The Mattaponi Oral Tradition

The story of Pocahontas has been told from a myriad of angles, from John Smith, to historians throughout the centuries, to the Disney interpretation, but what happened to the Native American voice? Linwood Custalow and Angela Daniels’ published The True Story of Pocahontas in 2007 and the novel is the first Native American version of the life of Pocahontas. Keep reading and you’ll be shocked by how much it differs from the versions that have become famous.

 custalow

The Mattaponi tribe did not have a written language so history was maintained through quiakros, priests, who passed down stories from generation to generation. The story of Pocahontas is one of the stories that the quiakros have carefully maintained!

The oral tradition states that the Powhatan chief, Wahunsenaca, immediately befriended the English settlers and helped them survive the harsh environment. Rather than wanting to kill John Smith, the tribe wanted to place him in the position of werowance, leader of the English within the Powhatan tribe. During the ceremony, Smith’s life was never in danger and furthermore Pocahontas would have never been there to save him!

Here’s the real kicker, at the time of the alleged life-saving, John Smith would have been 27 and Pocahontas would have been 9 or 10. As a child of this young age, Pocahontas would have never been allowed at the werowance ceremony. Furthermore, Pocahontas was Washunsenaca’s favorite child, meaning that she would have been watched over even more carefully than the other children!

When Pocahontas was kidnapped in 1913, the oral tradition maintains that Pocahontas did not resist the English because she wanted to protect her people. Furthermore, the Mattaponi believe that Pocahontas was raped in Jamestown, potentially by Sir Thomas Dale. Then she was transported to Henrico, which was more remote, in order to conceal her advancing pregnancy. Within this time she was baptized, converted to Christianity and met John Rolfe, whom she married in 1914. Supposedly Pocahontas was given the pearl necklace seen in the painting below, as a wedding gift from her father!

pearl

Rolfe gained wealth in the New World by producing the first profitable export of Tobacco, which he was able to accomplish through the help of the Powhatan tribe. In 1616 Pocahontas, Rolfe and their son Thomas travelled to England and were royally received. Then, the oral tradition recounts that Pocahontas died as the boat was leaving England to return to America. The Mattaponi insist that Pocahontas was murdered, most likely poisoned, because she had started to see through the deceptions of the English.

Thus ends the Mattaponi oral tradition of Pocahontas, which finally reveals the Native American voice and perhaps the “true” story of Pocahontas.

Written by Jordan Woll

Source: The True Story of Pocahontas by  Linwood Custalow and Angela Daniels in 2007

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