Tributes And Mourning In US Home Of First Thanksgiving

Tributes and mourning in US home of first Thanksgiving

Plymouth, United States, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 26th Nov, 2021 ) :In the fall of 1621, a handful of English pilgrims and Native Americans shared their first Thanksgiving in the settlement of Plymouth.

Four centuries later, their respective descendants commemorated the legendary gathering in markedly different ways: while the pilgrims' successors donned costumes for a re-enactment, the remaining members of native groups held a day of mourning.

For tens of millions of American families, Thanksgiving -- falling on the fourth Thursday of November -- brings a traditional all-day meal characterized by stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.

But to delve into the founding myth of the United States is to lift the veil on one of the first painful chapters of European colonization in the New World.

On Thursday, to the tune of drums, white Protestants in long cloaks and wide-brimmed hats re-enacted a religious procession in Plymouth, which ended with a Bible reading in the cemetery that dominates the Massachusetts city.

About 50 "pilgrims" recited psalms in memory of their 102 ancestors who arrived on America's icy northeastern coast in November 1620 aboard the Mayflower after a grueling 10-week voyage from England.

Reverend Paul Jehle, a descendant of the English "pilgrim fathers," said the event allowed him to pay homage to his ancestors by "re-enacting their faith." "It is important to preserve, because it is their beliefs which brought them here and which influenced America so much," the pastor told AFP.

- 'What did we get in return?' - In the nascent colony of Plymouth, when the terrible winter of 1620-21 swept away half the English group, about 90 Wampanoag people -- led by their chief, Massasoit -- helped the 50 survivors stave off starvation by sharing fishing, hunting and farming skills.

According to the written account of two witnesses of the time, Edward Winslow and William Bradford, the first successful harvest in the fall of 1621 resulted in a three-day meal and an alliance between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag people, whose forefathers had settled in the area some 12,000 years earlier.

"And what did we get in return for this kindness? Genocide, the theft of our lands, slavery, starvation and never-ending oppression," said activist Kisha James, at a "national day of mourning" event near the statue of Chief Massasoit on Plymouth Hill.

James belongs to the United American Indians of New England, a group that has held these somber commemorations every Thanksgiving since 1970.

"Thanksgiving is the day to remember the millions of our ancestors killed by European settlers, who had not been invited," she said.

In front of a few hundred supporters, who marched through the town, James denounced the "genocide" of her people.

Among the crowd was Miciah Stasis, a 21-year-old Native American who wore a "Make America Native Again" mask.

"They say we're trying to take away their holiday, but really, it's not a day to celebrate," Stasis said.

"It's something that needs to be recognized more often. You know, we talk about the Holocaust, we talk about 9/11 -- very dramatic and important events in our history -- and we forget the people's land you're on. That's the same thing that happened." - 'Enormous price paid' - The supposedly harmonious historical encounter between colonists and natives is depicted in large 19th century paintings exhibited in the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth -- "false" representations, admits museum director Donna Curtin.

Historians agree that after a few years of peace, a first conflict between 1636 and 1637 pitted English settlers against the native Pequot people, before the "King Philip War" of 1675-76 took a heavy toll on the Wampanoag people.

According to the Plimoth Patuxet Museum, which has reconstructions of former native and English villages, only 10,000 Wampanoag people now remain in the region, while there are 30 million descendants of English pilgrims scattered throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.

American descendants of the English settlers "have acknowledged that things have gone wrong since that first harvest festival when natives were mistreated," said Jehle, the pastor.

Museum director Curtin told AFP she would "continue to enjoy and celebrate this day" of Thanksgiving, but added: "We have to admit that our celebrations are also a reflection of the enormous price paid by another culture four centuries ago, and since then."