Native Harvest Feast


The Native people of Southeastern Massachusetts celebrated the harvest of their crops in much the same way as the English, with feasting and games.  To have witnessed and be invited to the English 1621 harvest festival would have not been at all strange to them.

Native Feasts/ Festivals

Native perspective on feasting

-association with abundance, health and life

-strengthens bonds of social membership (probably similar anthropologically to why anyone in the world feasts

-feasts had religious associations as well, as a means to gain the Creators favor and blessing

Native Feasts

three kinds of feasts

-leaders (sachems) gave feasts and dances called Nickommo

-often had 20, 50, 100 or 1000 people present

-was an opportunity for the leader to show how powerful he was by giving lots away, leader who gave the most away was the most powerful

-harvest feast called Keesaqunnamun

-combination of solemn public meetings, feasts, and sports

-set up longhouse called Qunnekamuck 100-200 feet long on a plain near the sachems house

-many thousand men and women meet and dance and give things to the poor

-feasts during collection times

-“will meet 500 to 1000 at a place where lobsters come in with the tide to eat and have dried a store abiding in the place for 4-6 weeks feasting and sporting together.” (Thomas Morton 1637:90).

Best description of a Native Feast comes from King Philip’s War and involved the Natives from Sakonnet, Rhode Island:

Awashonks at Agawam and the Feast

430:But in short, he told his Honour the time was expired that he had appointed to meet the Sogkonates at Sandwich. The Governour asked him, when he would go? He told him that afternoon, by his Honours leave. The Governour ask’d him, How many Men he would have with him? He answered Not above half a dozen, with an order to take more at Sandwich, if he saw cause; and Horses provided. He no sooner moved it, but had his (431) number of Men tendering to go with him, among which was Mn rabez Howland, and Nathanael Southworth; they went to Sandvich that Night; where Mr. Church (with need enough) took a ~ap of Sleep. The next Morning with about 16 or 18 Men pro~eded as far as Agawam, where they had great expectation of ~neehng the Indians) but met them not; his Men being dis~uraged about half of them returned; only half a dozen stuck by Llirn, & promised so to do until they should meet with the Inhans. When they came to Sippicin River, Mr. Howland began to :yre, upon which Mr. Church left him, and two more, for a Reerve at the River, that if he should meet with Enemies and be orced back, they might be ready to assist them in getting over he River. Proceeding in their March, they crossed another River, tud opened a great Bay, where they might see many Miles along hore, where were Sands and Flats; and hearing a great noise be-.0w them towards the Sea. They dismounted their Horses, left hem and crep’d among the bushes, until they came near the )ank, and saw a vast company of indians, of all Ages and Sexs, ome on Horse-back running races, some at Foot-ball, some ~tching Eels & Flat-fish in the water, some Clamming, &c. but vhich way with safety to find out what Indians they were, they vere at a loss. But at length, retiring into a thicket. Mr. Church iallow’d to them; they soon answered him, and a couple of smart ‘oung Fellows, well mounted, came upon a full Career to see vho it might be that call’d, and came just upon Mr. Church bebre they discovered him; but when they perceived themselves :0 t)ear English Men, and Arm’d, were much surprized, and ack’d short about to run as fast back as they came forward, until ne of the Men in the bushes calI’d to them, and told them his ~ame was Church, and need not fear his hurting of them. Upon vhich, after a small pause, they turned about their Horses, and ame up to him; one of them that could speak English, Mr. hurci? took aside and examin’d, who inform’d him, That the Inhans below were Awashonks, and her company, and that Jack lavens was among them; whom Mr. Church immediately sent or to come to him, and order’d the Messenger to inform Awahonks that he was come to meet her; Jack Havens soon came, Lnd by that time Mr. Church had ask’d him a few Questions, and tad been satisfyed by him, That it was Awashonks, and her camany that were below, and that Jack had been kindly treated (432) by them; a company of Indians all Mounted on Horse-hack, and well Arm’d came riding up to Mr. Church, but treated him with all dew respects. He then order’d Jack to go tell Awashonks, that he designed to Sup with her in the Evening, and to lodge in her Camp that Night. Then taking some of the Indians with him, he went hack to the River to take care of Mr. Howland: Mr. Church being a Mind to try what Mettal he was made oi, imparted his notion to the Indians that were with him, & gave them directions how to act their parts; when he came pretty near the Place, he and his Enghsh Men pretendedly fled, firing on their retreat to-wards the Indians that pursued them, and they firing as fast after them. Mr. Howland being upon his guard, hearing the Guns, and by & by seeing the motion both of the English and Indians, concluded his friends were distressed, was soon on the full Career on Horseback to meet them, until he perceiving their laughing mistrusted the Truth. As soon as Mr. Church had given him the News, they hasted away to Awashonks. Upon their arrival, they were immediately conducted to a shelter, open on one side, whither Awashonks and her chiefs soon came & paid their Respects: and the Multitudes gave shouts as made the heavens to ring. It being now about Sun-setting, or near the dusk of the Evening; The Netops Caine running f?om all (juarters loaden with the tops of dry Pines, & the like combustible matter making a huge pile thereof, near Mr. Churches shelter, on the open side thereof: but by this time Supper was brought in, in three dishes, viz. a curious young Bass, in one dish, Eels & Flat-fish in a second, and Shell-fish in a third, but neither Bread nor Salt to be seen at Table. But by that time Supper was over, the mighty pile of Pine Knots and Tops, &c. was fired, and all the Indians great and small gathered in a ring round it. Awashonks with the oldest of her People Men and Women mix’d, kneeling down made the first ring next the fire, and all the lusty, stout Men standing up made the next; and then all the Rabble in a confused Crew surrounded on the out-side. Then the Chief Captain step’d in between the rings and the fire, with a Spear in one hand and an Hatchet in the other danced round the fire, and began to fight with it, making mention of all the several Nations & Companies of lndians in the Country that were Enemies to the English; & at naming of every particular Tribe of Indians, he would draw out & fight a new fire brand, & at his finishing his fight with each particular (433) fire brand, would bow to him and thank him; and when he had named all the several Nations and Tribes, and fought them all he stuck down his Spear and Hatchet, and came out; and another stept in and acted over the same dance, with more fury, if possible, than the first; and when about half a dozen of their chiefs had thus acted their parts, The Captain of the Guard stept up to Mr. Church and told him, They were making Souldiers for him, and what they had been doing was all one Swearing of them, and having in that manner ingaged all the lusty stout men. Awashanks & her chiefs came to Mr. Church; and told him, That now they were all ingaged to fight for the English, and he might call forth all, or any of them at any time as he saw occasion to fight the Enemy; and presented him with a very fine Fireloek. Mr. Church accepts their offer, drew out a number of them, and set out next Morning before day for Plymouth, where they arrived safe the same day.