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The story of Pocahontas is first and foremost a great love story. The love that was the moving force within Pocahontas's life was the spiritual bond and filial affection between Pocahontas and her father, Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca, and the love they had for the Powhatan people. Wahunsenaca was the paramount chief of the Powhatan nation.
Pocahontas and Wahunsenaca's father-daughter relationship was so strong that even the English colonists recognized that Pocahontas was the favorite child of the paramount chief. What the English colonists did not know was why Pocahontas was held so dearly in the heart of this paramount chief. After all, Wahunsenaca had many children.
Customs were different in seventeenth-century Powhatan culture. Being the paramount chief of the Powhatan chiefdom, called Tsenacomoca, Wahunsenaca married young maidens from each of the tribes within the alliance. The tradition was to infuse all the tribes with blood from the primary leader and to provide relational ties and obligations throughout the chiefdom to unite the tribes under one paramount leader and enlarge the Powhatan nation.
It was a great honor for a young woman to be asked by her tribe to be taken in marriage with the paramount chief. She could decline, if she so desired. Women were not forced into marriage, not even with the paramount chief. However, this was considered not only a great honor, but it provided the woman with a great deal of political and social clout. Few would have declined the opportunity. If a woman refused, the position would have been filled quickly by a woman who was agreeable to the arrangement.
These were alliance marriages-not marriages of love, but of politics and agreement. Love marriages were more permanent. An alliance marriage was meant to seal the alliance between the Powhatan nation and the incoming tribe. It was a temporary marriage in order to infuse royal blood into the alliance tribe and to establish kinship ties. This custom was limited to the paramount chief of the Powhatan nation. After the alliance wife gave birth, she had the choice of living in Werowocomoco, the secular capital village of the Powhatan nation, or returning to her village. Due to the prestigious nature of this position in Powhatan society, the alliance wife would have had no difficulty in finding a "real" husband. Instead, she would have been highly sought after for marriage. She would have been highly esteemed.
The mother of little Pocahontas was Wahunsenaca's first wife; her name was also Pocahontas. They were married before he became the paramount chief. The mother of little Pocahontas was his wife of choice, the wife of love to Wahunsenaca. The marriages to the young maidens from the alliance tribes held more of a sense of responsibility and obligation to the welfare of Tsenacomoca, the entire chiefdom. The mother of little Pocahontas was his wife of love, not of compliance to customs; therefore, Pocahontas's mother held a special place in Wahunsenaca's heart.
Sadly, Pocahontas's mother died while giving birth to Pocahontas. Wahunsenaca was devastated. Overcome with grief, he found a spiritual connection to his lost wife in their child. Little Pocahontas was given the name Matoaka at birth. Matoaka translates as "flower between two streams." The name was most likely given to her because the Mattaponi village was located between the Mattaponi and the Pamunkey (York) Rivers. Matoaka's parents were from the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes-her mother was Mattaponi; her father was Pamunkey.
When the woman of his heart died, Matoaka was all Wahunsenaca had remaining of the woman he had cherished. Due to Wahunsenaca's great love for his beloved wife, he often called his daughter Pocahontas after her mother, for her mother's name was Pocahontas. Pocahontas means "laughing and joyous one."
There was no question that Pocahontas was his favorite child. It is as if he said to himself, "I really have to go all out and love this baby because I lost everything I had to get her!" It was that type of love. If the baby had been a boy, he would have been a special boy, but it was more special because Pocahontas was a female. She resembled her mother, making Wahunsenaca especially caring as a father.
Wahunsenaca decided that it would be better for little Pocahontas to be nurtured by the women in the Mattaponi tribe than at Werowocomoco. The people of the Mattaponi village were her closest relatives and they would give her special attention and tender care because she was a part of them. Little Pocahontas needed breast milk. Her aunts and cousins, who were nursing, were more than willing to nurture little Pocahontas. They had a special love for her. In essence, Wahunsenaca felt like they would nurture little Pocahontas as their own child.
