Page 28 - European Impact on the Micmac Culture
ISSUE : Issue 31
Published by Ronald Caplan on 1982/6/1
Bear ceremonialism was also practiced by the Micmac. Esteem for the bear is in fact common among boreal hunting peoples of northern Eurasia and North America, and has the following characteristics: the beast is typically hunted in the early spring, while still in hibernation. It is addressed, when either dead or alive, with honorific names; a conciliatory speech is made to the animal, either before or after killing it, by which the hunter apologizes for his act and perhaps explains why it is necessary; and the carcass is respectfully treated, those parts not used (especially the skull) being ceremonially disposed of and the flesh consumed in accordance with taboos. Such rituals are intended to pro? pitiate the spiritual controller of the bears so that he will continue to furnish game to the hunter. Among the Micmac the bear's heart was not eaten by young men lest they get out of breath while travel? ing and lose courage in danger. The bear carcass could be brought into the wigwam only through a special door made specifi? cally for that purpose, either in the left or right side of the structure. This ritu? al was based on the Micmac belief that their women did not "deserve" to enter the wigwam through the same door as the animal. In fact, we are told that childless women actually left the wigwam at the approach of the body and did not return until it had been entirely consumed. By means of such rituals the hunter satisfied the soul- spirit of the slain animal. Of the present- day Mistassini (Montagnais) hunter, Speck writes that "should he fail to observe these formalities an unfavorable reaction would also ensue with his own soul-spirit, his 'great man' it is called. In such a case the 'great man' would fail to ad? vise him when and where he would find his game. Incidentally the hunter resorts to drinking bear's grease to nourish his 'great man.'" Perhaps it was for a similar reason that the Micmac customarily forced newborn infants to swallow bear or seal oil before eating anything else. If taboo was associated with fishing, we have little record of it; the only explic? it evidence is a prohibition against the roasting of eels, which, if violated, would prevent the Indians from catching others. From this and from the fact that the Restigouche division of the Micmac wore the figure of a salmon as a totem a- round their neck, we may surmise that fish, too, shared in the sacred and S3niibolic world of the Indian, Control over these supernatural forces and communication with them were the principal functions of the shaman, who served in Mic? mac society as an intermediary between the spirit realm and the physical. The lives and destinies of the natives were profound? ly affected by the ability of the shaman to supplicate, cajole, and otherwise manip- cottages and golf coarse Located on a particularly beautiful site overlool
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