THE BEOTHUK SAGA by Bernard Assiniwi


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A farewell work and anthropological classic by the late Dr. Assiniwi, a member of the Cree nation and famed in Canada for studies of its native peoples and for the monumental Histoire des Indiens du Haut et du Bas Canada (1974).

A millennium ago on Newfoundland, young Anin the Addaboutik sets out to circle the Earth in his canoe, knowing he lives on a large island but also that if he follows the curve of the Earth he’ll wind up where he started. He leaves his Beothuk village of Baétha, paddles for two years, at times guided by Gashu-Uwith the Bear, a spirit in animal form who turns up at providential times. During his journey he speaks with no one. Meantime, we follow his canoe patching, fire-building, hunting and fishing, game-and-fish-smoking, and hut-building for the winter. When he comes upon some Vikings in a giant ship who kill a peaceful tribe on shore, he helps Woasut, a young girl, escape. Although he must accustom himself to her emotional nature, she becomes his mate. Later, the two are joined by a blond Viking, pregnant Gudruide, whom other Vikings have tried to kill, and later still by Gwenid, Guidrude’s sister, and two redheaded Scottish slaves, young Robb and Della. Anin, his four wives, two children, and Robb become the new Bear Clan back in Baétha, where the Otter Clan and Seal Clan choose Anin to be First Chief of the Beothuk, with his sensibly sexy wives claiming an equal voice. With invaders certain, Anin has the Beothuk Nation repopulate until in 20 years it fills the island. The Beothuk hold together for 500 years, until the English arrive with their muskets, and over the next 200 years they are gradually destroyed, with the last 400 Beothuk massacred, and the final Beothuk, Shanawdithit, dying of tuberculosis.

Tragic pages that drink you in, and far from fantasy.

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 2002
ISBN: 0-312-28390-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2001