Dancing with scalps: native North American women, white men and ritual violence in the eighteenth century

Donohoe, Helen F. (2013) Dancing with scalps: native North American women, white men and ritual violence in the eighteenth century. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3059677


Native American women played a key role in negotiating relations between settler and Native society, especially through their relationships with white men. Yet they have traditionally languished on the sidelines of Native American and colonial American history, often viewed as subordinate and thus tangential to the key themes of these histories. This dissertation redresses the imbalance by locating women at the centre of a narrative that has been dominated by discourses in masculine aspirations. It explores the variety of relations that developed between men and women of two frontier societies in eighteenth century North America: the Creeks of the Southeast, and the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia.

This dissertation complicates existing histories of Native and colonial America by providing a study of Indian culture that, in a reversal of traditional inquiry, asks how Native women categorised and incorporated white people into their physical and spiritual worlds. One method was through ritualised violence and torture of captives. As primary agents of this process women often selected, rejected or adopted men into the tribes, depending on factors that ranged from nationality to religion. Such acts challenged contemporary Euro-American wisdom that ordained a nurturing, auxiliary role for women. However, this thesis shows that ‘anomalous’ violent behaviours of Indian women were rooted in a femininity inculcated from an early age. In this volatile world, women were not shielded from the horrors of war. Instead, they became one of those horrors. Therefore, viewing anomalous actions as central to the analysis provides an understanding of female identities outwith the straitjacket of the Euro-American gender binary.

With violence as a legitimate and natural expression of feminine power, the Indian woman’s character was far removed from depictions of the sexualised exotic, self-sacrificing Pocahontas or stoic Sacagawea. The focus on women’s violent customs, which embodied several important and unusual manifestations of Native American femininity, reveals a number of jarring behaviours that have found no home within colonial literatures. These behaviours included sanctioned infanticide and abortions, brutal tests for adolescents, scalp dancing and death rites, cannibalism, mercenary wives and sadistic grandmothers. With limited means of incorporating such female characteristics into pre-existing gender categories, the women’s acts were historically treated as non-representative of regular Indian lifeways and thus dismissed. Colonial relations are therefore analysed through an alternative lens to accommodate these acts. This allows women to construct their own narrative in a volatile landscape that largely sought to exclude those voices, voices that challenged dominant ideologies on appropriate male-female relations. By constructing a new gender framework I show that violence was a vehicle by which women realised, promoted and reinforced their tribal standing.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information:
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 Identities and Settler Colonialism in the Americas, (eds) Gregory D. Smithers &
Keywords: Colonial America, violence, Native American, Indian, women, gender, ritual torture, scalps, Creeks, Mi'kmaq, Georgia, Nova Scotia, Acadia, Gender Map, French, marriage, children, Algonquin, Muskogean, captivity narratives, war, female authority, Seven Years' War, French Indian Wars, sexuality, spirituality, infanticide, rape, gang rape, Seminole, Jesuit, masculinity, femininity, Cherokee, missionary, matrons, patriarchy,
Subjects: E History America > E11 America (General)
F History United States, Canada, Latin America > F1001 Canada (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GT Manners and customs
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Newman, Professor Simon and Shepard, Dr Alexandra
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Dr H F Donohoe
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-5276
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2014 13:04
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2017 10:30
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/5276

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