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Other Stories and Information
About Moshup
Land Use
About the Artwork
Legends of Moshup Pageant
Recommended Self-Guided Tour
Amos' Great White
Rose Hips
Corn, Beans, and Squash
Schedule of Events
Cranberry Day
Scrub Oak
Seaside Goldenrod
Drift Whales
Epenow's Escape
Suggestions for Courteous Behavior
First Native Convert, The
Toad Rock
First People of Noepe
Tribal Landmarks
Wampanoag Place Names
Harvard Scholars
Wild Cranberries
Winged or Dwarf Sumac
History and Government  

Moshup is believed by our tribe to be responsible for the present shapes of Martha's Vineyard, the Elizabeth Islands, Noman's Land, and Nantucket. He is a benevolent being of gigantic frame and supernatural power. He was sometimes thought of as the devil by those who did not understand him. Moshup's favorite daily food was a broiled whale, which he usually ate whole at a meal. He also threw many whales on the coast for the supper of the Wampanoag.

In those olden times, whales came close to shore for they had not learned to fear pursuit. From near the entrance to his den on the Aquinnah Cliffs, Moshup would wade into the ocean, pick up a whale, fling it against the Cliffs to kill it, and then cook it over the fire that burned continually. The blood from these whales stained the clay banks of the Cliffs dark red. The coals of the largest trees (which Moshup plucked up by the roots), the bones of the whales, shark's teeth, and petrified quahogs that are still found today in the Cliffs are the refuse from Moshup's table. The Aquinnah Cliffs are a sacred place to our tribe. They are imprinted with one hundred million years of history.

Our tribal logo shows Moshup, bigger than life, holding a whale while standing on top of the Cliffs near the entrance to his gigantic den.

"Moshup was the first schoolmaster. From his home on the Cliffs he taught the people respect.... He also taught us to be charitable - for when he had great stores of fish he gave of his abundance."

--a tribal member

The patterned borders used on this map are taken from traditional basketry and/or painting designs used by the Wampanoag.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) gratefully acknowledges the generous funding from the Administration of Native Americans (ANA) and the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) for this project.

For their knowledge, expertise, and review of Wampanoag culture for this project, we respectfully thank the following: Shelley Carter, Linda Coombs, Carla Cuch, Eleanor Hebert, Adrianna Ignacio, Milton Jeffers, Donald Malonson, Patsy Malonson, Ryan Malonson, Helen Manning, June Manning, Jonathan Perry, Charity Randolph, Bertha Robinson, Alfred Vanderhoop, Charles Vanderhoop, Tobias Vanderhoop, Berta Welch, Beverly Wright, and Gladys Widdiss.

Herman Melville immortalized the skill of Aquinnah whalers in his classic novel Moby Dick. Forty years later, life imitated art. Amos Smalley, an Aquinnah whaler, harpooned his own great white sperm whale, the only man who has ever done so. Describing his adventure with the great white, Amos once told a magazine reporter, "He was 90 feet long, three times the length of our boat, and he was unnatural." The Aquinnah Wampanoag in Melville's novel was called Tashtego.

BULRUSH, which grows in Herring Creek and other wetlands, was used in olden times to make mats that lined the inside of the wetu - the dome-shaped traditional home of the Wampanoag. Wetus built today still follow this tradition.

Traditionally, corn, bean, and squash were important crops usually planted together by the women of the tribe (and for that reason called "the three sisters"). The broad leaves of corn provided shelter from the sun; the corn stalk was a living stake for the bean and squash vines; and the squash vines provided good cover, ensuring maximum capture of rain and minimum erosion. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil. And all three attract predatory insects that prey upon pests.

Cranberry Day is our most important tribal holiday. Long ago, Cranberry Day included many days of harvesting and feasting in celebration of the cranberry harvest. It was held in encampments on the north side of Aquinnah in Lobsterville, where the cranberry bogs are found. Many of our elders tell about the preparation for moving to Lobsterville and how much they looked forward to riding in the ox carts and the singing and dancing that would take place after a long day of cranberry harvesting. There were food tents with quahogs, chowder, venison, and dancing. In those days, the cranberries were then shipped by catboat and traded in New Bedford to obtain goods not found in Aquinnah, like sugar and molasses.

