Author: Janie Albreight
ANCIENT CULTURES: THE BEOTHUCK
Who were the Beothuk? Not much is known about the culture of the Beothuk people. The Beothuk Indians were the original inhabitants of the island of Newfoundland.
The Beothuk were primarily hunters, with caribou as their main source of meat. The Beothuk also harvested fish, seals and other seafood, which was plentiful along their coastline.
Upon first European contact in the 16th Century, there were about 2,000 Beothuk people. By the early 19th Century, however, the beothuk people had been completely wiped out. The last recorded Beothuk, Nancy Shanawhdit, died in 1829.
The Beothuk were also known as the Ulno, the Skraelling and the Red Indians.
The Beothuk spoke a unique language which may have been remotely connected to the Algonquin tongue spoken on the mainland.
The Beothuk became very skilled fishermen and adept at handling their canoes while harpoon their prey with spears.
When Europeans and the traditional Beothuk tribal enemies, the Micmac, began to inhabit beothuk coastal areas, the Beothuk fled to the interior of the island. Without the ready food supply of the coastline, many Beothuk began to die of starvation.
Beothuk were known as Red Indians primarily because of their extensive use of red ochre. A greasy mixture of red ochre would be applied to the face, body, and hair as well as to most personal possessions. In fact, it is believed that the term "redskin" as used to apply to all Native American Indians originated at the time of contact between Europeans and the Beothuk.
The Beothuk lived in small, independent bands made up of extended families. Their dwellings were either conical wigwams which were covered with sheets of birch bark or larger square shaped wigwams used in the Summer time.
Around 1800, the Beothuk begun building European style log houses. Metal tools and weapons also came into use among the Beothuk around that time. Rather than trading for them, the Beothuk became extremely adept at stealing from the French and English settlers of Newfoundland.
Historians believe the Beothuk had been living in Newfoundland since at least 200 BC. Around the end of the 10th Century the Vikings reached Newfoundland and came across the Beothuk, whom they referred to as Skraelings.
Relations were generally peaceful until the Vikings left in the 11th Century. The Beothuk next encountered Europeans when Venetian explorer John Cabot came to Newfoundland in 1497. His tales of the abundance of fish in the area on his return to Europe sent masses of fishing boats into the region.
Unfortunately some of these fishermen were interested in more than just fish. Dozens of Beothuk were captured to be taken to Europe as slaves.
As European summer fishing villages sprang up along the coast, the Boethuk constantly raided the settlements and a climate of distrust and hatred was mutually established.
The first permanent settlement on the island was built by the British in 1610. Soon the French also established permanent settlements.
In 1613 a French fisherman shot a Beothuk who was attempting to steal from him. The Beothuk killed 37 French in retaliation. The French, who were allies of the Mic Mac, encouraged them to settle on the island. The Mic Mac were able to drive the Beothuk into the interior of the island.
For the next 150 years the Beothuk basically kept to themselves. Due to their isolation, the Beothuk managed to avoid the epidemics that would later kill many North American Indians, but the Beothuk people were starving to death. Those that did venture into European settlements in search of food were shot on sight.
When contact was re-established in the 1820ís a climate of mistrust and murder on both sides prevailed. In 1829, the last known Beothuk died, and the Beothuk were at last extinct.
Shanawdithit, last survivor of the Beothuk tribe
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