Wampanoag Powwow

Wampanoag Powwow

Type of Holiday: Historic
Date of Observation: Fourth of July weekend
Where Celebrated: Mashpee, Massachusetts
Symbols and Customs: Fireball
Related Holidays: Thanksgiving


The Wampanoag Indians have lived for more than 12,000 years in southern New England, occupying parts of what are now Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. When the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth in 1620, Massasoit, the Wampanoag chief, made a peace treaty with the English that was observed until his death. However, in response to the white people who later encroached on Indian lands, his son, Metacomet (also known as King Philip), organized a confederacy of tribes to drive them out. He and many of the other chiefs were killed in what became known as King Philip's War, and the Wampanoag were almost entirely wiped out. The survivors fled to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket or joined the Cape Cod Indians, who had remained neutral in the struggle. Today, the town of Mashpee on the southeast coast of Cape Cod is home to more than 1,000 Wampanoag descendants of Massasoit and his son. For centuries the Indians held annual summer powwows-an opportunity for tribal members to gather around their chiefs and religious leaders for feasting and participation in healing and trading rites. Today, the Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow takes place over the FOURTH OF JULY weekend, and tribal peoples come together from all over the Northeast. Feasting continues to play a central role in the powwow, for it was the Wampanoag Indians who originally shared their THANKSGIVING harvest with the Pilgrims in the 1620s, thereby ensuring the new colony's survival.

Foods served at the gathering include shellfish, codfish, quohog fritters, and woodland teas made from black birch, sassafras, sweet fern, sumac, and other wild plants. Many who come to the powwow take the opportunity to visit the Old Indian Burial Ground nearby and the Indian Meeting House, built in 1684, where the Mashpee Tribe continues to worship and to hold civic and social gatherings.



One of the most celebrated events of the Wampanoag Powwow is the traditional game known as Fireball, which has been played for hundreds of years, but only on this particular night. It is similar to soccer, but freer and more dangerous, since it is played with a flaming ball made of leather strips soaked for days in whale oil and wound tightly around each other. This ancient "medicine game" was traditionally played by men who had chosen to participate on behalf of a sick relative or friend in need of healing. The bruises, burns, and wounds they suffered during the game were believed to relieve a loved one's illness. Many Wampanoag still believe in the healing powers of this display of manhood and bravado, which takes place at Mashpee's Memorial Park.


Kavasch, E. Barrie. Enduring Harvests: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season. Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1995.


Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council www.mashpeewampanoagtribe.com
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Wampanoag Powwow

Weekend nearest July 4
It was Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag Indians, who made a peace treaty with the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620. Most of the tribe was later wiped out in what was known as King Philip's War, but the survivors fled to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, or joined the Cape Cod Indians who had remained neutral in the struggle.
For centuries Wampanoag Indians have held annual powwows during the summertime, which have been opportunities for tribal members to reunite in one place for feasts and traditional ceremonies and other activities. Today, more than 1,000 Wampanoag Indians live in Mashpee, Massachusetts, and hold their annual powwow over the Fourth of July weekend. One traditional game played is known as "fireball." It is similar to soccer but is played with a flaming ball. Fireball is a "medicine game"; men who participate believe that the bruises, burns, and other wounds they suffer during the game will relieve a loved one's illness.
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Inc.
483 Great Neck Rd. S
P.O. Box 1048
Mashpee, MA 02649
508-477-0208; fax: 508-477-1218
EndurHarv-1995, p. 272
HolSymbols-2009, p. 1029
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
Mentioned in ?
References in periodicals archive ?
1-2 16th Annual Seaconke Wampanoag Powwow. Redway Plains, Rte.
The viewer sees moments from these classes and also dance scenes from the Aquinnah Wampanoag Powwow where songs are sung in Wampanoag.
6-8 Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow. Tribal Lands, Mashpee, MA.