Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Were the Beothuk Early Trashpaddlers?

The Beothuk as early trashpaddlers...that thought occurred to me around 5:30 this morning as my car and I slid around on some snow slickened roads. The Beothuk may very well have been early trashpaddlers and their particular form of trashpaddling may have played a role in their ultimate demise.
The reason I say this is because during the 1500s and 1600s fishermen from many nations visited Newfoundland and its waters on a seasonal basis only. These fishermen from afar would arrive in late spring, setup their fish drying stations on sandy spits of land (called "barasways" by the Basques) and spend all summer catching and drying codfish. In the fall they would head back to Europe leaving behind the stuff they planned to use the following summer and didn't want to drag to Europe and back. The Beothuk, watching from the forest, would witness these activities and the fishermen's ultimate departure. They probably concluded, or perhaps hoped, that the fishermen were gone for good. Therefore, it must have appeared to the Beothuk that the fishermen had left behind a big pile of they would paddle their canoes out to these "barasways" and take what items they could find a use for. What they most preferred were the nails which were a recyclable material to them. They could easily fashion the wrought iron nails into projectile tips for their arrows and spears. Much easier than making the tips from stone. Fish hooks were also very useful.
Because of this seasonal fishery, the Beothuk obtained items they could put to good use without having to trade for them. As a result they avoided direct contact with Europeans and subsequently there was little or no communication between the two cultures.
Ultimately their practice of recycling was viewed as thievery by the Europeans who by the 1700s had become year round settlers. It was such an event of claimed thievery that set into motion the events I described in my previous post. More on the Beothuk culture and its reliance on recycling can be found here.

No comments: