Funny First Encounter Anecdote

So today I’m in the process of translating (into French) First Encounter video clip transcripts for our website, and I came across this gem of a story that is absolutely hilarious. It’s a fantastic anecdote about a first encounter between the Mi’kmaq and (perhaps?) the French, told by Stephen Augustine, a curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization here in Ottawa.  He, in turn, is retelling a version of the story told by Gabriel Silaboy. The story has been passed down through generations of Mi’kmaq. Enjoy. (Note: this version has been cut down to make this post a bit shorter. The full-length version which includes more details will be put on the website).

“I also inherited the story of Gabriel Silaboy, who talks about the first Europeans and, it’s a very long chapter in there but I think I can probably narrow it done in a nutshell. He says that when the first Europeans arrived (authors note: Augustine explains this may have been the French, though it’s not clear)…in Cape Breton somewhere and it landed and these men came ashore…and the captain of the French ship -the storyteller refers to them as Spanish -and he refers to the captain as Columbus, Clistob he calls him… Gabriel Silaboy says they arrive, they meet each other, they exchange things. The captain says, oh, I’m going to give you my hat with this ostrich feather…he tells some of his men, take your coat off and give … it to one of the chiefs, so the other one takes off his chemise and …….the other guy says, well, I have these pantalons that I can give to him so the other chief gets his pantalons and then the shoes were given…..these hard-soled shoes were given to one of the guys. He’s walking very strange with them and everybody laughs at him…the Mi’kmaq laughed at him and they laugh at themselves…

So Clistob or Christopher goes back to his ship and invites the Indians. He says, tomorrow my cook is going to cook up this big meal and we’re going to have a big table and we’re going to sit around in chairs and all that meat that you gave us, we’re going to cook it up in our style…so, anyway, the next day the Mi’kmaq end up going to the boat…so, they start to demonstrate the use of chairs and table to them because they, obviously, the Mi’kmaq never seen those and never used them before, so they demonstrate sitting down, the knife and the fork and how you cut and they put it all back and they all stand around this big long table with chairs around….so Clistob apparently decides, he says, well I’m going to say grace while, before we eat and he starts to pray and he looks up and the Indian chief still has his hat on so he goes over there and takes his hat off and puts it on the chair…and he comes back and he continues to say his prayer, but as he’s saying his prayer, he looks up and the other chief takes off his coat, puts it on the chair, the other one takes off his chemise and puts it on the chair, the other guy pulls down his pants – LAUGHING – and he says he laughed so much he couldn’t finish saying the prayer and they all laughed together and they sat down and they ate….let’s eat …it was a longer version of that but I put it in a nutshell…that was the first strange encounter between whoever it was that landed and ….I’m sure it wasn’t Christopher Columbus but it might have been Portuguese or Spanish you know, Court Real or Verrazzano or Esteban…

So there you go. I hope you laughed as much as I did the first time I read it. This story makes me think that, despite all the terrible outcomes for Canada’s First Peoples after the arrival of Europeans to the “New World”, some comical and happier memories of those first encounters continue to exist. Now, if only these kinds of memories weren’t the exception…

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