Thank you for joining us for Listen to Sipu! This page provides dramaturgical and historical information to supplement your experience, compiled by Dramaturg Angelique Dina with assistance from Abby Lass and Tomantha Sylvester for the original production in the Spring of 2021.
Watertown’s Indigenous History
Pequossette (pe-qua-sette) and the Nonantum people reside in Pigsgusset, which means Meadows at the Widening River. Today, Pigsgusset is known as Watertown, Massachusetts. Pequossette and the Nonantum people settled among the river banks, and the tribes were known for their herring of fish, crop tending, longhouses, and their overall rich culture and heritage.
In May of 1630, a party of colonizers led by Roger Clap came across the Charles River (which was named by the pirate John Smith) near Perkins School for the Blind. When the Pequossette tribe came across Clap and his group of colonizers, they offered him and his party fish and biscuits. The references made in the play about the Christian symbolism of providing bread and fish stems from the story of the three loaves of bread and two pieces of fish given by Jesus and the New Testament. This story was about the multitude of people who came to hear Jesus speak, but there was no food for the public to eat. A young child had a few pieces of bread and a few fish pieces, and they gave it to Jesus as an offering. At this moment, Jesus was able to feed the multitude of people with just three loaves of bread and two pieces of fish.
What is familiar to Native people and the history of Christianity is religious oppression. Religious oppression occurred back in July of 1630 when Sir Richard Saltonstall and Reverend George Phillips arrived in the same spot as Roger Clap after receiving word of the Pigsgusset land. By this time, the capacity of non-Indigenous people began to increase, and treatment of the rightful landowners of the Pigsgusset land was increasingly problematic. By the October of 1675, multiple tribe members were murdered, imprisoned on Deer Island, and taken and sold into slavery in Bermuda. This horrendous act was allowed under the doctrine of divinity which allowed any colonizer to handle and settle upon land not owned by Christians.
While many of the Pequossette and the Nonantum people were murdered or died due to starvation and inhumane treatment, there are still members and descendants of the Pequossette and the Nonantum people alive today. Organizations like the Pigsgusset Initiative actively seek to keep the culture and the people of Pigsgusset alive. The Pigsgusset Initiative is a working group of Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment, which is dedicated to healing and justice through the un-erasure of Indigenous peoples from the place now called Watertown. Some of their goals include renaming the Columbus Delta, incorporating more indigenous content unnarrated by white cis-gender males in school curriculums, and help settlers begin their process of transformation from being occupiers to being neighbors with legitimacy.
Listen to Sipu will be taking place at the Commander’s Mansion in what is now Watertown. The Commander’s Mansion was commissioned by Captain Thomas J. Rodman during the American Civil War, and is a part of the Watertown Arsenal, which served as the largest commander quarter in the United States. Today, the Commander’s Mansion is a historic home and venue site. All U.S. land is Indigeous land, and today, Indigenous land is being occupied by modern day settlers with the help of former day colonizers. With this being said, we ask that you think critically about the piece of work that you are about to experience and see what you, an audience member and human, can do to uplift native people and culture without following in the footsteps of Roger Clap and the pirate John Smith. Now, Listen to Sipu.
One way you can continue to be involved with local efforts towards un-erasure is with the Pigsgusset Initiative, a group dedicated to healing and justice through the un-erasure of Indigenous peoples from the place now called Watertown.
The Pigsgusset Initiative has provided the following resources for taking action and joining their work of showing solidarity and support for Indigenous un-erasure:
Anglicized: Linguistic anglicisation is the practice of modifying foreign words, names, and phrases to make them easier to spell, pronounce, or understand in English.
Algonquin- Al-gaang-Kwn: is the name of the cultural linguistic group that includes many Indigenous tribes that traditionally occupy parts of western Quebec and Ontario.
Doctrine of Discovery: The Doctrine of Discovery provided a framework for Christian explorers, in the name of their sovereign, to lay claim to territories uninhabited by Christians and the land they would occupy was land owned by non-whites. If the lands were “vacant,” then they could be defined as “discovered” and sovereignty claimed.
First Nations: “First Nation” is a term used to describe Aboriginal peoples of Canada who are ethnically neither Métis or Inuit.
Gentrification: Gentrification is the process of changing the character of a neighborhood through the influx of more affluent residents and businesses.
Indigenous: is a term used to encompass a variety of Aboriginal groups. It is most frequently used in an international, transnational, or global context.
Land Grabbing: is the control – whether through ownership, lease, concession, contracts, quotas, or general power.
The Massachusett Tribe: Are the descendants of the original people that the English Invaders (colonizers) first encountered in what is now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Mattapan Square – Ma-ta-pn: resides on the land of the Mattahunt tribe. After Europeans colonized the area, Mattapan later became one of the many thriving Jewish neighborhoods in Boston. By the 1980s, Mattapan evolved into a community where Haitian, African, and Caribbean descendants reside.
Msquepunauket (Squibnocket)- m-sque-puna-ket : Is a Wampanoag term that means “Place of the red cliff or bank.”
Native: “Native” is a general term that refers to a person or thing that has originated from a particular place.
Nipmuc- Nip-Muck: The Nipmuc people are one of the Native tribes that reside in Massachusetts. They occupy the interior portion of what is now Massachusetts and parts of Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Nonantum- No-nam-tum: The lake in Lake Talk is Silver Lake, a water body mostly filled in and now more of a pond in the heart of Nonantum. Nonantum is an Indian word meaning ‘blessing’ or ‘prayer.’
Nubian Square: Formally known as “Dudley Square,” pays tribute to Nubia, an ancient Northeastern African region that was home to some of the continent’s first kingdoms.
Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,”: issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493, played a central role in the Spanish conquest of the New World. The document supported Spain’s strategy to ensure its exclusive right to the lands discovered by Columbus the previous year.
Perkins School: Perkins School for the Blind, in Watertown, Massachusetts, was founded in 1829 and is the oldest school for the blind in the United States.
Pigsgusset – Pigs-gus-set: Is the name of the land where Pequossette and the Nonantum people reside. Pigsgusset means “Meadows at the Widening River.”
Punkapaug- Punk-a-pAug: is the name of a Native American “praying town” is located in the western Blue Hills area of eastern Massachusetts.
Quinobequin- quin-o-be-quin: Indian name for the Charles River was “Quinobequin,” meaning “meandering”. This was a main travel waterway for the Massachuset indigenous peoples.
Squibnocket – Squib-nau-ket: Is a Wampanoag term that means “place of the red cliff or bank.”
Wampanoag- Wam-pan-nog: Is one of the Massachusetts Tribes. The Wampanoag people inhabit the island of Noepe (now known as Martha’s Vineyard).
Listen to Sipu is supported in part by a grant from the Boston Cultural Council and administered by the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture.