Aquinnah is a town located on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. The population was 311 at the 2010 U.S. census. It is known for its beautiful clay cliffs and quiet natural serenity. Below the clay cliffs is Jungle Beach, named to reflect its reputation as one of the few nude beaches left in the U.S.
Aquinnah has become celebrated as a center of Wampanoag culture and a center of pride and tradition among members of the federally recognized Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head. They make up about one-third of the town's voters and are one of two federally recognized tribes of Wampanoag in Massachusetts. This area is one of the earliest sites of whaling. The Wampanoag harvested whales from small boats and shore, using harpoons, long before the 19th-century industry of whaling became the major maritime industry of Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Before the arrival of English colonists, Martha's Vineyard and Aquinnah were inhabited by the Wampanoag, a Native American people, related to the larger Algonquin Nation of Southern New England. The Wampanoag have a separate history; their creation myth has them arriving on an ice floe from the far North. They sided with the English settlers in King Philip's War. They performed whaling from small boats. The character Tashtego in Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick is a harpooner from Aquinnah.
First settled by English colonists in 1669, the town of Aquinnah was officially separated by them from Chilmark and incorporated in 1870 as Gay Head, Massachusetts. Gay Head was a descriptive name referring to the brilliant colors of the cliffs. It has frequently been noted on lists of unusual place names.
In 1997, by popular vote of 79 to 21, the town changed its name to Aquinnah, which is Wampanoag for "land under the hill." Throughout its history, the town has been home to a Wampanoag community. It gained federal recognition in 1987 and controls tribal lands in the town.
The most outstanding feature this small town has is its brightly colored clay cliffs. The clay cliffs are ecologically protected, and it is forbidden to climb the cliffs or touch the clay.