Wampanoag performers use song, dance, and narrative to teach about their tribe
THE PROVINCETOWN INDEPENDENT
Photos by Agata Storer – March 15, 2023
PROVINCETOWN — CheeNulKa Pocknett and David Pocknett Jr. of the Red Hawk Singers and Dancers put on a program of music and dance at the Provincetown Schools’ Fishermen Hall on Saturday that had an audience of some 150 guests hanging on every drumbeat.
Their performance also opened up a discussion of Wampanoag history, customs, and stories.
The Pocknett brothers are members of the Mashpee Wampanoag who use their clothing, songs, and dance to teach about their tribe. Chee is a singer and leads the group, which includes David and several other dancers.
“We don’t wear costumes,” Chee said. “Costumes are what you put on when you want to pretend to be someone you’re not. This is our clothing.
“The colonists thought we looked regal and called it ‘regalia,’ ” he added.
The animal pelts adorning their clothing led to a description of the Wampanoag custom of honoring the spirits of the animals they killed. The turtle shell affixed to David’s forearm, he explained, is both a musical instrument and a literary reference. It creates a dull thud when struck, and it’s also a symbol from the Wampanoag creation narrative.
The Crow Dance, Chee explained, “pays homage to the crow, who brought us the three sisters,” a traditional planting of corn, beans, and squash, so called “because they look out for each other, like sisters do: the corn provides a trellis for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen into the soil, and the squash offer leaves that block the sun, requiring less weeding as a result.
“The Sneak Up Dance originated when colonists would shoot into the Native camps during the early dawn hours,” Chee said. “It depicts how we defended our villages.”
One dance, a celebration of women, became an opportunity to discuss the matrilineal tradition in Wampanoag culture.
Mid-program, Chee introduced a Snake Dance. “This is for anyone and everyone to join in on,” he said, as people got up and poured onto the stage and, following David, snaked through the hall.
The form is a ceremonial dance historically performed during meetings of two groups, and it gave this meeting of people from different cultures a celebratory feeling. There was another reason for the dance, Chee said: “I get antsy sitting too long.”
The event was a co-production of Payomet Performing Arts Center, the MLK Action Team of the Nauset Interfaith Association, and the Wellfleet Historical Society. It was part of a series that, with a Mass Humanities grant, is designed to bring Wampanoag voices, educators, and entertainers to the Outer Cape throughout 2023, according to Deborah Ullman of Eastham, one of the organizers.
The next event in the series will be held on May 16 at the Eastham Public Library, when Linda Coombs of the Aquinnah Wampanoag presents “Land and Life in Old Gay Head,” a program that incorporates discussion among Aquinnah elders. —Teresa Parker