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Mattaponi Sacred History regarding Pocahontas

Paula Gunn Allen's Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat (2003) and Linwood Custalow and Angela Daniels' The True Story of Pocahontas (2007) are the only book-length Native American versions of her life.  And both tell a significantly different story than the one mainstream America is used to. For example, see the selected pertinent sections from The True Story below, especially those in which the authors consciously use the verbal formulas "according to Mattaponi sacred oral history" or "according to Mattaponi oral history" to authorize their account. Such verbal tags are comparable to the force of "as the Bible says" in White culture. Here is an example of a counter-narrative to the familiar American origin myth embodied in the Smith-Pocahontas story.

1) Mattaponi sacred oral history
In 1559 or 1560, a young Powhatan male in line to be chief – who later came to be called Don Luis – boarded a Spanish ship. The Spanish writings indicate that it was by mutual consent, with an agreement that the young male would be returned shortly. Mattaponi oral history does not say whether he was taken captive or if he went willingly. . . . Eventually, Luis was able to convince the Spanish to return him to his homeland in the early 1570s. . . . The Spanish threat influenced Wahunsenaca [Powhatan] to both build alliances with the regional tribes, enlarging the Powhatan nation, and to make friends with the English when they arrived in 1607. According to Mattaponi sacred oral history, Luis and Wahunsenaca were the same person. . . . Consequently, when the English arrived with the weaponry equivalent to the Spanish, Wahunsenaca desired to have them as an allied tribe within the Powhatan nation. (16-17)

2) Friendly Native Americans
According to Mattaponi sacred oral history, Wahunsenaca truly liked Smith. He offered Smith a position to be a werowance of the English colonists, to be the leader of the English within the Powhatan nation. In addition, Wahunsenaca told Smith that the English could live and settle in a more habitable place in the Powhatan nation than on Jamestown Island. (18)

3) No need for a rescue
Although Smith alleged years later that Pocahontas saved his life during a four-day ceremony in the process of his being made a Powhatan werowance, his life was never in danger. His life did not need saving. Why would the Powhatan want to kill a person they were initiating to be a werowance. By Smith's own admission, Wahunsenaca gave Smith his word that Smith would be released in four days. Smith's fears was either a figment of his own imagination or an embellishment to dramatize his narrative. (19)

4) Pocahontas not there anyway
The quiakros played an integral part in such a ceremony. Children, male or female, were not allowed to attend. . . . Pocahontas would not have been in the ceremony to throw herself on top of Smith to save him because the quiakros would not have allowed Pocahontas to be there. (19-20)

5) Wahunseneca freely released Smith
After being initiated as a werowance over the English colony, not only was Smith now considered a member of Powhatan society, but the entire English colony were considered members. . . . True to his word,  released Smith after the four days transpired. (20-21)

6) Wahunseneca a busy leader
In January 1609, Smith made a detour during his rounds of securing food for the Jamestown fort by going to Werowocomoco. He arrived in the Powhatan capital village without giving prior notice. Powhatan carriers were sent out to notify Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca. Wahunsenaca put aside what he was doing and returned to Werowocomoco. (Mattaponi oral history does not say precisely where he was at that time. Just as with the president today, there are numerous places where he could have been. He could have been away for business, such as meeting with other chiefs in another village. He could have been away hunting. Or he could have been away for spiritual renewal, such as going to the Uttamussac Temple.) (29)

7) Pocahontas could not have warned Smith
Once again, according to Mattaponi sacred oral history, Smith's claim of Pocahontas having saved – or, in this case, warned – him do not seem possible within the cultural standards of seventeenth-century Powhatan society. Pocahontas warning Smith in the night implies that Pocahontas, a young girl, was capable of slipping out in the cold night past all adult supervision. According to Mattaponi sacred oral history, this is unlikely. Powhatan children were watched closely and learned discipline early in life. . . . Pocahontas, being the favorite daughter of Wahunsenaca, was watched even more closely than other children. (30-31)

8) Smith's life never threatened
Smith wrote that Wahunsenaca had put a death warrant on him. If this was so, why did Smith then travel deeper into Powhatan territory to the Pamunkey villages the next morning instead of returning to Jamestown? Either Smith was so confident in his ability to defend himself from the Powhatan or there was no reasonable threat to his life, which is the position of Mattaponi sacred oral history. The Powhatan were not trying to kill Smith. (31)

