Listening to Wampanoag Voices: Beyond 1620 Transcripts

Jonathan James-Perry—Killock (Anchor) 

[Speaking Wôpanâak] Jonathan James Perry [speaking Wôpanâak]. Hello, I come from the Aquinnah community of the Wampanoag Nation located on Noepe, an island now referred to as Martha's Vineyard. Moshup, a great being taller than the tallest trees and a leader of our people, gathered our people together and traveled with them and guided us to what we call home today. It is said that the journey was so far that Moshup became tired and dragged his toe and where he dragged his toe, water rushed in and separated the islands from the mainland. Anchors like this killock connect our people and connected our recent ancestors, to the paths of our ancestors, the great ancestors, the ones that traveled along what is now the sea floor. Anchors are important because they connect you to a space—not just holding you in place for subsistence-gathering—but also they connect you to the sea floor. And they connect you to all the beings of that surrounding area. Anchors are very important in our culture because we are seafaring people. We traveled to and from the islands and up and down the coast and we fished and we whaled from mishoon or dugout canoes that we produce that could be up to sixty feet in length and hold forty men or be very small and used in small rivers, maybe just eight feet long. Water is an important space because of the fact that it is teeming with life and that life helps to sustain us. But it is also not a place for us permanently. Because we are not fish we cannot breathe underwater. We cannot exist in that space. So we respect it because it is almost like a whole other world. It provides us with a great deal of nutrients and ability to feed our families. But it also holds a lot of value in how the creation worked and how it made that space. Anchors are important to us, because they connect us to the paths, to the walking spaces of our ancestors. They connect us through that world to another world, to an ancient world, but also one that is very much a part of us today. It touches the territory. Anchor drops—much like the footsteps of our ancestors as they walk to our home—last forever. They resonate through time. And I am very appreciative that I can look at this anchor that was carefully made with stone and iron and other materials. And that it has lasted. And I am able to anchor myself by looking at it, touching it, seeing it, and understanding its connection to my ancestry. [Speaking Wôpanâak.]

Elizabeth James-Perry—Eel Trap

My name is Elizabeth James-Perry and I'm a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe on Martha's Vineyard right off the coast of Massachusetts. I'm going to talk a little bit about the eel trap and the collection of the Peabody Harvard museum. I'm actually pretty familiar with this example, because I studied it about twenty years ago. I was curious about how it was constructed. And then I went out into local woods here in Dartmouth, Mass., gathered some cedar, got some wood together, processed some basswood fiber as well. And I made a reproduction of the trap out at the Seattle Folklife Festival as part of the maritime contingency from the Northeast. I ended up striking up a friendship with James Kiona, who was a tribal person out in the Northwest and he's a salmon fisherman, and he made a salmon the old way. People don't really do it so commonly now, but he would carefully dry, really dry thin strips of the salmon. And so we decided to trade. He really liked the wampum and I, of course, love salmon and so we ended up shipping each other our goods across the country and it was a nice treat that year to have some seafood from the other coast. A lot of our diet has remained pretty consistent. We're still by the same waters our ancestors lived on. We still harvest a lot of fish, seasonal fish like herring, eels, shad. We used to fish for sturgeon. They're no longer common obviously. We still harvest crustaceans like lobsters and crabs. We still harvest a lot of shellfish, whether that's quahog or conch or mussels. They're all really delicious. Razor clams are really good. Bay scallops are delicious as well. We still use seaweed in our diet. So you can use seaweed right in a soup. You can snack on it dry and we use the seaweed, of course, for our traditional clambakes right on the beach. It's a really nutritious way to basically steam your seafood and you can add other things in there like bread, and corn, things of that nature and have a really nice little family or community feast, depending on what the event is. Back in the day a few hundred years ago, people were still harvesting either beached whale or they were going out and hunting whales and dolphins, mainly fairly near shore. And they were also harvesting seals. So there's red meat that's been long absent from our diet from those particular beings. There's also sort of a fat component so that whale fat would have been rendered down into oil. That would have been really good for cooking. Some of that whale meat would have been smoked and dried. So it wouldn't necessarily all be just steaks but you might just have a little piece that you throw into an all—otherwise all-vegetable dish like succotash or corn, beans, and squash. It must have added a really delicious component to our food and I think there's a lot of nutritional change that's happened to our modern diet. There's also a change in water quality where there's a lot of pollution in local waters. There's a lot of environmental stresses on the fish and shellfish as well. So things have changed a bit, but we're still lucky to be here.


