Pocahontas : medicine woman, spy, entrepreneur, diplomat /
Paula Gunn Allen.
1st ed.
San Francisco : HarperSanFrancisco, c2003.
xvi, 350 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.
More Details
San Francisco : HarperSanFrancisco, c2003.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. [337]-350) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat

Chapter One

Apowa / Dream-Vision

"This is not a land for gods," said the buffalo man. But it was not the buffalo man talking anymore ... it was the fire speaking, the crackling and the burning of the flame itself that spoke to Shadow in the dark place under the earth.

"This land was brought up from the depths of the ocean by a diver," said the fire. "It was spun from its own substance by a spider. It was shat by a raven. It is the bones of a fallen father, whose bones are mountains, whose eyes are lakes."

"This is the land of dreams and fire," said the flame.
-- Neil Gaiman

Mystery, not history, was the bread of life.
-- Richard Noll

According to Indigenous Science, everything that exists is held within the great cycle of time, and thus there exist ceremonies that acknowledge and assist in its renewal.
-- F. David Peat

oo-maa haa'a / once upon a time

That was the time that Yellow Woman was taken by Whirlwind Manito, and he took her to another place far beyond the great waters. She was standing in the south. In the south she was standing. First Whirlwind man came from the south, and then he came from the east, then he came from the east another time. That was when Yellow Woman knew that it was time. She was standing in the south, and Southwind Woman was talking to her.

Look here, Southwind Woman said. Yellow Woman. You should go to the south a little ways. You should find the one who will take you across the great water. That's the one who comes on a seabird with great white wings. The one that moves by my breath, or the breath of one of my sisters.

Yellow Woman waited. She was standing there in the south. In the south she was waiting. Then the wind came from the south, and she stood. I will not go to the water just yet, she said. Later, when the dawn comes. When the north wind comes to stay. When Ice Manito, Windigo, comes. Then maybe I will go.

Then Yellow Woman. She was very young, and she got very tired of waiting. But it was the way of her people, and her aunts kept her heart strong. They gave her many dances to learn, and many chants to sing. They helped her make the steps and the calls with her throat that would carry into the world of the manito. She went out every day. She went here and she went other places. And the time passed until the ice held the world still and silent, and she heard the wind saying. Now, Yellow Woman. This time.

She went back to where the old women were. Where the clan mothers and the aunts were. And they dressed her and put the down of white winter birds in her hair. They painted the parting of her hair red. Her face they painted the color red, pocoon, and her hands they made patterns on, and on her ankles they made other patterns.

Yellow Woman went among the elders, among all the holy people, even some of the wild men who frightened her. But she looked down or straight ahead. She remembered the chants and the steps of the dance.

They were singing. They were talking. In that Big House, quioccosan. That holy House, quioccosan. The elders, the matchacómoco, were talking. They were honoring Fire with tobacco, apook. Generous hands gave apook. They sang. The ones who sang that way sang. Everyone was standing. There in the Great House, quioccosan. We honor you, Fire Man. We honor you Fire Woman. It is truth that is spoken here. It is truth that is done here. Thank you.

The other women. Her sisters. Red woman. Black/Dark Blue Woman. White Woman. Standing in their places. They stood in the west. They stood in the east. They stepped this way. The stepped another way. They were standing. They were singing. It was a holy song they were singing. They were crying. That the supernaturals, manito, would hear them. That the holiest, manitt, would hear them. That they were standing in truth, oo-maa'ha'a. The voices rising.

Yellow woman raising her voice. In the highest tremolo she was singing. She was singing. She was walking. She threw herself down. Down she threw herself. On the body of the stranger. On his body she fell. Singing in the highest tremolo.

I will take this one and guide him.

That's what I will do.

It is the truth I speak

Had Pocahontas been Laguna Pueblo and had she been a yellow corn woman and so part of the old cycle about the supernatural sisters -- red corn woman, yellow corn woman, blue/black corn woman, white corn woman -- this is how her story might have been told, in translation. As she was not Laguna Pueblo of the Keres Nation but Pamunkey, of the Powhatan Alliance, her story would have been told traditionally in the words and cadences of her people. Some of the words current among the people of the tsenacommacah I've added to this Keresan-based version. Laguna is not Werowocomoco, the town where Pocahontas was raised, and Powhatan was her language, not Keres. But then, modern Virginia bears little resemblance to the tsenacommacah she knew, and no one there spoke modern American English. She was of a time best thought of as world renewal time, world change time, or world transformation time; it's clear that this is so. The world we know bears only a marginal resemblance to the one she knew.

