Getting to Know Alsoomse and Her People, Part 1
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
I am excited to tell you that A Home in the Wilderness launched on September 15th! It took longer than I had originally hoped, but I am pleased with the results. Thank you for your patience and support in this endeavor! Many of you have given me encouragement along the way and that has meant a lot to me! If you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, it is available Amazon, Powell’s Books, or Barnes and Noble.
In this sequel, I introduce you to Etienne’s two “New World” friends, Alsoomse and her brother Kitchi. Alsoomse was introduced at the end of Thrown to the Wind, but in this story she and her brother also have important roles to play as they team up with Etienne in trying to save their respective communities.
I enjoyed researching Native American gender roles and, as one who has myself struggled with real and perceived gender limitations, it was interesting thinking about how Alsoomse would have reacted to restrictions she may have had to confront in 1663. In the process, Alsoomse has become a beloved part of my literary family. I hope you will come to love her as much as I do!
If you want to know more about A Home in the Wilderness, please visit my website. And if you are interested in seeing my annotated bibliography, you can find that here. With that out of the way, I promised to tell you about some of the interesting things I learned, while researching the second book.
Just as people today, adorn themselves with jewelry, stylish clothing, accessories, hair pieces or ties, and tattoo their bodies, so the Native Americans also embellished themselves. Clothing was often decorated with painted patterns, feathers, and stone beads or wampum (white and purple shell beads), though the best outfits were reserved for special celebrations, weddings, and religious festivals. In the winter, Native Americans lined their moccasins with fur and used beaver or bear fur as cloaks to keep warm.
Men and women wore beaded or woven belts with equally decorated pouches and jewelry made of wampum, semi-precious stone, bone, claws, or animal teeth. Women braided their hair or left it long and embellished it with feathers, small copper bells traded from Central America, and leather thongs. Men typically shaved the sides of their head and adorned their hair with roaches (small, round crowns) made of feathers, porcupine quills, and deer fur. Native American warriors decorated themselves with tattoos on their arms, face, and torso. They used warpaint in blacks, reds, and yellows to make themselves appear more fearsome in battle.
Another thing I discovered, as I was researching battle techniques and weapons, is that the 17th century tomahawk, which the Algonquin-speaking peoples called a tomahak, was not a hatchet-type weapon with a wooden handle and a stone club or blade, as is often depicted in modern books and movies – that was the weapon of the Western Plains tribes. Instead, it was really a war club that was carved out of a single piece of hardwood. And while these weapons were utilitarian and deadly, they were also beautiful pieces of art, just as the rapiers and sabers of Europe were. Often the tamahaks were carved as some type of animal holding what appears to be a large stone or seed in their mouth. They were even embellished with metal studs or inlayed semi-precious stones.
In the foreground you can see a replica of an Lenni-Lenape tamahak, this one has a snake design.
The Eastern Woodland peoples had two types of houses, a wetu, or summer house, and a nush wetu, or winter house. Both homes were made of young saplings stuck in the ground and then bent together to form an arched frame. On top of this they added layers of cedar or birch bark, like shingles to keep out the rain. A hole was left in the center, so that the smoke from the fire could escape. Baskets and mats were woven from reeds. The mats would be used on the floors and inside walls in the summer homes. The walls of the winter homes were lined with furs for warmth.
Baskets were hung from the walls for storage. Platform beds lined the walls. The beds were made more comfortable by layering them with reed mats, furs, and blankets. Blankets were woven from raccoon and beaver fur or from turkey and goose feathers interwoven together with thread or twine made from hemp and nettle. Clay pottery was used for storage and cooking, until the Native Americans were able to trade for cast iron pots from the Europeans.
Transportation was by foot or in canoes. There were two types of canoe, or mishoon. The larger dugouts were made from a single large Eastern cedar or elm. These were the best type of boat for use in the coastal areas. The large vessels could accommodate anywhere from 20 to 40 people. In the interior regions, they also made bark canoes, in which they soaked and shaped strips of wood into a rib structure and then covered that with cedar or birch bark that was woven together and then sealed with pitch. This style of canoe was lighter weight and easier to maneuver but could not handle the rough surf of the coastal bays, sounds, or open ocean, as the dugouts could.
In November, as we celebrate Thanksgiving (or for those of you in Canada, who will have recently celebrated it), I think it would be appropriate to discuss the food that the Lenape ate and to share some recipes I have uncovered.
Have you ever been camping? If so, what was your favorite thing about camping? What, if anything, don’t you like about it? If you haven’t been camping, why not? I’d love to hear from you. Just reply to this email and let me know.
Take care and see you next month!