Thar Blows

workingtemplateforffchallenges289929.pngThe giant Maushop shared whales and fish with the people. Only Maushop could stop the monstrous bird that ate children. The people showed thanks with gifts of tobacco. With ashes from his pipe Maushop made a second faraway island. The fog from his pipe shielded for a while but was not enough.

Then the people took the others’ god. The others said he was the devil; Maushop obliged. He turned his children to fishes and his wife to a stone before taking to farther seas. They’d see him again, misty smoke now urgent spout of a great white whale.


The ‘sea mist’ prompt had me thinking about Maushop, the once gentle giant whose smoking habit is the cause of the pervasive fog of Nantucket. The above 99 words is a distillation of some of the Maushop stories and theories. Maushop is a tragic character who couldn’t find an island far enough away to escape the Europeans and the rapid changes wrought on Native culture and economies in the 17th century. The Maushop stories can be interpreted as historical narrative as much as myth and continue among the Wampanoag today. Nathaniel Philbrick says of his book Abram’s Eyes, that it “looks to Maushop as a way to recover an understanding of how native Nantucketers experienced their world.” He suggests that, “to appreciate legendary giants such as Maushop for who they really are, we must enter a universe where myth is more than mere fiction; it is a higher reality” and to accept “the Indians’ legends as flexible and renewable truths”. Which all means that the myths are not fantasy; they were and are told by real people who really experienced what is portrayed. I hope that Maushop is still around in whatever form he may have taken for our times.

 Informed by:

 Philbrick, Nathaniel, Abrams Eyes. Mill Hill Press, Nantucket, Massachusetts, 1998.

 Simmons, William S., Spirit of the New England Tribes: Indian History and Folklore, 1620-1984. Hanover, New Hampshire; and London, 1986.

15 thoughts on “Thar Blows

  1. I felt sad as I read your story, hearing that Maushop was shunned and moved far away because he was replaced by others’ gods. Then reading the explanation, it became even clearer. All myths were created, I believe, to explain how something – event or tradition – came to be. I like the explanations of legends as ‘flexible and renewable truths’. Sometimes, I think there are more myths than those labelled that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am really glad I pursued this and re-read these texts. I had remembered Maushop as being a sad figure too and complex. The easy thing is what is done too often for children and postcards, to romanticize some of the tales and focus on the fog from the pipe. But these are not origin myths. They are oral histories of Native Americans being pushed off their lands and of learning how to deal with the Europeans. The important thing to know is that there were many different groups of native New Englanders and they were always in competition with one another; the Europeans became allies and business partners to some groups in a complicated and volatile political landscape where everyone was really just in it for themselves. One theory is that Maushop represents Massasoit who became less benevolent to his people and had a few duplicitous dealings with the Plymouth newcomers. I could have maybe should have said “governance” instead of “god”. Bottomline, everything was changing at an astounding pace. So Maushop changed too.
      Ultimately the Maushop tale is universal as it is a reminder that despite the pushing and shoving, there’s just the one planet for us all. The new Nantucketers sailed the world only to be confronted in the Pacific by the fellow they thought they’d subdued 200 years prior in the Atlantic. I like the idea of Maushop as Moby Dick, not so much for wreaking vengeance, but for remaining, persisting. And, not forgetting an incident of kidnapping by the English (child eating bird as sailed ship) as recently as 1992 Maushop put a large stone in the CHARTED waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and the Queen Elizabeth II smacked into it, even though that area had been charted and traversed since the 1600’s.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Fascinating, D. Thanks for sharing all this additional information. You know a lot of this history, obviously. And I stand corrected about myths and oral histories. I’m sure your children love learning all this history of their locale. Good one, Teach.

        Liked by 1 person

    • And I am also thinking that the Maushop tale tells of the changed relationship with whales. In the early stories Maushop got the whales and shared with the people or the whales came to him, right up on shore. The natives did take “drift whales” those that were near to shore. Surely these would have been seen as a gift and therefore there would be a sense of gratitude. A sustainable arrangement. But the Europeans saw the whales as more than a meal and went after them with a greed and a gusto previously unknown; Quakers with a vengeance. Natives were enlisted in this pursuit, enslaved, essentially, so again, how intriguing, the idea of Maushop as Moby Dick, taking on the fighting Quakers on the other side of the world. No rest for the wicked.

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  2. Maushop still rocks, so to speak. I called this mythology but stand corrected with your broader perspective of oral traditions having been real experiences by real people. In a way, these traditions are spoken literary art — the stories we gift one another in pursuit of deeper understanding. The idea that Maushop becomes Moby Dick may be a direct influence of such oral traditions on the colonizing groups who pushed out and politicized those who lived on the shores at the time of European arrival. Have you read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods? The idea that what people believe (real people with real experiences) they bring with them. The gods (the formations of these beliefs) are fighting for existence, having come to America to be forgotten and displaced by the gods of technology. Then there are yet the remnants of the ancient gods that have been here. Your post and flash remind me of Gaiman’s perspective on belief.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Sea Mist « Carrot Ranch Literary Community

  4. Pingback: Squanto | ShiftnShake

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