Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Native People of Southern New England, 1500-1650

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Native People of Southern New England, 1500-1650

Article excerpt

Native People of Southern New England, 1500-1650. By Kathleen J. Bragdon. Norman and London, 1996 (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 73019-8217). $28.95.

This is a comprehensive anthropological study of the Ninnimissinuok, the native people in southern New England, who included the Pawtucket, Massachusett, Nipmuck, Pocumtuck, Narragansett, Pokanoket, Niantic, Mohegan, and Pequot. Throughout the book, Kathleen Bragdon demonstrates that the Ninnimissinuoks were not homogeneous but consisted of a complex variety of communities, with distinctive social and economic adaptations.

Concentrating on the period from 1500 to 1650 and drawing mainly upon secondary works in archaeology, linguistics, history, and ethnography, including her own, the author depicts a society of native people, who maintained their own point of view and voice, and analyzes how the society was changed by the European contact. Bragdon covers various aspects of Ninnimissinuok life: diet, farming and hunting, trade, diplomacy, politics, languages, land concept, and cosmological and ritual practices.

Particularly noteworthy are Bragdon's analyses of the sachemship, the role of women, and the burial ritual. The author argues that more important than the sachem's proper rights (such as to allocate land, to conduct diplomacy, to dispense justice, to negotiate trade, and to make decisions concerning war) were the sachem's functions as serving as representative of the community and maintaining the cohesiveness of the sachemship. People looked to sachems as advocates, who in turn protected their interests. The author maintains that the emergence of new leaders like Uncas was not merely in response to the English presence, which caused the serious disruption, giving a significant impact on sociopolitical relations, but because of chiefdoms that already existed.

Bragdon offers a penetrating insight into the role of Ninnimissinuok women. In native society, which was highly conscious of social distinctions based upon gender as well as status, wealth, and age, the separation of men's and women's work was intimately tied to their sense of time and space and to their image of the world: while women's work was generally domestic and confined to the environs of the homestead, men's jobs were hunting, fishing, and fighting. Although both men and women sometimes did each other's work and shared work together, the separate pattern of work made for a gendered world. …

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