Santus Song

Sarah Jane Perry
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Memorable day for Beothuk Interpretation CentreBOYDS COVE

BOYDS COVE The Beothuk Interpretation Centre is committed to preserving the history of some of Newfoundlands earliest settlers, the Beothuks. On Aug. 24 the centre hosted a two-part program open to the public to honor the spirit of these people.

The program began with a presentation by Dr. Beverley Diamond who is currently the Canadian Research chair in Ethnomusicology at Memorial University. Dr. Diamond spoke to the audience about her research regarding a song recorded in 1910 by woman named Santu Toney.

The song has caught the interest of many researchers due to Santus hybrid lineage in that her mother was Mikmaq and her father, a Beothuk. History documents that the Beothuk line ended with the death of Shawnadidhit in 1829; however, Santus song which she credited her father for teaching her suggests that the Beothuk line did in fact extend beyond that time period.

Members of the Exploits Native Band Council who performed at the Beothuk Interpretation Centre included (from left) Margaret Humber, Cavell Gaye, Jade Gaye, Megan Rabesca, Morgan Rabesca, Karen Earle, Miranda Earle, Sheila Robinson, Mykaela Rabesca and co

BOYDS COVE The Beothuk Interpretation Centre is committed to preserving the history of some of Newfoundlands earliest settlers, the Beothuks. On Aug. 24 the centre hosted a two-part program open to the public to honor the spirit of these people.

The program began with a presentation by Dr. Beverley Diamond who is currently the Canadian Research chair in Ethnomusicology at Memorial University. Dr. Diamond spoke to the audience about her research regarding a song recorded in 1910 by woman named Santu Toney.

The song has caught the interest of many researchers due to Santus hybrid lineage in that her mother was Mikmaq and her father, a Beothuk. History documents that the Beothuk line ended with the death of Shawnadidhit in 1829; however, Santus song which she credited her father for teaching her suggests that the Beothuk line did in fact extend beyond that time period.

Linguist and author of Beothuk Vocabularies A Comparison Study Dr. John Hewson approached Dr. Diamond two years ago about working with him on creating a better transcription of Santus Song, which proved to be no easy task. This is, as Dr. Diamond pointed out in her presentation, not only because there is no way to acquire accurate validation of any of their theories concerning the song and its meanings, the quality of the recording is lacking as well.

The song was originally recorded on wax cylinders at the request of American anthropologist Frank Speck. Dr. Diamond pointed out that this is now an archaic recording method that sounds like a train is going by in the background, making it very difficult to decipher the intended recorded sound. Even using modern devices like sound filtering and word stretching, Dr. Hewson and Dr. Diamond spent countless hours listening to the brief recording.

I must have listened to this 200 times, said Dr. Diamond of only one short section of the song.

Dr. Diamond says that for the words that she and Dr. Hewson have transcribed there are no known meanings. They could conjecture on some of the meanings for words that appear similar to words in the Innu language, but have refrained from doing so because as Dr. Diamond reiterated, there really is no way to concretely prove any of their theories.

The many mysteries surrounding Santus song will most likely remain unsolved but Dr. Diamond, who has now concluded active research on Santus song, hopes that when people come across the work that she and Dr. Hewson have done they will realize that the Beothuk line did not simply fade into the history books with Shawnadidhits death but that it continued through intermarriage. Santus Song and her Mikmaq /Beothuk parentage are proof.

When Dr. Diamond concluded, the second part of the program commenced with a spirited performance by the Exploits Native Womens Association. The women were adorned in traditional dress and with beautifully painted drums. They sang and drummed for a capacity audience.

About 15 years ago the Exploits Native Band Council, now known as Spletk First Nation, formed a drumming and dancing group, which has undergone many changes throughout the years. Due to the illness of the groups co-coordinator in 2007, performances ceased but the Exploits Native Womens Association stepped up to keep the spirit of their people alive and as group leader Bernadette Hanlon stated to Karen Ledrew-Day of the Boyds Cove Interpretation centre, it has been a wonderful experience to those in the group.

It seems like our forefathers are reaching out to our people through song and the heartbeat of our drums, said Ms. Hanlon.

The group, with a wide variety of ages, performed several songs, all of which had a special meaning. They opened with their Honor Song which Ms. Hanlon explained was akin in meaning to the national anthem and thus requested that no pictures be taken during the song.

Although those in the audience may not have understood the words of some the songs performed, it was easy to recognize that the members of the Exploits Native Womens Association were passionate about what they were singing and also about preserving and presenting their culture to others and it was truly a beautiful event to take in.

Overall the success of the afternoon went well beyond what the centre had predicted which Ms. Ledrew-Day was thrilled about.

The turnout for the program was overwhelming. Throughout the years this by far is the most individuals have taken part in a public program, she said. It was certainly history in the making and it was an honor to be a part of this memorable day.

In a modern setting, the voices of the past were heard with the presentation of Santus Song along with the generations that continue on through the Exploits Native Womens Association and as Ms. Ledrew-Day said, it was a memorable and successful day, a true validation of Beothuk and Mikmaq song.

Organizations: Canadian Research, Exploits Native Womens Association, Exploits Native Band Council Spletk First Nation

Geographic location: BOYDS COVE, Ethnomusicology

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  • Kadnii Johnson
    November 06, 2011 - 03:31

    I think that all people descendent from Santu Toney , should get the honour of being called Beothuk as well as other descendents of the Tribe. This tribe has been said long to be extinct. But that was just the European point of view!. Mikmaq people from cape breton have songs in the language talking about Hidding beothuk people as well as intermarriage! The mikmaq chant "Ni'n na puti'em Talikwalalawej wen" originally was said to say " Ni'n na peothuk'em talikwalalawej wen" that mean " This is my Beothuk and nobody at all can harm him/her" .. A women told me her great grandmother told her that long ago they hid these people to protect them from the Europeans. And she told me she was descendent of the hidden race. Communities like Wagmatcook and Waycobah! My grandmother use to sing me this song as a child, then one day she told me if i knew the meaning. I said no , I told her "Are you talking about a Bottle, or even a person?" because she used to put my name into the song at times. But she said no, It is said that long ago we used to sing this to other people! so we knew who were hiding the Beothuk, like which families. In history they said Mi'kmaq helped to get rid of this race. But in reality i know, we tired helping them. Storys of hiding the Beothuk is strong at the moment. but eventually would be forgotten. In conclusion, i think that all people that are found descented from this tribe should be called "Beothuk" again. They are not Extinct, only the language is extinct, and many tribes have lost their language, but are still here. And so are they.

  • John
    June 29, 2010 - 15:38

    How exciting to hear of the current ongoing interest in the Beothuk - and my very best wishes to all of you involved in honouring their memory! br br I would welcome contact with anyone who is interested in trying to do DNA tracing of living descendants. We are already trying to do this with a distant relative of mine who is a direct descendant (along the female line) of Susannah Anstey (nee Manuel) 1832-1911, whose mother is said to have been Beothuk. Initial work was done through the National Geographic Genome Project. So far, though, we have turned up very little - and I don't know how to get the scientists to take the whole matter seriously and get a full DNA search done (or how to pay for it). Any help would be much appreciated. br br In any case - best wishes to you all. br br Sincerely, John Hill (grandson of Jack Pond from Twillingate)