Elizabeth James-Perry—How an Eel Trap Works

The eel trap looks like an elongated basket with slats for sides, so instead of being a closed-plated form of basket or container, with a top that comes off, so you can get the fish, it ends up having a bunch of ribs, but they're not overwrapped with weaving, in most cases, it's just very spare, so the water can go through. It's attractive to the fish, the fish swim into one end that has a funnel that guides them into the area with the bait, but then the other end is capped and the funnel tends to have like slightly, you know, rougher edges, and they're crowded together, so the fish have to push in. They have a really difficult time, however, pushing out. And so basically, you have a certain amount of time you leave that trap in the water, figuring it'll get filled by a certain amount of time, and then you go ahead and empty it. You wouldn't want to risk that a seal comes along and empties your trap for you, or something like that. 

Elizabeth James-Perry—Wool Sash

My name is Elizabeth James-Perry and I'm a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe. I first started looking at the King Philip sash probably about fifteen years ago. I was really intrigued by this early textile, you know, it is obviously very old. It's obviously also really worn. You can see where it was faded in areas, you can see that the cloth was stretched by being attached to something and being worn on a regular basis, so it's much loved. And when I picked it up, it really struck me. It felt extremely familiar and it momentarily felt like meeting a family member or an old friend. And so that really intrigued me. I had to find out a lot more about it. And so I did genealogical research, colonial war era research, tried to find the intersection of Colonel Keyes or any of the Keyes family members and Wampanoag folks. Pennacook folks, Pequaquahk folks, anybody in the regions where they were involved in wars, Lake George, in the appropriate time period. I also tracked down trade-cloth records. Kenny Hamilton provided me references he'd copied from the Gérin-Lajoie trade-cloth records in Michigan. And the trader that refers to this type of cloth is talking about it around 1714. He's making a request for that to be shipped to the Northeast, so that he can sell it to his native clients. And he's really showing how particular native customers were requesting this certain color cloth, certain color selvage edge, they wanted the worm line, which is that wavy design you see at the end that's incorporated into the coloration of the sash. And it's a lot of work actually. It's technically challenging to produce cloth like that. And you can use resist-dye paste and things like that. It's tricky to do without having colors run, especially in that time period. And so I think it was just so expensive to make that this is probably the only example that survived of what was maybe one or maybe a few runs of this particular style. So it's pretty amazing that it's lasted. I think it has—the sash has a story to tell. The sash has taught me different lessons. One of the lessons that I took away from the research of the sash was the story of the Keyes family member that went up and took part in the Battle of Lovewell in Western Maine–what's now Fryeburg, Maine on the Saco River. It's just east of Pennacook territory. So this is Pequaquahk territory on the Saco river, just east of Kanawadju, which is Conway, New Hampshire. And it's a really tragic tale, I think, in that the native defenders met with the English that were ranging the forest, I think, looking to attack tribal fighters, but also tribal communities. They were looking to, I think, collect scalps and get bounties and get bounty and land. Basically, it was about English expansion into native homelands. And so the native people actually outnumbered the English. And in typical native fashion, they held out prisoner tie cords as if to say, "Look, we can do this the easy way. We can just take you as captives—we'll use you as leverage basically, to preserve our homelands, ransom you back. It's all good. Nobody has to die." Unfortunately, the English, their culture was different. Their values were different. Their motivations were different. And there was, you know, a pretty bloody battle. The Pequaquahks ended up moving and consolidating with other tribes to the west and the north up into Canada. And of course, that land was eventually spread into by the newcomers. It kind of makes me look at the sash in multiple ways and from multiple perspectives. I can look at it as a textile artist and admire the artistry of the hands. I can look at it as a beautiful and protective piece that was very emblematic of the person's tribal identity. And it was very protective, with its red, black, and white coloration. I can think of it as a belonging. And I can think of it as the war trophy that it became. I can think of that momentary possibility in the woods with the prisoner tie cords, and that extension of mercy in humanity, when coexistence was a possibility, and then I can think of the death afterwards—and the domination. And so, I think about choices people have in different time periods, and I think we all have choices. And I think sometimes the choices that were made here in New England gained newcomers territory but at the cost of rejecting their own humanity.

