PLYMOUTH, US: In the fall of 1621, a handful of English pilgrims and Native Americans shared their first Thanksgiving in the settlement of Plymouth.
Four centuries later, their respective descendants commemorated the legendary gathering in markedly different ways: while the pilgrims' successors donned costumes for a re-enactment, the remaining members of native groups held a day of mourning.
For tens of millions of American families, Thanksgiving -- falling on the fourth Thursday of November -- brings a traditional all-day meal characterised by stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
But to delve into the founding myth of the United States is to lift the veil on one of the first painful chapters of European colonisation in the New World.
On Thursday, to the tune of drums, white Protestants in long cloaks and wide-brimmed hats re-enacted a religious procession in Plymouth, which ended with a Bible reading in the cemetery that dominates the Massachusetts city.
About 50 "pilgrims" recited psalms in memory of their 102 ancestors who arrived on America's icy northeastern coast in November 1620 aboard the Mayflower after a grueling 10-week voyage from England.
Reverend Paul Jehle, a descendant of the English "pilgrim fathers," said the event allowed him to pay homage to his ancestors by "re-enacting their faith."
"It is important to preserve, because it is their beliefs which brought them here and which influenced America so much," the pastor said.
'WHAT DID WE GET BACK?'
In the nascent colony of Plymouth, when the terrible winter of 1620-21 swept away half the English group, about 90 Wampanoag people -- led by their chief, Massasoit -- helped the 50 survivors stave off starvation by sharing fishing, hunting and farming skills.
According to the written account of two witnesses of the time, Edward Winslow and William Bradford, the first successful harvest in the fall of 1621 resulted in a three-day meal and an alliance between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag people, whose forefathers had settled in the area some 12,000 years earlier.
"And what did we get in return for this kindness? Genocide, the theft of our lands, slavery, starvation and never-ending oppression," said activist Kisha James, at a "national day of mourning" event near the statue of Chief Massasoit on Plymouth Hill.
James belongs to the United American Indians of New England, a group that has held these somber commemorations every Thanksgiving since 1970.
"Thanksgiving is the day to remember the millions of our ancestors killed by European settlers, who had not been invited," she said.
In front of a few hundred supporters, who marched through the town, James denounced the "genocide" of her people.
Among the crowd was Miciah Stasis, a 21-year-old Native American who wore a "Make America Native Again" mask.
"They say we're trying to take away their holiday, but really, it's not a day to celebrate," Stasis said.
"It's something that needs to be recognized more often. You know, we talk about the Holocaust, we talk about 9/11 -- very dramatic and important events in our history -- and we forget the people's land you're on. That's the same thing that happened." - AFP