Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

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


Nets, Netting and Network of the Indians



[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 American 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.]


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Nets, Netting, and Network. In every part of Canada and the United States the Indians and the [Inuit] used some kind of nets, netting, or network. These were made from animal tissues and vegetal fibres - wool and hair, hide, sinew, and intestines; roots, stems, bast, bark, and leaves. Animal skins were cut into long delicate strips, while sinew and vegetal fibres were separated into filaments and these twisted, twined, or braided and made into open-work meshes by a series of technical processes ranging from the simplest weaving or coiling without foundation, to regular knotting. The woman's hands were the most useful implements in net making; but the seine needle, or shuttle, exhibits a variety of forms from the mere stick for winding, as on a bobbin, to the elaborately ornamented needles of the [Inuit]. The meshing also shows a variety of processes, through more and more intricate loopings, as in the Maidu netted caps, to the world-wide netting knot ( Dixon ).


Netting was used for the capture of animals, for the lacings of snowshoes and lacrosse sticks, for carrying-frames and wallets, for netted caps, for the foundation of featherwork - in short, for whatever had meshes. Nets for the capture of animals differed with the creatures caught, as bird net, fish net, seal net, crab net; with the form, at rectangular net, circular net, conical net, bag net, or purse net; with the function, as inclosing net, drag net, casting net, dip net, gill net, arresting net, drift net, and hand net.


Beginning at the far N. with the [Inuit], the question of tribal distribution may be considered. Not all the [Inuit] used nets for fishing. Boas never saw any among the Central [Inuit], but mentions them as existing in Labrador and westward of Hudson bay; while Murdoch's account of netting at point Barrow, Alaska, is full. Netting needles of antler and walrus ivory, and mesh sticks of bone or antler were employed, both of peculiar patterns. The materials are sinew twine (generally braided), rawhide thong, and whalebone. The knot is the usual becket hitch. Small seal are caught in large meshed nets of rawhide, 18 meshes long and 12 deep, with length of mesh 14 in. These nets are set under the ice in winter and in shoal water in summer. Seals are enticed into the nets by whistling, by scratching on the ice, or with rattles. Whitefish are taken in gill nets set under the ice in rivers. A specimen in the U. S. National Museum, made of fine strips of whalebone, is 79 meshes long by 21 deep, with meshes 3 ¼ in. deep. Murdoch, who figures a conical dip net, or fish trap, made of twisted sinew, also gives the spread of various kinds of fish nets, and surmises that the American [Inuit] learned the use of the net from the Siberians,


An interesting use of netting has been brought to light by Holmes in his studies of ancient American pottery. In many places have been found vessels and sherds that show net impressions on the surface. In some parts of the Atlantic slope vessels of clay were moulded in network, taking the impressions of the texture. In the description of ancient garments especially those in which feathers bore a conspicuous part, precisely the same methods of netting are described. This furnishes to archeologists an excellent check-off in their studies, since in later times all other forms of textile work, excepting the figure weaving, were abandoned.


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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. 343 .



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College