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Passamaquoddy Ceremonial Songs

Aesthetics and Survival

Ann Morrison Spinney

Publication Year: 2010

Based on extensive research across several disciplines, this book examines the songs and dances involved in public ceremonies of the Wabanaki Confederacy, a coalition of five Algonquian First Nations that figured importantly in the political history of New England and the Maritimes from the seventeenth century on. Ethnomusicologist Ann Morrison Spinney analyzes these ceremonial performances as they have been maintained in one of those nations, the Passamaquoddy community of Maine. She compares historical accounts with forms that have persisted to the present, showing how versions of the same songs, dances, and ritual speeches have continued to play a vital role in Passamaquoddy culture over time. A particular focus of the study is the annual Sipayik Indian Day, a public presentation of the dances associated with the protocols of the Wabanaki Confederacy. Spinney interprets these practices using melodic analysis and cultural contextual frameworks, drawing on a variety of sources, including written documents, sound and video recordings, interviews with singers, dancers, and other cultural practitioners, and her own fieldwork observations. Her research shows that Passamaquoddy techniques of song composition and performance parallel both the structure of the Passamaquoddy language and the political organizations that these ceremonies support.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xix

This is a study of a group of Native American ceremonies, written by a musicologist whose cultural identity is Euro-American. It reflects centuries of relations between Europeans, including my direct ancestors, and Native people in northeastern North America. The ceremonies under consideration are part of the alliance protocols ...


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pp. xxi

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Chapter 1: Identity, History, Tradition

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pp. 1-22

Peskotomuhkatiyik are the people living in Peskotomuhkatik, the region where there are plenty of pollock fish, now called Passamaquoddy Bay.1 This area of deep bays, high tides, and many small islands—only one part of their traditional homelands—is shared between the United States and Canada. The bay itself is fed by several rivers, along which the people traveled in small bands ...

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Chapter 2: Sources

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pp. 23-52

Written sources constitute the materials for historical study, which may em

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Chapter 3: Overview of Passamaquoddy Songs

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pp. 53-66

There are two way to define the music of any contemporary community: by all the music that is made and used within it, or by the style identified with that community wherever it is made and used. I have chosen the latter, because Peskotomuhkatiyik have maintained their social ties and their culture despite conditions that caused migration and dispersal throughout Native ...

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Chapter 4: Musical Instruments

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pp. 67-94

The Passamaquoddy community today is affected by global musical influences, like the culture of the United States as a whole. A wide variety of musical styles is available over the airwaves, and instruments from around the world may be purchased a short distance from the reservations. The reservation communities themselves are magnets ...

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Chapter 5: Welcoming Ceremonies

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pp. 95-114

Every school child in the United States has heard a story of how the Pilgrims were welcomed by Native Americans when they landed at Plymouth Rock: meetings were held between their leaders; treaties were signed; the Pilgrims were taught to plant corn; and it all culminated in feasting at the first Thanksgiving. These stories have achieved the status of foundational myths ...

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Chapter 6: Ceremonies of Peace and War

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pp. 115-144

Historical records of European interactions with Peskotomuhkatiyik and their allies indicate that ceremonies of welcome, alliance, and warfare were related as part of the protocols for political conferences. They appear together in the Wampum Records of the Wabanaki Confederacy. Connections between the welcoming ceremonies and those of peace and war are explicitly made in ...

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Chapter 7: The Marriage Ceremony and Social Dances

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pp. 145-171

Protocols for marriage are included in the Wampum Records of the Wabanaki Confederacy, underscoring the interpretation of marriage as a kind of alliance. Historically, this was often the case. Marriage was at the least an alliance between two families, creating bonds of honor and ultimately of blood between them. Since political allegiance within the Wabanaki communities for ...

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Chapter 8: Aesthetics and Survival

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pp. 172-189

Performances of the ceremonies of the Wabanaki Confederacy at the Sipayik Indian Days are contrasted throughout this study with performances of the same protocols in other contexts. The Indian Day presentations differ from other contemporary performances in that they are reconstructions for a general audience, with a primary purpose of educating outsiders about ...

Appendix: Transcriptions

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pp. 191-219


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pp. 221-236


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pp. 237-249


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pp. 251-258

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613760468
E-ISBN-10: 1613760469
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558497184
Print-ISBN-10: 1558497188

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 10 illus.
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Songs, Passamaquoddy.
  • Passamaquoddy Indians -- Maine -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Passamaquoddy Indians -- Maine -- Songs and music -- History and criticism.
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