Wabanaki: the People of the Dawn

Panicos Peonides was born in Limassol in 1925. He served in World War II with the Cyprus Volunteer Forces and graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy of Sofia University, Bulgaria. Over the years, he has held various offices serving the political left. He has published sixteen books, including narratives and novellas. He has been honoured twice with State Prizes for short stories.

For Emmy and Kyriacos

This trip would be a real detour! Ten hours by bus from the very heart of Manhattan to Bangor, high up in Maine, where our friend Emmy would welcome us and take us to her cozy house by the Stillwater River next to a waterfall. The temptation was great, the attraction strong; how could we possibly say no to such an offer. Ten hours by bus! That is how long it took us to travel from Paris to Toulon and Cap Brun where Louis Aragon was waiting for us. The only difference then was that we drove our small Fiat and we would take frequent breaks. We would take our small refrigerator out of the car with the much-coveted Cyprus halloumi goat cheese.

While the express bus travels non-stop, you have to make do with whatever your casual travel bag offers you. Bathroom needs are provided by the bus itself.

We had a clear image of what awaited us at the northernmost point of the United States. We had already read Kyriacos’ book, and with him we plunged into the amazing world of Daskalos, the Magus of Strovolos, and then climbed with him up the Mountain of Silence to grope for the wisdom that arose from the teachings of the elders who devoted their life to absolute goodness. And we both had experienced the impact that these books have had on all the four corners of the earth wherever they had circulated.

Next to Kyriacos stands Emmy with her amazingly powerful aura. Emmy is a woman of action. How could I ever forget our first encounter when like a magician she lifted her napkin in the air and the entire landscape lit up; the eco-peace village that she had dreamt of creating in Cyprus appeared like a magic picture in front of our very eyes!

She would infect with a crusader’s passion whoever she touched with her magic wand. And then she has an abundance of love and goodness, a deep care that she demonstrates for her fellow human beings, attending to every problem, however small it may appear to be in comparison to those great concerns of peace and ecology. She carries all these qualities along with the heavy burden of her small country’s tragedy, which like a nightmare constantly crushes her heart, because she experiences the pain many thousands of miles away while living abroad.

This beautiful family includes their two children, Constantine and Vasia who have their own unique style. We had read the poetry of Constantine and we were taken aback by the maturity of his thought, the richness of his language with its iri descence. And during her last trip to Cyprus, Emmy brought along with her the manuscript of Constantine’s novel which she carried like a chalice:

“Lou Blue: The Love Story of a Lobster” was its title and this added an additional fine-tuned brush to the entire scenario since it took place in one of the tiny little islands that are scattered like diamonds along the Maine coast. The actual writing took place on the island of Monhegan, which has a community of sixty or seventy inhabitants during the winter months, and ended up on the island of Manana where he lived as the sole inhabitant with his boat Bouboulina and with the lobsters he fished and then empowered with speech by turning them into the protagonists of his novel!

Next to him was Vasia, unrestrained by the space of the visual arts alone and spreading her wings as far as the high mountains of Tibet where she went as a University student, stayed for six entire months, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama who helped her to acquire a taste of the wisdom of the East.

So we had great expectations as the bus set off via Harlem and the Bronx heading north. The landscape was indifferent, almost dull I would say, until we reached Boston. Factories, huge malls, gas stations throughout the entire journey. Elli, a veteran traveler throughout Europe, took a book out of her bag and immersed herself in reading while I tried in vain to hold down one image that stood out from the rest.

The uniformity of the scenery was putting me to sleep –I began closing my eyes.

-Listen, listen, I overhead Elli’s voice whispering in my ear:

She had discovered in our son Nicos’ library the fifth volume of “The Ways of the Archangel” by Mikis Theodorakis, which had vanished from our own library. We were very concerned because it was autographed by the author himself on the very first page with a dedication as meaningful as spring.

-Read on, I told her, because only “the tall one” can wake me up from my slumber.

I closed my eyes once again and I let myself flow along carried by the crystal clear and torrential words of Mikis Theodorakis.

I see him in front of my very eyes climbing up Agios Kostantinos Street toward Omonoia Square to be received with hoots by the crowd.

What a carnival that was! What a Carnival!

The army captain, he explains, in order to ridicule the new conscript whose papers revealed that he was a communist, gave him a uniform that only reached down to his knees, exposing his legs! And he put it on and went for a walk to be soon stopped by the military police who warned him that his uniform is an insult to the national army. His response was:

The army captain, he explains, in order to ridicule the new conscript whose papers revealed that he was a communist, gave him a uniform that only reached down to his knees, exposing his legs! And he put it on and went for a walk to be soon stopped by the military police who warned him that his uniform is an insult to the national army. His response was:

-This is what my country entrusted me with!

While still in the army and on the recommendations of his music professor F. Oikonomides, he was assigned to the Philharmonic Orchestra and became a guest of Michael Katsaros at his home in Halandri. It was a time of depression and the two men found a solution to their hunger by joining in dinners held in cheap neighborhood taverns by young poets dreaming of some recognition from those who had already gained a reputation.

Many of the pages of the fifth volume were written during 1988 in Verona where Zorba the Greek was performed with the three components of his music: the folkloric, the symphonic, and the Cretan. In Zorba, writes Mikis in his book, there is a harmonious coexistence of all these three components that characterize my music.