Phillip Wynne—Dried and Smoked Herring

I have always been grateful to live and be of a place with so many intertwined cycles of life. Our ancestors set the rhythm of our very culture to these natural cycles. And in many ways our people continue to do this to this day. One of the most important cycles being that of the herring, a symbol of spring, and our people's New Year. You know, this little fish starts one of, if not the biggest, food chain in our ocean here. And everything, in a way starts over when we see this fish. Everything becomes new again. In pre-colonial and colonial era, our ancestors would move everybody—elders, children, their whole lives—to the water to get this fish and be closer to this fish and use it for fertilizing their fields for their corn, vegetables. So that their children and grandchildren could also grow their corn and their vegetables there. It's used for food. It's used for bait throughout the fishing season to get bigger fish. And of course, we've been smoking it and drying it for a very long time. You know, it's kind of embarrassing to say, but when I was a teenager learning to drive around Mashpee, it never really made much sense to me. Because growing up, whenever we were traveling, I would always hear spots and areas referenced. But what they used to be. "Oh, this was the best walking path." And you would get in between families' houses this way on the way to the best fishing spots and hunting spots. And of course, these old little smokehouses seem to be the connecting hub through it all. Over the years, this stuck with me, and at any chance I would ask anyone who is older than me about the old smokehouses, that I didn't really see them anymore and I was always receiving very fond memories of similar cycles and rhythms of life of, you know, people fishing and gathering at these old smokehouses. And everybody knew where they were. By smell alone, you could find them—no GPS needed. But these stories always were similar in the fondness and how they were used, but it was always a little bit different when it came to what's used to give the fish the best taste and color. Each family had their own. Now being from a Mye Haynes Mingo family, I'll go with my relative here on this one. Now these things are still alive within Mashpee culture for sure. For one small example, you still hear folks around town asking each other, "You see the herring run yet?" And you still see folks with their children down by the herring run in the springtime. And you know, I think there's something to that. I think there's something to herring will always travel to lay their eggs in the area of body they were born. And our people have always maintained our rights to water-based resources and our responsibility to them and recognizing the cycle of the herring. And the generations that we've shared and continue to share is a very special thing to be a part of, and something that I'm very proud of.


Phillip Wynne—Sudbury Bow

I would always read descriptions in museums of artifacts like the Sudbury bow here. And it always made me think about people. The bow is taken from an Indian. Well, reading things like that my whole life I, of course always asked myself, "Well, who was that Indian? What tribe did he come from? Was he Wampanoag?" I always assume it was a man. What led this man on the path that inevitably led to his death? You know, we know this home invasion took place in 1660. When, in a certain lens of perspective, one could say there were a lot of home invasions going on. And as a result, a massive change for Native peoples that we know inevitably led up to King Philip's War in 1675, change on land, environmental changes, massive resource depletion, you know, political shifts, economical change, belief. People's very reality was changing. And of course, we can look back at the colonial history of this land and connect the web of these artifacts, dates, and events, and our place in it as history without always try to open myself up to "Who is that Indian?" He was a person just like anyone else, facing situations as they came. A few years ago, I got a chance to reproduce this beautiful self-bow using similar technologies and techniques that our ancestors used at the time. I was hoping to get a better understanding of the materials and the craft of it. And I did, but what really resonates with me the most is the people that gifted me that knowledge, the memories we made along the way. Then it made me think about how many people carry that knowledge through these great times of change and challenge for me to be able to continue it, and hopefully pass it on to future generations. And it amazed me how this was one of, if not the only, surviving bow from the time period, but I could go to people within the community and ask how to make these things. And it connects us through time, through museum artifacts to living memory.


