For the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Tuesday, Cranberry Day was more about culture and heritage than the pragmatic crop-gathering aspects of 100 years ago. Several dozen tribal members gathered around a fire all day on a sandy spot in the dunes at Lobsterville beach for communal and historic sharing,
That’s an appropriate use for the fall harvest Wampanoag national holiday, according to Cheryl Andrews-Maltain, tribal historic preservation officer and a candidate for tribal chairman in the upcoming elections next month.
Four tribal generations saw the day begin with a prayer offered by tribal elder Gladys Widdiss, then fanned into the dunes in the westernmost reaches of the Vineyard to gather cranberries that survived a difficult growing season. The harvest yielded only a few quarts, while beach plums and grapes in abundance were harvested.
“More than a hundred years ago, oxcarts would take barrels of cranberries we gathered to market,” said June Manning. “Proceeds from the crop allowed many of our people to make it through the winter in those days.” The 21st century challenges are different, Ms. Andrews-Maltain said.
“There is a generation gap between the elder generation and mine that lost focus on our ways during the social upheaval of the fifties and sixties. We’ve needed to reclaim lost history,” she said.
Ms. Manning said: “In the early days, everyone would come out riding down by oxcart and pick cranberries all day. Then they would build a night fire and share the food they had brought. The sharing and storytelling would go on all night by the fire. That’s how the history was passed.”
Throughout the afternoon, the crowd diminished from its peak of several hundred to two dozen under lowering clouds and winds with just a hint of winter, but Ms. Andrews-Maltain settled into the lee of a dune. “I’m here until the end,” she said.