A tribute to Pocahontas, across ocean and time
Indians visit English burial place to mark Jamestown, Va.'s, birth
GRAVESEND, England -- American Indians from Virginia traveled to the burial place of Pocahontas yesterday as part of celebrations marking the 400th anniversary next year of the founding of Jamestown, the oldest English settlement in the New World.
A 50-member delegation attended a private ceremony to honor their fabled ancestor, who acted as an ambassador between British settlers and her Algonquin kinsmen in the early 17th century.
``We're here to acknowledge the fact that the people of England have protected the remains of Pocahontas -- they have honored her memory, and I think they've just done due diligence," said Chief Stephen Adkins of the Chickahominy tribe.
The moment was tinged with sadness for Adkins, who pointed out that when the first English settlers landed in 1607 there were 35 to 40 Virginia woodland tribes. ``There are now eight," he said.
The visit was part of a series of events on both sides of the Atlantic to mark the anniversary of Jamestown's settlement in 1607. The Virginia Indians reveled in the chance to do the journey in reverse -- from the New World to the old one -- and to show off the finer points of their culture.
Amid blustery summer winds, spectators lined the manicured hedges of an Elizabethan manor lawn to watch as nine men from the delegation -- most swathed in fringed buckskin tunics, turkey feather bustles, and deerhide pelts -- circled around a drum, pounding in unison and singing the names of the tribes.
The rest of the delegation formed pairs, marching and dancing around a fountain in the garden to the drum beat -- the ritual a colorful focal point of a welcome ceremony in the southeastern English town of Gravesend.
Lord Watson of Richmond, the cochairman of the Jamestown 2007 British committee, stressed the longtime ties between the two groups as he spoke after the dance.
The tribesmen presented local representatives with gifts from their home state, including a traditional Pamonkey clay pot and a large bundle of dried tobacco leaves, the cash crop of Virginia that attracted English investors.
``It is tradition that when you go to visit an elder or a dignitary, you respect them by bringing tobacco -- one of the four sacred herbs," said Kevin Smith, a member of the Nansemond tribe. ``It is only fitting that since we have been welcomed by this country, that we respect and honor them in the same way."
Members of the delegation also enjoyed traditional English summertime food.
Rappahannock tribesman Jacob Fortune-Deuber, 15, sat in one of the manor's libraries in a rigid 17th-century Windsor chair in his full feather-and-deerskin regalia, eating strawberries and cream out of a silver bowl.
``This is a chance for all the tribes to get together -- we haven't been together in a long time," Fortune-Deuber said.
Pocahontas is known for saving New World explorer Captain John Smith from execution in 1607, and legend has it the two later became lovers. About five years later she was kidnapped by the English to be used as a pawn in dealings with her father, Powhatan, chief of the Algonquin Nation. Pocahontas converted to Christianity in 1613 and married tobacco planter John Rolfe. The couple sailed for England in 1616, but the newlywed princess became ill and died of an undetermined illness the next year.
Though historians know little about her, fictionalized accounts of her life have appeared in art and media for centuries -- most recently in a 1995 animated Disney musical and a live-action historical thriller, ``The New World," released in January.