© A.H.B.I. Associates Inc.

Blueberry Warriors and Men with Horns

Fantasy & Folly in the New World

Joyce M. Wright Slightly   over   five   hundred   years   ago,   a   Genoese   named   Christopher   Columbus   set   sail   from   a   port   in   Spain   for lands   that   were   then   little   more   than   rumour   to   most   of   the   people   of   his   hemisphere   and,   perhaps   unwittingly, began   an   era   that   historians   would   thereafter   glorify   as   the   Age   of   Exploration.   It   was   a   momentous   time   for   the nations   involved   -   each   was   introduced   to   new   people,   new   ideas,   and   new   things.   Many   of   the   consequences were   unfortunate.   Some   were   tragic.   But   contact   also   brought   humorous   moments   in   which   Europeans   and Americans   demonstrated   just   how   alike   they   were   to   one   another   and,   half   a   millennium   later,   to   those   of   us   living today. Children   are   a   perfect   example.   Whatever   culture,   religion,   or   historical   era   they   happen   to   be   born   into,   they   all have   at   least   two   things   in   common:   their   brutal   application   of   logic   to   seemingly   mundane   situations   and   their uncanny   ability   to   perceive   when   an   individual   (generally   an   adult)   is   being   far   too   serious   for   his   own   good. François   Marbois,   secretary   of   the   French   legation   to   the   newly   formed   United   States,   records   an   example   of   the first   instance   during   a   1784   visit   to   the   Oneida:   a   native   boy   took   to   the   task   of   turning   chickens   on   a   spit   for   the evening   meal   with   such   care   and   precision   that   when   the   heat   of   the   fire   finally   forced   him   to   ask   a   friend   to   take over,   he   ended   up   tackling   his   friend   and   pummeling   him   for   not   performing   the   duty   to   his   satisfaction.   When questioned,   he   replied   that   he   was   upset   with   his   friend   for   turning   the   spit   in   the   opposite   direction,   thereby undoing all of his hard work by unroasting the chickens. When   Récollet   missionaries   first   encountered   the   Huron,   a   confederacy   of   five   Iroquoian-speaking   tribes   that   once lived in the region south of Georgian Bay, the adults may have envisioned trading with another nation.   But   the   children   simply   saw   fresh   targets   for   their   daring.   In   what   may   well   be   the   precursor   to   the   old   bucket-of- water-atop-the-door    trick,    young    Huron    boys    almost    four    hundred    years    ago    took    great    pride    in    stealthily approaching   the   dwelling   of   the   visiting   missionaries   and   cutting   the   cord   that   held   up   their   door   so   that   it   would fall   on   the   next   unfortunate   to   cross   the   threshold.   According   to   one   of   these   missionaries,   a   good-humoured   man named   Gabriel   Sagard,   the   mischievous   perpetrators,   like   children   everywhere,   would   then   practice   the   time- honoured   art   of   keeping   a   straight   face   as   they   vehemently   denied   their   role   in   the   prank.   Meanwhile,   however, they   plotted.   By   the   time   the   Jesuits   had   replaced   the   Récollet   missionaries   in   Huronia,   the   children   had   devised   a few   new   tricks.   In   winter,   when   the   snows   were   deep   and   the   air   chill,   they   would   throw   snowballs   through   the smoke-hole   of   the   Jesuits’   roof.   The   priests,   huddled   around   the   fire   inside,   would   watch   the   snowballs   drop   into the   flames.   The   Jesuits   weren’t   safe   while   attending   to   the   members   of   their   adopted   flock,   either.   On   more   than one   occasion,   these   dignified   representatives   of   the   Christian   church   were   forced   to   duck   swiftly   as   wayward cornstalks sailed over their heads. Of   course,   children   weren’t   the   only   ones   who   enjoyed   a   little   lighthearted   diversion   from   their   everyday   pursuits. The   adults,   too,   often   found   ignoring   their   visitors’   enticing   combination   of   ignorance   and   credulity   difficult,   which may   explain   how   Sagard,   unfamiliar   with   beavers,   came   to   accept   a   story   about   the   rodent’s   haulage   methods. When   building   their   dens,   some   Huron   wit   earnestly   informed   him,   large   troops   of   beavers   would   lumber   deep into   the   darkest   regions   of   the   forest,   industriously   cut   down   small   trees   and   gather   twigs,   then   select   the   eldest   or laziest   among   them,   make   him   lie   down   on   his   back,   and   carefully   arrange   the   selected   building   materials   on   his belly.   With   paws   wrapped   securely   around   his   load,   the   supine   beaver   would   then   be   hauled   -   in   much   the   same manner as a sled or a wagon - to the den-building site. However,   the   joking   went   both   ways.   A   story   in   the   Jesuit   Relations,   the   missionaries’   reports   to   their   superiors, tells   of   a   Huron   man   staring   into   the   face   of   a   Frenchman   “with   the   most   extraordinary   attention   and   profound silence”,   exclaiming   after   considering   him   a   long   time,   “Oh,   the   bearded   man!   Oh,   how   ugly   he   is!”   Aware   of   the Huron   horror   of   beards,   the   Frenchman   tried   to   convince   them   that   European   women,   too,   had   them.    It   was   only after   some   Huron   men   happened   to   encounter   Samuel   de   Champlain’s   young   wife   at   the   Quebec   settlement   that they understood that they had been made the butt of a joke, and that European women were, in fact, beardless. For   centuries   prior   to   Columbus’s   momentous   1492   voyage,   Europeans   had   indulged   their   taste   for   the   exotic through   an   imaginative   body   of   travel   literature.   In   works   such   as   the   Travels   of   Sir   John   Mandeville   and   Pliny’s Natural   History,   readers   were   told   of   races   of   supposed   subhumans   inhabiting   the   earth’s   remotest   regions, characterized    by    such    physical    deformities    as    multiple    eyes,    no    head,    or    backwards    feet.    Because    of    this, Europeans   who   journeyed   to   the   Americas   fully   expected   to   encounter   monsters   and   were   more   than   a   little surprised    when    they    did    not.     Almost    all    of    their    surviving    journals    and    reports,    in    fact,    include    astonished references    to    the    striking    beauty    of    the    people    that    they    did    encounter.     At    least    one    reference    specifically indicated   that   they   looked   “quite   human”.   These   beautiful   people,   in   turn,   quickly   assessed   the   situation   and   made good   use   of   it.   In   the   Caribbean,   Columbus   was   told   of   one-eyed,   dog-headed   cannibals.   On   the   St.   Lawrence River,   Jacques   Cartier   was   subjected   to   tales   of   races   of   people   lacking   anuses   or   with   only   one   leg.   Europeans across the hemisphere were on the receiving end of many a very tall tale. Donnacona,   the   Iroquois   chief   who   was   French   explorer   and   navigator   Jacques   Cartier’s   primary   contact   in   the   St. Lawrence   valley,   exhibited   a   particular   flair   for   such   farce.   Wishing   to   prevent   Cartier   from   journeying   into   territory where   he   might   establish   trade   agreements   of   which   Donnacona   was   not   a   party,   Donnacona   made   what   you might   call   a   devilish   decision.   He   had   three   of   his   men   paint   their   faces   black,   don   black-and-white   dog   skins,   and affix   long   horns   to   their   heads.   Then   he   had   them   paddle   nonchalantly   down   the   river   past   Cartier’s   anchored ship.   As   Cartier   looked   on,   one   of   the   men   (in   an   ironic   touch   considering   the   Christians’   own   proclivity   for preaching) made a marvelous speech as the other two paddled toward shore.    The   rest   of   Donnacona’s   people   immediately   seized   the   canoe   with   the   men   still   in   it   and   hauled   it   into   the   woods. Half   an   hour   later,   Donnacona’s   sons   Taignoagny   and   Domagaya   appeared   before   Cartier   giving   every   sign   of   the utmost   consternation.   “Taignoagny   began   to   speak   and   repeated   three   times   ‘Jesus’,   ‘Jesus’,   ‘Jesus’,   lifting   his   eyes toward   heaven.   Then   [Domagaya]   called   out   ‘Jesus’,   ‘Maria’,   ‘Jacques   Cartier’,   looking   up   to   heaven   as   the   other   had done”.    Cartier   was   then   duly   informed   that   the   appearance   of   the   devils   portended   a   most   severe   winter   -   so severe, in fact, that his journey would simply have to be cancelled. Such   dramatic   enactments   were   probably   relatively   rare,   however.   More   often   than   not,   Europeans   were   simply subjected   to   verbal   accounts   of   the   monsters   and   dangerous   enemy   nations   that   they   could   expect   to   find   if   they continued   on   their   chosen   course.   But   the   reverse   applied   as   well.   When   their   native   hosts   wished   them   to   go away   or,   at   least,   to   journey   in   a   particular   direction,   Europeans   were   told   wondrous   tales   of   gold,   pearls,   rubies, and    spices.    Though    Christopher    Columbus    disbelieved    the    tales    of    one-eyed,    dog-headed    cannibals,    he wholeheartedly   accepted   the   story   about   an   island   inhabited   entirely   by   women.   In   fact,   only   his   ship’s   terrible state of disrepair and the need to get back to Spain kept him from immediately seeking out the island. But   such   credulity   is   not   always   a   reflection   of   ignorance.   Sometimes   one’s   wit   simply   operates   at   a   lower   ebb   than normal   -   a   phenomenon   from   which   even   historical   figures   were   not   exempt.   In   the   early   1600s,   when   the   first governor    of    New    France    Samuel    de    Champlain    encountered    three    hundred    Odawa    warriors    bearing    clubs, bucklers,   bows,   and   arrows,   and   sporting   war   paint   and   all   of   the   other   paraphernalia   of   men   about   to   do   battle (dressed   to   kill,   so   to   speak),   he   didn’t   give   a   moment’s   pause   at   their   chief’s   explanation   for   their   presence   outside of   their   accustomed   territory.   No   doubt   for   years   thereafter   the   Odawa   word   for   “gullible”   was   associated   with   the name   of   the   man   who   actually   believed   that   three   hundred   battle-ready   warriors   were   spending   the   day   picking blueberries. On   another   occasion,   Champlain,   known   for   his   map-making   skills,   was   so   distracted   by   the   appearance   of   a   small, brightly   coloured   bird   that   he   single   mindedly   followed   it   deep   into   the   forest   as   it   flitted   from   tree   to   tree.   By   the time   that   the   little   bird   -   probably   an   eastern   subspecies   of   the   now-extinct   Carolina   parakeet   -   tired   of   the   game and   flew   away,   the   explorer   was   thoroughly   lost.   