Page 57 - Gobineau: Cape Breton's People, 1859
ISSUE : Issue 54
Published by Ronald Caplan on 1990/6/1
but it is no tonger compatible with new habits they must have devel? oped. Fomierly, in their early youth, they braved, almost naked, the most rigorous climate. Always outdoors, either waging war in vast ter? ritories or hunting big game for months on end, they not only devel? oped their physical strength but maintained it in shape by the simple and rough activities of their domestic lives. These men, women and children, used to swimming in ice cold waters, their naked bodies fa? miliar with the cold rain of winter, used to sleeping on cold rocks, nev? er caught head colds and found the interior of their wigwams, in com-1 parison to what they put up with all day, a place of absolute delights. Nowadays they are dressed and not properly. They cannot give up their rags but they shiver. No more wars, no more hunts, no more rough exercises, rather they spend their lives near the fire of the hut and suffer from the inadequacies of this imperfect and unhealthy abode. The humidity of the swamps and the unhealthy air of the fo? rests affect them; they suffer exactly as we would were we in their place and for the same reasons, and they die and their race is becom? ing extinct. In a few more years only, earth will cover their last graves. They are aware and resigned to this fate like, in similar cases, all the primitive races who are unable to adapt. That is why they are so at? tached to their priests who they see as the introducers to this future life which will soon be theirs. All they ask from them are words of consolation and hope. The situation in which the former Acadian colonists find themselves is totally different and one that reflects the differences of European nations. These settlers are not disappearing as a block, like their for? mer allies, but they are through assimilation. I have seen this every? where and history is constant on that score. Races, completely indivi? dualistic, half-caste though they are, instinctively domineering and invincible, will undergo a metamorphosis without too much trouble, know how to adopt new ideas and ways, burn what they have wor? shipped, worship what they have burned, and finally, they will learn to live under new guises and with new avocations. Our Acadians are in the process of becoming Englishmen. (Editor's footnote: It should be oointed out that Gobineau does not visit Cheticamp or Isle Madame.' They (the Acadians) speak English in the ordinary transactions of life because their neighbours, originally from the British Isles, make the use of that language a necessity. Almost everyone of them has half forgotten, or rather have imperfectly known their ancestral tongue so that when they want to use it, they handle it poorly as if it were a for? eign language. A certain number of their families have the peculiar custom of preventing their daughters from speaking English as a tok? en of fidelity to their origins. In this way, the children first learn the mother's tongue but, very quickly, they forget it or only learn the basic elements. In any event, many of these Acadians marry English- speaking girts and then everything in them is obliterated, including their first name which they pronounce in such a way as to make it unrecognizable. It would be a major mistake to give a meaning to the memory they have retained of their origins. It is to them, as it is to their neightx)urs, a simple subject of conversation. They have no particular interest in France. Inasmuch as they might have thoughts on such matters, they are convinced that America is the leading country of the worid. One must come from somewhere and they have no more curiosrty for the countryside of Normandy than a Nonwegian peasant wouW have for the southern Russian steppes from whence Odin and his compan? ions came; the difference being that the first emigration was accom? plished over several thousand years whilst the Acadians' is only a century and a half old. Our former compatriots, being entirely taken up by their local interests and preoccupations, see us very much like their fellow citizens of British origin, without much aversion but with? out much sympathy either. Tme, they are catholics and, as such, they do not have a great love for English domination but, in this, they associate themselves with the Irish to the point where there is no difference between them. With less flamboyance, less passion, less hatred, a little nwre solid reflec? tion inherited from their Norman ancestors, always zealous in their faith, they only part company with their enx)tional coreligionists when ideas quite typical of the character of the race from the Emerald Isle carry the latter beyond what is proper. The traditions of the great war which separated them from France and gave them to the British Crown are not construed as a national outrage, rather they only see the religious persecutions which followed. There happened then, tmly, acts that a wiser policy could have pre? vented. While all sorts of efforts were deployed to convert the Indi? ans, there was a deliberate policy of removing completely all French inhabitants from the newly conquered territories. Louisbourg which had cost us so much was totally destroyed. The Island's capital was removed to Halifax, in truth a much nwre advantageous and admira? ble site but, at the same time and far less felicitously, the population was expelled massively to Pennsylvania, Georgia and Virginia. The execution of the deed was even more cruel than the thought it? self. In the village of Grandpr6, which had roughly two thousand in? habitants, of which a thousand were children, soldiers appeared on September 10,1755, and their leader invited the inhabitants to a meeting in the church in order to receive, he said, a communication of vital interest to them. Once the settlers had assembled in the church, without any inkling of what was to happen, they were placed under guard and ordered to leave on ships which were waiting for them at the mouth of the Gaspereau. They refused in utter despair and they were locked up in the church for several days without food. Eventually, they submitted. 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