Zoë Harris—Splint Baskets

I think that these baskets are a true testament to the versatility and resilience of Indigenous people and craft. Although these baskets are similar in some ways, they're also very uniquely different. As we can see one as rounded and shallow, most probably used to hold food in it. The other is rectangular and deep and has handles, which would lead me to believe it probably held skins or blankets. Yeah, they are similar because they have that same amazing weaved pattern, and the guide strips incorporated into it, which is kind of like a signature. And given that these baskets are over one hundred years old, really speaks to the craftsmanship of these baskets, especially because even though they're beautiful, they're also functional. And I think that that is definitely something that is common among Native work. Just because something is beautiful, doesn't mean that it's not functional, too. And they're really well constructed. I can't imagine the hours of work that went into making these pieces. I do weaving of my own, and that can be exhausting. But I can just go to the store and buy whatever supplies I need. And there's a whole other layer to consider when you think about how this woman had to go out, collect the materials, know how much of the materials she would need, then go and repair them, and then actually sit down, and create these pieces. That level of care and precision is lost sometimes. But I think that these pieces prove that when you take the time to create something, it will not disappoint.

Alyssa Harris—Carrying Baskets

A woven basket like this is commonly seen within the Wampanoag community. It can be used as a purse, but it can also be stored inside a home and act like a dresser or drawer. It's used for storing personal belongings like clothing, tools, anything along those lines, or it can be used to collect fruits and vegetables that grow wildly around the area. Baskets like this are made by any Wampanoag adult—woman or man. But elders and children wouldn't make these because elders and children weren't required to do chores. A basket like this is all woven by hand except the strap is sewn together with sinew and a bone or obsidian needle. Also, baskets like this can be dyed with inedible berries, roots, and rocks. Wampanoag people were so skilled at weaving that they could weave baskets so tightly that they can hold water. Of course, people didn't use these to hold water but if they really needed to, they could.


Linda Jeffers Coombs—Grass Pack Basket 

My name is Linda Jeffers Coombs and I am from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). I'm going to talk about the basket in the photograph. It was made by Bathsheba Occouch of Gay Head in the nineteenth century, Gay Head now being called Aquinnah. She was known as Bashie and was the daughter of John Occouch and had four sisters. John was the last male known to carry the Occouch name and is descended from a seventeenth-century man, Akoochuk of Gay Head. The basket was donated by Mary C. Vanderhoop, originally from Georgia, who is married to Edwin Vanderhoop of Gay Head. Edwin, in middle age, built a home near the cliffs in Gay Head in the early 1890s, which still stands today as the Aquinnah Cultural Center. Edwin's mother was Beulah Salisbury Vanderhoop, who was Bashie's niece. Mary came into possession of the basket by a granddaughter and searched unsuccessfully to discern the material of the basket, as well as for someone who might reproduce it. Bashie was a known weaver, which was not an uncommon skill in the nineteenth century. This basket is made of beach grass, which has been attributed to the Island Indians as the only ones to weave with this material. I recognize the beach grass from my years working in the Wampanoag Indigenous program at Plimouth Plantation, where we worked to reclaim the old skills of our ancestors. Beach grass is harvested at this time of year, late summer–early fall, when it has reached its tallest. Once harvested, the grass must be dried in the sun until no longer green and then stored in a dry place until ready to weave. This basket is made with a twined weaving technique, which is done by hand and is the ancient traditional Wampanoag weaving method. This is accomplished with double weft strands, the horizontal pieces that are twisted around the warp strands, which are the vertical pieces. It is done in an open-twined vs. a closed-twined technique as there is space between the weft rows. This basket also has offset warped strand where some of the warps are carried into and picked up in the next stitch, if you will, or twist. Another of Bashie's beach grass baskets is now in the collection of the Martha's Vineyard Museum. I believe this is the basket that Tobias Vanderhoop was referring to, when he told me that this basket had become damaged and its owner at the time took it to Bashie to repair. She did so by lining the bottom of the basket interior with clay—her reason for which is still unclear today. Tobias is the third—if I've done the math right—great-grandson of Edwin and Beulah Salisbury Vanderhoop.