He   spent   three   nights   alone   in   the   cold   winter   woods   before   he was   finally   able   to   find   his   way   back   to   his   native   allies,    who   chastised   him   soundly   -   and   justifiably   -   for   his foolishness. Like   travellers   of   any   era,   the   European   explorers   had   to   contend   with   the   difficulties   of   foreign   languages.   This was   particularly   true   in   the   Americas   where   different   languages   abounded.   Some   of   the   explorers,   like   Alvar Nuñez   Cabeza   de   Vaca,   who   travelled   for   eight   years   through   what   is   now   Florida,   Texas,   and   Mexico,   discovered that   they   had   a   facility   for   multilingual   communication.   Others   were   less   successful.   After   living   and   working among   the   Mohawk   for   twenty   years,   one   seventeenth-century   European   trader   simply   concluded   that   they changed   their   entire   language   every   two   or   three   years.    His   difficulty,   however,   may   not   have   been   entirely   his fault.    Other   visitors   to   the   Americas,   like   Henri   Joutel,   who   was   part   of   the   ill-fated   La   Salle   expedition   to   Texas, discovered   that   the   native   words   he   was   taught   did   not   always   mean   precisely   what   he   thought   they   did.   He realized    this    when    he    noticed    that    at    times    his    hosts    would    break    into    uproarious    laughter    whenever    he attempted to speak their language. Not    only    was    the    land    and    its    people    foreign    to    the    Europeans;    the    wildlife,    too,    posed    some    unexpected surprises.   Some   species   simply   did   not   exist   in   Europe.   Not   knowing   how   to   describe   them   for   those   at   home, travellers   often   resorted   to   comparisons.   Walruses   were   described   alternatively   as   “oxen”   and   “horses”,   beluga whales   were   said   to   have   the   head   “of   a   greyhound”,   and   bison,   somewhat   more   reasonably,   were   called   “hairy cattle”.   The   lasting   impression   left   by   skunks   simply   earned   them   the   titles   of   “Devil’s   Brats”   and   “Sons   of   the   Devil” (Fils diable): [It]   is   a   low   animal,   about   the   size   of   a   little   dog   or   cat.   I   mention   it   here,   not   on   account   of   its   excellence,   but to   make   of   it   a   symbol   of   sin...It   has   black   fur,   quite   beautiful   and   shining;   and   has   upon   its   back   two perfectly   white   stripes...at   the   first   glance,   you   would   say,   especially   when   it   walks,   that   it   ought   to   be   called Jupiter’s   little   dog.   But   it   is   so   stinking,   and   casts   so   foul   an   odor,   that   it   is   unworthy   of   being   called   the   dog of Pluto. No sewer ever smelled so bad...your heart almost fails you”. By   the   late   sixteenth   century,   the   Europeans   were   so   accustomed   to   encountering   strange   new   animals   that,   on one   occasion   at   least,   they   mistook   men   for   beasts.   During   an   expedition   to   find   the   elusive   Northwest   Passage, Martin   Frobisher   encountered   a   number   of   Inuit   men   hunting   in   their   kayaks   and,   at   first,   thought   them   to   be porpoises, seals, or “strange fish”. The   French   did   get   some   of   their   own   back,   however,   when   they   introduced   donkeys   to   North   America.   The   beasts, thankful   to   be   ashore   after   their   long   voyage,   “joyously   brayed”   as   they   were   led   off   the   ship.   The   gathered   Huron, unaccustomed    to    large    domesticated    animals,    immediately    hightailed    it    into    the    nearby    woods    without    a backward glance. At   least   one   European   visitor   also   managed   to   leave   an   impression   on   the   wildlife.   Having   sought   a   quiet   spot   in the   woods   to   pray,   the   missionary   Gabriel   Sagard   was   spotted   by   a   partridge.   Slowly   approaching   the   kneeling man,   the   bird   looked   him   straight   in   the   eye,   studied   him   closely   for   some   minutes,   spread   out   its   tail   “like   a peacock”,   and   then   unhurriedly   walked   back   the   way   it   had   come,   occasionally   looking   back   at   Sagard   over   its shoulder.   Sagard   documented   the   incident   with   some   amusement   but,   considering   the   rest   of   his   experience   with North   American   wildlife,   the   partridge   was   lucky   to   escape   the   gentle   man’s   stew   pot.   Indeed,   Sagard’s   description of   the   year   that   he   spent   in   North   America   reads   more   like   the   jubilant   adventures   of   a   gourmand   than   of   a Christian   brother.   As   his   ship   approached   the   shores   of   the   continent,   Sagard   sampled   several   marine   species, including:   cuttlefish   (“very   good   when   fried,   like   hard-boiled   white   of   egg”),   dolphin   fish   (“a   little   dry”),   porpoise   (“a great   treat”),   cod,   and   halibut   (“very   good...fried   and   boiled   in   slices”).   As   the   ship   entered   the   mouth   of   the   St. Lawrence   River,   birds   and   their   eggs   were   added   to   the   menu,   including   the   now-extinct   great   auk.    Even   a   walrus failed   to   evade   the   man’s   palate   (apparently,   it   tastes   somewhat   like   veal).   Further   up   the   Gaspé,   he   encountered lobster,   trout,   toads,   hare,   herrings,   larks,   sea   urchins,   and   partridge.   