Today, September 6, 2013, Smithsonian Affiliate Plimoth Plantation delivered a traditional Mashpee Wampanoag #mishoon to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. (What is a mishoon? Read our previous blogs here and here) In a special ceremony at the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland, Plimoth, Wampanoag, and Smithsonian staff came together and celebrated the gift of the mishoon to the collection.
On September 6, 2013, Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth, Mass.) will donate a mishoon to the National Museum of the American Indian. Created this past spring by the Wampanoag Indigenous Program (WIP) at Plimoth Plantation, members of the WIP will present the mishoon and accompanying paddles to NMAI in a special gift ceremony at the museum’s Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland.
“As a museum dedicated to the history and culture of Native American communities, we’re delighted to welcome a creation like this one that represents a living tradition among the Wampanoag,” says Kevin Gover (Pawnee) Director, National Museum of the American Indian.
So what is a mishoon? During the 17th century, the mishoon–a traditional Native American canoe–was the most common boat in North American waters. A typical 17th-century mishoon was created from a giant tree and capable of carrying 40 men. The mishoon being accepted into the NMAI collection isn’t quite that large–it’s 16 feet long and can fit up to 3 people–but it was created in the traditional way.
So how does one create a mishoon? Picking the tree is the first step of course. With the help of Gurney’s Lumber Yard in Freetown, Massachusetts, WIP selected a white pine. The tree was burned down by wrapping clay around the trunk and burning the roots. It was then brought to Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Homesite, where the log was worked with fire. By burning into the widest point of the tree a natural keel is created, where the bottom of the boat is thicker than its sides. Historically, mishoons were burned 24 hours a day, since the longer the fire was maintained the hotter it would get. Typically, it would take about 10-12 days for mishoons to be created in the 17th century. Although this seems like a long time, trees during this period were typically over 150 feet tall and 6 feet wide, capable of creating the mishoons that could carry 40 men.
“It’s an honor that the Smithsonian will accept it, and we enjoy doing new work–it keeps the job challenging,” said Darius Coombs, Associate Director of the Wampanoag Indigenous Program. “It has been a fun and educational experience. The mishoon is an invaluable piece that will add depth to the Smithsonian’s already rich representation of Northeast Native life.”
Smithsonian Affiliations and NMAI will be tweeting live on September 6 as the #mishoon enters the collection. Follow @SIAffiliates, @SmithsonianNMAI, and @Plimoth and check out our Flickr group for photos from the event.
Plimoth Plantation has received some amazing press coverage of the donation. Check it out below:
A few years ago, members of Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Indigenous Program made a trip from Plymouth, Massachusetts to Washington, DC to visit the National Museum of the American Indian. While there Darius Coombs, Associate Director of the program, noted in the museum’s canoe exhibition there was no representation of a traditional mishoon. Today, he and Richard Pickering, Deputy Executive Director of Plimoth Plantation, are back in Washington, DC to meet with NMAI to coordinate their donation of a Wampanoag mishoon to the museum.
The meeting was held at NMAI’s Cultural Resources Center where they were first granted a behind the scenes tour of the storage facility. It was quite a treat to be able to view the rows upon rows of drawers upon drawers of artifacts including the entire Wampanoag collection. After the tour Darius gave a brief presentation to the staff at NMAI CRC including this video of the Wampanoag mishoon trip to Martha’s Vineyard:
The meeting was a great success and we are eager to share follow up information as it becomes available. Stay tuned for more on this exciting collaboration!