Joseph Roach – The Return of the Last of the Pequots: Disappearance as Heritage
As a Native American society decimated by disease and massacred by New Englanders and their Native allies in 1637, the Pequots are often said to have been totally annihilated. In Moby Dick, Melville describes the Pequots as ‘extinct as the ancient Medes’ (Chap XVI), which is why he named the doomed Nantucket whaler of the story ‘Pequod’. But people calling themselves Pequots have been turning up ever since the seventeenth century, including Hannah Ocuish, whose public execution by hanging in New London in 1786 made news because she was 12 years old at the time. Today 785 tribal members claim Mashantucket Pequot identity as indigenous locals. Enjoying the special status of dual sovereignty with the State of Connecticut, they run the Foxwoods Resort Casino, which vies for the title of the largest gaming destination in the world, with 7,400 slot machines and keno drawings every eight minutes. At the same site, they also operate the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center to document their continuous history and celebrate their heritage. But what sort of heritage is founded on periodic erasure? This paper will interpret the experience of the Museum, which was originally designed as a theme-park ‘heritage ride’, as a performance/counter-performance of disappearance.
Joseph Roach is Sterling Professor of Theater and English and director of the World Performance Project at Yale University. His award-winning book,Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (1996), has profoundly influenced thinking about history and memory, not only in performance studies but across the humanities disciplines. His most recent book is It (2007), a study of charismatic celebrity.
Renowned performance studies scholar Professor Joseph Roach (Yale) gave a public lecture on 18 September to launch the department’s new Centre for International Theatre and Performance Research. The Centre fosters research across a range of historical, geographical, political and methodological spheres to advance cutting-edge thinking on specific topics with a distinct international inflection. Areas of special focus include postcolonial, cross-cultural and intercultural performance; indigeneity in transnational contexts; Asian and Australian theatre cultures; international performance training practices; and the impacts of nation, diaspora and globalisation on theatre and performance.
Professor Roach’s lecture drew from his extensive research into performance history and contemporary culture in the Circum-Atlantic region