Saturday, November 30, 2013

“Thirtie young women came naked out of the woods....”

         One overlooked clue to the John Smith/Pocahontas relationship may lie in an event that took place in the fall of 1608. Smith and four other Englishmen went to Werowocomoco, the site of the famous rescue scene a year earlier, to invite Powhatan to Jamestown for his coronation. (The English were doing their best to make friends with the Indians, and King James I had sent a crown for the Indian ruler.) Powhatan was not in residence, but was “30 miles off.”  He “was presently sent for.”
         Smith and his men would have to spend the night at Werowocomoco. That evening, while Smith and the others awaited Powhatan’s return the next day, “Pocahontas and her women” entertained the English visitors with one of the most intriguing Indian ceremonies on record. When the guests and other “men, women, and children” were seated around a bonfire, they heard “noise and shrieking” in the adjacent woods. This alarmed the Englishmen, who seized their weapons in preparation for a surprise attack. But in a moment Pocahontas came running to reassure them that no harm was intended: this was a ceremony known as the “Love Dance.”        

          “Thirtie young women came naked out of the woods, only covered behind and before with a few green leaves, their bodies all painted, some of one colour, some of another, but all differing, their leader had a fair pair of Buck’s hornes on her head, and an Otter’s skin at her girdle, and another at her arm, a quiver of arrows at her back, a bow and arrows in her hand; the next had in her hand a sword, another a club . . . .” These young women  “cast themselves in a ring about the fire, singing and dancing . . . .”
         After the dance, which lasted “near an hour,” the young women invited Smith to their lodging. There, as he tells it, “all these Nymphes more tormented him then ever, crowding, pressing, and hanging about him, most tediously crying, Love you not me? love you not me?” Then there was a feast with more singing and dancing, and afterward, “with fire brands in stead of Torches they conducted him to his lodging.” Was Pocahontas among them? And then what happened?
         Another Jamestown mystery.
If Pocahontas had an adolescent crush on John Smith, she may have contrived to entertain him thus, and perhaps to flaunt her sexuality before him. Her father was absent, and she was, after all, the King’s daughter.

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