclamation, saying Hau, in
a long, drawn-out voice; if not, some Sagamos will begin to speak, and give his opinion, and both are heard with
attention…(Lescarbot, 1914, p.264).
and seems to have witnessed this sort of procedure in the case of Panoniac (Lescarbot, 1914,
pp.273-283; Champlain, 1922, pp.443-446). Biard’s account fully confirms this description, and adds the fact that
the confederates were called Ricamanen (i.e. LICAMANEN) (Biard, 1616; in J.R. Vol.3, p.91); Dièreville’s statement
on the matter agrees with that given by Lescarbot (Dièreville, 1933, pp.156-157).
Le Clerq gives us an account of warfare somewhat at variance with those already presented, in
that the call upon the alliance is pictured as being done only as a last resort
Neither profit nor the desire to extend the boundaries of their province ever has influence in
the councils of war; and they never attack their enemies with the intention of seizing their country or of
subjugating them to the laws and the customs of Gaspesia. They are entirely content, provided they are in a
position to say “we have conquered” such and such “nations; we are avenged upon our enemies; and we have taken from
them a multitude of scalps, after having slaughtered great numbers of them in the heat of combat…”
They never ask the aid of their allies except in the last extremity, finding in their own
ambition courage enough to fight and overcome their enemies, if these be not invincible. They ask, nevertheless,
for auxiliary troops from their allies if they cannot themselves settle their quarrels; and they send ambassadors,
with collars of wampum, to invite these to take up the hatchet against the enemies of the nation.
War, however, is never declared except by advice of the old men, who alone decide, in the last
resort, the affairs of the country. They prescribe the order which must be followed in the execution of their
military undertakings; they fix the day of departure; and they assemble the young warriors to the war feast. These
come there with their usual arms, firmly resolved to fight valiantly and for the good of the nation. They paint
their faces in red before starting, in order, they say, to conceal from their comrades and from their enemies the
various changes of colour which the natural fear of combat sometimes makes appear in the face, as well as in the
heart, of the bravest and the most intrepid…(Le Clerq, 1910, pp. 265-266, 269).
For a detailed description of the rites attendant upon a formal Micmac declaration of war, we
must, however, turn to Maillard. The picture painted by this author and deriving from his observations of the Cape
Breton and Antigonish Micmac greatly supplements that provided by the earlier writers.
To give you a[n] idea of their prepratory ceremony for a declaration of war I shall here select
for you a recent example, in the one that broke out not long ago between the Micmaquis and Maricheets. These last
had put a cruel affront on the former, the nature of which you will see in the course of the following description:
but I shall call the Micmaquis the aggressors, because the first acts of hostility in the field began from them.
Those who mean to begin the war, detach a certain number of men to make incursions on the territories of their
enemies to ravage the country, to destroy the game on it, and to ruin all the beaver huts they can find on their
rivers and lakes whether entirely, or only half-built. From this expedition they return laden with game and peltry;
upon which the whole nation assemblies to feast on the meat, in a manner that has more of the carniverous brute in
it than of the human creature. Whilst they are eating, or rather devouring, all of them, young and old, great and
little, engage themselves by the sun, the moon, and the name of the ancestors, to do as much by the enemy-nation.
When they have taken care to bring off with them a live-beast, from the quarter in which they
have committed their ravage, they cut its throat, drink its blood, and even the boys with their teeth tear the head
and entrails to pieces, which they ravenously devour, giving thereby to understand, that those of the enemies who
shall fall into their hands, have no better treatment to expect at them.