During   the   time   that   he   spent   with   the   Huron near   the   shores   of   the   Great   Lake   that   bears   their   name,   he   was   able   to   sample,   among   many   other   things,   dog (“rather like pork”), beaver (“most excellent”), and eagle (“very good”). He   did,   like   many   Europeans   after   him,   have   some   difficulty   consuming   the   Huron’s   customary   fare,   but   then   the Huron   were   equally   disgusted   when   they   caught   him   adding   wild   onions   to   his   porridge.   They   tended   to   stay   away on   such   occasions,   declaring   that   Sagard’s   breath   “smelt   too   bad”.   But,   if   the   Huron   in   general   were   disgusted   by their   European   visitor’s   choice   of   seasoning,   one   particular   Huron   man   was   rather   surprised   by   the   potency   of   one of   their   condiments.   Not   knowing   that   mustard   was   intended   to   be   consumed   with   meat   in   small   amounts,   the   old gentleman   took   a   heaping   spoonful   and   this   good   fellow,   wishing   to   show   the   strength   of   his   courage,   strove   to keep   his   countenance.   His   tears,   however,   betrayed   him,   although   he   set   his   teeth   and   compressed   his   lips   to   the utmost;   until   at   last   the   little   maintenance   of   appearances   and   facial   control   that   he   possessed   escaped   him,   and he was left highly astonished at the strength of that “yellow porridge”. One   of   the   Age   of   Exploration’s   most   profound   effects   was   its   impact   on   the   spiritual   beliefs   of   the   cultures   of Europe   and   the   Americas.   In   Europe,   most   people   accepted   as   fact   the   Bible   story   of   Genesis.   But   nowhere   in Genesis   was   there   an   explanation   for   all   of   the   “new”   peoples   that   the   Europeans   began   to   encounter   in   the fifteenth   century.   Were   they   the   descendants   of   Adam   and   Eve,   or   perhaps   of   Cain,   or   Noah’s   son,   Ham?   Could they    even    be    descended    from    Eve    and    Satan?     Meanwhile,    the    native    peoples    themselves    were    likewise speculating    on    the    origin    of    the    Europeans.    The    Iroquois,    for    example,    hypothesized    that    they    were    the descendants     of     a     supernatural     man-being     named     Tawiscaron     who,     like     the     Christian     Satan,     was     the personification    of    evil.    The    Inuit    were    even    less    flattering:    they    concluded    that    the    Europeans    must    be    the offspring of an unruly girl of their mythology whose father forced her to marry a dog. Europeans   were   accustomed   to   worshipping   a   single   deity   in   purpose-built   structures   (churches),   supervised   by   a hierarchy   of   priests   whose   only   task   in   life   was   to   administer   to   their   spiritual   needs.   In   contrast,   for   most   native cultures,    spirituality    was    an    integral    component    of    everyday    living.    It    didn’t    require    special    places    or    days. Occasionally   someone   who   was   believed   to   be   particularly   spiritual   might   be   asked   for   assistance,   but   everyone was   thought   to   be   capable   of   communicating   with   the   supernatural   realm   himself.   For   instance,   when   an   Odawa man   decided   that   the   spirit   of   a   nearby   lake   was   responsible   for   the   bad   weather,   he   sacrificed   a   dog   in   the   hope that   the   storm   would   abate.   Apparently,   reverence   as   understood   by   Christians   was   not   part   of   the   equation:   “That is to appease thee”, he said.  “Keep quiet!” Perhaps    most    misunderstood    of    all,    however,    was    priestly    celibacy.    Although    natives    might    exercise    sexual abstinence   for   specific   purposes   (to   become   more   spiritual,   for   example),   it   was   never   a   permanent   feature   of their lives and they could not fathom why it should be so for anyone else: One   of   the   chief   and   most   annoying   embarrassments   they   caused   us   at   the   beginning   of   our   visit   to   their   country was   their   continual   importunity   and   requests   to   marry   us,   or   at   least   to   make   a   family   alliance   with   us,   and   they could   not   understand   our   mode   of   religious   life...and   in   these   importunities   the   women   and   girls   were   beyond comparison   more   insistent   and   plagued   us   more   then   the   men   themselves   who   came   to   petition   us   on   their behalf. Generally   speaking,   natives   better   tolerated   the   differences   between   people   than   their   European   visitors   did.   As one   native   man   who   had   adopted   Christianity   explained   to   a   Jesuit:   “One   should   not   be   surprised...at   the   little vexations   that   occur;   we   have   indeed   some   disagreements   in   our   own   country,   among   our   nearest   relations,   but we   do   not   hate   them   nor   leave   them   on   that   account;   we   look   upon   Father   Daniel   here   as   our   Father;   we   have   no inclination to leave him on account of little annoyances”. The   people   of   the   Age   of   Exploration   first   encountered   one   another   as   individuals,   not   as   representatives   of respective   cultures.   Humour   arose   as   naturally   as   argument.   To   truly   understand   the   past   and   to   honour   our collective ancestors, we must acknowledge the causes, not only of their conflicts, but of their laughter as well. © Joyce M. Wright Originally   published   under   the   title   “Blueberry   Warriors   and   Men   with   Horns:   Fantasy   &   Folly   in   the   New   World”   in the February/March 2002 issue of The Beaver magazine (pages 20-24).
