Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sleeping Giant

      From THE ICE AGE IN CONNECTICUT as summarized by J. Gregory McHone:
"As the ice melted farther to the north, Glacial Lake Hitchcock was formed behind a dam made by a large delta of sand and gravel in the present town of Rocky Hill...Lake Hitchcock did not drain down today's Connecticut River south of Rocky Hill, but instead detoured to the west down the present central valley toward New Haven..."

Head of the Sleeping Giant as seen from the Farmington Canal Walkway.

"Pocumtuck (Pocumtuc) was the name of a now extinct tribe of Native Americans who lived in the area prior to 1800. According to stories ascribed to the tribe, Pocumtuck Ridge and Sugarloaf Mountain were the remains of a giant beaver killed by the giant spirit Hobomock (the same spirit who diverted the course of the Connecticut River in central Connecticut and was cursed to sleep forever as the Sleeping Giant mountain formation[5]). The Pocumtucks allegedly believed that the beaver lived in an enormous lake that once occupied the Connecticut River Valley:
"The Great Beaver, whose pond flowed over the whole basin of Mt. Tom, made havoc among the fish and when these failed he would come ashore and devour Indians. A pow-wow was held and Hobomock raised, who came to their relief. With a great stake in hand, he waded the river until he found the beaver, and so hotly chased him that he sought to escape by digging into the ground. Hobomock saw his plan and his whereabouts, and with his great stake jammed the beaver's head off. The earth over the beaver's head we call Sugarloaf, his body [Pocumtuck Ridge] lies just to the north of it."[6]

A number of different versions of this story exist,[7] all of them similar. There may be some scientific truth to the account. The lake described in the tale is very reminiscent of the post-glacial Lake Hitchcock which occupied the Connecticut River Valley from Burke, Vermont to New Britain, Connecticut 15,000 years ago.[8] Around this time, a giant beaver species (Castoroides ohioensis) thrived from the post-glacial front to as far south as Florida. The animals were as large as black bears, weighed up to 450 lbs., and had teeth the size of bananas.[9] A similar legend about the killing of a giant beaver by a helper-spirit and the subsequent transformation of the corpse into a landform occurs among the native Mi'kmaq people of Nova Scotia (see Glooscap).[10]"

"According to Native Americans of the Quinnipiac Tribe, the giant stone spirit Hobbomock (or Hobomock), a prominent wicked figure in many stories (see Pocumtuck Ridge and Quinnipiac), became enraged about the mistreatment of his people and stamped his foot down in anger, diverting the course of the Connecticut River (where the river suddenly swings east in Middletown, Connecticut after several hundred miles of running due south). To prevent him from wreaking such havoc in the future, the good spirit Keitan cast a spell on Hobbomock to sleep forever as the prominent man-like form of the Sleeping Giant.[7]

The Quinnipiac and other Algonquians lived in dwellings known as wigwams (elliptical houses with sapling frames covered with bark, mats, skins, or sod) and quinnekommuk (long houses that were rectangular and two or three times as long as their width, covered with similar coverings). Quiripi/Quinnipiac long houses averaged thirty to one hundred feet long, by twenty feet wide, and about fifteen feet high. The bigger dwellings were Sachem’s houses, which often had five or six fire pits in one dwelling (because they often had their extended family living with them). Religious Society (Wampano or “Men of the Dawn,” Powwauwoag, Medarennawawg, and others) had the biggest long houses for ceremonial purposes.
The Long Water Land people were well-known for their elm bark canoes (light and fast for easy portage), and 20-foot (6 m) to 40-foot (12 m) dugout canoes, used for trade and war.

They reckoned the passing of time by a lunar calendar and an 8-part ceremonial cycle, using various lithic and earth features as observatories to determine the phases of the sun, moon, and stars for planting, harvest, and ceremonies. [8]"


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