Did you ever wonder why "Native" Americans put on war paint thousands of years before the "White man" arrived?
War, slavery and sex trade was central to the way of life of many First Nation cultures long before Christopher Columbus was born.
Despite the myth that Aboriginals lived in happy harmony before the arrival of Europeans, war was central to the way of life of many First Nation cultures. Indeed, war was a persistent reality in all regions though, it waxed in intensity, frequency and decisiveness.
The causes were complex and often interrelated, springing from both individual and collective motivations and needs. At a personal level, young males often had strong incentives to participate in military operations, as brave exploits were a source of great prestige in most Aboriginal cultures. According to one Jesuit account from the 18th Century, ‘The only way to attract respect and public veneration among the Illinois is, as among the other Savages, to acquire a reputation as a skilful hunter, and particularly as a good warrior … it is what they call being a true man.’ Among west coast societies, the material goods and slaves acquired through raiding were important avenues to build up sufficient wealth to host potlatches and other give-away ceremonies. At a community level, warfare played a multifaceted role, and was waged for different reasons. Some conflicts were waged for economic and political goals, such as gaining access to resources or territory, exacting tribute from another nation or controlling trade routes. Revenge was a consistent motivating factor across North America, a factor that could lead to recurrent cycles of violence, often low intensity, which could last generations. Among the Iroquoian nations in the northeast, ‘mourning wars’ were practiced. Such conflicts involved raiding with the intent to capture prisoners, who were then adopted by bereaved families to replace family members who had died prematurely due to illness or war.
Archaeological evidence confirms the prominent role of warfare in indigenous societies well before the arrival of permanent European settlers.
After 1609, most observers reported that Aboriginal people did ‘not know how to fight in open country,’ and accounts of Aboriginal warfare usually described hit and run military techniques, which the French called ‘la petite guerre.’ This was essentially a form of guerrilla warfare, the primary goal of which was to inflict casualties, capture prisoners and take scalps, while suffering as few losses as possible. To do so, the warriors generally moved in small groups and took pains to catch the enemy unawares or encircle it, while eluding the same tactics by the other side.
Olive Oatman | eHISTORY