An American Thanksgiving.byddimilano©
Squanto was my grandfather. He taught his children English, and my mother taught me. We are of the village Patuxet, among the Wampanoag nation. Patuxet no longer exists. Now there stands Plymouth. I was born twenty-five summers ago in the back of a wagon. We were in retreat to Quebec. The French would harbor us. We fled King Philip's War. We were not always at war.
Squanto was among the first to meet the Pilgrims from England. He had been a friend of the English explorer John Weymouth. He even went to England, and later returned with Caption Weymouth one year before the Pilgrims arrived. Upon their return, our village was empty, except for some skeletons. The white slavers had left an illness behind.
The Pilgrims arrived without enough food. Many had died on the voyage. It was the custom among many Algonquian tribes to take in and assist strangers and visitors. My grandfather and others did just that. When it was time for the annual feast of Autumn, they all ate together. We had such large families—as many as ninety people in one—that we needed to bring more food. So we returned to the Pilgrim settlement with most of the food: deer, turkey, partridge, duck, succotash, white fish, corn soup, squash, sweet potato, watercress, berries, and maple sugar candy.
At that dinner, a treaty was agreed upon that gave the English the Plymouth settlement and the surrounding area. We still had plenty of land on which to dwell and to hunt. So there was plenty of room for all...until more ships came.
More and more English continued to arrive. They cleared the forest and built permanent houses with hard floors. They built structures for trade, commerce, and places of worship. They worshiped much differently than the Wampanoag.
Right before she was taken by the Great Spirit, my grandmother told me why she left her Pilgrim family at nineteen and fled into the forest to find Squanto. She told a story of a prayer by Mather the Elder that thanked the White God for the smallpox that killed the majority of our people and for the opportunity to expand into the forest and hunt us down, since we did not worship the same.
My grandmother told me that in England the pilgrims were not tolerant of the religion of the majority. They left to create a society of Puritans in the New World called the "Kingdom of God," as foretold in a book called Revelation. She said that they believed in a great destruction in Europe called "Armageddon," and that they saw themselves as a "Chosen Elect."
After she left and joined Squanto and became one of the Wampanoag, the Puritans systematically began to "purify" the future "Kingdom of God." They used many deceptions, treachery, torture, war, and genocide to fight what they perceived to be a holy war against the "heathens" and all who believed differently. This was King Philip's War.
It is now two generations since the feast at Plymouth. We live away from our home now, in the French territory west of New England. We still commemorate this day, as we did before the Pilgrims arrived. We give thanks five times a year: to mark the beginning of the year we have the maple dance, which thanks the Great Spirit for the maple tree and the syrup; second is the planting feast, where seeds are blessed; the strawberry festival is next, celebrating the first fruits of the season; in summer the green corn festival, giving thanks for the ripened corn; autumn is the last of the festivals, the one that was shared with the Pilgrims. Ironically, the last is my favorite, since we now have a new custom when giving thanks for a bountiful year.
You see, since my grandmother left the English and came to join us, it was decided that once a year we should bring a white female into our tribe in order to commemorate the role the Pilgrims played in our culture. Since I am the eldest female descendent of the first, it is my place to prepare her.
Once a year before the feast, a young woman is captured in a raid of the settlers on the colonial frontier. One is taken who is without child but old enough to bear. She is brought back from the periphery of New England blindfolded and tied; but not mistreated, violated, or abused.
This year the braves brought back one of considerable beauty, she is fair of complexion, with hair of gold and light brown, green eyes, flushed cheeks, a round behind, full lips, and breasts that would fill a man's cupped hand. She stood in my wigwam, stripped naked, still tied, and afraid.
With us were a few women from previous celebrations. Most had adjusted well. Some married into the tribe. Others were content to serve the chiefs. They all learned our customs and ways. Most understand the reason for this annual ritual, due to the anger and frustration of our people. Since they were all treated well afterwards, most are happy. The ones chosen to assist me do so as entertainment. The elder Wampanoag women watch and supervise, but do not assist. It has become a rite of passage for the white women, an initiation of sorts.
As she stands in the center of the wigwam, next to the fire, on a bearskin, I speak to her. She is shocked to hear her native tongue. She is shocked even more, as the blindfold is removed and she sees the other girls of like complexion dressed in deerskin wrap-around skirts, leggings, moccasins, and fur capes of beaver, otter, and bear. She is still naked, and well aware of it as she tries to cover herself in vain, her arms tied behind her back.
"Would you like to cover yourself?" I asked, as the other women giggled.
"Yes," she said, still trembling, partly from of fear, partly because of the cold.
"No need for that, my dear. You will be warm enough in a moment, and more comfortable, too. It's time for your bath."
A large basin was filled with steaming hot water. I guided her over to help her sit in the water. She settles in slowly, inching her way, to get used to the temperature. Another one of the girls brought soaps. Another brought cloth and a brush with which to scrub her.
I poured warm water over her head and her hair flattened to the sides of her face.
"There...doesn't that feel better?" I asked.
"Yes. Where am I?"
"You're with the Wampanoag nation, in the French Territory. You're just in time for our Autumn feast."
"A feast?" she asked with cautious wonderment.
