I started my Native Connecticut experience today at the Pequot Museum of the Mashantucket tribe. My first impression was, this is a lot of museum for the experience. The excess of architecture was even more exaggerated by the long walk through open space–“follow the paw prints”– to the long ramp going down to the exhibits. I was already a bit visually exhausted.
When I wandered into the Pequot Village, with its sounds of birds, crickets, and rushing water and the smell of the fire and cedar, everything changed.
I won’t say I suspended my disbelief enough to really immerse. After all, there’s something about fake humans that just doesn’t send me. But this experience was much livelier and more interesting, plus it’s apparently what draws visitors and puts this museum in the ‘gem’ category.
So enter into late summer of 1550, to the uninterrupted, idyllic, daily life of the Pequot.
My interest was captured by the wigwam. I liked being able to go inside one and site down to contemplate life is such a small space. I liked how the newlyweds were shown, building their new home together. How they bent saplings to create the structure, then covered it with bark, as you see here. A vertical log cabin. No windows, but the People spent very little time inside.
One to two families would share a wigwam, with the hearth at the center and sleeping platforms around the periphery. The beds were covered with pelts of red fox, mink, skunk (yes, really), and the rare black wolf. Deer skin would cover the open doorway, and when it rained, the smoke hole was covered with a piece of bark.
No space was wasted, and this wigwam had drying corn, hemp for twine and fish net, snow shoes, antlers ready to make into tools, arrow wood for the shafts of arrows, and a fish spear with a 3-pronged head.
In the years after, we witness their lifestyle disappearing. The housing style changed, became Anglicized, as did the clothing.
I enjoyed the sense of pride of the tribe today, with several galleries devoted to its life today. The gallery-wide oral histories added a personal touch, too.
So the museum is a funny mix of oooold stuff and new museum technology. A bit curious.
I must admit to being completely puzzled by these items in the gift store. Expensive at $180, these dresses represent…what? I don’t want to speculate.
Hmmm. There’s even one in the front window. So I’m clearly missing something.
But time waits for no traveler, so I left my puzzlement behind and moved on to the next Native Connecticut adventure–an author reading in the tiny town hall of Voluntown, an event that was part of the Connecticut Authors Trail. Some people there were serious Trail groupies, traveling around the state to hear local authors speak about their work. Others, like me, were attracted to this particular reading.
This standing room only crowd knew the Tantaquidgeon family, an old Wabanaki name, and many knew Melissa’s great aunt, a revered herbalist (read Medicine Woman). They oooh’d and ahhh’d about the Tantaquidgeon Museum of “Indian traditions” in Uncasville, which darn it, I learned about too late to visit today. Thank goodness for tomorrow. This was a bit of a love fest for Melissa, which was delightful.
Here’s an important bit of hierarchy I learned. Wabanaki is the umbrella name for all the New England tribes, Pequot, Mohegan, etc. Waba means east or dawn and naki means land. So People of the Land of the Dawn. Nice, eh?
Mona Lisa (yes, really), Melissa’s main character learns about her New England native heritage through the course of the book, while also solving a cold-case murder. Way to go, Mona! The book is a chance for us to learn, too, about the woods of the ‘North Land” and the history, mysteries, and culture of these People connected by canoes and toboggans on the superhighway that is and was the Connecticut River.
So much of this is new to me, so I’m adding Wabanaki Blues to my reading list to fill in my Native New England gaps!