Academic journal article Newfoundland and Labrador Studies

Santu's Song

Academic journal article Newfoundland and Labrador Studies

Santu's Song

Article excerpt

THIS ARTICLE JUXTAPOSES THREE layers of information relating to an important historical artifact: an audio recording of a song by Santu Toney, a woman who self-identified as Beothuk. (1) The song was recorded by the American anthropologist Frank Speck in 1910. We present, first, the account Speck published about his encounter in Beothuk and Micmac (1922). Much of this information was later incorporated into Ingeborg Marshall's definitive study, A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk (1996). Second, linguist John Hewson, who was one of the first scholars at Memorial University of Newfoundland to examine the audio recording, explains how the recording found its way back to Newfoundland, and he describes his work on the text of the song, drawing particularly on his knowledge of the extant word lists of Beothuk. Third, ethnomusicologist Beverley Diamond attempts to reassess the documentation with particular attention to the musical dimensions. She reconsiders primary documents generated by or relating to the work of Speck, with a view to teasing out various "mediations" that shaped the early twentieth-century understanding of Santu Toney. She then draws on her knowledge of First Nations transmission processes and historical sources relevant to Atlantic Canadian First Nations, to attempt an interpretation of this musical artifact.


Extract from Frank Speck's Beothuk and Micmac, 1922, pp. 55-70

The most surprising occurrence, however, in recent years concerning the fate of the Beothuk Indians was the accidental discovery of an old Indian woman named Santu, who claimed that her father was one of the last survivors of the Red Indians of Newfoundland. Since considerable discussion was aroused over the innocent claim of the old woman when I had made it public, I shall give the circumstances in some detail, for the benefit of those who may wish to determine to what extent her testimony may be relied on, before making use of the information and the brief vocabulary obtained from her.

Mr. James P. Howley, Director of the Geological Survey of Newfoundland, who for more than forty years has been interested in the history of the Beothuk, during a visit I made him at St. Johns [sic] in 1914, expressed his unbelief in Santu's veracity. (48) Notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Howley's opinions, based on his extensive knowledge of Newfoundland history and physiography, deserve serious consideration, I hardly think, under the circumstances, that the conclusions of one trained in sciences other than ethnology are sufficient to warrant absolutely casting aside information which may be of value, and which on the face of it does bear some semblance of truthfulness.

In July, 1910, I happened to talk over ethnological matters with a family of Micmac who were temporarily camped near Gloucester, Mass. The family consisted of an aged woman, her son, his wife and child (plates xxxi-xxxvi). They all spoke Micmac. The family name was Toney. On inquiring of the young man, Joe Toney, where he was born, he told me in Newfoundland. Then becoming more interested, I inquired if his mother was a native of Newfoundland, he replied that she was. After a few minutes talk with his mother, he said that she was not a true Micmac, but that her father was an Osa'yana Indian from Red Pond, Newfoundland. This naturally startled me, because it referred indirectly to the supposedly extinct Beothuk. Further conversation with the young man, who translated my questions to his mother, disclosed the fact that she was endeavoring to explain to me that, while her mother was a Micmac woman, her father was a member of the tribe which had been exterminated in the island by white men. There was at this time in her statements no idea of boasting, nor of gaining money or favor. She did not claim to know any words of her father's language, but declared her willingness, if I would give her time, to try to recall some. …

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