Wednesday, November 12, 2008
A Once-Proud Tribe....
(By Achas L'maala V'Sheva L'Matta)
Long ago, before the Europeans reached the New World, in what is now central New Jersey, lived a great tribe of Indians. These were the Govoha Indians. The Govohas were a very proud tribe and considered themselves the highest tribe upon the continent. Legend has it that the Govohas grew out of a very small tribe that was exiled from the White Plains. The Govohas were not a homogeneous nation. They would accept young braves from other tribes as long as these tribes were descendants of an ancient sect of Native Americans known as the Litwaukee Indians. Many came from the long beaches of Nassau, from Ramapo and the Spring Valley, the Phila delta where the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers meet, from the Scranton tribe on the banks of the Lackawanna, from Chesapeake Bay, from the Cuyahoga plains, and even some from the Great Lakes region and the Western territories in the Colorado Rockies. Though they were a very friendly tribe, the Govohas kept to themselves. They would have nothing to do with the Irigoys whom they considered to be of anothercreed.
Even from among their creed they also had some rivals with which they were
constantly at war. Among their opponents were the members of the loathed Mizrache tribes. Another opponent was the Lupapache Tribe that originated at the crowning Heights of the Eastern Darkway and, from there, spread to the West, East, North, and South. Their leader was the revered Chief Son of Daughter-In-Law who they referred to as Chief Oil on Head the Immortal Savior. He was renowned as a master of Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge. He would sit at large gatherings and hand out fire water and green tobacco leaves that would be valued today at around one dollar. His spirit is long departed but there remain many legends. Even after he had not been seen for many, many rains, some Lupapache elders claimed that his body and spirit still walk. This group would imbibe on peace pipes and fire water. Many Govohas shun them as they do the Irigoys.
Their most fiercest opponent were the M.O.hicans whose empire stretched from the lower Hudson Valley near Fort Washington and Fort Lee, all the way North to Plymouth Rock and Massachusetts Bay where the great warrior Chief Jay Bear of the Solapachik tribe once reigned. After Chief Jay Bear's spirit departed, his brother, Arrow Horn, former chief of the Skokies, was summoned from the Blackhawk lands on the shores of Lake Michigan to lead the tribe. Though claiming to be a true M.O.hican, Arrow Horn of the Solapachiks was noted to display tendencies that mirrored the Govohas such as prohibiting the November Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock because the grains of the new harvest cannot be eaten until the following spring and opposing the ancient Indian custom of surrounding the villages with totem poles joined by thin ropes to unite all the teepees as one. As such, Chief Arrow Horn was not accepted by all. In fact, since the death of Chief Jay Bear, the tribe has never been able to produce a warrior capable of filling his moccasins and so he is known as "the last ofthe great M.O.hicans."
The Govohas were a relatively primitive people who shunned ideas and philosophies that were foreign to their ancient lifestyle. They would spend most of their time discussing the origins of their tribe and their ways. How to practice their rituals, how to settle disputes, and the Laws of the Squaws. Of major concern was how to deal with the crazy ideas and newfangled devices that many of the rival tribes were picking up from the abominable white man. Often these discussions would escalate into fiery debates and trigger one of their frequent pow-wows. The Govohas were great hunters and traders. They fished in the lakes and hunted in the woods. One of their rituals was to dip all their arrows, hunting knives and tomahawks in Lake Carasaljo before initiating their use. The most precious commodities were the scalps of their enemies and dark hats made of rabbit and beaver furs. The scalps would adorn the heads of their wives and many competed to obtain the fairest scalps. No price was too high. The Govohas would often travel up the trade routes to do business with the white men in New Amsterdam. Early attempts to establish trade routes met with failure, but they had great success on the 9th attempt - and so, for many generations, they traveled mainly on trade route number 9.
Of great interest is the family lives and mating rituals of the Govohas. There were actually two classes within the Govohas. One who had not yet taken a wife was a brave and one who had a wife was a worrier. The braves lived in large caves full of bats, foxes, raccoons, and other loathsome creatures. The worriers lived with their wives and children in individual tepees in colonies. Typically the openings of each tepee faced another teepee so everybody could know what's going on in everyone else's tepee. Some of the worriers were in a Golden state but most weren't. The Govohas were generally a monogamous tribe. Only the great Chief Milky Eel was allowed two wives (this, by a special counsel of 100 elders). In a bit of historical irony, his first wife was descended from the same Solapachik tribe as was Chief Jay Bear.
The Govohas had some unique mating rituals. One was that they would store up snow and ice from the harsh winters. When a new brave was accepted into the tribe, he would be packed into the ice for a period of four months or until the first signs of spring in the middle of the month of Shawatte. Only after this ritual was he allowed to unfreeze and search for a squaw. The motto was, "No squaw until after the thaw!" To thaw them out, they would need large doses of fire water. So they would head northward up the trade routes to the area near Fort Hamilton or the Great Spring Valley where there were plenty of maidens. Indian maidens from every corner of the continent would congregate there for it was a great privilege to be chosen as a squaw for one of the Govohas. They would choose a maiden and bring them to the Island of Manhattan. (The name Manhattan is derived from the word manahachtanienk which in the Munsee dialect of Lenape means: "place of general inebriation" - Wikipedia). There they would drink much fire water to thaw themselves out and to win over the heart and the gold of the maiden.
The Govohas also had a belief that a mouse is impure. And as such, anyone or anything that is attached to a mouse is impure. Even touching a live mouse would make the one who touches it impure. To rid themselves of these mice, they would try to trap them in nets. Of course this would immediately render the Net impure. When they did trap a mouse in the Net, they were required to inform a special band of witch doctors that "I have a mouse In the Net!" and the witch doctors would use special incantations and spells to rid the Worrier of his impurity. The Worrier would be required to detach himself from the mouse and the Net. If he was unable to do so, he would have to dwell outside of the village until he could be free of the Net. In extreme cases, his children would not be allowed to the village schools until he expunged the mouse and the Net. Such were the ways of the Govohas. All this was before the White man came and drove the Indians out. The Govoha tribe is now extinct. But what a proud nation they were. There is a memorial to the Govohas between the Forest and Private Way close to where Squankum Trail meets the old trade Route number 9. Some of the white men still have the rabbit fur hats and adorn their wives with thoseprized scalps. And so, their legacy lives on.