#2 The Gaspesians: Suicide, Shames, and Despair
     (Chrestien Le Clercq, 1675-1686)

The Gaspesians, however, are so sensitive to affronts which are offered them that they sometimes abandon themselves to despair, and even make attempts on their own lives, in the belief that the insult which has been done them tarnishes the honour and the reputation which they have acquired, whether in war or in hunting.

Such were the feelings of a young Indian who, on account of having received by inadvertence a blow from a broom, given by a servant who was sweeping the house, imagined that he ought not to survive this imaginary insult which waxed greater in his imagination in proportion as he reflected upon it. “What,” he said to himself, “to have been turned out in a manner so shameful, and in presence of so great a number of Indians, my fellow-countrymen, and after that to appear again before their eyes? Ah, I prefer to die! What shall I look like, in the future, when I find myself in the public assemblies of my nation? And what esteem will there be for my courage and my valour when there is a question of going to war, after having been beaten and chased in confusion by a maid-servant from the establishment of the captain of the French. It were much better, once more, that I die.” In fact he entered into the woods singing certain mournful songs which expressed the bitterness of his heart. He took and tied to a tree the strap which served him as a girdle, and began to hang and to strangle himself in earnest. He soon lost consciousness, and he would even infallibly have lost his life if his own sister had not happened to come by chance, but by special good fortune, to the very place where her miserable brother was hanging. She cut the strap promptly, and after having lamented as dead this man in who, she could not see any sign of life, she came to announce this sad news to the Indians who were with Monsieur Denys. They went into the woods and brought to the habitation this unhappy Gaspesian, who was still breathing though but little. I forced open his teeth, and, having made him swallow some spoonfuls of brandy, he came to himself, and a little later he recovered his original health.

His brother had formerly hung and strangled himself completely, in the bay of Gaspé, because he was refused by a girl whom he loved tenderly, and whom he sought in marriage. For, in fact, although our Gaspesians, as we have said, live joyously and contentedly, and although they sedulously put off, so far as they can, everything which can trouble them, nevertheless some among them fall occasionally into a melancholy so black and so profound that they become immersed wholly in a cruel despair, and even make attempts upon their own lives.

The women and the girls are no more exempt than the men from this frenzy, and, abandoning themselves wholly to grief and sadness caused either by some displeasure then may have received, or by the recollection of the death of their relatives and friends, they hang and strangle themselves, as formerly did the wives and daughters of the Milesians, whom only the apprehension of being exposed wholly nude in the public places, according to law that was made expressly for this purpose, kept from committing like cruelties. Nothing, however, has been effective up to the present in checking the mania of our Gaspesian women, of whom a number would miserably end their lives if, at the time when their melancholy and despair becomes known through the sad and gloomy songs which they sing, and which they make resound through the woods in a wholly dolorous manner, some one did not follow them everywhere in order to prevent and to anticipate the sad effects of their rage and fury. It is, however, surprising to see that this melancholy and despair become dissipated almost in a moment, and that these people, however afflicted they seem, instantly check their tears, stop their sighs, and recover their unusual tranquility, protesting to all those who accompany them, that they have no more bitterness in their hearts “…There is my melancholy gone by; I assure thee that I shall lament no more, and that I have lost any intention to hang and strangle myself.”

[#2] Micmac: “The Gaspesians: Suicide, Shame, and Despair,” from Chrestien Le Clercq, New Relation of Gaspesia [1675-1686] Toronto, Canada: Champlain Society, 1910, pp. 247-250.

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