One of various interpretations of history of soap making has it deriving from Cree word Kanata, meaning something which is very neat or clean. How true. In 1977 we used half a billion pounds of cleaning products.
The history of soap making was introduced to us by Europeans. A few years ago, hygiene was not as highly regarded as it is today.
History of Soap Making and American Indian:
Indians had little need for soap. Their clothing, like Eskimo, was made of animal hides and couldn’t be washed. Simply brushed off or replaced when they became worn. Pressured by pioneers, Indians wouldn’t take up European dress because “their woman cannot wash them when they become soiled… therefore they had rather go naked then be lousy.” Actually reverse occurred and many settlers adopted Indian dress when their European clothes expired.
The history of soap making in several pioneer recollections includes story of a young girl who undertook to clean her one and only garment made of deerskin. She dipped it into a tub of lye-water, only to see it shrivel before her eyes, forcing her to take tearful refuge in her blankets.
Although Canadian Indians didn’t use soap, bathing was more than for hygiene. With fasting and celibacy, it was a body and soul cleansing experience for them. It prepared Indians for communion with supernatural beings. It was also used as a ritual before hunting, healing, and initiation. Young Indian babies were bathed frequently in cold water to toughen them. This insured only fit survived by withstanding this endurance test.
The history of soap making also included using Indian sweat bath which was surprising to new Europeans. This ritual had disappeared in Europe before discovery of America. It survived in Finland known as sauna. Also common in Africa and Pacific Islands, many believe it reached its peak in new world.
Besides being a sanitary and religious method, sweat bath, accompanied by herbs, was used for diseases. The fumes of wild horsemint or balsam needles scattered on coals were inhaled for colds. As a relief to sore muscles and rheumatism, witch hazel twigs were steeped in water heated by hot rocks to produce soothing steam.