In striking contrast to conventional accounts, Pocahontas is a bold and daring biography that attempts to tell the extraordinary story of the beloved Indian maiden from the Native American perspective. Drawing from sources often overlooked by Western historians, Dr. Paula Gunn Allen offers remarkable new insights into the adventurous life and sacred role of this foremost American heroine.
We have all heard about the love-struck Pocahontas saving the dashing Captain John Smith from execution by the Chief of the Powhatans, but what if the whole event was a staged ritual of his death as a foreigner and his rebirth as an adopted member of the Powhatan Nation? Settlers at Jamestown report a young, cartwheeling Pocahontas frequently at their fort, but could the innocent-looking visitor actually have been a spy -- reporting back to her elders what she saw there? Was Pocahontas willingly kidnapped by the British settlers in exchange for corn and other ransom from her tribe, or was this a part of her more elaborate plan? We have been taught that this amazing woman was later baptized a Christian and married in the church at Jamestown, yet she helped her husband, John Rolfe, grow and export tobacco -- a powerful, indigenous herb to which the Native Americans attributed shamanic powers. Finally, the "Indian Princess," now known as Lady Rebecca Rolfe, traveled to England for an audience with King James I and Queen Anne. Was this a publicity stunt orchestrated by the English backers of the Virginia colony, or was Pocahontas fulfilling her role as a "Beloved Woman," an honor designated to a female of great spiritual power who was to be trained from birth in the diplomatic and political ways of her tribe?
Pocahontas became an extraordinary ambassador, forming groundbreaking relations between the Indians, the American colonists, and the British. Dr. Gunn Allen convincingly argues that through all of this, Pocahontas fulfilled a crucial and essential role in the birth of a New World. This stunning portrait presents the fascinating, untold story of one of the most romantic and beloved figures in American history, and reveals why so many have revered Pocahontas as the female counterpart to George Washington, the true "Mother of Our Nation."
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Paula Gunn Allen, Ph.D., is an American of Laguna Pueblo/Metis descent and Professor Emerita of English and American Indian Studies at UCLA. The author of many books, including the landmark title, The Sacred Hoop, she is credited as the founder of the field of Native American literary studies. She received a fellowship from the Ford Foundation-National Research Council to study the oral tradition in Native American literature, a writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and has also been an Associate Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Institute. She has been honored with the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, the Native American Prize for Literature, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writer's Circle of the Americas. She lives in Fort Bragg, California.From Publishers Weekly:
In what is presented as the first study of its kind by an American Indian scholar, Allen (The Sacred Hoop) offers a corrective to the romantic story of Pocahontas told initially by Capt. John Smith of the Virginia Company and most recently by Disney Studios. Euro-American historical accounts of Pocahontas's brief life, asserts Allen, typically depict her as a lovelorn and tragic character (she died in 1617 in the aptly named river port of Gravesend, England, at the age of 20 or 21). Allen's Pocahontas, by contrast, is a real visionary, a prodigiously gifted young woman fervently devoted to the spiritual traditions of her people: a loose-knit group of Algonquin tribes known as the Powhatan Alliance, or Tsenacommacah. When the English colonists who began establishing Jamestown in 1607 invaded the Tsenacommacah, Pocahontas immediately identified it as the fulfillment of a prophecy that foretold the end of their world and the beginning of a new one, argues Allen. It was "world change time," she writes, and Pocahontas (also called Matoaka, Amonute and finally Lady Rebecca Rolfe) was nothing if not mutable-as implied by the book's subtitle. Still, notwithstanding Pocahontas's significant role in American history, Allen's claims that Pocahontas "set in motion a chain of events that would," among other things, "liberate the starving and miserable peoples of Europe and beyond" can seem overstated. More persuasive are Allen's comments about the cultural similarities between the English and Algonquin and the idea that each group changed the other. When casting Pocahontas as "the embodiment of this dual cultural transformation," her role, and the book, are at their clearest, and are made manifest by Allen's often lyrical and powerful writing.
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