What kinds of changes did Wasamapa (Tschoop, or John) endure? The process of converting a social group to a new philosophy requires changes in the top leader, the assistants to that leaders, the primary spokespersons for the various groups within the social setting, and the individual members of that group. Normally we would expect a social group to undergo change from some grassroots level, meaning that first the common person realizes there is a need for change, and from that individual on up the social stepladder these changes get made, by way of a process that takes a while to complete. In the end, it is expected that a generation or two is needed to convince to old-timers about the need for change, and even then the might remain firm to their traditional beliefs.
We see some signs that the Shekomeko Indians experienced this typical form of social stratification prevalent in most even semi-structured societies. Wasamapa the Sachem has his old-timer he has to deal with according to the Missionary writings–his mother, who is often a thorn in his side whenever he tries to make his decisions for his people. To Wasamapa she is a prisoner of the past. The Moravians quote his as calling her an “idol-worshipper”, but perhaps this statement is a little bit of a exaggeration deliberately, or should I say artistically, made by the writer of the book on the missions. This idol-worship statement closely parallels the words of another symbolic leader of “primitive” cultures like the Indians, judged as such by some Christians’ minds, this statement about idols is meant to represent the same line passed on to the Jews by Moses.
Tschoop possibly made his decision to convert himself, and take his followers with him due to ongoing experiences that he knew other Native American groups were having. His people were the last of the Mahicans for a reason. It was Wasamapa’s goal to make the most of their continued survival. This means that more than likely, a few years before Tschoop made his decision to give in to the missions and become a convert, he may have thought through this decision-making with political and societal reasoning in mind. He wanted his culture and people to survive. A few years earlier a famous Mahican Chief Aupumut in 1725 had said:
“When it comes time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”
Times were changing by 1840, just 15 years after Chief Aupumut made his death song statement. The Shekomeko area was about to become completely emptied of its traditional way of being. The Mahicans and Algonkins were the only ones left to experience the original Nature of this region formed by the Creator. Much smaller groups like the Munsee and Wappingi were now gone, or assimilated. The only other large assemblage of Indians to be found in the region aside from those being Christianized were the Iroquois.
Fifty years later, long after Wasamapa’s death due to “white man’s disease”, the still active attempts to convert Indians led Shawnee leader Tecumseh (1768-1813) in Ohio to say:
“Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun. Will we let ourselves be destroyed in our turn without a struggle, give up our homes, our country bequeathed to us by the Great Spirit, the graves of our dead and everything that is dear and sacred to us? I know you will cry with me, ‘Never! Never!’”
This is not this direction that Wasamapa ever planned to take his people. Unfortunately, this difference in opinion is possibly why the Shawnees of Ohio out-survived the Christian Indians in Ohio once they began living their final years as Christian Indians and Mahicans in Ohio around 1825. The only prejudice Tecumseh and his people had against the Christian Indians was all that was needed to extinguish them.
According to the Shekomeko map, and the recounts of the place where they lived in the 1859 tour of the region taken by the Moravian Church historical group and led by someone who was just a boy when all of this was taking place, the Shekomekos as Christian maintained their traditional lay out for their living arrangements. Their homes were no longer wooden frame houses appearing like those of a traditional form, but their settlement still bore its most traditional parts like the sweat lodge and the placement of the leaders at one end of the village setting, for the others to visit in a traditional manner according to traditional socially defined guidelines. As a Shawnee, you might walk by this place and take a second take–you knew it had to be Indian, ‘but what kind of Indian?’ was probably the question most on your mind. If you were European or Canadian, you would walk towards this place and know it is Indian by its form, but not by its cleared lands, cattle, pigs, horses and farming implements, with people out there working the pastures or assembling for routine prayer.
Canasatego (1784-1750) of the Onondaga, Iroquois said
“We know our lands have now become more valuable. The white people think we do not know their value; but we know that the land is everlasting, and the few goods we receive for it are soon worn out and gone.”
From the Indians’s side, Wasamapa’s choice to convert had everything to do with social, cultural, and perhaps personal survival. His decision was too pacifist for many of the other Native American leaders to accept. In fact, there were very few Native American leaders at the time willing to go face to face with their opposition, make a choice and commit, and then suffer the consequences of the choice that was made, be it death due to a simple infectious disease.
There are a number of key features to Wasamapa’s life that are in need of attention. Wasamapa was dealing with three life changes.
First, there was the cultural change happening due to incoming Euro-americans.
Second, he had to deal with a change in his personal and his people’s life style due to a change in the tribe’s living setting to village setting that was less wilderness-bound, and more pastoral. This included not only foodways changes, but also increased the risk for health changes (disease exposure and such).
Third, Wasamapa became Tschoop (Job) because he had a personal life issue he was dealing with–his chronic disease state. Most tribes have elders, and these elders live to phenomenal ages, some like Membertou of the Mikmaq Indians survived two visits by explorers from Europe, travelling to the Canada-Newfoundland area during two distinct periods that were nearly a century apart. By nature (because of nature), Wasamapa had a long life to look forward to. It was possible that his medical state was now going to prevent this from happening. Unfortunately, he was about to experience an even worse fate, his exposure to a highly infectious disease due to his forced removal to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.