Something to Think About

Here’s a basic general juxtaposition, upon which I will expand at some further point. It concerns intentionally-built earth structures: what is their original purpose/premise and how are they understood (or, more typically, not) by those who come after?

silbury hill neolithic mound wiltshire

First, a well-known example at Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, England near “the stone circles of Avebury and a few miles from Stonehenge.” You can read a basic overview here, from which I extract the following (evolving) observations:

“Dr Jim Leary, English Heritage archaeologist, said the creators were building the mound as part of a ‘continuous story telling ritual’ – and that the final shape of the mound may have been unimportant… the final form of the Hill did not matter – it was the construction process that was important. …It was a place that was heavily inscribed with folk memories that recalled ancestors and their origins.

‘What is emerging is a picture of Neolithic people having the same need to anchor and share ideas and stories as we do now, and that built structures like Silbury Hill may not be conceived as grand monuments of worship but intimate gestures of communication.’ “

*****

And, continuing in a comparable morphology and much closer to home in Sokoki country, a somewhat similar circumstance and response, is this item from Brattleboro’s Vermont Phoenix newspaper of August 6, 1897:

“The Guilford mound, which has long been supposed to contain Indian relics and which was to have been opened by some Brattleboro men, was opened by some Guilford men last Saturday. The mound was about 50 feet square and 15 feet high and was covered with a thick growth of trees, some of which were four inches through, with roots large enough to impede somewhat the progress of the shovels, nevertheless the men were undaunted and set to work energetically, determined that if within the sides of the mound there were any articles which would interest the world in general they would have the credit of discovering them. They began at the side of the mound, digging a hole large enough for them to stand up in, and penetrated the mound ten feet. No relics were unearthed and six more feet of excavation were made, but still no relics. Then the men began digging on top of the mound and descended 10 feet. At this point the sides of the last excavation caved in and the relic hunters shouldered their shovels and concluded that the secret of that pile of dirt would forever remain unknown so long as they were depended upon to reveal it.”

Not too surprising… you find what you’re looking for – or you miss it completely.

On a Hillside

cupules guilford large center hole

A compilation of some information about anthropic holes created in native rock, for future learning about the ways of ‘being here.’

Pictured above are cupules, which are circular man-made hollows on the surface of a rock or a rock slab, in a bedrock deposit of local Waits River marble. The holes are in a vertically-split slab of the formation, which is a common sight here lying in beds running north-south some distance west of the Connecticut River. It is very soft and easy to carve, and always covered with a heavy growth of moss and lichen, because of the high calcium levels. It weathers to dark brown.

While Waits River marble is easily eroded, and often assumes the most fantastic shapes because of this weathering – I’m quite familiar with it in this region – these holes look to me to be human creations. My first thought was bullet holes, given its exposed flat face, but there is no shatter as would be expected. They are rather deliberate cup-shaped depressions, with well-defined edges. As a first impression, I noted that there was a cluster of three, encircled by a rough ring of other holes, about 270 degrees around (not quite a full circle). There are a couple other single holes that don’t seem to fit a pattern, at first blush.

Here’s a Wikipedia article on the subject. The article is generalized and worldwide; practices would necessarily differ depending on the associated place-based culture. It is my understanding – very incomplete, but expanding – in this landscape (Sokwakik/Sokoki country) that these creations are a product of ceremony, a direct accessing of knowledge held inside the rock, and centered only in certain locations. It is a form of petroglyph, which function similarly. As I understand, each hole is a symbolic entrance into the underworld/spiritworld and the past, to facilitate transfer of power into the present through the intermediation of a medicine person.

cupules guilford close up

I am still learning how to understand these ways, in this specific landscape. The evidence of these actions is, I feel, necessarily place-based and not randomly transferable, at will. While there are some generally applicable explanations for the methodologies (the how/what), it is much more challenging to understand the reasons they are focused in discrete areas (the why/who/when). Certain people went to certain places at certain times for certain reasons. What makes these places a destination? What are the associations that create the recognition that these are places of certain power?

These are not the only rock carvings in the area. There is another site a couple thousand feet away. The prospect from here is roughly east to southeast, on a slight hillside, looking across a small valley with a sizable brook. I happen to be aware from research that the first Euro settler in this town established himself nearby, in the valley immediately below; that is usually a significant clue that the area was known as significant and utilized in some manner. As a matter of course, there is a Native trail passing nearby.

