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An Indian brave who participated in a show involving galloping bareback over the top of a southern Alberta hill in a mock "hunt" of buffalo near Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo Jump, a United Nations heritage site where natives slaughtered buffalo for thousands of years by driving them over a cliff. (Travel Alberta)
An Indian brave who participated in a show involving galloping bareback over the top of a southern Alberta hill in a mock "hunt" of buffalo near Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo Jump, a United Nations heritage site where natives slaughtered buffalo for thousands of years by driving them over a cliff. (Travel Alberta)

Collected Wisdom

How aboriginal men became 'braves' Add to ...

This week, Collected Wisdom saddles up its trusty steed and heads out into the Old West – the land of the free and the home of the braves.

THE QUESTION

What was the origin of the term “braves,” referring to native American men? Anne Hildebrandt of Vineland, Ont., wants to know.

THE ANSWER

The word “brave” was, indeed, once used to refer to “an Indian warrior,” writes Peter Gorman of Toronto. He cites this 1819 example quoted in Charles L. Cutler's book O Brave New Words! – Native American Loanwords in Current English: “Their warriors are called braves, to which honour no one can arrive without having previously plundered or stolen from the enemy.”

However, Don McGuire of Halifax tells us that George Catlin, the famous 19th-century author and portrait-painter of native Americans, used the term “brave” in reference to a native American male who had not yet “counted coup,” that is, not touched an enemy in battle with his hand, bow or stick. A warrior was one who had done so.

“Thomas Mails, in his comprehensive book on native tribes and customs, The Mystic Warriors of the Plains, accepted Catlin's definition.”

Mr. Gorman says the word “brave” (as an adjective) first appeared in English in the late 15th century from the Middle French brave (splendid, valiant), which itself came from the Italian bravo (bold) or Spanish bravo (courageous, untamed, savage). It is possibly based on the Latin barbarus (barbarous). The use of the word as a noun to designate a native warrior implies, as Mr. Cutler notes, “courage with perhaps a lingering hint of the word's probably Latin origin.”

Mr. Gorman adds that another “barbarous” term for indigenous people can also be found in the Western vocabulary.

Mr. Cutler writes: “While exploring the West Indies in 1492, Columbus began receiving reports of a fierce people living on some of the islands. Arawakan-speaking neighbours of the people called them caribe or caniba, meaning brave or daring. Caribs (the modern form of the name) specialized in conquering other West Indian peoples by storming their villages at dawn. Victorious caribs allegedly ate enemy corpses on the battlefield.” Soon, Columbus introduced the word canibal into Spanish.

THE QUESTION

“Fruit ripens in brown paper bags,” says Julie Beddoes of Toronto. “Is there something about brown paper or would any kind of bag do?”

THE ANSWER

Well, there is definitely something about paper, brown or otherwise, says Sarah Marshall, director of marketing with the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers' Marketing Board.

“To ripen firm fruit,” she writes, “store at room temperature and out of direct sunlight in a loosely closed paper bag for a day or two. Plastic bags are not suitable for ripening fruit, as they will trap moisture and air, which can cause premature spoilage, so always use paper bags. Paper bags allow some air flow.”

HELP WANTED

  • “I fly a lot for my work,” says Peter Lawton of Kingston, Ont. “I've always wondered why the chief pilot sits in the left-hand seat in the cockpit.”
  • Roger Young of West Vancouver wants to know why cats don't like water.
  • Marke Slipp of Wolfville, N.S., wonders how fast we Earthlings are hurtling through space, considering the speed at which the Earth spins on its axis, the speed at which the Earth orbits the sun and how fast the universe is expanding.

Let's hear from you: If you have the answer to one of these questions (or a question of your own) send an e-mail to wisdom@globeandmail.com. Please include your location and a daytime phone number.

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