In order to ensure the safety of staff and guests, we've made modifications to our Museum experience in accordance with public guidance and health recommendations. Please be sure to review these protocols to prepare for your visit!
What to Expect, How to Prepare:
Frequently Asked Historical Questions:
Beyond the Stereotypes: Answering your questions about Native People and culture.
What to Expect, How to Prepare:
The Wampanoag Homesite is a re-creation of a 17th-century coastal home for an extended family. Historically, a homesite like this one would have been occupied from the spring through the fall enabling the family to plant crops, fish and gather food along the coast before returning to their inland winter village. You will see several wetuash (homes) that are made to depict the different styles of structures built by the Wampanoag for thousands of years. The exhibit includes a matt-covered wetu and a bark covered long house (or nush wetu), which means the house has three fire pits. Outside the long house, you will see a garden area with a corn-watch and an outdoor cooking arbor.
In the Wampanoag Homesite traditional skills are practiced throughout the site. On any given day, you may see belt weaving, hide tanning, and the burning out of mishoonash (boats).
All of the staff in the Homesite are Native People - either Wampanoag or from other Native Nations. Asking staff what Native Nation they are from is a great way to begin a conversation. You are likely to meet some people who are Wampanoag--one of several Peoples (or Nations) indigenous to the southern coast of present-day New England. The Wampanoag have been living here for over 10,000 years.
While their clothing and houses are traditional, the Native interpreters you meet are not role players. They speak from a modern perspective about Wampanoag history and culture. This enables the staff to talk with you about historical as well as contemporary issues, events and information about the Wampanoag.
You may spend as much time as you like, but most visitors experience it in an hour or less.
Frequently Asked Historical Questions:
Wampanoag means "Eastern People" or "People of the Dawn" or "People of the First Light."
The Wampanoag homeland included the territory along the East Coast from Wessagusset (today called Weymouth, Massachusetts), to what is now Cape Cod and the islands of Natocket and Noepe (now called Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, respectively), and southeast as far as Pokanoket (the area which now encompasses Bristol and Warren, Rhode Island) and to the northeast corner of present-day Rhode Island.
Massasoit was the sachem (leader) of a village in Pokanoket where Bristol and Warren, Rhode Island are located today. The word "Massasoit" is actually a title of respect, meaning "Great Leader." Massasoit's given name was Ousamequin. To the Wampanoag and other Native People, he is revered as a courageous and wise leader.
Books and letters written in the 1620s mention that the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in the fall of 1621 by "rejoicing in a special manner together" and that Massasoit with "some ninety men" joined them for a feast and recreations that lasted three days. More than 200 years later, in the mid-1800s, this event became known as "The First Thanksgiving" which it is popularly called to this day. But in fact, both the English and Native People had long traditions of giving thanks which predated this feast in 1621. For much more on this topic visit our Thanksgiving history page.
Wampanoag oral history and European written sources are the two ways that we know about the Native People who lived in Patuxet (renamed Plymouth by the English) and the rest of the Wampanoag homeland.
For Native Peoples, the spoken word is very important in recalling historical events. The position of historian has always been given great importance in Wampanoag communities. It was and is essential that the stories passed on by the historian were accurately and faithfully told. This continuing tradition of oral history is a crucial key to understanding the past.
Although the Europeans wrote about the Native People who lived here, much of what the Europeans reported reflected a biased view of Native culture. However, there is still much actual historic information that can be gleaned from their writings. This written information combined with the oral cultural history of the Wampanoag gives us a good idea of how this area's Native population lived at the time the English colonists arrived.
Before 1616, it is estimated that there were 50,000 to 100,000 Wampanoag People in about 67 different villages in the Wampanoag territory. This territory included southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. Between 1616 and 1618, a devastating plague, probably carried by Europeans, caused the deaths of many thousands of Wampanoag greatly reducing the population.
Today there are about four to five thousand Wampanoag. Most live in Massachusetts where there are two federally acknowledged tribes, the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Mashpee Wampanoag, as well as several smaller bands in areas like Herring Pond, Assonet, and Manomet. In the Caribbean islands there are also descendants of Wampanoag People who were sent into slavery after a war with the English in 1670s.
Yes, some do and others are learning to do so. By the mid-1800s the Wampanoag language was spoken by very few people — it was a dying language. In the 20th century, Wampanoag scholars began to recover their language. To do this they used original documents such as a Bible that had been translated into Wampanoag, by Wampanoag people, in the 1650s. Today many Wampanoag people are taking classes and learning to speak their original language.
BEYOND THE STEREOTYPES: Wampanoag staff answer questions about Native People and culture.
Those of us dressed in deerskin clothing on the Wampanoag Homesite are all Native People - a term we prefer over "Indian" or even "Native American". Most are Wampanoag, but a few people are from other Native Nations. Many images of Native People in movies depict Native stereotypes. But there are actually many different Native Peoples throughout the Country, with a variety of different physical features as well as different lifestyles.
If you want to know about our heritage, just ask us: "What Native Nation are you from?" We'd be happy to talk with you about it.
No, the Wampanoag have never lived in that type of housing. A tepee (or tipi) is a style of house constructed in the Great Plains region. They have been depicted in film, art and in books for over a hundred years, so it's no surprise that most people are very familiar with tepees, and not so familair with wetus - the type of houses Native People in the Northeast built.
The traditional Wampanoag wetus (houses) - also called wigwams throughout the Northeast - are dome-shaped and covered with bark or cattail reeds. These houses are well-suited for the climate and life here in the Northeast.
First, remember that we are all modern people, speaking modern English. We are not playing a role. So it's easy to talk with us. Second, remember that we are not only Native People but museum professionals who are eager to welcome you to the Homesite and talk with you about our history and culture. We will do our best to say hello first and break the ice. And you may find the following suggestions helpful:
- The culture of the Wampanoag and other Native People from the Northeast may be very different from what you expect - for example, no feathered headdresses or tepees. Please take this opportunity to find out about the fascinating history and culture of the Wampanoag People.
- We understand that there are many mistaken ideas about Native People. We kindly ask that you avoid stereotypes, such as "war whooping" or saying "How!" for a greeting or addressing Native women as "squaw" or Native men as "chief."
- The Native staff may not look like the images of Native People you have seen on TV or in the movies. As with any other ethnic group, Native People are diverse in their appearance.
- We welcome you to use the names of individual Nations, such as Wampanoag, Cherokee, etc. Just ask us, "What Nation are you from?"