Saturday, March 21, 2009

The death of Pocahontas

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1616 Pocahontas (Mataoke), a Native American of the Iroquois peoples, died in England (approximate date; sources vary).

Before she could set sail for her homeland, in March 1616, Mataoke died of pneumonia (some say smallpox), aged about 20, just one month before the demise of William Shakespeare on April 23. The much-misrepresented Mataoke/Pocahontas was buried at St George's Church, Gravesend, Kent, which operates a tourist facility and website that maintain the Pocahontas fictions, as does Hollywood – and not a few educators.

Pocahontas is known throughout the world, especially to Americans and Britishers, as an example of friendly relations between the races as well as an epitome of the Rousseauvian 'noble savage'. Her images adorn Washington's Capitol building in portraits and friezes, and she has been a character in numerous dramas, beginning in the 17th Century with Ben Jonson.

In 1995, Walt Disney’s studios made an animated movie of the famous Smith-Pocahontas tale, in which the native princess is portrayed as a rather voluptuous and beautiful woman. Her body is scarcely contained within a buckskin outfit that is not only split on both sides of its skirt, but is several inches shorter than the dresses of the other women in Disney’s unhistorical Indian tribe. We know that when Captain John Smith, 42, met her, Pocahontas was only 11 years old, and we also know that she did not resemble Disney’s ridiculous heroine. (There are numerous assertions on the Internet that Smith raped her and left her with a child, but I have found no verification of these.)

The only portrait known to have been made while she was alive was an etching made in England by Dutch engraver, Simon Van de Passe (used on an American stamp in 1907), prints of which were sold at the time to the curious. Over time, images of her (as in the case of Cleopatra) were beautified to suit contemporary tastes, but John Chamberlaine, a member of the English nobility, commented that she was "no fayre [beautiful] Lady" ...

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