OK, so I REALIZE that Pocahontas was not a Laguna Pueblo Indian. She was, in fact, a member of the Powhatan Nation. However, the author of this book, Dr. Paula Gunn Allen, was indeed of Laguna Pueblo descent. Thus, Laguna Pueblo and Pocahontas.

Moving on.

Pocahontas! Everyone knows her! She saved John Smith from her dad and talked to raccoons and trees and hummingbirds and was really nice to the new white people, even though they weren’t always nice! Right!?

Um, no.

Dr. Gunn Allen’s book Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat, not only serves as a biography to the legendary figure of Pocahontas, but also helps to separate the romantic, mythical story from the facts of Pocahontas’ life and times.

So, most people’s vision of Pocahontas is from the Disney movie, right? OK. I’m going to have to ask you to forget everything from that movie. I know, I know, that’s a lot to ask, but trust me – it’s worth it.

For starters, the part in the Disney movie where Pocahontas saves John Smith is totally relying on John Smith’s account of what happened. Now. John Smith wasn’t lying, per se, but he was…enhancing his experiences bit. You know, for the ladies. Or the money. Or both. Whatever. Anyway, his account can’t ignore the fact that he didn’t understand a word of what the people around him were saying, or that he had never ever been to a religious ceremony held by the Powhatan people, and thus had absolutely no clue what was going on. In Dr. Gunn Allen’s book, she suggests that a more likely scenario was that getting ready to “kill” John Smith may have been entirely symbolic – and completely planned out from the beginning. It may have been a symbolic way to give Smith “rebirth” into their nation, offering him their protection – and in return, he was supposed to offer them his protection.

We see how that played out. But anyway.

If you’re interested in Native American history at all, this is the book for you. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize when it was first published, and it’s very thorough. A word to the wise, though: read this one slowly. When I first read it, I really didn’t like it. I think, though, it’s just because I was on information overload. Dr. Gunn Allen adds a LOT of information about Powhatan religious beliefs and ceremonies, which is AWESOME but is also very different than most religious ceremonies I’ve read about. It just takes a little bit of time to wrap your brain around some of the ideas she suggests, but it’s totally worth it 🙂

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