The First Warriors

Ritual Acts Of Retribution


Judicial torture at a 16th century Inquisition tribunal

Caption: Judicial torture at a 16th century Inquisition tribunal

Although, among some Amerindian peoples, simply "touching" one's enemies without killing them was sufficient to prove a combatant's courage, one of the main objectives of war was to capture warriors from other camps and bring them back alive. The captives knew what awaited them and stoically bore their torments, sometimes for several days. Torture was considered by most Amerindian societies to be a ritual act of retribution, and as such, was utterly beyond the comprehension of seventeenth-century Englishmen and Frenchmen.

The torture of their captives by Amerindians has been the subject of countless tales for 500 years - tales that are usually unbearable to read due to their outstanding cruelty. Did not the Iroquois and Sioux go so far as to crucify captive children? Once again, distinctions have to be made. Even among the Iroquois, where ritual torture was most widespread, many prisoners did not finish their days at the stake but were simply adopted by the families of their enemies and thereafter enjoyed the same privileges as other members of the family. The Abenakis, for their part, preferred to make slaves of their prisoners rather than roasting them to death over low fires.