Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Birth of Matoaka; also known as Pocahontas; born in about 1596

I wrote this story after visiting Jamestown, Virginia.

The birth of Matoaka “flower between two streams” who was called Pocahontas by her father; a name that meant “laughing and joyous one.”  This was also the name of her mother.

 In Tsenacomoca, the land of the  Pasapahegh Tribe;  in the place that is now known as Virginia.

Father – Chief Powhaten Wahunsenaca
Mother – Pocahontas, the first wife of Wahunseneca

About 1596

Pocahontas sat in her family’s winter lodge preparing a cradleboard for her new baby.  It was warm and the lodge was rich with story, song and family.  Her older children, sisters and elderly aunts surrounded her.  They had prepared a warm meal and teased her playfully for having a baby so late in life, so many years after her last baby who was now grown.

She smiled to herself, remembering the time when she was a young woman and Wahunsenaca had chosen her for his bride.  She recalled the times by the river and the breaking of the white clamshells over their heads and the feast that had followed on their wedding day.   He had brought her and her father many gifts before they married.  He had brought her small beautiful pearls and  a handful of the small margmella shells that he the dug from the cliffs to win her heart.  Later she told him that he would not have had to work so hard for she already loved him.  He laughed but it was his way to respect the traditions of his tribe.

She had been afraid to leave their small tribe and move to his parents lodge but her family was near by and they had visited often.  She recalled the fine cypress canoe he had made to take her down the river to her new home.  These were happy memories that filled her mind as she worked quietly in the lodge.  She found herself in a dreamy state both night and day.  Those who noticed said it was because she would soon give birth.

She thought of the time when her husband was young and was not yet the great Powhaten; chief of so many people.  In those days she had been his only wife; the wife he had loved and had chosen with such tenderness.   They had begun each day at sunrise with a prayer of gratitude and had bathed together each morning in the river. 

Over the years she had watched him become a great chief and had watched him bring many tribes together so that they would be strong and prosper.  It was a time of peace and a time when there was food and shelter for everyone.  To do this her husband had taken a wife in each of the tribes to create blood relationships between all the people.  It was a great honor to have such a man for a husband but she missed his company when he was away visiting other villages and holding council.

The rain on the outside of the lodge interrupted her thoughts. It was a good time to be inside; to repair tools, make clothing and rest.  A group of women had gone to the marshes to pick Tuckahoe and gather firewood and would be caught in the storm.  She had offered to go but they insisted she should stay home and work on preparations for her new child.

Pocahontas was lovely in her soft deerskin skirt that was decorated with the wildflowers of a summer day on the river.  A robe was wrapped around her shoulders and her hair hung long around her face and body.  A young grandchild wove black duck feathers into her hair and begged for a story.

Her daughter came and offered to put oil on her arms and legs to keep her warm.  It was a simple gesture of caring and kindness for this well loved and respected mother.  Pocahontas knew that they were worried about her.

Her sister had scolded.  “Your husband has many wives now. One from each tribe and more children than he can count.  Why did he come to you?  He didn’t need another baby.”
She revered and respected her famous brother-in-law but another baby for Pocahontas, at her age, worried her.

“This baby is a sign of Pocahontas’s worthiness,” replied another Aunt.  “It is an honor to be blessed with a baby after so many years.  The baby will be wise and a special blessing to his father in his older years.”

Pocahontas belonged to the Medicine Clan and was herself a medicine woman and midwife.  She knew of the power of birth; how it could carry a mother away before her milk began to flow.  She knew these things but was not afraid.

“Will you nurse and care for the baby if I should sleep and not wake up after the birth?  Will you be my daughters mother?” she asked her sisters.

“Ah. You will live to see this one make you a grandmother” they laughed but she knew they had heard her request and if need be would care for her new baby as if she was their own.  It was the way of her tribe.

Powhatan did not live in their lodge but had many lodges; one in each of the tribes that had united under his leadership.  This was the center but even here he had his own lodge.  He would come and visit with them or sometimes call his first wife to him for council and warmth.  These were special times to her and as they both grew older they had increased in frequency.

Her fingers were stiff as she wove the necessary branches for this new cradleboard.  She paid careful attention as she attached the brightly dyed branches to one another.  It would be the most beautiful cradleboard ever made.  She had made the strings from the dogbane she had gathered in the summer.  and had woven soft linings to keep the baby warm and secure.  This would be her home and so it must be both safe and beautiful.

In the corner the young girls tattooed themselves and talked of their own future husbands.  Tattooing was a form of highly skilled embroidery and each girl took pride in her work.  It was also a form of friendship and love.  Another girl was working carefully to string a necklace of pearls found in the bay.  This would be used for trade and she was very careful with her work. Their hair was cut close to their head with a long piece in the back.  They would keep their hair in this way until they were married.  Pocahontas had been the midwife to many of these young girls and enjoyed watching them grow up so strong in the ways of her people.

All morning they had woven mats, necessary for the yehakins or houses.  They had made pottery and prepared food.  Pocahontas was happy for this restful time with the people she loved.  She enjoyed their sweet laughter and knew her child within her was looking forward to life in such a happy place.

As the day slipped away, the women put down their handwork and began to prepare the evening meal.  It had been a good summer and so there was corn and deer and a sweet wine from the wild grapes. The men came in from the forest where they were making a new canoe.  They brought fresh fish that they had cooked by the river.  The fire at the center of the lodge was warm but the food was prepared outside.  This night it was a fish stew served on large shells; the eldest of the tribe including Pocahontas being served first. 

As Pocahontas began her meal, the door opened and her husband Potowan, entered the lodge.  He could have requested his meal in his own lodge but enjoyed eating with his wife and his family.  He had been far to the north holding council with other chiefs who were worried about the Iroquois to the north who had come down the river in their birch bark canoes in a possible act of war. It was his dream to unite all the tribes.  He was worried about the white men who came to their shores.  They said there were many more and they were hungry for their land.  The priests had dreamt that men from the east would come and destroy their way of life.  Fearing this, he worked hard to convince his council that unification, not war, was the answer.

Joining his wife, he allowed these worries to slip away and enjoyed his meal.  He joked and told the children stories; Pocahontas smiling beside him.  They filled their shell with the rich, warm fish stew many times in gratitude for the good harvest they were experiencing.  They were served slices of corn bread and bowls of beans.  There were nuts and dried berries.  

After dinner he took out a small deerskin pouch filled with the pearls of the bay. Gently he poured them into his wife’s hand.

“For our new daughter who will be a powerful medicine woman for our people.”

Pocahontas picked up each pearl and held it in her hands.  She looked at them with wonder as a sweet sorrow passed over her.
“For her wedding day.  We will save them for her wedding day.” 

The dancing was beginning and her husband was gently pulling her to her feet.   The fire lit the faces of those she loved.  She joined the other women in a circle dance; her husband the chief of all the lands smiling at her each time she passed.

More people came from other lodges; the smoke and music and sounds of happy people filling the forest. Always they would stop to honor Pocahontas and send blessings to the baby.  They admired the beautiful cradleboard; its fine design and delicate decorations.

Potowan stood beside her.  “Our baby will feel strong and cared for in the strong arms of her cradleboard.  From here she will listen to the stories of our people and watch how hard they work. “

He looked at his wife’s face and saw that she was tired.  Quietly he took her hand and the cradleboard and led them into his own lodge that was quiet.  He made her a small fire and wrapped her in deerskin robes that were warm and soft.

Later that night she gave birth to her baby daughter and named her Matoaka before she passed into the spirit world. 

Her daughter was placed in the beautiful cradleboard her mother had made her and was cared for and nursed by all the women of the village.  She grew up strong and would look forward to her father’s visits.  In time she went to live with him in his village and to learn from him.  Her father called her Pocahontas, after her mother and treasured her above all his children.  She was strong and loved the land as he did.

In time she was married to a man she loved who brought her many gifts.  There was a feast in their honor and shells were sprinkled over their heads.  She had a son and lived in the ways of her people.  One day she was kidnapped by the men from Jamestown and her young husband was murdered.  She was held in captivity for many years.  While in captivity she had another son and was married to an Englishman.  She tried to bring peace to the land she loved and in this effort she died leaving her two sons to be raised in very different ways; one by her Potowan people and one by people she did not know in England.

She had told both her sons that no matter where they were or what happened to them she, their mother, would always be with them.  She showed them how to greet the sun each morning with a prayer of gratitude that would last all the day.

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