Posted by: coastlinesproject | April 4, 2015

Plum Island; The Match

Chapter 7

The Match

November 22, 1606

 

 

The autumn sun rose slowly out of the Atlantic Ocean to shine on the tidy fields of the Pentucket village. The tribe was at the peak of its influence. Food was plentiful, trade flourished, and the sachem had kept the nation out of war for as long as anyone could remember.

 

A young warrior stepped out of his long house to greet the newborn day. He was a tall quiet man with clear, bronzed skin. At his feet lay a pile of clamshells, the remains of last night’s feast. Attaquin swept the shells into a reed basket, walked to the marsh edge and dumped them there before reclining on a pile of deerskin blankets. He enjoyed sitting in the sun before his village was fully awake.

 

He looked out over the fields covered with the stubble of last   summer’s corn. The harvest had been good. Beyond the fields were open woods. Every year the warriors burned the underbrush to keep the forest open so they could hunt rabbits, deer and turkey in the tamed landscape.

 

The Merrimac River slid by the village into Pentucket Sound, whose protected waters provided the Pentuckets with the clams, striped bass and sturgeon that made up the bulk of their nutritious diet.

 

Scores of other villages hugged these shores that would someday be called Newburyport and Amesbury. Now it was simply a loose confederation of villages within the Pentucket nation.

 

As Attaquin walked back from the salt marsh, a runner

from Agawam was just arriving.

 

“Attaquin can you join us. Some whales have come ashore. Is your dugout ready?”

 

This was the moment Attaquin had been waiting for. For many months he had carefully hammered and chipped his knives. Now they were thirteen inches long. They looked like fine ceremonial objects but Attaquin had other plans for his finely wrought tools.

 

Attaquin and his brother were known to be the best fishermen in the village. They had grown up spearing sturgeon and salmon in the Merrimac, but after meeting some Wampanoags they had decided to go after bigger fish.

 

First they traveled up river to find a tall thick pine tree. They felled it and spent many moons using adzes and small fires to laboriously sculpt out its interior. When they were finely done, the brothers had a dugout that was long, wide and sturdy enough to paddle far out into the Atlantic where swordfish slumbered on the surface.

 

Attaquin and his brother made an efficient fishing team. Attaquin would stand in the bow, giving hand signals so Uncatena could quietly paddle up behind the unsuspecting fish. The two men would then hold their breath as Attaquin quietly slipped his spear into an atl atl to help it fly further. Then Attaquin would thrust the spear deeply into the muscular back of one of the somnolent giants. When the line went slack Attaquin would tie deer bladders to the line so the fish had to fight to stay underwater. Eventually he would tire enough so that Attaquin could deliver the coup de grace. It was a long way paddle home, and a long way from spearing sturgeon on the river.

 

The entire village would assemble when the brothers returned. Attaquin would clean the fish, remove any parasites and Uncatena would distribute pieces to every member of the band. He did this skillfully, garnering praise and political obligations. The sachem would thank the brothers, the elders would praise them, and all the young women would vie to catch their attention.

 

Now this rare discovery of whales would give Attaquin and Uncatena another chance to provision the village. With rising excitement Attaquin wrapped his long knives in deerskin, packed them carefully in the bow and pushed the dugout into Pentucket Sound.

 

Soon dugouts from other villages joined the brothers on the river. The Pentuckets paddled together into the sound and hauled their dugouts over the island to the broad waters of the Atlantic Ocean. A mile down the beach they could see the dark forms of the whales stranded on the sand flats. Each carcass was surrounded by half a dozen Agawam warriors hacking at the whales’ tough skin. As they approached Attaquin called out.

 

“I am Attaquin of the Pentuckets. We have come for our share of the whales.”

 

“What took you so long Attaquin? The whales are almost gone. Yours are the scrawny ones at the end of the beach.” It was Pashto, Attaquin’s old friend from the Agawams.

 

“How are you Pashto? Don’t tell me you are in charge of the whales, we’ll never get any. Is your sister here to see how real warriors butcher a whale?’

 

“Nananatuck is waiting. She plans to dance with you after the whales are butchered. But by that time you will have lost your loincloth to some real warriors. Did you bring your sticks? Tonight we start the first ball game, Agawams against the Pentuckets. Winners get the girls, losers lose their loincloths.”

 

With such bantering the Pentuckets and the Agawams paddled down the beach toward the beached whales. Soon they were all stripping great slabs of muscle-rich meat off the whales’ bloody carcasses. Warriors from other villages wandered over to admire Attaquin’s long knives that cut so deeply though the thick layers of blubber and meat. Attaquin could dress out two wales to their one.”

 

“How much do you want for one of your knives Attaquin?”

 

“More than you can afford, Pashto!”

 

“ Slow duck here has a knife he traded with a white fisherman who sailed into our village an the last full moon. We don’t like those white devils, but they keep coming back.”

 

“You were probably too polite to them.”

 

“Yes we made a big mistake. We showed them what good food we have. Now they wont leave us alone. Have you ever eaten the food Englishmen eat? I wouldn’t feed it to a wolf. We ate some of the white man’s and now look at us. We are tired and weak and Slow Duck has red bumps all over his body.

 

After the butchering was over, the villages separated into two teams. The warriors laughed and jostled each other as they battled with sticks and their bodies to dribble a small ball up and down several miles of beach. The games continued for four days. Afterwards the warriors hung clothes, spears and wampum on a driftwood arbor and rolled pieces of deer antler to gamble on each other’s wares. The point of the contest was to bet, laugh, and swear loudly at the outcome. On the last night the villagers danced and Attaquin slept with Pashto’s playful sister Nananatuck.

 

The following morning Attaquin and the rest of the defeated         Pentatucks climbed into their dugouts to paddle back to their village. Nananatuck and her friends lined up at the top of the dunes to laugh at their new boyfriends as they paddled away naked.

 

Still the Pentuckets congratulated themselves. It had been a good clean beach battle, but perhaps too clean and not quite good enough. They vowed that next year it would be the Agawams who would lose their loincloths.

 

After several hours of heavy paddling Attaquin and his brother returned to their village. They distributed the whale meat to the sachem and waiting villagers, and repacked their dugout with spears and Attaquin’s new flensing knives. They covered the dugout with deerskins and buried it under earth and cedar boughs. It would be waiting for them packed and ready to go when the sturgeon returned in the spring.

 

Little did the Pentuckets know that the hepatitis that Slow Duck had picked up from the white man’s knife would race through the village and nobody would be alive to unearth the dugout canoe the following spring.

####

 

William Sargent is the author of 20 books on science and the environment. His latest book, Islands in the Storm, is about Plum Island. It is available in local bookstores and through Amazon.com and at www.strawberryhillpress.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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