Today we continue Cranberry Day in the same spirit and tradition as our ancestors. Each year on the second Tuesday in October, children from Aquinnah Wampanoag families are excused from school to participate in the traditional gatherings of Cranberry Day. Elders harvest with the youth and during lunch, around a large open fire, tell of past Cranberry Days, as well as legends and history taught to them by their elders. During the evening there is a large community potluck with singing and dancing to celebrate and give thanks to the Creator for another year's harvest.

The tribe recognized the importance of leaving land fallow long before such conservation practices were common. The yearly custom was to hold a meeting and decide where they would plant. They would then turn the livestock out into one pasture and plant in another. A "fence viewer" was employed by the town to ensure that the fences were intact. Spring of the year was Field Day - when all the men would go into the woods, cut fence posts, and put up fences. After that there was dancing and a potluck dinner.

The Tribe retains to present day their aboriginal rights to any drift whales that beach along or near the shores of Noepe. The whales have been used for their meat, oil, bones - even for the secondary catch of lobsters and crabs that feast on the whale carcass. A skeleton from a juvenile humpback whale that recently washed up on Squibnocket Beach is planned to be included in the future Aquinnah Cultural Center (ACC) museum.

Captain Edward Harlow landed on Noepe in 1611 and kidnapped a Wampanoag named Epenow, bringing him back to London. Unfortunately, such kidnappings were common. Epenow devised an escape plan, however. He told his captors of a great wealth of gold on the Island. As hoped, a British expedition was commissioned to return to Noepe in search of these riches - with Epenow along as a guide. Seeing the ship off the shores of Noepe, Epenow's cousins and brothers came out to meet it and devised a plan for Epenow's rescue. Under a hail of arrows, Epenow dove into the water and swam to safety.

A young Chappaquiddick Wampanoag by the name of Hiacoome is thought to have been the first native convert to Christianity on Noepe. Hiacoome took an interest in the English-men and their ways - eventually converting to Christianity in 1643. He then helped Thomas Mayhew, Jr. to convert his fellow tribesmen. But Sachem Pahkehpunnassoo of Chappaquiddick objected to Hiacoomes' influence in his area. On a fateful afternoon, however, all this changed. While Pahkehpunnassoo was fixing his chimney, a lightning bolt struck and killed his helper. Pahkehpunnassoo himself narrowly escaped death. Pulled from the flames by one of Hiacoome's converts, he saw this as a sign and converted to Christianity. Slowly, many members of the tribe followed. Hiacoome went on to be ordained and became the pastor of the Meeting House.

For over ten thousand years the Wampanoag have inhabited the island of Noepe. When the first Europeans dropped anchor off our shores in the 1500s - just before the Pilgrims - we numbered three thousand or more. To this day we still occupy our aboriginal land of Aquinnah and count 901 members, about 300 of whom live on the Island.

With the European settlers came much adversity for our tribe - disease that virtually wiped out whole villages, systems of government that bore little resemblance to our tribal practices and values, missionaries intent on converting us to Christianity, and private models of land use and ownership that conflicted with our tribe's own communal practices and values. But despite these pressures, much of our Wampanoag way of life and values have survived.

Today, community values are still strong within our tribe. We proudly care for 477 acres of our ancestral lands, much of it set aside for common use and benefit. Land and resource management strategies rely on sustainable practices which are shared with other towns and conservation groups on the island. Traditional arts like beadwork, basket making, and pottery continue to be taught. Celebrations like Cranberry Day and The Legends of Moshup Pageant are held annually. Our tribe continues to be self-governing and is taking great strides toward economic self-sufficiency. Even the Wampanoag language is being taught to tribal members. Through it all we have not forgotten who we are.

The influence of our tribe can be felt island wide. Environmental practices and values taught to the settlers long ago still help inform and maintain the island's pristine beauty. Roads which wind and bend across the island gracefully follow paths once worn smooth by our ancestors. Wampanoag place names pay homage to the earth's bounty. Everywhere on the Island are reminders of our Wampanoag heritage and community.

Aquinnah Wampanoag Joseph G. Belain spent sixty of his seventy-nine years at sea as a whaleman, first mate, and Captain. In 1897, when whaling in the Arctic, his ship the Nevarch was frozen into the ice. It was Belain who took charge and led the rescue. Using his knowledge of building canoes, Belain built a canvas boat that was light enough to be carried across the ice, but big enough to hold several people. He then carried the Captain of the boat (who had taken sick) to the edge of the ice, where he put him, his wife, and other crew men into his canvas boat and took them ashore to the nearest Inuit village. Inuit canoes were sent out to the frozen-in ship to save the rest.

