On December 2, Tomaquag Museum will host its 64th annual Nikommo at the Jonnycake Center of Westerly. Chrystal Mars Baker, the museum’s education manager who is responsible for planning the free event, describes it as an open house. “There will be an art market where people can shop and support local Indigenous artists, and there will be stories by Indigenous authors playing on a video loop for all to enjoy,” she says.
Narragansett people have taken part in Nikommo celebrations since time immemorial. Baker compares the original means of celebrating Nikommo to a “giveaway.” “Historically, it involved providing furs, tools, and food – anything needed to run a home – to elders and others who could no longer provide for themselves,” she explains. “The community took care of their needs to make sure no one went without.”
Traditionally members of the Narragansett tribe participated in Nikommo feasts many times throughout the year as part of their 13 thanksgiving celebrations, one recognized for each moon cycle. “People gathered at these thanksgiving ceremonies to show gratitude for Creator’s gifts,” Baker explained. “Drumming and dancing was very much a part of these ceremonies, and at many of our thanksgivings, a Nikommo could occur as well.”
As Narragansett people began to assimilate with Christians and be influenced by Christian culture, they condensed their many Nikommo celebrations into one that takes place during the Christmas season.
This year, in the full spirit of providing for others, those who attend Tomaquag’s free event are asked to donate a toy, book, coat, or other gift appropriate for a child. “The museum will give these items to the Jonnycake Center so that they can share them with Indigenous families in need,” says Baker. The center will organize a display of items so that parents who may not be able to afford Christmas gifts for their children can make selections.
“I’m very thankful to be born into a culture that appreciates the gift of sharing,” says Baker. “Today, many Native artists depend on events like Nikommo to supplement their income, and I look forward to being among them and providing the opportunity through Tomaquag’s events to display and sell their beautiful creations.” Shoppers may find items such as beadwork, handmade tools, photographs, prints, baskets, and corn husk dolls at the market. “We’re in a smaller space than last year,” says Baker. “Some of our artists will have to share tables, but sharing is what Nikommo is all about!”
Nikommo is open to the public and takes place 12-4pm on December 2. For more details, visit TomaquagMuseum.org.
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