© A.H.B.I. Associates Inc.

Blueberry Warriors and Men with Horns

Fantasy & Folly in the New World

Joyce M. Wright Slightly   over   five   hundred   years   ago,   a   Genoese   named   Christopher   Columbus   set   sail   from   a   port   in   Spain   for lands   that   were   then   little   more   than   rumour   to   most   of   the   people   of   his   hemisphere   and,   perhaps   unwittingly, began   an   era   that   historians   would   thereafter   glorify   as   the   Age   of   Exploration.   It   was   a   momentous   time   for   the nations   involved   -   each   was   introduced   to   new   people,   new   ideas,   and   new   things.   Many   of   the   consequences were   unfortunate.   Some   were   tragic.   But   contact   also   brought   humorous   moments   in   which   Europeans   and Americans   demonstrated   just   how   alike   they   were   to   one   another   and,   half   a   millennium   later,   to   those   of   us   living today. Children   are   a   perfect   example.   Whatever   culture,   religion,   or   historical   era   they   happen   to   be   born   into,   they   all have   at   least   two   things   in   common:   their   brutal   application   of   logic   to   seemingly   mundane   situations   and   their uncanny   ability   to   perceive   when   an   individual   (generally   an   adult)   is   being   far   too   serious   for   his   own   good. François   Marbois,   secretary   of   the   French   legation   to   the   newly   formed   United   States,   records   an   example   of   the first   instance   during   a   1784   visit   to   the   Oneida:   a   native   boy   took   to   the   task   of   turning   chickens   on   a   spit   for   the evening   meal   with   such   care   and   precision   that   when   the   heat   of   the   fire   finally   forced   him   to   ask   a   friend   to   take over,   he   ended   up   tackling   his   friend   and   pummeling   him   for   not   performing   the   duty   to   his   satisfaction.   When questioned,   he   replied   that   he   was   upset   with   his   friend   for   turning   the   spit   in   the   opposite   direction,   thereby undoing all of his hard work by unroasting the chickens. When   Récollet   missionaries   first   encountered   the   Huron,   a   confederacy   of   five   Iroquoian-speaking   tribes   that   once lived in the region south of Georgian Bay, the adults may have envisioned trading with another nation.   But   the   children   simply   saw   fresh   targets   for   their   daring.   In   what   may   well   be   the   precursor   to   the   old   bucket-of- water-atop-the-door    trick,    young    Huron    boys    almost    four    hundred    years    ago    took    great    pride    in    stealthily approaching   the   dwelling   of   the   visiting   missionaries   and   cutting   the   cord   that   held   up   their   door   so   that   it   would fall   on   the   next   unfortunate   to   cross   the   threshold.   According   to   one   of   these   missionaries,   a   good-humoured   man named   Gabriel   Sagard,   the   mischievous   perpetrators,   like   children   everywhere,   would   then   practice   the   time- honoured   art   of   keeping   a   straight   face   as   they   vehemently   denied   their   role   in   the   prank.   Meanwhile,   however, they   plotted.   By   the   time   the   Jesuits   had   replaced   the   Récollet   missionaries   in   Huronia,   the   children   had   devised   a few   new   tricks.   In   winter,   when   the   snows   were   deep   and   the   air   chill,   they   would   throw   snowballs   through   the smoke-hole   of   the   Jesuits’   roof.   The   priests,   huddled   around   the   fire   inside,   would   watch   the   snowballs   drop   into the   flames.   The   Jesuits   weren’t   safe   while   attending   to   the   members   of   their   adopted   flock,   either.   On   more   than one   occasion,   these   dignified   representatives   of   the   Christian   church   were   forced   to   duck   swiftly   as   wayward cornstalks sailed over their heads. Of   course,   children   weren’t   the   only   ones   who   enjoyed   a   little   lighthearted   diversion   from   their   everyday   pursuits. The   adults,   too,   often   found   ignoring   their   visitors’   enticing   combination   of   ignorance   and   credulity   difficult,   which may   explain   how   Sagard,   unfamiliar   with   beavers,   came   to   accept   a   story   about   the   rodent’s   haulage   methods. When   building   their   dens,   some   Huron   wit   earnestly   informed   him,   large   troops   of   beavers   would   lumber   deep into   the   darkest   regions   of   the   forest,   industriously   cut   down   small   trees   and   gather   twigs,   then   select   the   eldest   or laziest   among   them,   make   him   lie   down   on   his   back,   and   carefully   arrange   the   selected   building   materials   on   his belly.   With   paws   wrapped   securely   around   his   load,   the   supine   beaver   would   then   be   hauled   -   in   much   the   same manner as a sled or a wagon - to the den-building site. However,   the   joking   went   both   ways.   A   story   in   the   Jesuit   Relations,   the   missionaries’   reports   to   their   superiors, tells   of   a   Huron   man   staring   into   the   face   of   a   Frenchman   “with   the   most   extraordinary   attention   and   profound silence”,   exclaiming   after   considering   him   a   long   time,   “Oh,   the   bearded   man!   Oh,   how   ugly   he   is!”   Aware   of   the Huron   horror   of   beards,   the   Frenchman   tried   to   convince   them   that   European   women,   too,   had   them.    