Zach's Cliffs, Aquinnah, on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
It’s said Moshup, the great god that ruled the Wampanoag of Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the east coast Massachusetts, lived for many centuries and took good care of his people. Yet, there finally came a time when he felt he was being crowded out. He thought this not only because there wouldn’t be enough room for a fellow as large as was he.
No, Moshup thought it because was also because he saw the spirits of nature were growing quiet. The people had learned of the Christian God from Thomas Mayhew Jr, son of the man who bought the island; they fully embraced the new faith. Now, Moshup was too good a god of nature to try to destroy others merely for his own gain or their beliefs; he was also too proud to complain. After communing with his dear wife, Squannit, his children and the spirits of earth and sea, he made up his mind as to what he should do.
Moshup would remove himself and his gigantic tribe from the affairs of mortals. By this time, he and his wife had quite the large brood of sons and daughters. He sent his children the beach that in those days connected No Man’s Land to Aquinnah. Then, as they played happily, he made a deep mark across each end of the beach with his big toe, that was so deep were these gouges that the sea flowed quickly through the cuts and caused the sands to wash away.
His children feared they would drown. The boys held the girls up to save them. Moshup called out to them and said they should act as if they were going to kill whales. The moment they did, they transformed into killers, which is a type of fish known in those waters. The cause of all of this was simple: great Moshup was not merely a fountain of all wisdom; he was also a gifted wizard as well.
It’s said the girls, decked out in their most colorful striped shawls became quite the beautiful striped bass. To this day, those fish are only ones that swim in the waters around the island.
There then remained a single task. It was time for Moshup and his beloved, Squannit, to depart. The people wept to see them go. No words, no deeds, could dissuade them from their journey.
Taking the trail, along the south beach, which led toward the rising sun, they passed Molitiah’s Ledge, then Peaked Rocks and Black Rock. Finally, they came to Zach’s Cliffs and there it was they found final repose in a beach hummock.
Their minds and bodies merged with all of nature itself, they vanished and have never been seen since. The islanders believe those folk gifted with hearts full of love for this most special of places and especially sharp eyes will see, sometimes, the swirling smoke of their campfire.
Every now and then dear old Squannit will occasionally appear to certain happy men that are returning home after a late night visit to a sick friend or some other place. I seem to recall my father catching sight of her one evening as he was coming home from one of the bars on Circuit Avenue, but that could just be a silly story.
Now, my four tales of the Wampanoag of the island are done. I hope you have enjoyed them. Should you one day find yourself on Martha’s Vineyard, I hope you will visit these places and be sure to honor Moshup and his clan. Who knows, if you are worthy, you might just catch sight of a certain column of smoke or a dear old woman.
This is the fourth installment, in a four-part series, on the Wampanoag. They are earliest known settlers of Martha’s Vineyard, which, today, is a summer colony for vacationers, off the east coast of Massachusetts.
Click here to read installment one.
Click here to read installment two.
Click here to read installment three.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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