With Thanksgiving and other Harvest/Fall celebrations coming up, I thought I'd re-share this article from some time ago. I never cease to be inspired by incredible native beadwork and seed bead artists from around the world. I hope you enjoy --
Some Natives have termed Thanksgiving 'a national day of mourning', since many tribes encountered by early Americans are now either extinct due to diseases carried by Pilgrims and/or Puritans, as well as war and genocide. Weetamoo (c. 1635–1676) was a Pocasset Wampanoag Native American leader, whose husband (one of five that she had over the years) was a participant in the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims. Her name means "Sweet Heart". According to the Tiverton Four Corners website, "the squaw sachem, Weetamoo" governed the Pocasset tribe, which occupied today's Tiverton, Rhode Island in 1620. Weetamoo joined "with King Philip in fighting the colonists" in 1680, in King Philip's War, also known as "Metacomet's Rebellion." Her adolescent life was made into a children's historical novel in The Royal Diaries series, entitled Weetamoo, Heart of the Pocasetts: Rhode Island-Massachusetts, 1653. Weetamoo also appears in print in Mary Rowlandson's The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. Rowlandson, who was captured 1676 and held by Weetamoo's relative Quinnapin for three months, left a vivid description of Weetamoo's appearance as well as personality:
"A severe and proud dame she was, bestowing every day in dressing herself neat as much time as any of the gentry of the land: powdering her hair, and painting her face, going with necklaces, with jewels in her ears, and bracelets upon her hands. When she had dressed herself, her work was to make girdles of wampum and beads."
I like to think of Weetamoo, crafting her girdle of wampum and beads. She would have painstakingly made the beads herself, rounding small pieces of the quahog clam shell, then piercing them with a hole -- perhaps with a handcrafted wooden drill with a quartz tip. It was delicate work. If she didn't keep the shell wet while drilling, cutting or resurfacing, it would crack, split or break. After the beads were made, she would likely have used a simple loom made from a curved stick, resembling an archer's bow. Weaving would involve stringing the beads onto twisted plant fibers and securing them to animal sinew, deer hide thongs, milkweed bast, or basswood fibers. The fruit of her labor would have been a magnificent girdle (a sort of drape) to wear around her waist -- wrapping around her skirt and reaching below her knees -- and elaborately decorated with beads and embroidery, something like that pictured above. The design itself may have shown her family relationships or connections between groups in her community.
This type of art is astounding, and virtually lost in our modern world. When I encounter anyone who has maintained such native craft in their lives, or restored it within their family and traditions, I am humbled and amazed. As we (and this 'we' presumes an predominant audience of relatively mainstream, white Americans) spend time with our own families and celebrate our blessings and wellbeing, let us remember those our ancestors encountered, sparred and partnered with, harmed, and eventually -- even if not always intentionally -- destroyed. And perhaps for a moment, we might give thanks for visions, even though fleeting, of how humanity might someday learn to live in peace and harmony together, and without prejudice, greed and destruction.
As we view our very humanity through these delicate beads -- exhibiting our common love for nature, for skill beyond measure -- for expression of beauty -- maybe we can start with thankfulness just for that.
May you have much joy and thankfulness over the upcoming holidays --
Until next time,
p.s. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy the post 'Manhattan: Sold for $24 worth of beads?'