After this they bring out Oorakins, (bowls of bark) full of that coarse vermillion which
is found along the coast of Chibucto, and on the west side of Acadia (Nova Scotia) which they moisten with the
blood of the animal if any remains, and add water to compleat the dilution. Then the old as well as the young,
smear their faces, belly and back with this curious paint; after which they trim their hair shorter, some of one
side of the head, some of the other; others leave only a small tuft on the crown of their head; others cut their
hair entirely off on the left or right side of it; some again leave nothing on it but a lock, just on the top of
their forehead, and of the breadth of it, that falls back on the nape of the neck. Some of them bare their ears,
and pass through the holes thus made in them, the finest fibril-roots of the fir, which they call Toobee,
and commonly use for thread, but on this occasion serve to string certain small shells. This military masquerade,
which they use at once for terror and disguise, being compleated, all the peltry of the beasts killed in the
enemy’s country, is piled in a heap; the oldest Sagamo, or chieftain of the assembly gets up, and asks,
“What weather is it? Is the sky clear? Does the sun shine?” On being answered in the affirmative, he orders the
young men to carry the pile of peltry to a rising ground or eminence, at some little distance from the cabin or
place of assembly. As this is instantly done, he follows them, and as he walks alone begins, and continues his
address to the sun…
Every one of the assistants, as well as men and women, listen attentively to this invocation,
with a kind of religious terror, and in a profound silence. But scarce is the pile on a blaze, but the shouts and
war-cries begin from all parts. Curses and imprecations are poured forth without mercy or reserve, on the enemy
nation. Every one, that he may succeed in destroying any particular enemy he may have in the nation against which
war is declared, vows as many skins or furs to be burnt in the same place in honor of the sun. Then they bring and
throw into the fire, the hardest stones they can find of all sizes, which are calcined in it. They take out the
properest pieces for their purpose, to be fastened to the end of a stick, made much in the form of a
hatchet-handle. They slit it at one end, and fix in the cleft any fragment of those burnt stones, that will best
fit it, which they further secure, by tying it tightly round with the strongest Toobee, or fibrils of
fir-root above mentioned; and then make use of it as a hatchet, not so much for cutting of wood, as for splitting
the skull of the enemy, when they can surprise him. They form also other instruments of war; such as long poles,
one of which is armed with bone of elk, made pointed like a small-sword, and edged on both sides, in order to reach
the enemy at a distance, when he is obliged to take to the woods. The arrows are made at the same time, pointed at
the end with a sharp bone. The wood of which these arrows are made, as well as the bows, must have been dried at
the mysterious fire, and even the guts of which the strings are made. But you are here to observe, I am speaking of
an incident that happened some years ago; for, generally speaking, they are now better provided with arms, and
iron, by the Europeans supplying them, for their chace, in favor of their dealings with them for their poltry. But
to return to my narration.
Whilst the fire is still burning, the women come like so many furies, with more than bacchanalian
madness, making the most hideous howlings, and dancing without any order, round the fire. Then all their apparent
rage turns of a sudden against the men. They threaten them, that if they do not supply them with scalps, they will
hold them very cheap, and will look on them as greatly inferior to themselves; that they will deny themselves to
their most lawful pleasures; that their daughters shall be given to none but such as have signalized themselves by
some military feat; that, in short, they will themselves find means to be revenged of them, which cannot but be
easy to do on cowards.
The men, at this, begin to parley with one another, and order the women to withdraw, telling
them, that they shall be satisfied; and that, in a little time, they may expect to have prisoners brought to them,
to do what they will with them.
The next thing they agree on is to send a couple of messengers, in the nature of heralds at arms,
with their hatchets, bows, and arrows, to declare war against the nation by whom they conceive themselves
aggrieved. Those go directly to the village where the bulk of the nation resides, observing a sullen silence by the
way, without speaking to any that may meet them. When they draw near the village, they give the earth several
strokes with their hatchets, as a signal of commencing hostilities in form; and to confirm it the more, they shoot
two of their best arrows at the village, and retire with the utmost expedition. The war is now kindled in good
earnest, and it behoves each party to stand well on its guard…(Maillard, 1758, pp.19-30)
Maillard’s description, as given thus far, is unique in the insight it gives us into the Micmac
philosophy of war, and in the wealth of detail presented concerning the ceremony of declaration of war. We have
very few other accounts of war customs of Northeastern Indians which are in any way detailed…
The Micmac ceremony of declaration of war as reported by Maillard seems to be similar in its
general configuration to those reported for other Woodland tribes to the south and west. The decision on the part
of a war leader to go upon the war path seems usually to have been followed by a meeting of the tribal or district
council, at which the proposed action was discussed, and approved or rejected. Approval was followed by the leader
mustering up members for his expedition, and by a war feast. During this latter rite the Micmac made a sacrifice to
the sun (one of the aspects of the Great Spirit) to invoke his protection and aid – an act also performed by the
Iroquois. The use of the sacred sacrificial fire for the preparation of the war implements is unreported elsewhere.
After the rites of declaring war had been completed, messages were sent to the enemy tribe to the effect that
hostilities were about to begin.
…it is now possible for us to proceed to more general and comparative problems, and to consider
the cultural position of the Micmac within their sector of the North American continent.
With respect to the subsistence economy the evidence seems to indicate that fish, sea mammals,
and other marine products were basic to Micmac existence, and that hunting activities became important and
essential only during the three months of the winter. In this respect the Micmac fall into a pattern characteristic
of the early peoples of the St. Lawrence drainage and of the New England coast, with the difference that the Micmac
lacked agriculture. The latter handicap, however, seems to have been more than made up by the Micmac’s extremely
favorable location relative to the marine biome. The common clichè to the effect that the Micmac were a
hunting-gathering people largely dependent upon the products of the chase seems to derive from (a), the
disproportionate prestige granted to hunting activities (reinforced in recent times by the activities of the fur
trade), (b), misconceptions concerning the subsistence patterns of the early historic “hunting” tribes of the St.
