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Page 33 - European Impact on the Micmac Culture

Published by Ronald Caplan on 1982/6/1 (344 reads)

in general with their numerous misfortunes, together with the fact that they never clearly understood the Christian message anyway, but always saw it in terms of their own cosmology. As all religious systems reflect their cul? tural milieux, so did seventeenth-century Christianity. Polygamy was condemned by the French missionaries as immoral, the consultation of shamans was discouraged, the custom of interring material goods was criticized, eat-all feasts were denounced as gluttonous and shortsighted, and the In? dians were disabused of many of their so- called superstitions (taboos). The priests attacked the Micmac culture with a marvel? ous fervor and some success. Although they could not have appreciated it, they were aided in this endeavor by an obsolescent system of taboo and spiritual awareness; Christianity merely delivered the coup de grace. The result of this Christian onslaught on a decaying Micmac cosmology was, of course, the despiritualization of the material world. Commenting on the process of despir? itualization, Denys (who was a spectator to this transformation in the mid-seven? teenth century) remarked that it was accom? plished with "much difficulty"; for some of the Indians it was achieved by relig? ious means, while others were influenced by the French customs, but nearly all were affected "by the need for the things which come from us, the use of which has become to them an indispensable necessity. They have abandoned all their own utensils, whether because of the trouble they had as well to make as to use-them, or because of the facility of obtaining from us, in ex? change for skins which cost them almost nothing, the things which seemed to them invaluable, not so much for their novelty as for the convenience they derived there? from." In the early years of the fur trade, be? fore the establishment of permanent posts among the natives, trading was done with the coastwise fishermen from May to early fall. In return for skins of beaver, otter, marten, moose, and other furbearers, the Indians received a variety of fairly cheap commodities, principally tobacco, liquor, powder and shot (in later years), biscuit, peas, beans, flour, assorted clothing, wam? pum, kettles, and hunting tools. The suc? cess of this trade in economic terms must be attributed to pressure exerted on a rel? atively simple society by a complex civili? zation and, perhaps even more importantly, by the tremendous pull of this simple so? cial organization on the resources of Eur? ope . To the Micmac, who like other Indians measured the worth of a tool or object by the ease of its construction and use, the technology of Europe became indispensable. But as has already been shown, this was not simply an economic issue for the Indi? an; the Indian was more than just "econom? ically seduced" by the European's trading goods. One must also consider the metaphys? ical implications of Indian acceptance of the European material culture. European technology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was largely incompat? ible with the spiritual beliefs of the eastern woodland Indians, despite the ob? servation made above that the Micmacs read? ily invested trading goods with spiritual power akin to that possessed by their own implements. As Denys pointed out, the trade goods which the Micmac so eagerly ac? cepted were accompanied by Christian relig? ious teachings and French custom, both of which gave definition to these alien ob? jects. In accepting the European material culture, the natives were impelled to ac? cept the European abstract culture, espec? ially religion, and so, in effect, their own spiritual beliefs were subverted as they abandoned their implements for those of the white man. Native religion lost not only its practical effectiveness, in part owing to the replacement of the tradition? al magical and animistic view of nature by the exploitive European view, but it was no longer necessary as a source of defini? tion and theoretical support for the new Europe-derived material culture. Western technology made more "sense" if it was ac? companied by Western religion. Under thesfe circumstances in the early con? tact period, the Micmac's role within his ecosystem changed radically. No longer was he the sensitive fellow-member of a symbol? ic world; under pressure from disease, Eur? opean trade, and Christianity, he had apos- tatized--he had repudiated his role within the ecosystem. Former attitudes were re? placed by a kind of mongrel outlook which combined some native traditions and be? liefs with a European rationale and motiva? tion. Our concern here is less to document Morrison's Stores Ltd I rthftiSv"- iHome Hardware General Merchants Celebrating over 100 Years of Service St. Peters Richmond County, Nova Scotia BOE 3B0 '.3'3),
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