9) Wahunsenaca unaware of tensions among the English
In hindsight, knowing Mattaponi oral history, it is likely that the other English colonists were jealous of Smith's close and powerful relationship with the Powhatan paramount chief. Wahunsenaca was unaware of tensions among the English colonists and their disdain for Smith. Instead, Wahunsenaca and the quiakros had perceived Smith as the leader of the English. As such, making him the werowance (chief) of the English should not have been a problem; however, the offer may have escalated political tensions between Smith and his countrymen. (40)

10) The story of Japazaw's betrayal of Pocahontas offensive
The long continuation of these implications [that Japazaw turned Pocahontas over to the English for a copper kettle] by popular media and scholars is deeply offensive to Powhatan descendants. It insinuates that the Potowomac valued material possessions over the love and commitment to their relatives and their paramount chief, that they were immoral. (51)

11) The English killed Pocahontas's husband
Mattaponi sacred oral history states that before Argall took sail, several of Argall's men returned to Pocahontas's home and killed her husband, Kocoum. They knew the location of Pocahontas's home because they had followed Japazaw's wife when she went to find Pocahontas. Taken by surprise, Kocoum was easily overcome. As the ship pulled out [Argall's], Pocahontas did not realize her husband had been murdered. Her son survived because as Pocahontas left with Japazaw's wife, Little Kocoum was handed over to the other women in the tribe. (51)

12) Pocahontas submitted to capture to save her people
Why didn't Pocahontas fight or resist? Instead of resisting, Pocahontas bent her will to her captors. She went along with them obediently because there was nothing else she could do. Our belief is that Pocahontas submitted to the English in order to protect her people. If she had behaved badly and resisted the English colonists, they might have taken their anger out on our people. Also, it was the Powhatan custom to respect all life, even the lives of those who sought ill toward our people. (56)

13) History silent on her conversion and baptism
Shortly after the staged ransom exchange, Pocahontas was converted to Christianity and was baptized. She was given the Christian name Rebecca. Mattaponi sacred oral history tells us very little about Pocahontas's time in captivity, her conversion to Christianity, her baptism and marriage. Was Pocahontas baptized in Jamestown or Henrico? Neither Mattaponi oral history nor scholarship knows. There is no indication that any Powhatan were present during her baptism. (58)

14) Pocahontas was brainwashed in captivity and did what she had to in order to survive
Mattaponi sacred oral history does not elaborate on whether Pocahontas truly converted to Christianity or not. In captivity, she was brainwashed. She was captured. She did not know where she was going or what was going to happen to her; thus the best way out was to submit to her captors. However, there may have come a point in her captivity when she did not think she could get out. All of these factors played a part in Pocahontas's decision not to retaliate against her captors. Being a bright person, she would have known what to do to survive the situation. (59)

15) Pocahontas deeply depressed at time of marriage
Mattaponi sacred oral history does not put a great deal of emphasis on the details of the marriage between Pocahontas and Rolfe, which occurred in the spring on 1614. Instead, the Powhatan were more concerned with Pocahontas's well-being and safety. Among other things, what is known from Mattaponi oral history is that Pocahontas was deeply depressed. (61)

16) Pocahontas was raped repeatedly, possibly by more than one person
When Mattachanna and Uttamattamakin arrived at Jamestown, Pocahontas confided in Mattachanna that she had been raped. Mattaponi sacred oral history is very clear on this: Pocahontas was raped. It is possible that it had been done to her by more than one person and repeatedly. My grandfather and other teachers of Mattaponi oral history said that Pocahontas was raped. The possibility of being taken captive was a danger to beware of in Powhatan society, but rape was not tolerated. (62)

17) Pocahontas was moved in order to hide the pregnancy
Although scholars differ on where Pocahontas stayed during her months of captivity, whether in Jamestown or Henrico, we believe that Pocahontas was moved from Jamestown to Henrico in order to hide her advancing pregnancy. Mattaponi sacred oral history is very clear that Pocahontas was kept in Henrico during the majority of her time in captivity. Pocahontas was taken to live under the supervision of Reverend Alexander Whitaker, who lived upriver at the Henrico plantation located near present-day Richmond. Henrico was more spacious and secluded than Jamestown; thus, fewer colonists would have noticed Pocahontas's pregnancy. In addition, Pocahontas was forced to wear English clothing to conceal her pregnancy. (63)

