Santus Song

Memorable day for Beothuk Interpretation CentreBOYDS COVE

Sarah Jane Perry editor@pilotnl.ca
Published on September 10, 2008
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 coordinator Bernie Hanon.

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.

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.