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By Lee Roscoe
Can you imagine what it was like to live in the wilderness, freely following game and fish from season to season? The Wampanoag people did that for thousands of years before the arrival of the Mayflower.
How would you feel, then, if people from across the ocean came and tricked your best hunters, warriors, fishers and providers, luring them with false promises and stealing them away?
This is what happened many times in the 1600s on and around Cape Cod. In one such abduction in 1614, Captain Thomas Hunt enticed 20 Wampanoag men from Patuxet (Plymouth) and seven from Nauset, with trade of kettles for fur, and kidnapped them, shipping them to England, and beyond, and selling them into enslavement.
This is the story central to “Captured 1614: Our Story — A Wampanoag History,” a new exhibit consisting of six evocative and informative panels and a series of short films that remember and re-enact the 400th anniversary of this event. The show is on display through June 30 at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum and will be added to every year until the events and activities of Plymouth 400 in 2020. Plymouth 400 marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival on our shores and is incorporating this show into its line-up to remind everyone of the perspective of those who were here long before the Pilgrims.
Wampanoag tribal member Paula Peters produced the panels and videos in the show through her company Smoke Sygnals and with the support of the Indian Spiritual and Cultural Training Council as well as the organizers of Plymouth 400.
To kick off the show, a limited number of guests can participate in a reception, from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 28, at the museum. During the event, the museum will open only to visitors who have made a reservation to attend the reception, but a few extra tickets will be available at the door.
The reception features native cuisine catered by Sly Fox Den and Wampanoag chef Sherry Pocknett. Wampanoag singer James Moreis performs the Wampanoag Nation Honor Song, and Paula Peters, executive producer of the exhibition, will speak to guests about the importance of this project.
A former journalist, Peters says not mentioning the enslavement and disease that started off the interaction with the English is a case of “historians burying the lede.” But she was amazed at how the Plymouth 400 committee “did the right thing,” saying there was immediate approval, agreement about balancing the tale of the Mayflower with that of the Wampanoag; backed with funding and no censorship.
The exhibit evokes the loss of husbands, fathers, sons and brothers.
We see that Captain John Smith, for whom Hunt worked, wrote, “Thomas Hunt betrayed twenty seven of these poore innocent soules, which he sould in Spain for slaves, to move their hate against our nation.” Though he, and later William Bradford (who came with his colonists under a patent founded by Smith) bemoaned these unconscionable acts, the damage was done. The misery inflicted and the mistrust of the English set the stage.
In the room with the exhibit, a painting of “First Encounter” depicts the colonists landing at Eastham being rebuffed by the Nausets’ arrows. “When you know the story of the kidnapping, it’s clear why they were distrustful and wanted to chase the strangers away,” says John McDonagh, executive director of the Monument and Museum. It is amazing that the Wampanoag forgave these depredations enough to send Squanto, who himself had been Hunt’s sole returning captive, to aid the starving remnants of the Mayflower passengers.
Chief Vernon Lopez “Silent Drum” narrates in one video how his people moved from the inland areas to the coast and, when “the cold wind blew the leaves back to earth,” moved inland again. He says the self-sufficient life, lived in reciprocity with nature and other humans, produced a happy people — planting, gathering, fishing, hunting, singing and dancing.
In other videos, representatives of the tribe such as John Peters Jr., dressed in traditional fur mantle, shell gorget and hair roach, reenact and tell stories. Aquinnah’s Linda Coombs relates how Epanow managed to return from an earlier captivity than Hunt’s to Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard).
In “Who Will Teach My Son to Be a Man,” Nitana Hicks Greendeer asks who are these people “acting like animals stealing people away from their homes?”
There is a certain irony in seeing the compelling exhibit adjacent to where the Mayflower, looking so much like the vessel that captured the Indians, is lauded.
But the Wampanoag say, “We are still here,” underscoring this statement with this powerful, new and unfolding multimedia show.
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