18) Married only after her child was born, Jamestown governor the possible father
Within one year of being held captive, by the spring of 1614 Pocahontas had been converted to Christianity, had been baptized, had given birth to a son of mixed blood, named Thomas, and had been married to the Englishman Rolfe. Mattaponi oral history is adamant that Thomas was born out of wedlock, prior to the marriage ceremony between Pocahontas and Rolfe. It is not known who Thomas's father was, but one likely candidate appears to be Sir Thomas Dale. (64)

19) Love of Rolfe doubtful
According to Mattaponi sacred oral history, the marriage between Pocahontas and Rolfe occurred at Jamestown. Although Pocahontas obviously submitted to the marriage, it is hard to say whether Pocahontas really loved Rolfe or not. Under the circumstances of Pocahontas's confinement, it is doubtful. The power differential was too great. She was not free to return to her people. She was not free to choose. She married Rolfe because she had just recently had a child by an Englishman. (65)

20) Wahunsenaca gave Pocahontas pearls as a wedding gift
Although Wahunsenaca did not attend the wedding, we know through sacred Mattaponi oral history that he gave Pocahontas a pearl necklace as her wedding gift. The pearls were obtained from the Chesapeake Bay oyster beds. The necklace was notable for the large size and fine quality of the pearls. Pearls of this size were rare, making them a suitable gift for a paramount chief's daughter. No mention of this necklace has been found in the English writings, but a portrait of Pocahontas wearing a pearl necklace used to hang in the governor's mansion in Richmond. (67)

21) Native Americans have knowledge of tobacco
Rolfe's problems in competing with the Spanish tobacco appeared to stem from lack of knowledge and care in curing the tobacco. According to Mattaponi sacred oral history, the Native people of the New World possessed the knowledge of how to cure and process this tobacco successfully. The Spanish gained this knowledge from the Native communities they had subdued. In the Powhatan society, it was the quiakros who possessed the knowledge of how to cure tobacco. (73)

22) Through tobacco and because of Pocahontas, the Powhatan saved the colony
The Powhatan actually saved the colony by sharing their knowledge of tobacco curing and management. This sharing of knowledge was directly linked to Wahunsenaca and his daughter, Pocahontas. It was directly related to Wahunsenaca because he had wanted to be friends, at peace, in alliance with the English from the beginning. . . . It was related directly to Pocahontas because she was held in such high favor because of her father. . . . The deep parental affection Wahunsenaca had for his daughter is always evident throughout Mattaponi sacred oral history. (76)

23) Pocahontas murdered by the English
Upon returning to England, Mattachanna and the high priest Uttamattamakin, together with other quiakros (priests) who had accompanied them on the journey, reported to Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca that Pocahontas had been murdered in England. The quiakros reported that Pocahontas was most likely poisoned. Pocahontas was in good health while in England and when she got on the boat to head home. They were still on the river, not yet having reached the open sea, when Pocahontas got sick. After coming from the Captain's cabin, Pocahontas had a radical problem and died. This is the account of the Mattaponi sacred oral history. (83-84)

24) Pocahontas aware of English deceit
Upon learning the truth of the intentions of the English during her visit to England, Pocahontas became emboldened. No longer were her eyes closed to their deceit. We believe that the English colonists did not want Pocahontas to return to her homeland. Being away from her father for so long, the first thing she would have done would have been to run to him. She would have wanted to reveal Smith's deceptions. . . . In England, she saw through their lies. (84)

25) Her death planned even before going to England
Mattaponi sacred oral history suggests that the plots to kidnap and murder Pocahontas were conceived long before the events occurred. One role of quiakros was to act as intelligence agents. They were continually gathering information about what was happening that pertained to the safety of the Powhatan nation. As such, Mattaponi sacred oral history suggests that Pocahontas's death was planned prior to Argall's ship leaving for England. The quiakros had warned Wahunsenaca prior to Pocahontas's departure that she might not return. (85)

26) Murderers not known
Who was behind Pocahontas's murder? . . . A Dale-Rolfe-Whitaker trio comprising agreements and pacts is not out of the realm of possibility, but Mattaponi sacred oral history does not reveal who or how many persons were behind her murder. (85-86)