Sunday, November 18, 2018

Folk Tale Secret Stash: Moshup the Giant.

I know I said that I would post more Muppet stuff this week, but I think it’s best to let that one sit for a while and we can come back to it.  You see, I wasn’t really planning too far ahead and didn’t realize that Thanksgiving was coming so soon.

Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday in the grand scheme of things.  And I don’t just mean because not everyone gets along with their relatives.  The holiday as we know it today actually stems from the 1860s when a prominent writer and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale (the woman who wrote the children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, I kid you not) lobbied the U.S. government to create a national Thanksgiving holiday.  Thanksgiving holidays were nothing unusual in the early U.S., but they varied from state to state.  President Abraham Lincoln, though, saw the potential in having such a day after some major Union victories in the concurrently happening Civil War and turned Hale’s idea into a national holiday.  However, that’s not the story we attach to Thanksgiving.  Instead, we tell a story about Puritans and native Wampanoag people sitting down at this great big feast in Plymouth which became known as the “first Thanksgiving”.  There was a feast like that, too.  Granted, it happened two months earlier in September and the main course was venison rather than turkey.   
However, looking back at that feast it’s hard not to just look at it and see it as, well . . . a precursor to genocide.

The native people of this continent have not been treated well.  Heck, they’re still not treated all that well.  Things like “paper genocide” deny people their heritage.  The U.S. government continues to break treaties made with native peoples.  Not to mention the poverty often found on reservations.
What can we do to make things better?  Well, a good place to start might be to embrace their stories.  After all, nothing brings people closer together than sharing stories.

Which brings us to the character of Moshup the Giant.
Moshup is a culture hero of the Wampanoag and Mohegan peoples, the same tribes that lived in the area of Plymouth before the Puritans showed up.  Stories vary on the exact details regarding Moshup.  However, most of the versions I’ve read say he lived on the island of Martha’s Vineyard near a town now called Gay Head.  There is even a crater there, where it’s said that Moshup sat.
Like many culture heroes, Moshup’s actions shaped the very landscape.  Moshup liked to eat whales.  He would catch the whales with his bare hands and then roast them over a fire made from the trees that he would rip right out of the ground.  In order to get out into the water where the whales are, he threw stones out into the water to stand on.  These stones still exist, spanning the between Cuttyhunk and the mainland.  Today, they’re called the Devil’s Bridge.

He was a great friend to the local people.  He would share his food with them and they would share their tobacco with him.  One year, the Wampanoag people gathered up all the tobacco they had harvested in a year and gave it to Moshup in appreciation of all he had done for them.  Moshup smoked the tobacco, which was barely enough for someone of his size, and then emptied the ashes into the ocean.  The ashes became the island of Nantucket.

Another story tells of how Moshup once fought and killed a great man-eating bird monster.  He waited until the bird seemed to get close enough to rip out his heart with its talons and then grabbed the killer bird and wrung it’s neck.  It was shortly after that Moshup met Squant, the sea-woman who would become his wife (well, second wife.  He had some trouble with the first one).

Though there are bound to be variations, pretty much every version of the story I’ve found ends with Moshup leaving.  He slips into the bay or leaves for some cave somewhere.  But before he goes, he warns the Wampanoag and Mohegan peoples that a strange breed of man with pale skin would come to their shore.  He warned that they should not let the pale people come ashore, for if they did then their people would be no more.
And you know, he was pretty much right.  Though Wampanoag and Mohegan people still exist, their way of life was never really the same after those pale people came ashore.

It still isn’t and the U.S. government still tries to screw over these people.  Just this year, the Department of the Interior issued a decision in which it refused to reaffirm its own authority to confirm the status of the Mashpee Wampanoag  Reservation.  This could pave the way for the reservation to be taken out of trust, which is bad news.  Millions of dollars in funding are being lost or delayed that are needed for education, clean water programs, emergency services, housing and substance abuse programs.

If you want to read more about the Mashpee Wampanoag Reservation and their legal troubles, you can go to their web page or look for the hashtag #standwithmashpee on Twitter.  There’s even a link to the law they want to get passed.  I’ll also give you a link to where I got some of the Moshup stories if you want to see more.

This Thanksgiving, enjoy your food and enjoy your family, but remember there are still people out there who are a huge part of the American story that still need help.

Until next time.

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