A tale of division, unity, and the efforts of three people trying to build bridges between the European settlers and Native tribes of Newfoundland in the 19th century. Inspired by an original Beothuk language dictionary written in 1819, and this post on the British Library’s Untold Lives blog: Mary March of Newfoundland.
There is a wholeness and unity about the endeavour of creating the Beothuk-English dictionary, and so I wanted to use these themes in the story. These themes crop up frequently in human relationships, particularly with our significant others. As individuals we feel an innate lack in our Being and spend much of our lives seeking out others that might fill it. This is apparent even in the language we use to talk about relations to others; phrases like “you complete me”, or “my other half.” The other element that completes Being and makes it whole is death. Death closes the bracket just as birth opens it. Like a putting a cork in a clear glass bottle. Whilst the liquid is being poured in, the contents swirl around, an indecipherable mixture of experiences, relationships, emotions. Only once we stop pouring and put the cork in can the contents settle. Then we can hold the bottle up to the light to gaze in at the beautiful and complex cocktail of a person’s Being. I had this image in mind as I wrote about this fascinating young woman. – Jamie Rhodes
This story is based on a language dictionary in the British Library archives. The document looks like a small journal or diary and is one of only three surviving records of the language of an extinct tribe from Newfoundland called the Beothuk people. It is hand written and dates from 1818. There is a short prelude to the dictionary that details the tragic but heart-warming tale of a young Beothuk woman who tried to teach the European settlers some of her language. Her name was Demasduit, though the settlers called her Mary March. The original document is written in English and so there is an obvious bias towards the colonialist settlers.
“The side of my husband’s head shattered outwards as the metal ball left his skull. A shower of blood coated the nearby trees, and left the snowy forest floor speckled red. His hunting knife fell from his hand and he dropped to the ground, severed from me. In that instant I felt incomplete. That little metal ball from the settler’s gun had reduced me.
No birds sang in the trees now. The dogs that pulled the settlers’ sled ceased barking and laid flat. The wind held its breath. Even the snowflakes seemed to settle more silently. The forest had been hushed into silence.” – Mary, Mary March