It was the way of the Powhatan people to care for those in need, such as the elderly, widows, and orphans. To take in a relative in need went unquestioned, so the baby was welcomed with enthusiasm and love. Instead of one mother, Pocahontas had many, as the women of the tribe took turns nursing her. This may be one reason why as a child she became so friendly with everyone.
Little Pocahontas was not the only child born to Wahunsenaca and his wife Pocahontas. Little Pocahontas had numerous older brothers and sisters by her parents. Little Pocahontas was born late in her parents' lives. Most of her older full brothers and sisters were adults and held prominent positions in Powhatan society. Her eldest full sister, Mattachanna, was married to Uttamattamakin, a priest of the highest order.
Their names reveal their tribal affiliations and social status. Mattachanna came from the Mattaponi tribe; Matta, as in the name of the Mattaponi tribe, is attached to channa, the root of her personal name. Uttamattamakin's name signifies that he was from the Uttamusak Temple, the highest temple for the Powhatan nation, which housed the highest order of Powhatan quiakros (priests), and was also from the Mattaponi tribe. The Utta in Uttamattamakin's name signifies his association with the Uttamusak Temple. Utta is followed by matta, which also indicates his association with the Mattaponi tribe.
Two of little Pocahontas's elder brothers by her Mattaponi mother were chiefs. Parahunt was the chief of the Powhatan tribe; the Powhatan tribe was the headquarters of the priests, or quiakros [ke-ä-kros]. Pochins was chief of the Kecoughtan tribe. There could have been more; some of them may have been in the priesthood line. Wahunsenaca set them in higher positions.
Being related to Wahunsenaca brought on expectations of setting a good example to the Powhatan people. Greater responsibilities and duties rested on the shoulders of Wahunsenaca's family members.
After little Pocahontas was weaned, her father, Wahunsenaca, requested she live with him at the capital village of Werowocomoco, where her eldest full sister, Mattachanna, cared for her.
Everyone loved little Pocahontas for her laughing and joyous nature. Although Wahunsenaca had other children by Pocahontas's mother and children by his alliance wives, he had a special love for Pocahontas, and she, in return, had a special love and respect for her father. She was always doing something to make her father laugh-a gesture, perhaps, that would remind him of her mother, not necessarily because the behavior was similar, but he would remember his wife and love Pocahontas all the more because of the fact that she came from the mother who died for Wahunsenaca to have her. Little Pocahontas brightened Wahunsenaca's heart.
He was also very protective of Pocahontas. He saw that Pocahontas was watched over carefully, and he kept her close to him. By the time Pocahontas was ten years old, the bond between father and daughter had grown deep and strong.
So enduring was her love for her father that the story of Pocahontas cannot be told without talking about Wahunsenaca. All their actions were motivated by their love for each other. Wahunsenaca did everything he could to protect his daughter. In all that she did, through all that she endured, Pocahontas was guided by her love and respect for her father and for her people. Her love for her father never wavered, even though events to come would force them both onto a tragic path.
Excerpted from The True Story of Pocahontas by Linwood Custalow Angela L. Daniel Copyright © 2007 by Mattaponi Eagle Trust, Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow, and Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star". Excerpted by permission.
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Posted April 28, 2008
Pocahontas's life has reached mythical proportions. How could any book possibly offer new information? The True Story of Pocahontas was written by the Mattaponi, her tribe. After having read many accounts about the legendary woman's life, I tried to interlock the jigsaw puzzle with the pieces never quite fitting. Not only did this book answer my questions, it filled in the gaping holes. John Smith wrote the stories about Pocahontas saving his life several years after her death. Other texts admit as much, yet most gloss over why this may have been. Few also question why a woman abducted by what must have seemed like an alien culture would immediately dress like her captors, convert to Christianity, and marry within a year of her captivity. All of those facts, plus another side to Pocahontas's death, are revealed with shocking clarity. The True Story of Pocahontas should be required reading for every American history class.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.