Academic journal article Ethnologies

Native Witchcraft Beliefs in Acadian, Maritime and Newfoundland Folklore

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Native Witchcraft Beliefs in Acadian, Maritime and Newfoundland Folklore

Article excerpt

Les legendes et les croyances traditionnelles acadiennes ont ete recueillies et etudiees par differents chercheurs, la premiere etant Catherine Jolicoeur, qui amassa approximativement 400 recits traitant de la population autochtone des Maritimes, alors qu'elle menait ses enquetes de terrain dans les zones acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick. Cet article s'interesse a la question de la croyance en la sorcellerie amerindienne, non seulement dans le folklore acadien mais egalement chez les anglophones des Maritimes et de Terre-Neuve, afin de mettre en valeur les ressemblances ou les differences entre leurs systemes traditionnels de croyance ainsi que leurs attitudes envers les groups amerindiens. On etablit une comparaison entre les positions des groupes catholiques et protestants, et on porte une attention particuliere aux questions liees au sexe et a l'identite des << sorcieres >>, en s'appuyant sur des sources allant du dix-septieme au vingtieme siecle. L'article demontre que durant toutes les periodes de l'histoire, depuis les premiers contacts entre les Europeens et les populations autochtones des provinces maritimes, ces dernieres ont ete percues par les Europeens comme etant potentiellement dangereuses et elles ont ete soupconnees de posseder des pouvoirs surnaturels et malveillants.

Acadian traditional legends and beliefs have been collected and studied by various scholars, the foremost being Catherine Jolicoeur, who collected approximately 400 narratives dealing with the Aboriginal population of the Maritimes as part of her fieldwork in Acadian areas of New Brunswick. This article examines the issue of belief in Native witchcraft, not only in Acadian folklore, but also among anglophones of the Maritimes and Newfoundland, in order to point out similarities or differences in their traditional belief systems, and also in their attitudes towards Native groups. A comparison is made between the views held by Roman Catholic and Protestant groups, and particular attention is given to gender considerations regarding the identity of "witches," drawing on sources ranging from the late seventeenth up to the twentieth century. The article demonstrates that during all periods of history since the first contacts between Europeans and the Aboriginal populations of the Atlantic Provinces, the former have viewed the latter as being potentially dangerous, and have suspected them of possessing malevolent supernatural powers.

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In an article about Catherine Jolicoeur's vast collection of Acadian traditional legends, I chose the theme of supernatural narratives referring to the Aboriginal population of the Maritimes as an example of the many topics that can be explored thanks to her fieldwork (Greenhill and Tye 1997: 28-38). A survey of the approximately 400 recorded narratives dealing with Native people revealed that about 350 of them told of how the Mi'kmaq had the power to curse or to "witch" people and animals, causing them serious harm. In most of the narratives, contacts with the Natives take place when they stop at people's houses, either to sell baskets or other wares, or to beg for food. A small number of stories tell of how Natives supplied Acadians with various cures for their physical aliments, but in general, the Natives are seen as potential witches. One of Jolicoeur's informants even said that the first praver a Mi'kmaq woman taught her children was the secret of witchcraft [le secret du sorcelage] (Greenhill and Tye 1997: 36). I would now like to examine in more detail the issue of belief in Native witchcraft, not only in Acadian folklore, but also among anglophones of the Maritimes and Newfoundland, in order to point out similarities or differences in their traditional belief systems, and also in their attitudes towards Native groups.

It is difficult to establish an exact equivalency between English and French terms relating to witchcraft. …

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