(The information on this page was written by people of the Wampanoag Tribe. If you are interested in learning more about the Wampanoag Tribe, you can visit their website at: http://www.wampanoagtribe.net)
THE PEOPLE OF THE FIRST LIGHT
Moshop was a man of peace who first lived on the elbow of Cape Cod. He loved to contemplate the beauty about him and would sit long hours tranquilly smoking his big Peudelee, or pipe, while he watched the clouds or stared out at the ever-changing sea. He was known as a just man and a kindly philosopher whose wisdom was unquestioned. He excelled in feasts of strength and bravery, which the envious attributed to magic. This caused malice and dissension to arise among some of his neighbors. After long consideration, Moshop decided he was weary of strife and discord. He would search out a new place where he and his followers may live in peace.
Along the marshes of Nauset on Cape Cod, over the dunes and through the forests, Moshop and his wife Squant and their people walked with the rising sun and the sun guided them toward land which was new to them. The shore birds flew up ahead of them. Pheasant and deer looked on with wonder, then scurried into hiding behind bayberry, sumac, viburnum, and wind-swept oaks.
At last, spent with walking, Moshop paused to look about him. As he slowly dragged one huge foot, water rushed in and a pool formed behind him. The pool deepened and became a channel and the tide swept in to separate a portion of land. That land became an island separated from Cape Cod by blue water. Soon his footsteps were marked by a chain of small islands, but it was the land that lay ahead which fulfilled Moshop's desire and became the beautiful island of all. Moshop named this largest island, Capawack, or "Refuge Place."
From the westernmost high clay cliffs of Capawack, Moshop could see whales playing close to shore. There were forests edged by ponds of fresh water; sheltered fields for planting, and beauty wherever he looked. Never before had he gazed on such perfection. Truly the Great Spirit had led him here. This was the Refuge Place he had been seeking.
With housewifely concern, Squant set about preparing their first meal. Moshop pointed to nearby young trees and she pulled some of them up for firewood. Today there are no sizable trees on Gay Head, for Moshop's wife and children burned constant fires in their lodges. Smoke from these fires settled in a haze over the hills and today Old People sagely nod their heads and say the haze that often is seen comes from Old Squant's fire, or if the fog is unusually thick, then Moshop is smoking his pipe, or Peudelee.
Moshop provided the food for Squant to cook by wading out into the sea and catching a whale by the tail. Quickly he dashed it against the cliff so the blood ran down in a crimson stain. It ran down into the sea and stained the water red, as the water sometimes is stained today when the surf washes against the cliffs, which have red clay deposits.
As the family of Moshop and Squant grew in size, they continued to eat their meals at the edge of their cliff home where they discarded the whale bones as well as bones of other animals. There were many bones and sometimes teeth of animals unknown in present times. These are still found today by sharp eyed visitors who recognize them embedded in the cliffs or washed down on the beach.
Scientists say that the rise of the land ceased at that time, but it still continues today and the sea is constantly nibbling away at Moshop's land.
Written by Helen Attaquin, Aquinnah Wampanoag
LIVING ON THE LAND
The history of Martha's Vineyard reaches back to a time before the Island was an island - when glaciers scraped over the earth, leaving behind a dramatic display of cliffs, rocks, and ponds. The Wampanoag were the first people of Noepe. For thousands of years these People of the First Light have been partners with Noepe. From the fishing shores to the inland woodlands, from the sand plains to the glacial ponds, the Island has provided for its people. And the Wampanoag have given back through wise stewardship of the land and sea.
Hunting and fishing lands were divided among the Island's four sachem tribes and were used and lived on seasonally and often cooperatively. As the English arrived, they created laws stating that land that was not occupied by people was not owned. In this way, much Wampanoag land was appropriated by the settlers. As Aquinnah Wampanoag began to understand English law in the 1800s, however, some rented their unoccupied land to the English settlers in order to ensure it remained Wampanoag land.
The influence of our tribe can be felt island wide. Environmental practices and values taught to the settlers long ago still help inform and maintain the island's pristine beauty. Roads which wind and bend across the island gracefully follow paths once worn smooth by our ancestors. Wampanoag place names pay homage to the earth's bounty. Everywhere on the Island are reminders of our Wampanoag heritage and community.
BULRUSH, which grows in Herring Creek and other wetlands, was used in olden times to make mats that lined the inside of the wetu - the dome-shaped traditional home of the Wampanoag. Wetus built today still follow this tradition.
CORN, BEANS, AND SQUASH
Traditionally, corn, bean, and squash were important crops usually planted together by the women of the tribe (and for that reason called "the three sisters"). The broad leaves of corn provided shelter from the sun; the corn stalk was a living stake for the bean and squash vines; and the squash vines provided good cover, ensuring maximum capture of rain and minimum erosion. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil. And all three attract predatory insects that prey upon pests.
WINNETUKQET (EDGARTOWN GREAT POND) means "place of good river" and is a site where the Nunnepog Wampanoag once lived.
OLD WHALING CHURCH, like much of Edgartown, was built at the height of the whaling industry in 1843. The English settlers learned whaling from the Wampanoag - who were internationally renowned for the excellence of their harpooning skill. It was considered good luck to have an Aquinnah Wampanoag on board a whale ship. They were usually employed as boatsteerers and thrust the harpoon into the whale. Some also became first mates and captains. The Wampanoag's relationship to the whale was different than the Europeans, who sought only the oil. Wampanoag whalers used as much of the slain whale as possible. In the old days, there were so many whales that the tribe could hunt close to shore from canoes.
KATAMA BEACH According to tribal history, Katama was a beautiful young Wampanoag maiden, the daughter of Nashamois, chief of the Wintuckets. Katama was in love with Mattakesett, the proud and handsome chief of the tribe whose name he bore. But Katama was promised to marry an old chief of a neighboring Tribe. And so Katama and Mattakesett knew that their love was forbidden. One day, Katama discovered that her tribe was planning a raid on the corn fields of the Mattakesett. Worried that some ill fate might befall her lover, she ran to warn Mattakesett. But even with the warning, the outnumbered Mattakesett were no match for the Wintuckets, and they were driven back in a brutal battle. That night, under the growing light of the moon, Katama saw that all was lost. She could not return to her people (who knew that she had betrayed them); nor could she become the bride of Mattakesett (now that her people had raided his tribe's corn). With the invaders taking the corn to their villages, the weary Mattakesett came to Katama. Since their love was strong and true, he said, surely the sea could help them find happiness. Together the young lovers walked across the sand to the sea. Once there Mattakesett drew Katama to him and together they plunged into the water, swimming down the shining path of the moon. To this day, when the moon shines on the shores of the beach that bears Katama's name, two dolphin lovers can be seen swimming together in the silvery moonlight.