Wampanoag (womp-uh-NO-ag)
Gathering rockweed for appanaug, Mashpee
Gathering rockweed for appanaug, Mashpee
Photo:© John Madama

    You may have heard of Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod because many people vacation there. Have you heard of the Wampanoags, People of the First Light? There are the Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard, the Mashpee in Cape Cod, and several other communities in Massachusetts. The Wampanoag creation story tells how Moshup, a gigantic being with great powers, made their land and taught people to live by the ocean. Every August at Aquinnah, Moshup is honored in a pageant.

     Cranberries are a favorite Wampanoag food. Like many foods eaten in the United States, cranberries were first harvested by Indian peoples. The Aquinnah Wampanoags have a Cranberry Holiday in October to give thanks for the harvest.

    A clambake, or appanaug, is a time to honor a special person or to celebrate the changing seasons. The Wampanoag gather wood, rocks, and seaweed and dig a pit. Potatoes, corn, and onions are prepared, but most important are clams and quahogs, which are dug from the sea bottom. Hot rocks and seaweed go in the pit, the food is layered on top, and it’s covered until it’s cooked. Sample the appanaug at the Mashpee Powwow.

    Aquinnah means “land under the hill,” and the Aquinnah Wampanoags have lived there for a long time. Beauty is everywhere: the sky, the sea, and the rainbow cliffs, with 100 million years of history in them. The sacred cliffs can be seen in the unique pottery.

    Wampanoag language specialist Jessie Little Doe Fermino gives language classes to Mashpee and Aquinnah tribe members. Wampanoags also try to teach their children and others how to conserve the land and not pollute. Children are taught to always leave enough fish and clams so they can reproduce. Wampanoags have had to go to court to protect their fishing rights.

    You might hear of the Wampanoags when you study the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Many Wampanoags say the Pilgrims got the idea of a Thanksgiving festival from them. Indian people all over the country have harvest ceremonies to give thanks for food.


“Combing” for cranberries with a cranberry
scoop, Aquinnah Cranberry Day
Photo:© Mark Alan Lovewell

More facts about Wampanoags

Reservations/Communities: 480 acres tribal land in Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard; a community in Mashpee, Cape Cod

Total population: 1,000

Some people to learn about:
Helen Manning [1919– ], Aquinnah educator, storyteller, writer
Russell Peters, [1929–2002], Mashpee tribal leader, author
Beverly Wright [contemporary], Aquinnah tribal leader

Neighbors: Narragansetts, Pequots


Children of Native America Today copyright 2003 Shakti for Children, Inc.
Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.