A plaque in Harvard Yard commemorates two Wampanoag scholars who were the first American Indians to attend Harvard University. They are Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, who graduated in 1665, and Joel Iacoomes (Hiacoomes), son of the famous first Wampanoag convert to Christianity. Iacoomes was tragically killed in a shipwreck off Nantucket shortly before graduation. Cheeshahteaumuck died from tuberculosis the year following his graduation.

The edible Hazelnut grows inland in woodland thickets. Tea made from its bark is used to treat hives and fevers. A poultice is used to close cuts and wounds.

The history of Martha's Vineyard reaches back to a time before the Island was an island - when glaciers scraped over the earth, leaving behind a dramatic display of cliffs, rocks, and ponds. There, it is said, a benevolent being named Moshup roamed the land. One day, Moshup was making his way across the mainland to the headlands of the Aquinnah Cliffs. Weary from his journey, Moshup dragged his foot heavily, leaving a deep track in the mud. At first, only a silver thread of water trickled in the track. But gradually, the ocean's force of wind and tides broadened and deepened the opening, creating an island named Noepe.

The Wampanoag were the first people of Noepe. For thousands of years these People of the First Light have been partners with Noepe. From the fishing shores to the inland woodlands, from the sand plains to the glacial ponds, the Island has provided for its people. And the Wampanoag have given back through wise stewardship of the land and sea.

Through this map, we invite you to discover the island of Noepe as Moshup and the Wampanoag have known it. Come with us and learn about the places, the stories, and the spirit that is Wampanoag - a people who have shaped the island of Noepe in much the same way Moshup has.

The Aquinnah Tribe's ancestral lands have always been on the southwestern end of Noepe (Martha's Vineyard). After the arrival of the English, these lands became reduced in size. The area from Nashaquitsa Pond to the Cliffs became an Indian District, eventually governed by three tribal overseers. In 1870, the Indian District was changed into the town of Gay Head by a vote of the Massachusetts General Court, over great objection by tribal members. Indian District common lands were then taken by the state and divided into private parcels, while some remained as common lands. This had a resounding impact on our tribe.

Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal members continued to be very active in town government, with the three town-elected selectmen positions filled by tribal members. In 1987, after two petitions and lengthy documentation, our tribe obtained federal acknowledgement by an act of the U.S. Congress. The U. S. government acknowledges and has taken responsibility for inequities to the tribe and granted partial restitution for land that was unjustly taken. In 1998, the name of the town was officially changed from Gay Head back to its former Wampanoag name of Aquinnah by the state legislature.

Today, the Wampanoag Tribe is governed by a Tribal Council, as was traditionally done. Our Tribal Council consists of a chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary, treasurer, and seven council members, all popularly elected. The Chief and Medicine Man are traditional members of the Tribal Council and hold their positions for life. Our Tribal Council is elected by enrolled members of our tribe to represent us in all tribal affairs. The tribe has developed 27 units of affordable housing for families and elders. It now also owns and operates several businesses, including three stores and a shellfish hatchery.

"To be Wampanoag is inside you. It's really something that you can be proud of."

--a tribal member

The Wampanoag approach to land use and ownership was very different from the English settlers. Hunting and fishing lands were divided among the Island's four sachem tribes and were used and lived on seasonally and often cooperatively. As the English arrived, they created laws stating that land that was not occupied by people was not owned. In this way, much Wampanoag land was appropriated by the settlers. As Aquinnah Wampanoag began to understand English law in the 1800s, however, some rented their unoccupied land to the English settlers in order to ensure it remained Wampanoag land.

The Legends of Moshup Pageant is a reenactment of the days when Moshup, a Wampanoag leader endowed with great powers, lived among us. The performance of these traditional stories has spanned several generations. Originally performed in what was once Moshup's cellar hole on the Cliffs, the Pageant is now performed at Boyer's Hill on our tribal lands. In preparation for the Pageant, each participant makes deerhide moccasins, leggings, and skirts and mantles for the women and breech clothes for the men. Dressed in clothes similar to what our ancestors would have worn, our history is told from dusk into the night. From the creation of Noepe to Moshup's farewell, the Wampanoag of today remember Moshup, Squant, and our ancestors - relations of long ago.

"In the forties, we built bonfires to light the action of the Pageant and performed against a white cliff. You could see these figures performing and dancing against the cliffs."