Elli is carried away by the colorful, melodious, and humorous flow of Mikis’s words. She continues to read to me and certain pages leave me with an astringent taste. I was quite familiar for a time with many of Mikis’ bitter experiences. We shared the experience of paranoid situations while being at the very heart of many significant events. We talked at his home across from the Acropolis, and at Vrahati, and in Cyprus, and also in Paris during the years of the military junta governing Greece at the time.

Elli now sets the scene in front of my eyes of Mikis’ song “Dead Brother” which marked, both musically and politically, a time when the passions of the civil war in Greece were at their peak. Mikis Theodorakis was a leader through his art and through his ability to guide people to join together in friendship and solidarity. Narrow-minded political leaders, entrenched behind their stagnant and ossified dogmas, condemned the Song of the Dead Brother, an event which prompted Mikis to declare publicly:

-If you now have the audacity to close down a theater, imagine what you can do tomorrow if you get power in your hands?

Theodorakis with his magnificent opus and open mind was perceived with great skepticism by small-minded individuals, to the point that they even recruited his friends to spy on him.

Minos Argyrakis, the cartoonist of the party newspaper, asked Mikis with great pain in his heart:

“What is going on, Miki? An insignificant person like myself spying on you and betraying ….

…The bus entered the concrete density of Boston. We disembark for lunch; we still have five hours ahead of us for our journey, and heavy, torrential rain awaits us. It is afternoon, and the sun is still high in the sky, yet the clouds appear to have descended, wrapping the bus with their dark tentacles. I get the impression that we have entered a dark tunnel with no end in sight. Now and then some dim lights appear shyly in the distance only to vanish in the darkness once again.

There’s worse than this, says our driver who notices our concern and tries to comfort us. There was a snowstorm last week while I was driving. At least we only have rain right now….

Next day, the huge forests seem to have swallowed up the black clouds and the lakes and rivers appear to have absorbed even the last drop of rain and early in the morning a sun appeared so bright that everything seemed to bathe in its light. I just realized that our friends’ home had its own river flowing by about ten to fifteen meters from the backyard. I sat in their living room in awe of the peacefulness of the landscape.

We were shortly in for more surprises. Emmy had scheduled in great detail our stay at their refuge. Our guide was Arnold, a Native American Elder who was humble, unassuming, and peaceful as the Stillwater River. He sat across from me and his eyes, full of kindness, focused intensely on mine. His words carefully measured, every single one in its place carrying its own weight.

-Five different tribes lived in these parts in the past, but over time some were shot dead while others were decimated by diseases brought over by the Europeans and the rest were decimated by hunger. One of these tribes headed north towards Canada. Those who stayed behind, some 2000 people, settled on an island. I shall take you there to see for yourselves.

Arnold never raises his voice, never reveals his inner feelings even as he relates intimate stories about signs and wonders related to the life of his father. The Indian Island is only ten to fifteen minutes away from Emmy’s and Kyriacos’ home. Arnold leads the way to give us a tour of their Museum and then takes us to Eunice Bauman’s house. She is the first Native American to have broken the glass ceiling and was admitted to the University of Maine where she climbed all the way to the top and was awarded a PhD in Physics. Eunice is now half-paralyzed and her memory severely weakened. She projects a fleeting image of sadness to the outside world for a historical past that has been wiped out. Eunice and Emmy know each other. Emmy has interviewed her in the past. Eunice now gathers all her strength to tell her theory of quantum strings that she has been working on for many years. She explains to us with scientific terminology how everything, whether animate or inanimate, is interconnected and interrelated. Emmy encourages Eunice to complete her work.

During our last evening in this magical place, we were joined by two close expatriate friends, Dora and Lambros. They are both university professors: Dora a nutritionist with a distinguished, scientific background and Lambros a clinical psychologist but also a skilled captain with his own sailing boat. Dora comes from Mytilene and Lambros from Thessaloniki.

Dora brought along her accordion. Lambros who is also the cantor at the local Orthodox Church brought his guitar. We all sang to our heart’s content and they all had such great voices! The repertoire consisted of old, nostalgic Athenian songs and Arnold who was sitting next to me sang along with everybody else. He had a facility for always picking up the melody and following it until the end. The Penobscot tribe, I read in one of the brochures of their Museum, was one of the peaceful tribes that loved singing and dancing.

One word that drew my attention during my conversation with Arnold was the word “Wabanaki” which means “The People of the Dawn”. The old Native American tribes of Maine believed that they are the first to greet the sun at dawn and for this reason they have created shrines for worship on their highest mountain, Mount Katahdin. And their prayers were made for simple things! They would ask the spirits to give them clean water in their rivers and in their lakes, clean air for birds, animals, and people, and for peace, peace…

Back in my own little island at the eastern end of the Mediterranean I reflect that we are also Wabanaki. We are also the first ones from our old continent of Europe to welcome the dawn and the sun. We also pray for simple things. So simple, yet so very complicated!

Translated from Greek by Emily Ioannides Markides

Emily Ioannides Markides holds degrees in French and German iterature and a PhD in counseling. She teaches courses at the Peace Studies Program at the University of Maine. In her native country, Cyprus, she launched the International Ecopeace Village (IEV) which culminated with the creation of a permaculture edible forest, used as therapeutic site.