This article was published in the October 17 issue of the Wareham Courier. It was the second in a series of articles. See video after the jump.
PLYMOUTH - When English Colonists first arrived in Massachusetts they reported seeing great canoes that carried as many as 40 men up and down the coasts. Tribes and clans used the oceans and waterways like highways for trade and communication from Canada down through the Carolinas, all on what were essentially hollowed-out logs.
At Plimoth Plantation, where the Wampanoag Homesite has been using traditional techniques to make mishoonash, the goals are a little more modest than operating a complex trade network up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
"The Wampanoag Indigenous Program has been instrumental in redeveloping and starting a resurgence in Wampanoag maritime trade and tradition and the production of our traditional vessels, these dugout canoes, using the traditional methods," Jonathan Perry, assistant manager of the program.
It isn't that the Wampanoag interpreters don't relish the possibility of building a 60-foot canoe; it's just difficult because there aren't a lot of trees around that fit the bill. To find logs for a two-man boat, the program had to travel to Freetown.
"You want tall trees, appropriate in size, with very few branches on the lower levels," Perry said.
Typically the Wampanoag would have used white pine or oak, which don't crack under the heat that will be used to carve out the inside of the boat. They would also try and find a tree along a river or the side of a lake in case the fire got out of control, and because even the smaller canoes can weigh a few hundred pounds. Once a tree had been felled, the other end of the boat would be cut out and shaped with fire. Once the rest of the bark had been pulled off, they would burn off the top part of the log and then move the hot coals to the center to help in burning out the hollow of the boat.