Unfortunately, Pocahontas is a misunderstood historical figure. Many people today recognize her from Disney’s movie of the same name, “Pocahontas.”
But this perpetuates the false story behind this strong woman and the propaganda used to promote American ideas to Europe.
What drives this misunderstood history about Pocahontas is the fact that Disney’s animation from the 1990s promotes these ideas.
While we do know she did exist, her history is much different but people who tend to get tattoos of her often portray Disney’s contrivance.
What Is Disney’s Version of Pocahontas?
Disney’s version of Pocahontas promotes the propagandized and mythologized story while adding their own twists.
In the 1600s, upon John Smith’s boat landing on the shores of Virginia, Smith meets Pocahontas and they fall in love; which is yet another perpetuated myth.
Romeo ; Juliet
This Disney retelling brings in a Romeo-and-Juliet-like theme by making them star-crossed lovers. There is no evidence for this and only creates a racial bias, which we know wasn’t particularly true at the time.
Their respective cultures forbid the love between Pocahontas and Smith. What further exemplifies this Kocoum, who is overcome with rage and jealousy.
According to Disney, Pocahontas was his beloved and he therefore attempts to murder Smith.
John Smith’s Execution
Because Kocoum’s demise came at the hands of a settler protecting Smith, Chief Powhatan seeks Smith’s execution. Pocahontas pleas with her father to save Smith’s life and he does so.
What Is the Real History behind Pocahontas?
Pocahontas is a princess from the Pamunkey tribe, located around the notoriously historic and modern-day Jamestown, Virginia.
Her short but powerful life clouds in propaganda, lies, misinformation and mythology since the 17th century. All of this Disney highlights and exacerbates in their cartoon.
In fact, Pocahontas isn’t even her actual name, it’s Amonute with an additional private name of Matoaka. Pocahontas was a nickname or a pet name that her father would call her.
It means either “ill-behaved child” or “playful one,” depending on which version of history you’re referencing.
Who Pocahontas Was
Born about 1596, Pocahontas was the favorite of her father, the Great Powhawtan. When the Europeans came into contact with Powhawtan, there were more than 30 tribes that made up the whole of the Powhawtan people.
All of these spoke some dialect of Algonquin, the language spoken among Native Americans throughout the plains and east coast.
We mostly know about her through the diary writings of John Smith, who described her as the beautiful daughter of a powerful native leader.
He goes onto to describe how she saved him from execution by her father. But this is where history begins to get muddled, especially since John Smith wasn’t very forthcoming in the truth of his tale about her.
There’s a whole narrative about how she betrayed her own people by allying herself with the British.
Also, it has been a long-held belief that she was instrumental in finding common ground between Native American culture and that of Europeans.
But, unfortunately, none of this is true and it’s not clear whether she saved Smith at all. At the time of contact with the British, she would have only been around 11 or 12 years old.
Therefore, Smith committed one of three things: misinterpreted what was going on, outright lied or pulled the story from an old Scottish ballad.
Modern documentaries by the Smithsonian and C-SPAN help shine some light of truth on her history. Pocahontas’s descendants describe her as a spunky girl who was full of life, bravery and courage.
But, she was an ambassador, translator and leader for her people in the early days of dealing with Europeans, the British in particular. As you can see, it wasn’t the way history has portrayed her for the last 400 years.
What Does Pocahontas Symbolize?
Since her popularized introduction into mainstream culture, Pocahontas inspired many works of art and monuments.
These show her likeness to be a standard demonstrating American ideolology to European culture. During the earliest days of the United States, her image was a symbol of freedom and other American concepts around liberty.
This was in an attempt to show unification between American settlers and the Indians. But the back story amasses itself in mistruths and false tales.
Regardless, she is a symbol of power, compassion, duty and strength. Pocahontas also signifies and is a standard for what Native American populations had to deal with upon arrival of the Europeans on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.
We should note, however, that the Natives did not turn away or prevent the Europeans from settling. There is no traditional word or phrase in the Algonquin language for “owning land;” although there is one today.
So, while the Native Americans did have a deep distrust for Europeans, especially the British, they did welcome them unabated.
What Does a Pocahontas Tattoo Symbolize?
For those who want to remain true to history, a Pocahontas tattoo symbolizes strength in the face of great, uncertain change.
She also signifies spunk, playfulness and being a powerful leader. But, some people get a tattoo of her to reflect the misunderstanding that history projects.
Regardless of the history around Pocahontas, many people tend to get tattoos that reflect Disney’s telling.
Because it captures the imagination in a way that only Disney can do, it’s one of the most popular tattoos for fans to have.
Plus, the animation makes some good parallels that are consistent with Native American spiritual and mystical belief structures.
Disney’s rendition does provide great ideas for wonderful tattoo images. For instance, the leaves, colors of the wind and Pocahontas in general look great from a design standpoint.
Pocahontas is a figure whose history is unclear and cloudy. She was a princess of the Pamunkey tribe and daughter to the Great Powhawtan.
While John Smith writes about her and how she saved him, this isn’t quite consistent with history. A false history promulgated by Disney’s animation.