Huffpost Green
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Norman MacAfee Headshot

For Earth Day 2011

Posted: Updated:

The following poem, in English and an ancient version of the Algonquin language, is taken from various scenes in my opera The Death of the Forest. The opera is about King Philip's War of 1675-76, the bloodiest war proportionally in our history, which raged across Rhode Island and Massachusetts. It was fought between the settlers from England and the Native peoples led by the Wampanoag.

At Thanksgiving, the Indians we remember were the Wampanoag of 1621. But by 1675, the Wampanoag had been all but decimated by the English. Before the English came, the Wampanoag population was 25,000. After the war ended in 1676, the population was 2,500, and it remains to this day at that level.

Metacomet, whom the English called King Philip, was the sachem of the Wampanoag in the 1670s when things came to a head. He realized he had to wage a war of resistance or his people would disappear completely.

Most of the opera The Death of the Forest is in English, but some is in the Algonquin of the time. To write these lines, I used a glossary and phrase book by Roger Williams, a friend of the Indians and the founder of Rhode Island, published in 1643 called A Key Into the Language of America.

Most of the lines are spoken by the Native people, but in the following exchange, the English also speak:

I am starving. Nipaskana-ûn tum.
Will you help me? Kutánumi?

Ne-enkutánumo-us. We will help you.

I want to buy land from you. Kutata-ú amish a-û-ke.

Here is the poem from the opera, published in honor of Earth Day.

The Death of the Forest: Wètu Nupamen?
(written in English and Algonquin)

Call me Metacomet. They call me Philip.
Ne-èn wómpisacuk. I am an eagle.
Níta-u-ke. This is my land.
Táwhitch peyáhettit? Why do they come here?
Mata mihtuk kunúno? Don't you have trees of your own?
Yò cumúkquachuks? Is this your son?
Wun-êtu. He is a fine boy.

Wètu nupamen? Will the forest die?
Yo no-wekon wètu. I live in the forest.
Paugá-ut-e-misk. Cówaw-é-suk. Oak trees. Pine trees.
Wenómen-e-ash. Wutáhimne-ash. Grapes and strawberries.
Attuck. Sé-ip. Deer. River.
Paukesítchik. Yo aquéchmok. Men and women swimming naked.
I am starving. Nipaskana-ûn tum.
Will you help me? Kutánumi?
Ne-enkutánumo-us. We will help you.
I want to buy land from you. Kutata-ú amish a-û-ke.
Npok-quanámen. My disease is...I know not what.
Wesa-u-asha-û-i. He has the plague.
Wáske peyáhetit, wa-u-ta conâ-u-og, numataquômen.
When the English came, I had a bad dream.

Mat co-ana-umwa-îmis. You have not kept your word.
Aquenguní-te-ash. Fields worn out.
Netsâ-u-og... Cattle...
Kekutok a-untá. Let us parley.

Numata-ge-huckamen. Kunishikun ewo.
The wind is against me. It will kill me.
Mishu-pan mishi-tashin ma-o-u.
Great wind storm bewails.

Tuna-awa comítchichunkitonk-què-an?
Where does your soul go when you die?
Tokish To-ke-ke! Wake up! Wake up!
Awa-un wutú-ne-ne? Who has the victory?
Wampanoag pau quanan. The Wampanoag are destroyed.
Kunìshikun ewò! They will kill you!
Te-âno wo-onk nip-é-e am. I will be here by and by again.

He is dead. He who was king here.
Where is Metacomet? Where is my father?
Ki-on-quê-i. Sachi-ma-o-u-an.
Tú-ki-u Metacom? Tú-ki-u nòsh?

Ne-èn wómpisacuk!
I am an eagle!

Wètu nupamen?
Will the forest die?

From Our Partners