Pocahontas by Paula Gunn Allen
Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat

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Synopsis

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."

 

About Paula Gunn Allen

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Of Laguna Pueblo and Sioux descent, Allen was one of the best-known Native American writers and critics and cousin to another, Leslie Marmon Silko. She was born in Grants, New Mexico, on October 24, 1939. She received a bachelor's degree in English in 1966 and a master's degree of fine arts in creative writing in 1968 from the University of Oregon and a doctorate in American studies in 1975 from the University of New Mexico. She taught at numerous schools during her lifetime including San Francisco State, University of California at Berkeley and University of California at Los Angeles. She wrote 17 books including volumes of her own poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. She also edited important collections of Native American writing. She received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, and the University of California at Los Angeles, where she was a postdoctoral fellow in American Indian Studies. She received numerous awards including an American Book Award for editing Spider Woman's Granddaughters: Short Stories by American Indian Writers in 1990 and the Hubbell Medal in 1999. She devoted much of her work to combating oppression by critiquing the ideas that have sanctioned it. The Woman Who Owned the Shadows (1983), is about a woman who comes to realize that she is a lesbian. Allen explores and affirms for women and lesbians the ideas of Spider Grandmother who, in many Native American traditions, is the creator of the heavens, the earth, and all the spirit beings, and therefore an icon of female power. The Sacred Hoop (1986), is a collection of essays written over a number of years that explicitly argue that Native American literature, traditions, mythology, and spirituality can be powerful antidotes to white racism, sexism, and homophobia. She died of lung cancer on May 29, 2008.
 
Published October 7, 2003 by HarperSanFrancisco. 368 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, Travel. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Pocahontas

Publishers Weekly

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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

Sep 01 2003 | Read Full Review of Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, S...

Publishers Weekly

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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.

| Read Full Review of Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, S...

Los Angeles Times

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Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat; Paula Gunn Allen; HarperSanFrancisco: 350 pp., $26.95

Jan 16 2004 | Read Full Review of Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, S...

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