"Yes! You're the main course!" We all laughed.
"What?" she quivered. Trembling as she recollected many stories of "savages" eating other people, performing human sacrifices, scalping British settlers, and selling them to the French.
"Oh, my sweet," I said while fondling her cheek. I then reached down to her breast, "Do not be worried. No one is going to eat you." I laughed.
"Let's go! Scrub her up!" I ordered. The other young woman began to rub the soapy water into her body, cleaning off all the dirt from her long trip, washing her hair, rinsing the soap from her eyes, standing her up, parting her legs, and washing up high between her thighs. She lowered her head in embarrassment, letting her long hair hang over her face.
She was then rinsed from head to toe. Standing as instructed, hands clasped on top her head, chin up, legs spread, staring off into space, trying not to make eye contact with anyone, she was fully on display.
Lowered to her back, she now laid flat on the underside of the bearskin. Inverted so as not to stick to her wet body, they went to work to dry her. Her legs were raised, knees bent as she was cleaned even further. She gasped in mortification as a hot wet cloth was inserted, with the help of a finger, into her bottom, then another cloth into her sex.
"Oh, a woman of purity!" an older one exclaimed. "Never been touched, heh, or just not there, where it counts!" They all laughed now, as our initiate turned her head and began to lose her composure. She looked at me, hoping I would say something to help her, hoping I would stop this treatment of her, wanting it to end.
But it would not. Now one girl soaped up her sex and another produced a blade. She yelled, "No! Don't cut me! Please?"
"No one is going to cut you, dear. Now just be still. They're just going to shave that pretty hair off you," as I petted her forehead. "Here, drink this. You should feel better."
I poured a hot mixture of herbal tea and fermented corn mash into her mouth. She wasn't used to it, but it seemed to help. She stopped fussing as they shaved her clean.
"All right, make her up. It's almost time," I said.
Her hair was dried and combed back; braided into one long form, coiled up and wrapped in the back of her head. This would provide comfort as she was laid back down on her back, her hair serving as a pillow. Light eye color (made from dyes extracted from wild flower petals dried and ground into a paste) was applied over her eyelids. Red cream was applied with a small brush to her lips, drawing out the color dramatically, as well as to her cheeks and nipples.
A vat of heated turkey fat, scented with different flower petals and ferns, was then brought into the wigwam. Placed next to her, along with two pieces of hemp rope, she looked and cried out, "I thought they were not going to eat me!"
"Oh, no one will eat you. I promise," I replied, as laughter filled the wigwam, "but you will be the center of the feast!"
The young women each took handfuls of the mixture and rubbed it all over the girl. Her body was slippery and glistened as the firelight bounced off her. Greased all over, even parts of her that she could not see, she wiggled at the discomfort; not sure what was next. As I raised her breasts, pushing them together, another grabbed her wrists, extending them down between her legs, pushing her breasts even further together and up high, her wrists were then tied together. Next, her legs were raised, knees bent and splayed, ankles crossed at her wrists, all now tied together.
Unable to move, she asked what was going to happen to her. Ignoring her question, we raised her up and placed her on a wooden platter. Then, for decoration, as well as a dish to be served, cranberries were inserted in her sex. Garnishing the platter with fruit and gourds, I placed an apple in her mouth, not only for added decoration, but also to prevent her from talking. There she was, the centerpiece for our Autumn feast.
We brought her out to the crowd. They all cheered as we placed her in the center of all the food. Everyone gazed at our newest little morsel, stuffed, tied, glisteningly pretty, and helplessly on display for all to see.
"Don't try to move now," I whispered in her ear. "The chief might want to punish you then. You certainly don't want that!"
I sat close to her during the feast. The men all stared at her while they ate and spoke of her crudely. Sometimes I would interpret for her and tell her what they said, just so she would hear exactly how it was intended. I whispered into her ear, causing her eyes to widen in shock as she listened to the discussion of her body in such raw terms. She now understood all the details of what they wished to do with her when alone. After this she would be my servant until the next year when we would get another. Then she would move up in status and be courted by the son of a chiefly family—if she behaved properly.
I saw a fly buzz over her and land on her breast. She tried to flinch and make it fly away. One of the braves saw her move; he reached over and pinched her nipple, twisting it harshly. I could hear a slight yelp from her stuffed mouth. The crowd broke out in laughter.
I enjoyed watching her flinch. I took a berry and flicked it at her with my finger. No one saw me do it, but they saw her flinch again. Her breast was slapped for it.
Another brave took the feather from his hair, walked over, and began to lightly tickle her around her open buttocks. She squirmed. He took one of the gourds from the table and inserted it into her greased backside. She made a grunting sound. Then he reached his finger into her sex and removed some of the cranberries. He ate them proudly in front of us all. He looked down at her wantonly. They made eye contact. He smiled at her while eating another cranberry. Something tells me that, once she is done serving me for a year, he will be the first to come calling.
We all have much for which to be thankful. Even while our culture is being uprooted and almost extinguished, we can still give thanks. We can give thanks for our life in this world, for the pets we have, and for the food we eat. For myself in particular, I give thanks for the Autumn feast itself. I give thanks that at least—I'm not the turkey!