Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets is a departure from other books in the Royal Diaries series. Here you won't find stories of castle intrigue, royal banquets and celebrations, and an emphasis on jewels and gowns. But like Marie Antoinette or Eleanore of Aquitaine or Mary, Queen of Scots, Weetamoo is a girl who will grow up to lead her people. Native American author Patricia Clark Smith says this about her subject, "Weetamoo has been a hero of mine for a long time. I'm part Algonquin myself, of Micmac descent on both sides of my family. I grew up hearing tales of King Philip's War, the native rebellion Metacom and that Weetamoo led from 1675 to 1676, some twenty years after this story takes place."
Smith says, "Few people are aware that a nearly successful Native uprising against the English occurred in the early years of the New England colonies. Even fewer know that one of the leaders of that war was a woman. I was glad of the chance to imagine Weetamoo, her sisters, and her friends as young people, and think about what would have concerned them in their daily lives. As they grew older, relations between the New England natives and the English became more and more bitter, but it has been fascinating to write about a time when the Wampanoag and their neighbors were still keeping peace, even if it was an uneasy one."
Weetamoo's story presents young readers with an often-neglected perspective on the New England colonists, Plimoth settlement, religious beliefs, and love for the natural world.
"Please, Squant, grant me patience," prays thirteen-year-old Weetamoo, to the Being who watches over girls and women. It is 1653 in southern New England, and Weetamoo, daughter of the sachem (chief) of the Pocassets, has been ordered by her parents to spend some time each day reflecting on what she had said and done. Weetamoo knows she must prepare for the time when she will be sachem of her people, but she would rather be digging clams, snaring rabbits, and running races. Weetamoo looks forward to the harvest gathering when she will see her friend Cedar from the neighboring village as well as Wamsutta and Metacom, sons of Massasoit, the main sachem, although she says, "I do not like those boys." There are days of feasting and storytelling and an archery contest against Wamsutta. Weetamoo is very pleased with herself when she beats him!
As cold weather approaches, the people move inland to their winter village. Weetamoo's father makes a journey to Plimoth, home of the English colonists (Coat-men). Weetamoo, forbidden to accompany him, skulks behind. She spies on the Coat-men's village and is surprised when a Coat-woman greets her and gives her a gift of rosemary. A large winter gathering brings everyone together again. It is a time for celebration and games, but also a time of sadness as Weetamoo's family learns that their frail baby Snowbird is gravely ill and no medicine will cure her.
Not long after, the Powwaw (medicine man) tells Weetamoo that it is time for her and Cedar's learning ceremonies. An intense three days follow, and both girls are changed by this experience. Each sees dreams or visions of what the future might be, and it worries and frightens them. Weetamoo says, "I used to think that this fasting time would be all about becoming splendid hunters and warriors and councillors, but I can see now I was wrong…It seems to be more about us learning sorrow." When Weetamoo asks the Powwaw what it all means, he tells her "It is all about keeping the fire alive." She wonders what he means.
After their ceremonies, Weetamoo and Cedar are included in the next deer hunt. Weetamoo has mixed feelings about it. "I should feel happy, but there is some heaviness in my heart. I cannot say what it is." Returning a week later, after a very successful hunt, Weetamoo learns that her baby sister Snowbird has died. The family is grief-stricken and deeply mourns the loss of "The One Who Went Away."
Spring comes, and all the people gather at the great waterfall, Exploding Rocks, for the annual fish-run. Many salmon are caught. Weetamoo sees Wamsutta, but now she feels quite differently about him. She recalls, "how handsome his uplifted chin, and how his dark eyes flash." Weetamoo realizes she cares for Wamsutta, and expresses her love for him. She says, "I think we both knew we would someday be married. Someday, not just yet."
Weetamoo and her family return to their seaside village and begin to plant their crops. Mother is expecting a new baby in the fall, and Weetamoo looks forward to "our new Forming Person" and a rich corn harvest. She now understands the Powwaw's words, as she says, "Planting corn and giving birth. Ruling our people well... It is about keeping the fire going."
Thinking About the Book
- What does Weetamoo mean? Why was she so named? Do you think she lives up to her name? Why or why not?
- Weetamoo's father tells her that if she is to be a good leader she must "learn to walk more carefully through the world." What does he mean?
- White settlers (the Coat-men) live near Weetamoo's village. How do these two groups feel about each other? What does Weetamoo observe when she spies on Plimoth Plantation? Why does she say on page 51, "How can one know who will give you sweet-smelling gifts, and who will be outrageously violent?" What is the sweet-smelling gift, and what is the violence?
- Later, when Weetamoo returns to Plimoth, she gives the Coat-woman a gift. What does she give her and why?
- Why does Cedar and Weetamoo's deer hunting experience end in disaster? What must Weetamoo do to atone for her lack of judgment?
- What must Weetamoo and Cedar do for their "learning ceremony?" How does their ceremony differ from that of the young men? Tell what each part accomplishes for Weetamoo and Cedar: 1) sweating ceremony 2) fasting vigil.
- What dreams/visions does Weetamoo see during her fasting vigil? How are they different from Cedar's dreams/visions?
- What do you think the Powwaw means when he tells Weetamoo, "It is all about keeping the fire alive?"
- Weetamoo is curious about the "marks" the Coat-men make on paper, but she would not accept their offer of reading and writing lessons? Why?
- Read the epilogue to learn what happens to Weetamoo. How is her fate similar to the vision she had during her ceremony?
- Weetamoo cannot write words so she makes pictures to help her "remember what a given day has brought." She drew her pictures on birch bark using a sharp stick blackened by fire. Try drawing a picture on a piece of bark using a blackened stick. How easy or difficult is it to draw a picture?
- Weetamoo and her family enjoy storytelling sessions at the end of the day. Why is storytelling so important to Weetamoo's people? Which one of her stories do you like best and why? What favorite stories do you remember being told or read to you when you were younger? Why did you particularly like those stories?
- Find out what these terms mean and share the information with your group:
- Weetamoo's father tells her of signs predicting a hard winter: thickness of a dog's fur and wide stripes on the wooly bear caterpillar. Do you know any weather signs or sayings? Ask some older family members or friends about weather signs and share them.
- Weetamoo carries with her a special pouch in which she keeps her treasures (p. 49) What does she keep in her pouch? Try making a small bag for yourself in which to keep special objects.
- Weetamoo's family uses wampum string and belts as money for trading. Learn more about wampum. What does the word wampum mean? What other facts did you find out about wampum?
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.