--a tribal member

We invite you to take the following tour, which includes some highlights along Wampanoag Way. These sites are all marked and relatively easy to find. The entire tour can take a couple of hours or all day - depending on how leisurely you want to pace yourself. Going by bike? Take the bike ferry from Menemsha to West Basin, then begin this tour.

Stop 1: Lobsterville
Begin your tour by visiting Lobsterville, where there are beautiful views of the Basin. Notice the cranberry bogs on tribal lands to your right, looking much as they did hundreds of years ago.

Stop 2: West Basin
Bear left and head toward West Basin, where you can book a fishing charter or just ponder the view of Menemsha.

Stop 3: Aquinnah Town Center
Go back out Lobsterville Road to State Road and make a right turn, heading down to the center of Aquinnah, where you can see the Town Hall, Gay Head School and the Gay Head Community Baptist Church. Still in use today, this church continues to be central to the lives of tribal members.

Stop 4: The Aquinnah Cliffs and Aquinnah Light
Head out to the spectacular Aquinnah Cliffs where you can enjoy a picnic lunch of lobster rolls or other local food nestled on the grass at Aquinnah Circle. (The stores along the Cliffs are also a great place to buy native pottery, art, jewelry, wampum, or other souvenirs of your stay.) Or take a stroll along the path down to the beach below to see the Cliffs up-close and take a swim in the surf, if you wish. Before you leave, don't forget to check in at the Aquinnah Lighthouse to see if tours are happening that day.

Stop 5: Alley's and 7a
End your tour with a stop at Alley's General Store - and Back Alley's 7a - where you can find other Island treats, mail your postcards, or just sit on the porch and watch the world go by.

Rose hips are used by the tribe to this day to make teas and jams and are also eaten as a fruit. They are very tart, but high in vitamin C. Wild roses grow in all types of habitats - in swamps or pond edges, as well as open scrub areas. The Beach Rose that grows along the dunes is currently the major source for rose hips. It is not native, but was introduced from Japan and brought by whale ships.

Sassafras is found in dry, open woods. The root bark, twigs, trunk bark, and leaves of this tree have been used medicinally and for a bitter tea. Handmade wooden mortars, used for grinding corn for nokehick (a traditional corn cake), were also made from the Sassafras wood.

The Wampanoag Nation today comprises several tribes, Aquinnah and Mashpee (on Cape Cod) being the largest. All Wampanoag events and exhibits of interest listed in this schedule are open to the public. Please call to confirm all dates. We encourage your participation, and we invite you to attend for a fuller understanding of our culture.

Aquinnah Wampanoag (Martha's Vineyard, MA)
For further information on Aquinnah Wampanoag events, call 508-645-9265

  • The Legends of Moshup Pageant
        This annual pageant depicts Moshup's legends. Bring a picnic dinner, settle down on your blanket, and watch a
        spectacular sunset before the Pageant begins at dusk. Admission charged.

                At sunset on the third Saturday in July and August at Boyer's Hill on tribal lands.

  • Cranberry Potluck Dinner
        A potluck celebration of the cranberry harvest. Please bring a potluck dish.

                At 6:00 pm on the second Tuesday of October at the Tribal Facility.

  • Spring Social Potluck
        Various tribes in the region come together to socialize, dance, and drum. Please bring a potluck dish if you attend.

                Last Sunday in April at Boyer's Hill on tribal lands, from noon to 5:00 pm.

  • Native American Day
        A service to celebrate the meaning of the church to the Aquinnah Wampanoag.

                The second Sunday in August at Gay Head Community Baptist Church

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (Mashpee, Cape Cod, MA)
        For more information about Mashpee Wampanoag events and exhibits, please call 508-477-0208

  • Mashpee Wampanoag Annual July 4th Pow Wow
        A gathering of Wampanoag and many other Native American nations featuring inter-tribal dancing, as well as dancing
        and drumming competitions.

               The first weekend of July at Capecod Fairgrounds, Barnstable MA.

  • Old Indian Meeting House
        Oldest Meeting House, built in 1684.  Located on Rt. 28 in Mashpee.
                Open summer months and by request.

  • Popon Pummacau/King Philip's Ball
        A formal community-service award ceremony, banquet, and dance, sponsored by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal

                Held in March: please call the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe for time and date.

  • Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum
        Art, artifacts, and items of archeological significance.

                Call for hours:  Mashpee Wampanoag Museum

Wampanoag Indian Program at Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth, MA)
        For more information visit the What to See & Do pages of the Plimoth Plantation site.