Here in This Sacred Place I Stand

As the spring equinox approached, Pocahontas knew it was time for her apowa, or Dream-Vision; it was several years before Captain John Smith even set foot on American soil, establishing with his Virginia Company the settlement at Jamestown. At midmorning she quietly stepped out of the longhouse where she lived -- a half-cylindrical structure made of bark and animal skins slashed to wooden frames ...

Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat
. Copyright © by Paula Gunn Allen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat by Paula Gunn Allen
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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2003-10-01:
Allen (English, emerita, UCLA) flaunts her Native American heritage in order to differentiate her "biography" of Pocahontas from those written by nonnatives. It is the native perspective that apparently gives her license to construct an image of Pocahontas as a "shaman-priestess, sorcerer, adept of high degree" without any cited evidence, unless one accepts a supposed probability that she was a member of the Midewewin (a secret society of medicine men and women). Allen treats this probability as fact and uses it as the book's lynchpin, which, in turn, allows her to sprinkle her feminist Native American perspective liberally throughout. Despite Allen's claims, this native perspective is suspect at best since she is of Laguna Pueblo/Metis and Sioux descent, while Pocahontas was a Powhatan and thus Algonquin. This book is not recommended; libraries needing authoritative biographical information on Native American women, including Pocahontas, should instead purchase the outstanding anthology Sifters: Native American Women's Lives, edited by Theda Perdue.-John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Choice on 2004-03-01:
Two authors add their spin to the often told Jamestown story. Price catches the daily drama in the struggle for survival and the troubled relations among the settlement's leaders and their Native American counterparts, focusing on Captain John Smith. Allen (emer., English, UCLA), of Native American descent (Laguna Pueblo), depicts Pocahontas from the Indian point of view. Unfortunately, instead of adhering to the southern Algonquian culture, Allen gets "off the reservation," digressing at length into a hodgepodge of reference material ranging from the folkways of various Indian groups to Arthurian legend and subsequent US history. Nevertheless, her theme is that Pocahontas was a medicine woman with a "Dream Vision," which she served in her role as diplomat, spy, and, especially, as someone destined to bridge two cultures. Allen even validates (to her own satisfaction, but not likely readers') the unfolding of the supernatural in the course of human events. Price, however, avoids such exaggeration and nebulousness, giving a straightforward narrative of the early Virginians; his main contribution is portraying John Smith as a "Machiavellian," one who knew how to use power and was a master of deceit. Price fills some gaps in the traditional history of John Smith and Virginia, but one wishes that he had more of a historian's perspective, weighing evidence and mentioning controversial ecological theories concerning the founding of the colony. While Allen has searched historical records and Indian oral traditions, she occasionally errs, such as placing Chief Black Kettle at the battle of Wounded Knee. Although her freewheeling approach is difficult to forgive, Allen presents a comparative study of Indian cultures and enlightens readers on the worldview of Native American spirituality. Price has a problem with tediousness, adhering too closely to a strict, detailed chronology. Both books have value as reappraisals of two progenitors of the early US. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Price for general readers; Allen more for specialists and believers in supernatural-inspired behavior. H. M. Ward emeritus, University of Richmond
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2003-09-01:
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. (On sale Oct. 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, September 2003
Library Journal, October 2003
Choice, March 2004
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Table of Contents
Introductionp. 1
Dream-Visionp. 25
Mischiefp. 83
Faeriep. 135
The Esteemed Weedp. 195
At the End of the Dayp. 253
John Rolfe's Letter to Master Thomas Dalep. 307
John Smith's Letter to Queen Annep. 313
Don Diego de Molina's Letter to King Philip of Spain, 1613p. 317
Notesp. 323
Glossaryp. 333
Bibliographyp. 337
Indexp. 343
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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