By: Suzanne Cleave, TRP Reviewer
The Wampanoag Nation may be small, but they are mighty, and their powerful story was told on stage at the Theatre Royal this week with emotion and fortitude.
In 2020, the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, the Theatre Royal planned a large-scale piece of work entitled This Land, which would see Wampanoag people join with local people to take to the stage and tell their story. But, despite all the progress that happened, the pandemic hit and plans were put on hold.
These were restarted in 2022, and the Wampanoag people were invited to be at the centre of the work, taking a creative lead. The result is ground-breaking – through drama, song and powerful testimony, their voices are heard.
Having always been interested in American history, it’s shocking that I have never heard of the Wampanoag people. Sure, we’re taught about the Mayflower crossings and the Pilgrim Fathers, but not about the effects that still ripple over 400 years later.
The Wampanoag are a tribal nation who have occupied what we now know as Massachusetts for hundreds of years. When the Pilgrim Fathers landed in America in 1620, the life that they knew would never be the same again. They had to fight – fight for survival and fight for what was theirs. Their voices have remained mighty, and We Are The Land is testament to this.
The stage is set, with a dark, starry background, that turns to a sunrise. Members of the Wampanoag nation gather around a fire. One of the elders tells the others she has seen a warning about their homeland, which gives her heaviness in her heart. One of the men tells her that they have everything they need, but, although she could not explain it, something was wrong.
‘Tides come and go; nothing stays the same forever.’
Their story was told, from forced Christianisation, the Woodlot Riots, right up to the modern day, when they came up against the Trump administration which tried to disestablish the Mashpee Wampanoag’s reservation.
The Pilgrim fathers cut down trees to build churches. Land was taken and planting restricted. Banks refused them loans, making it difficult for them to purchase land. Some natives donned a cloak of Christianity as a means of survival.
It was clear. They took nothing for granted and they have been fighting for a long time.
As pictures were beamed onto the screen behind, each person told their story. The aunt of one of the women dominated the screen. Her aunt used to say ‘never forget where you come from,’’ and she said that was the reason she was there today. Another told of how when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in America, they were cold, hungry, sick and dying. It was the Wampanoag people that took them in and cared for them.
Another boy said people ask, what happened to the Indians? Many say they all got the plague and died. But he said, defiantly, they didn’t all die – and they were proof.
It was an honour to hear their stories and to witness their strength. Their story will continue to be told, and people will listen.