Linda Jeffers Coombs—Photo 

This is the photograph of the two gentlemen from Gay Head. Deacon Thomas Jeffers is on the left in the photo and Aaron Cooper on the right. Deacon Thomas Jeffers was born in Gay Head on September 15, in 1825 or 1826. He was the grandson of the elder Thomas Jeffers, who was from Middleborough—most likely a Nemasket Indian, born around 1742. Elder Thomas Jeffers married his second wife, Sarah Ash or Asher, who was a Mashpee Wampanoag, born in 1753. And they had two children, Amos and Alice. Amos was born on November 4, 1785, in Middleborough. Elder Thomas Jeffers and Sarah moved to Martha's Vineyard about 1798. He was an Indian pastor and had five acres which he farmed at Big Cooch Pond in Gay Head. Amos married his first wife, Bethiah Cooper, on January 15, 1806, with his son Thomas being one of nine children. Amos married his second wife, Bathsheba Accouch Haskins in 1849. Bathsheba was known as Bashie, was the weaver of beach grass baskets, utilizing the tall beach grass on the Gay Head beaches that I spoke of earlier. I did not realize the connection between these people, that Bashie was the second wife of Deacon Thomas Jeffers, until I began doing some research to record these pieces. It was a very interesting surprise, and that is a small world. Bashie died just four years later in May of 1853 at the age of sixty. Deacon Thomas Jeffers, at the age of fifteen, took out his seamen's protection papers in October of 1840. He became a whaler, going out on six voyages and circling the globe twice. He was on the crew of the Splendid, which went to California during the Gold Rush in 1842. When he returned home, he married Lucina James on April 12, 1852. He became a deacon of the church, and by 1859, owned and farmed seven acres of land. He and Lucina had five children. Between 1863 and 1864, he served as selectman. At this time, Gay Head was still an Indian district or a reservation that the community operated with a town-like structure. He also served as a clerk and treasurer at this time, prior to Gay Head's incorporation as a town in 1870. He did vote in favor of enfranchisement at a proprietors’ meeting in 1869. Gay Head owned large tracts of public land that included grassland from which hay was harvested, pasture lands that were rented out, and clay deposits from the cliffs that were being developed to be sold. Deacon Jeffers managed all of this in his duties, as well as choosing locations for planting fields. This was all a combination of grappling with the imposition of colonial processes and the money economy with efforts to maintain ancient ways of life and land. It strikes me that the planting fields may have been used to plant our traditional corn, which was done into the mid-twentieth century. Abiah Cooper was born on August 14, 1791. He, like Deacon Jeffers and many many other Gay Head men, became a whaler. He shipped out on five voyages between 1820 and 1833. In 1817 he married Abiah Cooper and they had three children together. He became a teacher in the Gay Head one-room school in 1823. And like Deacon Jeffers, he was involved in the business of the Gay Head Indian district, being an overseer and signing a number of petitions put forth by the Gay Head community, to the Senate and the House of Representatives. In 1855, Aaron, along with Zaccheus Howwoswee and Samuel Peters, signed a petition requesting a commissioner to conduct a boundary survey. The boundary between Chilmark and the Indian lands of Gay Head was under constant encroachment by the non-native people of Chilmark.

Author Edward Burgess in his 1926 booklet Old South Road, reports that Aaron was a highly respected and knowledgeable elder. On Sundays he would often go up to the life-saving station, which preceded the Gay Head lighthouse and talk to the men there about the old folks. Aaron Cooper died in May of 1854. His old house still stands on State Road in Gay Head opposite the lower end of Moshup's Trail. It has not been lived in in decades and is now overgrown with brush and barely visible from the road. It is very sad to see history in that state. Both Deacon Jeffers and Aaron Cooper held positions when Gay Head was a district, which is another word for reservation. They both worked to protect and maintain Gay Head from further effects of the colonial processes, to be able to keep our lands and old ways of life.