It   was   only after   some   Huron   men   happened   to   encounter   Samuel   de   Champlain’s   young   wife   at   the   Quebec   settlement   that they understood that they had been made the butt of a joke, and that European women were, in fact, beardless. For   centuries   prior   to   Columbus’s   momentous   1492   voyage,   Europeans   had   indulged   their   taste   for   the   exotic through   an   imaginative   body   of   travel   literature.   In   works   such   as   the   Travels   of   Sir   John   Mandeville   and   Pliny’s Natural   History,   readers   were   told   of   races   of   supposed   subhumans   inhabiting   the   earth’s   remotest   regions, characterized    by    such    physical    deformities    as    multiple    eyes,    no    head,    or    backwards    feet.    Because    of    this, Europeans   who   journeyed   to   the   Americas   fully   expected   to   encounter   monsters   and   were   more   than   a   little surprised    when    they    did    not.     Almost    all    of    their    surviving    journals    and    reports,    in    fact,    include    astonished references    to    the    striking    beauty    of    the    people    that    they    did    encounter.     At    least    one    reference    specifically indicated   that   they   looked   “quite   human”.   These   beautiful   people,   in   turn,   quickly   assessed   the   situation   and   made good   use   of   it.   In   the   Caribbean,   Columbus   was   told   of   one-eyed,   dog-headed   cannibals.   On   the   St.   Lawrence River,   Jacques   Cartier   was   subjected   to   tales   of   races   of   people   lacking   anuses   or   with   only   one   leg.   Europeans across the hemisphere were on the receiving end of many a very tall tale. Donnacona,   the   Iroquois   chief   who   was   French   explorer   and   navigator   Jacques   Cartier’s   primary   contact   in   the   St. Lawrence   valley,   exhibited   a   particular   flair   for   such   farce.   Wishing   to   prevent   Cartier   from   journeying   into   territory where   he   might   establish   trade   agreements   of   which   Donnacona   was   not   a   party,   Donnacona   made   what   you might   call   a   devilish   decision.   He   had   three   of   his   men   paint   their   faces   black,   don   black-and-white   dog   skins,   and affix   long   horns   to   their   heads.   Then   he   had   them   paddle   nonchalantly   down   the   river   past   Cartier’s   anchored ship.   As   Cartier   looked   on,   one   of   the   men   (in   an   ironic   touch   considering   the   Christians’   own   proclivity   for preaching) made a marvelous speech as the other two paddled toward shore.    The   rest   of   Donnacona’s   people   immediately   seized   the   canoe   with   the   men   still   in   it   and   hauled   it   into   the   woods. Half   an   hour   later,   Donnacona’s   sons   Taignoagny   and   Domagaya   appeared   before   Cartier   giving   every   sign   of   the utmost   consternation.   “Taignoagny   began   to   speak   and   repeated   three   times   ‘Jesus’,   ‘Jesus’,   ‘Jesus’,   lifting   his   eyes toward   heaven.   Then   [Domagaya]   called   out   ‘Jesus’,   ‘Maria’,   ‘Jacques   Cartier’,   looking   up   to   heaven   as   the   other   had done”.    Cartier   was   then   duly   informed   that   the   appearance   of   the   devils   portended   a   most   severe   winter   -   so severe, in fact, that his journey would simply have to be cancelled. Such   dramatic   enactments   were   probably   relatively   rare,   however.   More   often   than   not,   Europeans   were   simply subjected   to   verbal   accounts   of   the   monsters   and   dangerous   enemy   nations   that   they   could   expect   to   find   if   they continued   on   their   chosen   course.   But   the   reverse   applied   as   well.   When   their   native   hosts   wished   them   to   go away   or,   at   least,   to   journey   in   a   particular   direction,   Europeans   were   told   wondrous   tales   of   gold,   pearls,   rubies, and    spices.    Though    Christopher    Columbus    disbelieved    the    tales    of    one-eyed,    dog-headed    cannibals,    he wholeheartedly   accepted   the   story   about   an   island   inhabited   entirely   by   women.   In   fact,   only   his   ship’s   terrible state of disrepair and the need to get back to Spain kept him from immediately seeking out the island. But   such   credulity   is   not   always   a   reflection   of   ignorance.   Sometimes   one’s   wit   simply   operates   at   a   lower   ebb   than normal   -   a   phenomenon   from   which   even   historical   figures   were   not   exempt.   In   the   early   1600s,   when   the   first governor    of    New    France    Samuel    de    Champlain    encountered    three    hundred    Odawa    warriors    bearing    clubs, bucklers,   bows,   and   arrows,   and   sporting   war   paint   and   all   of   the   other   paraphernalia   of   men   about   to   do   battle (dressed   to   kill,   so   to   speak),   he   didn’t   give   a   moment’s   pause   at   their   chief’s   explanation   for   their   presence   outside of   their   accustomed   territory.   No   doubt   for   years   thereafter   the   Odawa   word   for   “gullible”   was   associated   with   the name   of   the   man   who   actually   believed   that   three   hundred   battle-ready   warriors   were   spending   the   day   picking blueberries. On   another   occasion,   Champlain,   known   for   his   map-making   skills,   was   so   distracted   by   the   appearance   of   a   small, brightly   coloured   bird   that   he   single   mindedly   followed   it   deep   into   the   forest   as   it   flitted   from   tree   to   tree.   By   the time   that   the   little   bird   -   probably   an   eastern   subspecies   of   the   now-extinct   Carolina   parakeet   -   tired   of   the   game and   flew   away,   the   explorer   was   thoroughly   lost.   