Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Knots of the Indian and Inuit Peoples



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North-West Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



The Indians, and especially the [Inuit], whose difficulties with unfastening lines in a frozen area made them ingenious, tied for various purposes many kinds of knots and splices in bark, stems, roots, sinews, thongs, strings, and ropes. There were knots and turk's heads in the ends of lines for buttons and toggles and for fastening work, loops and running nooses for bowstrings and tent fastenings, knots for attaching one line to another or to some object, the knots in netting for fish nets and the webbing in snowshoes and rackets, knots for attaching burdens and for packing and cinching, decorative knots in the dress of both sexes, and memorial knots used in calendars and for registering accounts and in religion. The bight, seen on Yuman carrying baskets, was universal, and the single, square, and granny knots and the half hitch were also quite common. In 1680 the Pueblo Indians communicated the number of days before their great uprising against the Spaniards by means of a knotted string, and some of their descendants still keep personal calendars by the same means, but in North America the quiqu was nowhere so highly developed as it was in Peru . Boas (Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist ., XV, 1901) illustrates the many splices, hitches, loops, and knots of the [Inuit]; Murdoch (9th Rep. B. A. E., 1892) has treated the knots used in nets, snowshoes, and sinew-backed bows; Dixon (Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist ., XVII, 1905) shows the knots of the northern Maidu of California ; and Mason (Smithson. Rep . for 1893) gives details of those generally used on bows and arrows.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., p. 250.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College