Wampanoag: People of the First Light

Wampanoag means “People of the Lands of the East” or “People of the first light.” The Wampanoag are part of the land, and the land part of them for more than 12,000 years. They are one of several indigenous peoples and nations of the south coast of today’s  New England.

They are part of the “First people” or “Native”. They reject the term “American Indians” as the Indian name was given by European explorers in search of the Indies. This country was already populated by natives long before it was called America.

As the Maori of New Zealand, the Arctic Inuit, aboriginal people of Australia, and many others, they are struggling to preserve their identity, their language, their culture and traditions.

Before 1616 these natives were about 50,000 spread over 67 villages in the Wampanoag territory. Devastating plagues brought by the Europeans, murder, slavery and warfare killed thousands. Today, about 5,000 live mainly in Massachusetts.

Plimoth Plantation, 3 miles south of Plymounth, Wampanoag natives, dressed in traditional costumes of 1600, break with all our preconceptions about the misnamed “American Indians” created by Hollywood and literature. Responding to our questions, they share their habits, show to us their homes or “wetu”, their relationship and respect for the land. Their culture has been transmitted orally from generation to generation. They tell the story of Hobbamock, an important warrior who was sent by the chief Massasoit to live near the English colonists in Patuxet (now Plymouth) to act as an ambassador, guide and interpreter. From the perspective of the XXI century, the Wampanoag today talk about their past and their present, how to have rescued its original language that was nearly extinct in the nineteenth century.

Since 1620, the relationship with the English colonists is relatively good; of respect in business relationships, agreements on military and social interactions. They are not friends but they know how to live together, something that will break later with the arrival of new English settlers.

The writings of the 1620 report that the settlers celebrated their first harvest in a special way and that the Wampanoag joined them. This event has been misinterpreted as the source and the first celebration of the American national holiday “Thanksgiving Day.” In fact, both cultures had separate traditions of thanksgiving that they had held previously. Therefore, in Plimoth Plantation, simply call this event “The harvest celebration of 1621.”

“Many people think that history and the past are the same thing. But that is not true. The past is what actually happened, it never changes. We should have lived in the past to know exactly what happened. History is what we think and write about the past, is constantly changing. The events that occurred in 1621 (the past) will never change, but what we think about that event (History) has been changing over time. “

Kathleen Curtis (Food Historian Plimoth Plantation)

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