Du Poisson Account
Two days after my arrival here, the Village of the Sauthouis [one of the Quapaw Villages] sent two Savages to ask me if I would be pleased to have them come to chant the calumet [p. 251] for me; they were arrayed as for a ceremony, … -- that is to say, the whole body painted with different colors -- with wildcats' tails at the places where the wings of Mercury are represented; with calumet in hand, and upon the body little bells, which from after announced their coming. I answered them that I was not like the French Chiefs, who command warriors, and who come with booty to make them presents; that I had come only to make them know the great spirit, whom they did not know; and that I had brought only the things necessary for this purpose. I told them that I would, nevertheless, accept their calumet on the day when some pirogue should be sent for me; this was to put them off …; they waved the calumet before my face, and returned to carry my answer. Two days afterward, the Chiefs came to make the same inquiry -- adding that it was without design that they wished to dance the calumet in my presence; without design signifies among them that they are making a present without any anticipation of return. I had been informed of all this; I knew that the hope of gain was making them very attentive, and that when the Savage gives, even without design, double must be returned to him, or he will probably be displeased; I therefore made them the same answer that I had given to the deputies. Finally they returned again to the charge, in order to ask if I would at least be willing that their young men should come to dance in my village, without design, the reconnoiter dance (this is the one they dance when they send to reconnoiter the enemy). I answered that it would not trouble me, that their
[p. 253] young men could come to dance, and that I would look at them with pleasure. All the people of the Village, except the women, came the next day at dawn; we had nothing but dances, songs, and harangues until noon. Their dances, as you may well imagine, are somewhat odd; but the precision with which they mark the time is as surprising as the contortions and efforts that they make. I saw well that I must not send them away without giving them a great kettle [i. e., feast]: I borrowed from a Frenchman a kettle similar to those which are in the kitchen of the Invalides, and I gave them corn without stint. Everything went on without confusion; two of their number performed the office of cooks, dividing the portions with most exact impartiality, and distributing them in like manner; there was heard only the usual exclamation, ho, which each one pronounced when his portion was given him. I never saw a meal eaten with worse manners or with better appetite. They went away well satisfied; but, before going, one of the Chiefs spoke to me again about accepting their calumet. I put them off as I had done before; in fact, to accept their calumet involves considerable expense. In the beginning, when it was necessary to conciliate them, … and the Commandants, who accepted their calumet, made them great presents; and these Savages thought that I was going to revive the old custom. But, even could I do so, I would certainly avoid it, because there would be danger of their hearing me speak of Religion only from interested motives; and because elsewhere we have learned by experience that the more we give the Savages, the less cause [p. 255] have we to be satisfied with them, as gratitude is a virtue of which they have not the slightest idea.
Hitherto I have had no leisure to devote myself to their language; however, as they make me frequent visits, I ask them: Talon jajai? "What do you call that?" I already know enough of their language to make myself understood in the commonest things; there are no Frenchmen here who are thoroughly familiar with it, as they have learned, and that very superficially, what is necessary that they should know for trade. I understand it now as well as they; but I foresee that it will be very difficult for me to learn as much as will be necessary in order to speak to these Savages concerning Religion. I have reason to think that they fully believe that I know their language perfectly. A Frenchman was speaking of me to one of them, who said: "I know that he has a great mind, that he knows everything." You see that they pay me infinitely more honor than I deserve. Another Savage made me a long harangue; I understood only these words: indatai, "my father," uyginguai, "my son." I answered him at random, when I saw that he was questioning me: ai, "yes," igalon, "that is good." Then he passed his hand over my face and shoulders, and afterward did the same to himself. After all these agios he went away with a contented air. Another came, some days after, for the same ceremony; as soon as I perceived him I called a Frenchman to me, and begged him to explain what was said to me without appearing to serve me as interpreter, for I wished to know if I had been mistaken in answering the first. This man asked me if I were inclined to adopt him as my son; if so, when he returned from the hunt [p. 257] he would cast, without design, his game at my feet and I should not say to him as other Frenchmen did: For what dost thou hunger? (this means, "What dost thou wish me to give for that?") but I should make him sit down, and should give him food as to my own son; and when he returned a second time to see me, I should say: "Sit down, my son; look, here are vermilion and powder." You see the spirit of the Savages; they wish to appear generous in giving without design, and they nevertheless wish to lose nothing. I responded to his words: Igaton thé, "That is very good; I approve it, and consent to it," -- after which he passed his hand over me, as the other had done. Here is another anecdote, which shows how generous they are. Day before yesterday I received a visit from a Chief, and I offered him a pipe; to fail in this would be to fail in politeness. A moment after, he went for a mataché buckskin -- which he had left in the entry of the house in which I live -- and put it upon my shoulders; this is their way when they make presents of that sort. I begged a Frenchman to ask him, without appearing to do it for me, what he wished that I should give him: I have given without design, he answered, am I trading with my father? ("Trading" here means "paying.") Nevertheless, a few moments afterward he said to the same Frenchman that his wife had no salt, and his son no powder; his aim was that this Frenchman should repeat it to me. A Savage gives nothing for nothing, and we must observe the same rule toward them; otherwise we should be exposed to their contempt.