He   spent   three   nights   alone   in   the   cold   winter   woods   before   he was   finally   able   to   find   his   way   back   to   his   native   allies,    who   chastised   him   soundly   -   and   justifiably   -   for   his foolishness. Like   travellers   of   any   era,   the   European   explorers   had   to   contend   with   the   difficulties   of   foreign   languages.   This was   particularly   true   in   the   Americas   where   different   languages   abounded.   Some   of   the   explorers,   like   Alvar Nuñez   Cabeza   de   Vaca,   who   travelled   for   eight   years   through   what   is   now   Florida,   Texas,   and   Mexico,   discovered that   they   had   a   facility   for   multilingual   communication.   Others   were   less   successful.   After   living   and   working among   the   Mohawk   for   twenty   years,   one   seventeenth-century   European   trader   simply   concluded   that   they changed   their   entire   language   every   two   or   three   years.    His   difficulty,   however,   may   not   have   been   entirely   his fault.    Other   visitors   to   the   Americas,   like   Henri   Joutel,   who   was   part   of   the   ill-fated   La   Salle   expedition   to   Texas, discovered   that   the   native   words   he   was   taught   did   not   always   mean   precisely   what   he   thought   they   did.   He realized    this    when    he    noticed    that    at    times    his    hosts    would    break    into    uproarious    laughter    whenever    he attempted to speak their language. Not    only    was    the    land    and    its    people    foreign    to    the    Europeans;    the    wildlife,    too,    posed    some    unexpected surprises.   Some   species   simply   did   not   exist   in   Europe.   Not   knowing   how   to   describe   them   for   those   at   home, travellers   often   resorted   to   comparisons.   Walruses   were   described   alternatively   as   “oxen”   and   “horses”,   beluga whales   were   said   to   have   the   head   “of   a   greyhound”,   and   bison,   somewhat   more   reasonably,   were   called   “hairy cattle”.   The   lasting   impression   left   by   skunks   simply   earned   them   the   titles   of   “Devil’s   Brats”   and   “Sons   of   the   Devil” (Fils diable): [It]   is   a   low   animal,   about   the   size   of   a   little   dog   or   cat.   I   mention   it   here,   not   on   account   of   its   excellence,   but to   make   of   it   a   symbol   of   sin...It   has   black   fur,   quite   beautiful   and   shining;   and   has   upon   its   back   two perfectly   white   stripes...at   the   first   glance,   you   would   say,   especially   when   it   walks,   that   it   ought   to   be   called Jupiter’s   little   dog.   But   it   is   so   stinking,   and   casts   so   foul   an   odor,   that   it   is   unworthy   of   being   called   the   dog of Pluto. No sewer ever smelled so bad...your heart almost fails you”. By   the   late   sixteenth   century,   the   Europeans   were   so   accustomed   to   encountering   strange   new   animals   that,   on one   occasion   at   least,   they   mistook   men   for   beasts.   During   an   expedition   to   find   the   elusive   Northwest   Passage, Martin   Frobisher   encountered   a   number   of   Inuit   men   hunting   in   their   kayaks   and,   at   first,   thought   them   to   be porpoises, seals, or “strange fish”. The   French   did   get   some   of   their   own   back,   however,   when   they   introduced   donkeys   to   North   America.   The   beasts, thankful   to   be   ashore   after   their   long   voyage,   “joyously   brayed”   as   they   were   led   off   the   ship.   The   gathered   Huron, unaccustomed    to    large    domesticated    animals,    immediately    hightailed    it    into    the    nearby    woods    without    a backward glance. At   least   one   European   visitor   also   managed   to   leave   an   impression   on   the   wildlife.   Having   sought   a   quiet   spot   in the   woods   to   pray,   the   missionary   Gabriel   Sagard   was   spotted   by   a   partridge.   Slowly   approaching   the   kneeling man,   the   bird   looked   him   straight   in   the   eye,   studied   him   closely   for   some   minutes,   spread   out   its   tail   “like   a peacock”,   and   then   unhurriedly   walked   back   the   way   it   had   come,   occasionally   looking   back   at   Sagard   over   its shoulder.   Sagard   documented   the   incident   with   some   amusement   but,   considering   the   rest   of   his   experience   with North   American   wildlife,   the   partridge   was   lucky   to   escape   the   gentle   man’s   stew   pot.   Indeed,   Sagard’s   description of   the   year   that   he   spent   in   North   America   reads   more   like   the   jubilant   adventures   of   a   gourmand   than   of   a Christian   brother.   As   his   ship   approached   the   shores   of   the   continent,   Sagard   sampled   several   marine   species, including:   cuttlefish   (“very   good   when   fried,   like   hard-boiled   white   of   egg”),   dolphin   fish   (“a   little   dry”),   porpoise   (“a great   treat”),   cod,   and   halibut   (“very   good...fried   and   boiled   in   slices”).   As   the   ship   entered   the   mouth   of   the   St. Lawrence   River,   birds   and   their   eggs   were   added   to   the   menu,   including   the   now-extinct   great   auk.    Even   a   walrus failed   to   evade   the   man’s   palate   (apparently,   it   tastes   somewhat   like   veal).   Further   up   the   Gaspé,   he   encountered lobster,   trout,   toads,   hare,   herrings,   larks,   sea   urchins,   and   partridge.   