Ethnicity and Sport in North American History and Culture

By George Eisen; David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

1

Early European Attitudes
toward Native American Sports
and Pastimes

George Eisen

Encounters between the early travelers and the original inhabitants of North America, sporadic as they were, formed the first impressions concerning the customs and manners of many Native-American tribes. Yet their depictions, often misconstrued, were scanty and sketchy by nature. For a more complete and detailed picture of Indian life, we must turn to missionaries and permanent settlers. All European chroniclers of America devoted some efforts to describe Indian customs, manners, and diversions. Opinions nevertheless differed. "I have observed," wrote the Jesuit missionary Paul Le Jeune at Quebec in 1633, "that after seeing two or three Savages do the same thing, it is at once reported to be a custom of the whole Tnbe." He further remarked that "there are many tribes in these countries who agree in a number of things and differ in many others; so that when it is said that certain practices are common to the Savages, it may be true of one tribe and not true of another." 1

The sage advice of this noted Jesuit obviously did not impress many of his contemporaries. The notion of the native as an unspoiled child of nature, on the one hand, and the violent heathen, on the other, was formulated alternately with much fervor. Nevertheless, the historical accounts differed mightily according to the imported national attitudes and religious beliefs of the observers. The historian Evelyn Page was correct in asserting that a historian "edges over into distortions, and into condemnation or praise on social, moral, or religious grounds, the measurements of which he has brought with him." Adventurers, missionaries, colonial administrators, and others were constrained to describe Indians in the terms of their own cultures. Judgments such as those of Lahontan, Wassenaer, de Vries, Penn, and many others have nurtured the concept, reaching its full exaltation by Rousseau, of the Noble Savage. One source wrote: "There is little authority among these nations.

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