Scrub Oak is one of the dominant trees on the Island. Crops are planted when the scrub oak leaf buds are the size of a mouse's ear (when they are just beginning to leaf out) and the shad bush is in bloom. Plants are often used as important indicators of the weather and seasonal changes.

Seaside Goldenrod (or Beach Goldenrod) is characteristic of salt-water creeks and marshes. It can be grown elsewhere if fertilized with seaweed or eel grass. The yellow flowers have been used by the tribe for dye.

Early in the morning, when tribal fisherman sometimes see an immense track in the wet sand where the tide has gone out they say "Ol' Squant has been along."

Welcoming visitors has always been a central Wampanoag value and an important part of Island life. But you may not be aware of certain restrictions we have to protect both our island and our culture. Please read the following carefully and follow any posted signs. We hope these suggestions will make your visit on tribal lands more enjoyable and respectful for everyone.

   * Do not pick up or remove any artifact or objects of archeological importance. There are strict federal regulations against this.

   * Alcohol, weapons, and drugs are not permitted on tribal lands.

   * It is prohibited to take clay from the Aquinnah Cliffs, climb on them, or otherwise disturb the Cliffs in any way.

   * Please visit only the tribal multi-purpose building when on tribal lands. All other areas are not open to the public.

   * Please respect private homes, property, and all "no trespassing" signs.

   * Please do not pick wildflowers, plants, berries, etc.

   * Please remember to dispose of all your trash.

According to tribal history, Toad Rock was a giant pet toad that Moshup turned into stone before disappearing from Aquinnah. The stone was used as a "post office" of sorts for Tribal members, who placed notes to each other on the rock when they passed by.

Tribal landmarks and their names are often natural - a rock, a tree, a waterway, or even a ridge of a hill. The limits of sachemships were marked off by such natural boundaries. This method extended to many of the boundaries later drawn by the European settlers. The European settlers, however, more often paid homage to people rather than to nature when they named places.


Aquinnah (formerly known as Gay Head):
The shore or end of the island

Capawack: The separate people

Kehtashimet (Lake Tashmoo in Vineyard Haven):
Place of a great spring

Kuppiauk (Area of Tisbury Great Pond):
Heavily-wooded expanse of land

Kuppiegon (Cape Higgon):
A good enclosure for shelter/thicket

Manitouwatootan (Christiantown):
God's town

Mashatanauke (in the vicinity of Old South Road):
Big town (main settlement)

Massapootoeauke (near Quansoo):
Land of great blowing (whales)

Msquepunauket (Squibnocket):
At the place of the red cliff or bank

Nashaquitsa (between Menemsha and Squibnocket Ponds):
At the little divided island

Nashawahkamuk (Chilmark):
Between the land (common land for hunting)

Noepe (the island of Martha's Vineyard):
Dry land

A pond (body of unsalted water); literally means "when there is water there"

Paquahauke (near Sengekontacket Pond):
Quohaug land

Sakunket (end of Long Cove, Tisbury Great Pond):
Skunk place

Sanchiacantacket (Sengekontacket):
Place where the brook flows into the river

Sequinauk (north of Sengekontacket):
Early summer land (perhaps a summer village place)

Squibnocket: at the place of the red cliff or bank

Taakemmy (West Tisbury): Where he or she strikes it (corn processing place)

Tchepiaquidenet (Chappaquiddick):
Place of separate island

People of the First Light

Waskosim (North Road):
New stone

Wawitukq (Menemsha Creek before being made into a channel):
Winding, twisting river

Winnetukqet (Edgartown Great Pond):
Place of good river

A wetu is the dome- shaped traditional home of the Wampanoag. It is made of cedar saplings set in the ground, bent together, fastened with vines and inner bark rope, and then covered with bark or mats made of reeds. The roof of the wetu has an opening to release smoke from cooking fires below.

Wild cranberries, or sasumuneash in Wampanoag, grow naturally on 200 acres of tribal land. They grow in acidic wetland areas with sandy soils where sphagnum moss also grows and forms a layer of peat. The tribe opens patches in the dunes called swales to promote growth. However, out of respect for the land, the cranberries are neither fertilized, nor sprayed.

Winged or dwarf sumac is purple and is found in dry woods and clearings. Tea made from its bark can be used as a wash for blisters. Tea from its root was used by the Wampanoag to treat dysentery.

Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) 20 Black Brook Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535-1546
Phone: (508) 645 9265    Fax: (508) 645-3790    Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm
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