Which side of the door are you on?

By Zeenat Fugurally

A bleak Thursday morning dawned upon us because of the insistent rain.  But, we SUSI 2022 participants were resolute on not letting the weather have the better of us as we raincoated ourselves and fired our enthusiasm for the promising visit to historic Deerfield.

The prelude to our visit was animated by Barbara Matthews who played excerpts of the App “Encountering Pocuntuck’ which is in fine-tuning mode. From those excerpts of the said app, we learned about the Native Indian tribe that inhabited Deerfield 12,000 years ago. The developer of the app, Associate Professor, Margaret Bruhac, also a descendant of indigenous people presented an ‘indigenous-centric’ narrative to help us understand the long history of the original inhabitants.  We could gather that these natives spoke a dialect of the Algonquian family of languages.

In her narrative, Barbara Matthews challenged us to ponder over 2 questions which are:

  1. What histories do we choose to remember (or not)? and
  2. What histories do we learn or teach?

Barbara Matthews also put us in front of our responsibility as educators. Parents and citizens of the world with this statement:

“Future generations will inherit the past we create today.”

We were by then all set to walk on the Deerfield site and try to imagine what lay beneath the tangible English settlements we see today.  For instance, looking at the Sheldon House, more particularly at its iconic door which bears the scars of the violent confrontation between the Natives and the colonists, one has to ask oneself the question: ‘Which side of the door am I on?’.  Our guide, Barbara Matthews also urged us to imagine how the topography at that particular place could have been the perfect place to create the kind of amphitheater that could accommodate the Conference for negotiations.

The early afternoon saw us at the Memorial Museum where we saw displays of records about families on the wall.  In some instances, we saw the Native-centric account of the record that was written to do justice to the events. As we peeled the page, we were exposed to the Brit-centric version where the Natives were described as ‘Savages’. This resonated deeply with me as I know how in the history of my own country, colonizers refer to the original inhabitants as ‘Tarzans’ and ‘Man Friday’. 

In between, while we were on our way to lunch, we had the unique opportunity to witness a couple who had just taken the vows of marriage.  And yes, the groom was in a bright red suit, something many of us said, they had never ever seen before. I instantly thought of the delightful poem by Robert Burns, ‘O my luve is like a red, red rose /That’s newly sprung in June.’ Hmmm. We are in June! There couldn’t have been more befitting lines for me and half of the group to engage in more poetry with Tammis Coffin!

Tammis taught us some techniques to create poetry. The Black Out technique was tried and tested by some participants and yes, we did get some interesting, and even subversive responses!

For a spectacular finish to the day, we were taken on Sugarloaf Mountain where poets and painters can spill their imagination on paper and where I, the lambda visitor indulged in selfies. The valley was a sight to behold and as I watched the landscape, I was quite saddened by the sight of new housing estates assaulting such fertile lands.

The day ended sweetly and whether we have a sweet tooth or not, most of us relished the to-have ice-cream at the local Sugarloaf ice-cream shop.