Page 25 - The Four Lives of the Micmac Copper Pot
ISSUE : Issue 24
Published by Ronald Caplan on 1979/12/1
tion must have become increasingly rare after the copper kettle entered the main? stream of Micmac domestic life. If we are to trust Denys, and there is no reason not to, the new copper kettle con? ferred upon the Micmac an unprecedented des:ree of mobility. "The axes, the ket? tles, the knives, and everything that is supplied them," he unhesitatingly de? clared, "is much more convenient and port? able than those which they had in former times, when they were obliged to go to camp near their grotesque kettles, in place of which to-day they are free to go camp where they wish. One can say that in those times the immovable kettles were the chief rep-ulators of their lives, since they were able to live only in places where these were." And again: "They have p-ood axes, knives more convenient for their work, and kettles easy to carry. This is a great convenience for them, as they are not obliged to go to the places where were their kettles of wood, of which one never sees any at present, as they have entirely abandoned the use of them." We mif'ht interject that Denys is consid? ered a highly reliable source on Micmac customs. As George MacBeath, his biogra? pher in the Dictionary of Canadian Biogra? phy: 1000 to 1700, phrased it, he was a man possessed of a "thorough knowledge of his subject." Fitting all of the above pieces of evi? dence together, it is clear that the early historic Micmac had a seasonal migration pattern of winters spent inland and sum? mers spent on the coast. There is, further? more, compelling evidence that this prac? tice may have been aboriginal, although one cannot be certain. From Nicolas Denys we are led to believe that Micmac house? holds habitually repaired to interior or coastal campsites where were located their stationary, tree-trunk cauldrons. Of course it would be naive to suggest that the location of Micmac settlement was de? termined by the position of these wooden cauldrons. Quite the reverse, Micmac house? holds picked an area for its potential re? sources and other delights, and then fash? ioned a cauldron as a matter of course. We know from early French accounts of this settlement process that interior campsites pNE-STOP-SHOPPINQ for HmNK & BMUty 564-8161 were invariably either riverine, lacus? trine , 'or (we may add) tidal pond in their orientation. Coastal sites were probably most commonly situated in bays, again a- long a river- or stream-bank. Evidently this procedure applied to both individual families and, in a loose sense, to groups of families, or bands--bands typically de? rived their name from a prominent river, and band chiefs were said to preside over a certain river district. Thus, in sum, individual households were accustomed to locate a campsite beside a body of water which was in the vicinity of the band riv? er. And there they hewed out their ungain? ly wooden cauldrons. In keeping with the dictates of the seasons, families moved from seacoast to interior and back again, invariably setting up camp in the shadow of their wooden cauldrons--vessels which eventually acquired a mildly magnetic quality, in the sense that they came to symbolize the domestic focus of the clam? ming beach or hunting area. This must be what Denys had in mind when he referred to the regulatory effect these had on Micmac seasonal migration and settlement habits. Then came the fur trade, and with it an overpowering urge to range indisciminately, to hunt beyond the usual bounds of one's area in search of the precious pelts and hides. As the prices of these articles soared, furbearers and browsers were hounded to near extinction--an ecological and (for the Indian) cultural catastrophe facilitated by the portable copper kettle. Recalling Denys' words, the kettle con? ferred upon these people the freedom "to go camp where they wish." The implication is that in a logistic sense, the copper kettle shares in the responsibility for the reckless slaughter of wildlife atten? dant upon the seventeenth-century Acadian fur trade. The wooden cauldrons were now rendered obsolete, both practically and symbolically. For, where they had stood for permanence and stability, their suc? cessor the copper kettle bespoke mobility and chaos. We judge there was chaos from the curious fact that the Micmac resorted to an allot? ment system of land tenure in the late seventeenth century. "It is the right of the head of the nation," revealed Le- Clercq, "according to the customs of the Celebratina 75 >fears of Servioe ''peedy Propane PILLING STATIONS! Speedy Propane Bulk Plant Kings Road, Sydney J.E.Benoit. Arichat Robin's. Cheticamp Fraser*8 Campground. Baddeck Inlet Campground. Baddeck Bob Wilson*a Fina. Reserve
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