This is my second-last post of my year of blogging weekly about Canadian history, and I didn’t plan well enough ahead to have a post related to Christmas. Instead, here is an interesting observation from Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer.
Samuel de Champlain somewhat famously referred to the Indigenous peoples of the land now called Canada as “savages.” Except that he didn’t. He used the French word sauvages, which does not mean what you think it means.
Many people today have understood its operative word sauvages as having the same meaning as “savages” in modern French and English. In modern usage “savage” means people who are primitive, uncivilized, coarse, simple-minded, barbaric, brutal, violent, vicious, treacherous, ferocious, and inferior to civilized people.
Champlain called the people of North America “les sauvages,” but not in that sense. In old French and early English, “sauvage” or “savage” was sometimes written salvage, a clue to its original meaning. It derived from the Latin silva, for a forest or a woodland. In the seventeenth century “sauvage” preseved this meaning, and was used to describe wild things that lived in the forest. When Champlain used the term “sauvages,” he meant forest-dwellers. It is interesting that he applied this word to North American Indians but did not often use it for the people of the West Indies. He called them Indiens, people of the Indies, not “sauvages,” or people of the forest, unless they lived in the woods as they did on Guadeloupe.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday and I hope that the quantity of rum and eggnog I have already consumed this evening has not unduly interfered with the comprehensibility of this entry.