During   the   time   that   he   spent   with   the   Huron near   the   shores   of   the   Great   Lake   that   bears   their   name,   he   was   able   to   sample,   among   many   other   things,   dog (“rather like pork”), beaver (“most excellent”), and eagle (“very good”). He   did,   like   many   Europeans   after   him,   have   some   difficulty   consuming   the   Huron’s   customary   fare,   but   then   the Huron   were   equally   disgusted   when   they   caught   him   adding   wild   onions   to   his   porridge.   They   tended   to   stay   away on   such   occasions,   declaring   that   Sagard’s   breath   “smelt   too   bad”.   But,   if   the   Huron   in   general   were   disgusted   by their   European   visitor’s   choice   of   seasoning,   one   particular   Huron   man   was   rather   surprised   by   the   potency   of   one of   their   condiments.   Not   knowing   that   mustard   was   intended   to   be   consumed   with   meat   in   small   amounts,   the   old gentleman took a heaping spoonful and   this   good   fellow,   wishing   to   show   the   strength   of   his   courage,   strove   to   keep   his   countenance.   His   tears, however,   betrayed   him,   although   he   set   his   teeth   and   compressed   his   lips   to   the   utmost;   until   at   last   the   little maintenance   of   appearances   and   facial   control   that   he   possessed   escaped   him,   and   he   was   left   highly   astonished at the strength of that “yellow porridge”. One   of   the   Age   of   Exploration’s   most   profound   effects   was   its   impact   on   the   spiritual   beliefs   of   the   cultures   of Europe   and   the   Americas.   In   Europe,   most   people   accepted   as   fact   the   Bible   story   of   Genesis.   But   nowhere   in Genesis   was   there   an   explanation   for   all   of   the   “new”   peoples   that   the   Europeans   began   to   encounter   in   the fifteenth   century.   Were   they   the   descendants   of   Adam   and   Eve,   or   perhaps   of   Cain,   or   Noah’s   son,   Ham?   Could they    even    be    descended    from    Eve    and    Satan?     Meanwhile,    the    native    peoples    themselves    were    likewise speculating    on    the    origin    of    the    Europeans.    The    Iroquois,    for    example,    hypothesized    that    they    were    the descendants     of     a     supernatural     man-being     named     Tawiscaron     who,     like     the     Christian     Satan,     was     the personification    of    evil.    The    Inuit    were    even    less    flattering:    they    concluded    that    the    Europeans    must    be    the offspring of an unruly girl of their mythology whose father forced her to marry a dog. Europeans   were   accustomed   to   worshipping   a   single   deity   in   purpose-built   structures   (churches),   supervised   by   a hierarchy   of   priests   whose   only   task   in   life   was   to   administer   to   their   spiritual   needs.   In   contrast,   for   most   native cultures,    spirituality    was    an    integral    component    of    everyday    living.    It    didn’t    require    special    places    or    days. Occasionally   someone   who   was   believed   to   be   particularly   spiritual   might   be   asked   for   assistance,   but   everyone was   thought   to   be   capable   of   communicating   with   the   supernatural   realm   himself.   For   instance,   when   an   Odawa man   decided   that   the   spirit   of   a   nearby   lake   was   responsible   for   the   bad   weather,   he   sacrificed   a   dog   in   the   hope that   the   storm   would   abate.   Apparently,   reverence   as   understood   by   Christians   was   not   part   of   the   equation:   “That is to appease thee”, he said.  “Keep quiet!” Perhaps    most    misunderstood    of    all,    however,    was    priestly    celibacy.    Although    natives    might    exercise    sexual abstinence   for   specific   purposes   (to   become   more   spiritual,   for   example),   it   was   never   a   permanent   feature   of their lives and they could not fathom why it should be so for anyone else: One   of   the   chief   and   most   annoying   embarrassments   they   caused   us   at   the   beginning   of   our   visit   to   their   country was   their   continual   importunity   and   requests   to   marry   us,   or   at   least   to   make   a   family   alliance   with   us,   and   they could   not   understand   our   mode   of   religious   life...and   in   these   importunities   the   women   and   girls   were   beyond comparison   more   insistent   and   plagued   us   more   then   the   men   themselves   who   came   to   petition   us   on   their behalf. Generally   speaking,   natives   better   tolerated   the   differences   between   people   than   their   European   visitors   did.   As one   native   man   who   had   adopted   Christianity   explained   to   a   Jesuit:   “One   should   not   be   surprised...at   the   little vexations   that   occur;   we   have   indeed   some   disagreements   in   our   own   country,   among   our   nearest   relations,   but we   do   not   hate   them   nor   leave   them   on   that   account;   we   look   upon   Father   Daniel   here   as   our   Father;   we   have   no inclination to leave him on account of little annoyances”. The   people   of   the   Age   of   Exploration   first   encountered   one   another   as   individuals,   not   as   representatives   of respective   cultures.   Humour   arose   as   naturally   as   argument.   To   truly   understand   the   past   and   to   honour   our collective ancestors, we must acknowledge the causes, not only of their conflicts, but of their laughter as well. © Joyce M. Wright Originally   published   under   the   title   “Blueberry   Warriors   and   Men   with   Horns:   Fantasy   &   Folly   in   the   New   World”   in the February/March 2002 issue of The Beaver magazine (pages 20-24).