Lawrence river, and (c), preconceptions concerning the position of the Micmac tribe within the subsistence
groupings of the area.
In the matter of material culture items the Micmac show associations pointing both north and
south. The birch-bark “tipi-like” wigwams are typical of the circumpolar boreal forest, for instance. The “long
wigwams”, however, with their separate entrances for men and women (Hagar, 1896b, p.258), point in the direction of
New England and to the Iroquois. The use of birchbark for the houses, utensils, canoes, etc., is commonly regarded
as a feature of northern taiga-living peoples. But here it may reflect nothing more than the presence of suitable
birch trees. Micmac costume, at least in the matter of sleeves, was intermediate between the type worn in the
boreal forest and that won in the woodland. The so-called “Micmac pipe” here is at the most northerly and easterly
part of its distribution.
Micmac socio-political structure seems to have been the most complex of any known nonagricultural
group within the Northeast, standing in sharp contrast to the amorphous structuring reported from the
Montagnais-Naskapi. The family units were organized bilocally, and were monogamous or polygynous; bilocally and
bilaterally extended households or village units were also present. Kinship classifications largely ignored lineage
to emphasize age and generation differences. The political structuring allocated authority to hereditary and
regional chiefs, who functioned with the aid of councils of elders; furthermore, these regional chiefs recognized
the authority of hereditary “grand chiefs”. Chieftainship was usually inherited in the male line, falling to the
oldest son if the individual was capable.
Micmac personality traits exhibited many, but not all, of the features observed at later dates
for the more western Algonquians, namely the Montagnais-Naskapi, the Algonkins, the Ojibwa, the Saulteaux, and also
the Huron (Wyandet). Among these more western Indians a characteristic syndrome as described in the literature
involves an elaborately extended pattern of emotional restraint or inhibition – effective in almost all aspects of
personal and social relationships, and extending into the philosophical system. This pattern reveals itself
particularly in the inhibition of overt aggression, and in the commonly manifested social ideal of the generous
self-effacing individual (Hallowell, 1946, pp.204-225). Those aspects of Micmac cultural behaviour which seem to
fall within the scope of this syndrome include: the inhibition of overt aggression; constrained inter-personal
relations; violent release of aggressive tendencies under alcoholic influence; a philosophy of Stoicism; the
presence of suicide; and a torture complex associated with warfare and participated in especially by the women.
Other aspects of Micmac culture run directly to the behaviour postulated by this syndrome hypothesis. Despite the
features just described, Micmac personality structure seems to have been capable of supporting affective emotional
relationships within the family system, of permitting emotional display in certain public situations, and of
allowing the individual to participate in an elaborate political structure in which authority was sometimes highly
concentrated (e.g. in case of war). The presence of these traits makes it rather unlikely that Hallowell’s
“atomistic personality” hypothesis can be used to explain all the behaviour patterns observed for the early Micmac.
James (1954) has presented similar reservations with respect to the early Chippewa.
The religious beliefs and rituals of the Micmac afford ample evidence of relationship with the
Central Algonquian system. Striking affinities appear not only with regard to the death rites, but also in the
shamanistic practices, in the beliefs regarding the deities and spirits (i.e., the Great Spirit and the transformer
diety), and in other traits. So close are the relationships, in fact, that Micmac supernaturalism must be regarded
as a variant of the Central Algonquian pattern.
Micmac warfare affords evidence of the complex nature of Micmac institutions, and also additional
evidence of Micmac affiliations with the agricultural Woodland. The relationships of the games also supports this
The Micmac therefore present us with the rather unusual picture of a nonagricultural maritime
peoples having intimate cultural connections with the agricultural tribes to the southwest, specifically with the
Central Algonquian groups. The relationships are so close, in fact, that there seems no doubt that the Micmac and
the Central Algonquians once formed a common group and occupied a single area. In this respect the thinness of the
agricultural veneer upon the Central Algonquians has some interesting implications when viewed in the light of
Micmac culture. This, however, may speak less for the recency or antiquity of agriculture among these people than
for a completely different orientation. From the standpoint of complexity of institutions and beliefs there is no
doubt that the Micmac and the Central Algonquians form a part of the Woodland peoples. Micmac culture derives its
uniqueness through its maintenence of a Woodland-type culture in a non-agricultural environment.