15 May Some Thoughts on History Following the Hokule’a First Nation Landing Ceremony
Following the ceremony welcoming the Hōkūleʻa and its crew from Hawai’i to Piscataway tribal homeland, I thought of ironies of history. The event took place on Piscataway tribal homeland in Piscataway Park. There the National Park Service works in partnership with the Accokeek Foundation, which runs the National Colonial Farm- Accokeek, Md. The farm serves as a living history museum depicting the lifeways “of typical tobacco farmers in the 1770s.” Directly across the Potomac River sits Mount Vernon, home to the first president, who held tobacco lands as well.
One part of the event that stood out for me was the beautiful exchanging of gifts, and ceremonial tobacco was given to the crew of the Hōkūleʻa by Piscataway peoples.
Nicotiana rustica and Nicotiana tabacum: names given to two species of tobacco. Indigenous inhabitants of what would be called colonial Virginia and Maryland by English settlers grew N. rustica. But Jamestown colonists and the Virginia Company found, as one put it, that form of tobacco “poore and weake, and of a byting tast. . .”
Profit would be made by growing N. tabacum (by then grown in the Caribbean) on tidewater land taken from its Native inhabitants—thanks to experiments done by a young John Rolfe (yes, that John Rolfe) in the 1610s. By 1640, London alone imported nearly a million and a half pounds of Virginia tobacco a year. N. tabacum became the colonial Chesapeake’s cash crop.
The exchange of gifts, of ceremonial N. rustica, took place in front of a tobacco barn of the National Colonial Farm where examples of that commercial colonial crop, N. tabacum, hang to dry. Nearby stood a woman in period dress, an African American woman who is one of the colonial farm’s interpreters. She spoke of what it was like to work tobacco farms as a free and enslaved African in the 1770s.
Yes, ironies of history stand out here in the tidewater Potomac/Chesapeake lands, a place of convergences of many peoples, past to present. It is in these convergences that I search for my father’s family past.