Various scholars have undertaken to study this practice, with all of the usual differences in approach and conclusions. Some probably draw closer to the sources than others. An entire conference was organized in the last decade around cupules. Here are two papers from that conference’s presentations:

The Interpretation of cupules by Robert G. Bednarik

The ambiguity of depressions in rock art by Maarten van Hoek

 

 

Let The Landscape Speak

indigenous ceremonial stone landscapes presentation schedule

Please note that the May 19th appearance with Doug Harris is part of the Day of Remembrance Commemoration of the 342nd Anniversary of the Great Falls Massacre and the 14th Anniversary of the Reconciliation Ceremony between the Narragansett and the Town of Montague. The evening before, May 18, 7:30 p.m., our special guests will be authors Lisa Brooks and Christine DeLucia whose books about King Philip’s War were recently published. Read more on our website, www.nolumbekaproject.org. Reminder: Christine DeLucia will be giving a presentation at GCC on Wednesday, April 4, at 7 p.m. More on website and Facebook.

Strange Events at Vilas Bridge: A Cultural Misunderstanding?

fact cast vilas bridge

Combining local myth with a spooky storyline, the producers of Strange Events At Vilas Bridge have created a new television series they’re calling a “supernatural thriller.”

But in their efforts to tell a scary tale, are they misrepresenting local history and culture?

Read the full article by Wendy M. Levy in The Commons (02.21.2018).

Strange Events at the Vilas Bridge

Alex Stradling and Mike Smith had an idea to raise community involvement in Bellows Falls.

The two run the local television station, Falls Area Community TV, Stradling as the stations executive director and Smith as the board’s president. FACT TV teaches young and old alike how to work in the broadcast industry. The station also films local town events like Select Board meetings. Lately, however, the station has been branching out into entertainment-based shows. From religion talk shows to news, to shows examining horror, FACT TV is expanding its brand.

In November, the station debuted a fictional series. “Strange Events at the Vilas Bridge,” is a roughly 49-minute show that feels like a small movie. Only the first episode has been produced and aired, but Stradling hopes to film the next episode in spring.

Stradling said the station worked together to pair experienced actors and crews with beginners.

The first episode stars four teenagers who work together to uncover the Vilas Bridge’s supernatural past. The episode has teenagers and adults working all aspects of the production.

Read the article by Harmony Birch in the Brattleboro Reformer.

*****

Thoughts: This is rather disquieting… a new pilot production at Bellows Falls’ FACT TV brings Abenaki mystical mish-mash into the plot of its local supernatural suspense drama. I have doubts about the helpfulness of this approach… At 35 minutes in, the dialogue is pretty bizarre.

The Light Behind Our Eyes: Abenaki Perspectives on Personhood

light behind our eyes melody walker brook abenaki personhood poster

Melody Walker Brook is an educator, activist and artist, currently an adjunct professor at Champlain College. She was previously an adjunct professor at Johnson State College where she taught “Native American Worldview and Spirituality”; “Native American History and Culture”; and “Abenakis and Their Neighbors”.  She gives lectures on a variety of topics, including Abenaki history, women’s issues, and Abenaki political history. She has done ground breaking research on Abenaki Spirituality and is heavily involved in the Abenaki cultural revitalization movement.  She works with museums, lectures in both the K-12 and collegiate level classroom on topics relating to the Eastern Woodlands and indigenous history.

Come early to get one more chance to win one of the beautiful raffle items donated by the wonderful Pocumtuck Homelands Festival vendors last August. Doors open at 12:30 p.m.

WCAX: Conservation Groups Working to Protect Petroglyphs

petroglyphs Brattleboro

Eva McKend of Burlington’s WCAX Channel 3 News spoke with Vermont State Archaeologist Jess Robinson about the significance of petroglyph sites in Vermont, and specifically the fledgling effort to conserve those at Wantestegok – the West River in Brattleboro. Click on the first link for the video interview.

http://www.wcax.com/templates/2015_Sub_Video_Share?contentObj=444042093

Online article for this posting.

