I loved Pocahontas as a kid. It was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. I had a Pocahontas doll, she was on my favorito t-shirt, and I watched my trusty old VHS copy all the time. I live in the area and my family supposedly traces back to her tribe, so there was no doubt who my favorito princess was. And then, as I got older... I started doing a little research, and found out how incredibly fictional the movie was.
With each book on the Powhatan tribes I read, Disney's Pocahontas becomes harder to watch. I watched it again today for the first time in probably a year, for article-writing purposes, and spent most of the movie silently fuming. (There also may have been a few obscenity-filled outbursts and agonized groans.) Had this movie been completely fictionalized, there'd be no need for this article. But it is based on real people, and a real culture, and it fills the heads of impressionable youth with fiction they believe is fact.
I've seen some comments here on fanpop about Pocahontas that fill me with an incrível rage. But I don't blame the fans; their opinions are based on a cartoon about a pretty young princess falling in amor with a sturdy blonde explorer. This is Disney's fault. And since I do live in the general area and have a biblioteca full of books on the Powhatan Indians of Virginia that probably aren't readily available to everyone else, I will use those to hopefully shed a little light on this extremely fictionalized account of the Pocahontas story.
Today's ravings will be based on the last two books on the subject that I read; The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture, por Helen C. Rountree, and The Powhatan Tribes, por Christian F. Feest. There are hundreds of tribes in North America, and tribal appearances, traditions and beliefs vary wildly por region. This artigo about the Powhatan Confederacy, which consisted of 30 Algonquian-speaking tribes located in what is now eastern Virginia, who were under the rule of the paramount chief Wahunsenacawh, also known as Powhatan.
If you are under the impression that Disney's Pocahontas is flawless (or even just a great movie) and would like to maintain that illusion, I suggest you stop leitura now
. I won't hold it against you. Really. But leave now, 'cause I'm about to ruin everything. You have been warned. This is not a amor story.
Disney!Pocahontas appears to be a fully mature woman, and pretty close in age to John Smith. The real Pocahontas was 12 years old when Smith and his buddies came ashore in 1607. Smith was 27. That's creepy. Pocahontas was not an only child, and wouldn't have inherited Powhatan's power.
Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, a paramount chief (mamanatowick) who ruled 30 tribes. She was even said to be his favorite. But Powhatan had over 100 children, each por a different wife. According to their line of succession, power would pass from Powhatan to his eldest brother, then his other brothers, then through the sisters. After all the siblings were gone or unable to lead, the power would pass to the oldest son of the oldest sister.
I once saw a comment suggesting that Pocahontas should have stayed and inherited her father's position as chief. That wouldn't have happened. As paramount chief, Powhatan had the power to appoint weroances (commanders; weronsqua, for female commanders) to lesser positions of power. Yes, you read that right. Women could be, and were, commanders. Pocahontas may have eventually become a weronsqua if she had stayed, but she would not have been a mamanatowick. That position passed to Opechancanough, Powhatan's brother. Pocahontas was married to Kocuom.
According to Rountree and her sources, Pocahontas was married to Kocuoum when she reached puberty in the ano 1610, when she was about 15.
Divorce was possible in the Powhatan tribes por capture, elopement, or at the husband's request. Pocahontas was lured onto an English ship in 1613 and "detained" in Jamestown for a year, where she met John Rolfe. This falls under 'divorce por capture', so she was technically not married to both Kocuom and Rolfe at the same time. John Smith's story about Pocahontas saving him is the only known account of the event.
Ever heard of the character trope "unreliable narrator"? It's not just for the world of fiction. In all his stories, Smith seems to be a Valente warrior and a hero. It's understandable. He wrote them, after all, might as well make himself look good. (He was also imprisoned on mutiny charges on the trip over, but I guess disney decided to skip that part.) Smith's account of the Pocahontas story is the only one in existence, and he modified it several times. This version was latched on to and became legend, but it has never been confirmed por anyone else. If something like that DID happen, it's likely that the whole "bashing his brains out" thing was an initiation ritual.
Smith, on an expedition to trade with a nearby tribe, encountered a hunting party led por Powhatan's brother Opechancanough. A battle was fought, and Smith was captured and brought to tribal priests for a trial. He was cleared and brought to meet the great Powhatan. As I said before, Smith's story of this encounter is the only one on record, so we can't be 100% sure about what really happened. But if Smith hadn't been approved por the priests (whose opinions were highly valued) he probably would have been tied up and sliced to pieces, not brought to meet the great chief. If something like this actually happened with Powhatan, it was probably an initiation ceremony. They were adopting you into the tribe, dummy. Powhatan even named him a weroance after.
And now, a break from picking the amor story apart... to nitpick some other stuff and share a few cool facts. You're too close to the ocean to have mountains.
Mountains and epic waterfalls are shown throughout the movie, but Jamestown is on the coast. It's pretty flat there. Real mountains are about 200 miles away. Below, you'll see relief map and a topographic map of Virginia (from link
), with Jamestown's location pointed out in pink.
The coast starts out at sea level and gradually rises as you go further inland, but doesn't get over 150ft high. That's about half the height of the Statue of Liberty or Big Ben.
It's not a fashion statement, it's a disney movie.
The yellow shows where the mountains begin. They're about 200 miles inland.
The Powhatan tribes wore much less clothes than depicted in the movie, but seeing as it's Disney, it's understandable that they decided to put the natives in mais clothing that they would have been mais likely to wear in April. The wealthy wore buckskins, like Pocahontas's dress, but the poor sometimes had only leaves to cover themselves. Random cool things about the Powhatan tribes:
-Their homes were called yehakins, and each one housed 6-20 people.
-Men shaved half their heads so that their hair wouldn't get in the way of their bows.
-Only women had tattoos, and they were of the old-school variety, where you'd make an incision and rub colored stuff in it. No surface dyes or fancy needles.
-They plucked their body hair, which they saw as unclean, with seashells used like tweezers.
-Women stayed in a separate house when menstruating, which "the men dared not go near."
-They used their children as human scarecrows! (And yet when *I* suggest it, I'm "not the kind of child care provider we're looking for". ;D)
Okay, that's about as deep as I want to dig into The Disneyfication of Pocahontas. Sorry if I've ruined the movie for you. Or seashells. ;) But I hope you have a better understanding of the way things really were!