Courtship, Marriage, and Gender Roles
Digital History ID 633
A French missionary describes the economic activities of Huron men and women.
The occupations of the savages are fishing, hunting, and war; going off to trade, making lodges and canoes, or contriving the proper tools for doing so. The rest of the time they pass in idleness, gambling, sleeping, singing, dancing, smoking or going to feasts, and they are reluctant to undertake any other work that forms part of the women's duty except under strong necessity....
During winter with the twine twisted by the women and girls, they make nets and snares for fishing and catching fish in summer, and even in winter under the ice by means of lines or the seine-net through holes cut in several places. They make also arrows with the knife, very straight and long, and when they have no knives they use sharp-edged stones; they fledge them with feathers from the tails and wings of eagles, because these are strong and carry well in the air, and at the point with strong fish-glue they attach sharp-pointed stones or bones, or iron heads obtained in trade with the French. They also make wooden clubs for warfare, and shields which cover the whole body, and with animals' guts they make bow-strings and rackets for walking on the snow when they go for wood and to hunt....
Just as the men have their special occupation and understand wherein a man's duty consists, so also the women and girls keep their place and perform quietly their little tasks and functions of service. They usually do more work than the men, although they are not forced or compelled to do so. They have the care of the cooking and the household, of sowing and gathering corn, grinding flour, preparing hemp and tree-bark, and providing the necessary wood. And because there still remains plenty of time to waste, they employ it in gaming, going to dances and feasts, chatting and killing time, and doing just what they like with their leisure....
They make pottery, especially round pots without handles or feet, in which they cook their food, meat or fish. When winter comes, they make mats of reeds, which they hang in the doors of their lodges, and they make others to sit upon, all very neatly.... They dress and soften the skins of beaver and moose and others, as well as we could do it here, and of these they make their cloaks and coverings.... Likewise they make reed baskets, and others out of birchbark, to hold beans, corn and peas...meat, fish, and other small provender.... They employ themselves also in making bowls of bark for drinking and eating out of, and for holding their meats and soups. Moreover, the sashes, collars, and bracelets that they and the men wear are of their workmanship; and in spite of the fact that they are more occupied than the men, who play the noblemen among them and think only of hunting, fishing, or fighting, still they usually love their husbands better than the women here....
Clearing [land] is very troublesome for them, since they have no proper tools. They cut down the trees at the height of two or three feet from the ground, then they strip off all the branches, which they burn at the stump of the same trees in order to kill them, and in course of time they remove the roots. Then the women clean up the ground between the trees thoroughly, and at distances a pace apart dig round holes or pits. In each of these they sow nine or ten grains of maize, which they have first picked out, sorted, and soaked in water for a few days, and so they keep on until they have sown enough to provide food for two or three years, either for fear that some bad season may visit them or else in order to trade it to other nations for furs and other things they need....
The grain ripens in four months, or in three in some places. After that they gather it, and turning the leaves up and tying them round the ears arrange it in bundles hung in rows, the whole length of the lodge from top to bottom, on poles which they put up as a sort of rack....When the grain is quite dry and fit for storing the women and girls shell it, clean it, and put it into their great vats or casks made for the purpose and placed in the porch or some corner of the lodge.
Source: Gabriel Sagard, The Long Journey to the Country of the Hurons (1632) ed. by George M. Wrong, trans. by H.H. Langton (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1939).
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