The River In Us

I was asked by someone recently what is it that makes the Kwenitekw, n’sibo, our river, sacred. Is it the traditional fishing places? Is it the burials of the ancestors? What follows is my reply:

Thank you for asking; these are understandings that are foundational and go below the surface of things. I hope we have a chance to speak together again some day, for it is simpler to express these things in person. But I will share a few things:
  • It is important to remember that words have power and they derive from our worldview, which is expressed in the cultural tool we call language. There are many languages, and many ways of seeing the world. They differ dramatically, and the use of a word, or concept, can mean very different things to different people. Thus, “sacred.” When speaking of Abenaki cultural concepts, one cannot look at it through a Western religious lens. The dictionary definitions that fit “sacred” best are (from Merriam-Webster): 1) entitled to reverence and respect and 2) highly valued and important, as in “a sacred responsibility.” It is not a religious designation, but rather a spiritual recognition.
  • So, with regard to your questions of the river’s significance regarding fishing locations or burial grounds, the answer is yes, all of that, and much more. The reason being that we are all related, all equally significant, and part of the same great circle of Creation. Time does not exist in a linear sense, but is a continuum, constantly changing but all part of the same. Thus, we as human beings (in common with, say, plant beings, fish beings, stone beings, wind beings) have a ongoing responsibility to honor these relationships. We cannot act to harm the River, as it is as deserving of respect as anyone else, and in fact, we derive our very life from it – it would be very shortsighted to do otherwise..
  • As indigenous people (defined as the original people of a distinct place), we so identify with our homelands that we see ourselves as part of it, inseparable and continuous. For example, when an Abenaki person identifies him- or herself, they would not say “My name is so-and-so and I live in Brattleboro.” They would state “… I am Brattleboro.” Consequently, one’s attitudes and actions toward the River, are as unto one’s very self and one’s family, because it is exactly that. We (most of us!) consider human life to be sacred. So is the river.
  • You have heard the expression, especially this past year with the action at Standing Rock, that “Water Is Life.” This plays out clearly in the Abenaki language, which by nature embodies its cultural worldview. Let me explain that, in a Native sense, the well-known term “medicine” means anything that promotes or sustains health and vitality – this makes complete sense, but in our Western way of thinking it has been separated and limited into a drug that addresses (often only symptomatically) sickness. It has got the relationship backwards and misses most of the bigger picture of the interconnectedness of life. The word for water in Abenaki is “nebi”; the word for medicine in Abenaki is “nebizon.” So, you can see, that water is at the heart of life. The River is our great provider, for which we can only be grateful.
  • To learn that burials are often at the edge of the River is no coincidence. I don’t think I even need to explain that one! It is a place where strong connections have always been made, and where they can be accessed over and over. We go there to pay our respects to our ancestors, to say thank you to the water, and to pray for the same blessings for the generations to come. It is our “church.” There are certainly other places that are important as well, but the River is at the heart of them all. It unifies and connects – think in terms of a watershed – a flowing cradle, a web, an endless cycle enveloping the people.

Asleep Rather Than Dead

alyssa hinton art transformation

I visited a reception for indigenous artist Alyssa Hinton (Tuscarora-Osage) yesterday, at the C X Silver Gallery in West Brattleboro, VT. We had a cheerful conversation about her artistic journey of discovery, first through intuition and then traditional knowledge – her focus being on her southeastern roots, but finding commonality with other native, earth-based cultures. One thing was clear through our exchange: the truth that traditional understandings are not destroyed, missing, or lost. All of this knowledge, these relationships, “ways of seeing,” are still here and still accessible to those who seek them. A Chadwick Allen quote from the exhibit program (using indigenous earthworks as its particular reference point) makes the point well:

“…like other Indigenous writing systems, they assert, earthworks and their encoded knowledge have been ‘asleep’ rather than ‘dead.’ Dormant but alive, they have waited to be awakened by descendants of their makers finally free to re-approach and even to remake them, finally freed of the psychological fetters of an internalized colonialism that has undervalued Indigenous technologies and ways of knowing. Earthworks have been waiting, they assert, for old scripts to be reactivated, for new scripts to be written and performed. A time of waiting appears near an end, near the beginning of a new cycle. That time of new beginning is now.” Chadwick Allen, University of Washington

The significance of this reality here in N’dakinna becomes more clear, and more affirming, each day.