by Delvina L. Smith ’09
When we think about rituals and where they take place, we think of synagogues, churches, mosques and temples. It wasn’t until my senior year after I’d spent a semester in India and took a dip in the Ganges River, that I saw water as a holy ground filled with rituals. As an anthropology major, I was not only intrigued by rituals and culture but the presence of them on the HWS campus.
The tragic tale of laurelled Seneca warrior Agayentah (Ah-gay-EN-tah) has been closely associated with Hobart College since the College’s inception. While Agayentah’s story is an eerie one, cloaked in mystery and superstition, I was determined to learn more about the tale and its connection to the Colleges.
Legends of the Seneca warrior Agayentah are reminders of the presence of the Iroquois people who lived in the Finger Lakes and Upstate New York region. It is said that Agayentah sought refuge under a tree during a thunderstorm, but was struck by lightning and killed instantly. Both the warrior and the tree were swept into the stormy, churning waters of Seneca Lake.
The following day, the tree trunk floated upright, as if it was Agayentah’s funeral barge, and the echoes of his cries could be heard through the shadowy mist above the Lake. A reminder of this famous legend, The Echo of the Seneca became the title of the Hobart yearbook in 1858, and the call letters of the Colleges’ radio station (WEOS) reflect the legend.
Around 1840, a Hobart student claimed to have found the paddle from Agayentah’s canoe, and the paddle began to be handed down by the outgoing Druids to their successors at what is now Hobart’s Charter Day. Today, Hobart seniors each receive a replica of the paddle during the Hobart Launch held at Bozzuto Boathouse. The passage of the paddle is a symbolic link between Hobart men now and those who have gone before.