The First Warriors

Amerindian Customs

Amerindian Weapons and Armour

View Multimedia - Canada's First Warriors

Caption: View Multimedia - Canada's First Warriors

The offensive arsenal of native warriors consisted essentially of a bow and arrows and a bludgeon. The latter was either a club carved from a single piece of wood, with a slightly curved head ending in a ball; or else a tomahawk, consisting of a wooden handle with a stone solidly attached to the end. Slings were used as well, and less often, spears. Amerindian warriors also possessed defensive equipment, a suit of armour that protected the fronts and backs of their bodies as well as their legs. It was made of "thin white sticks, squeezed one against the other and very tightly woven and interlaced with small cords." 4 Since mobility was a major advantage in war, this equipment had to be light, like the birchbark canoes. The use of armour was very common among Amerindians everywhere in America. It was complemented by more or less imposing shields, sometimes called rondaches because they looked like the small, round shields of this name used in Europe in the sixteenth century.

All these weapons were especially useful for battles on open terrain, though they were probably employed for ambushes as well. Amerindian armour was able to withstand stone arrowheads, "but not [the French arrowheads made of] iron," 5 and certainly not bullets. Increasing use of European firearms caused it to disappear. Shields, however, remained in use throughout the seventeenth century among several Amerindian nations, particularly the Hurons, Iroquois, Montagnais and Algonquins. Sometimes coats of arms were painted on the armour and shields. Among the Hurons, these coats of arms indicated the village from which the owner came. For example, a canoe was painted on equipment from the village of Quieunonascaran.