|Left: A close-up of one of the
totems whose face was painted red
(one of the colors if the Four
Directions). Powhatan totems were
thought to be carved portraits of
important people. They were never
worshiped but represented the
location of the ceremonial dance
area. The color red represents,
blood, the sun and the East, where
life began. Most Native American
nations in this hemisphere honor
the four colors of the cardinal points
on the compass. Red = The East,
where life in the universe began.
Black = The West, where the sun
sets. White = The cold North,
represents the color of death.
Yellow = The South, honors the
origin of the warm winds. Some
Native Americans have a fifth color
that represents The Center (it may
be blue or green, depending upon
the culture). Four was an important
number to many indigenous
Americans since it could mean the
Four Winds or two sets of twins (for
those to whom twins were
|Above: Seven of eight traditional Powhatan totem poles in the
Powhatan Village at the Jamestown Settlement Park, Jamestown, VA.
Rose Powhatan (Pamunkey/Tauxenent) and Michael Auld (Taino) made
the totem poles for the installation. The totems are based on research
from the original 1585 watercolor paintings by John White. The original
John White paintings are in the British Library, London, England.
Below: Indians Dancing-1585 , a watercolor painting by John
White, artist and later, governor of the lost colony of Roanoke, Virginia.
This painting was the first image to capture an Algonquian dance activity
that the English called a "powwow" (from the Powhatan Virginian
Algonquian word pau-wau or paw-waw, for a curing dance done by a
shaman) Today, a powwow is a pan-Indian word for a social, public
festival (See Powhatan Words below).
|Above: Six contemporary Powhatan History totems
originally erected in the late 1980's at the Vienna Metro
Station, Virginia. The totems range in height from 4 feet to
9 feet. The front surfaces are fire-engraved and some are
embellished with red dye. Each totem represents a period
in the history of the Powhatan People. Shown here (L-R)
are: (a) The shortest totem, which represents the "Eastern
Woodlands Origin Myth"; (b) The tallest totem, which
represents the "Old Dominion" (a copper Seal of Virginia is
shown on the back of "Turtle Island", the Native American
name for the United States). Under Turtle Island are the
flags of the nations that later populated Virginia; (c) The
back of the "Pocahontas Story" totem.; (d) The "Treaty
Story" totem, which commemorates the Treaty of 1677.
|Left: Contemporary Powhatan Totems.
R-L (1)The "Eastern Woodlands Origin Myth" totem
features Michabo the Great Hare. "In the beginning,
Michabo the Great Hare went hunting with his wolf
friends. They noticed that the waters of the rivers
began to rise and flood the land..." The story continues
with the waters of all the rivers flooding the entire
planet. Each pictograph image line of the totem relates
a segment of the entire origin story. The final line ends
with the creation of men and women from the mystical
union of the Great Hare with one of his female animal
(2)The "Attan Akamik" totem has an Algonquian name.
Its English title is "Our Fertile Country", which gives
thanks to the Creator for making all things in Nature
that help us to survive in harmony with each other.
Pictographs depict good weather, animals and plants.
(3)The "Pocahontas Story" totem gives an overview of
an incident related by John Smith in his "best-selling
adventure book" narrative. Pocahontas is featured.
|The Powhatan's language is not dead. Algonquian was the language of the first indigenous
Americans to intimately interact with the English. Their words below survive in the English
Caucus: From corcas. From caucauasu or "counselor". First recorded by Captain John Smith. Today, it
is a political meeting to make decisions.
Chipmunk: From chitmunk.
Honk: From honck or cohonk, a Canadian goose. It is associated with the sound made by the bird, or
associated with winter or a year. The Powhatans called the "Potomac" River "the River of the Cohonks"
for the noise made by the yearly arrival of the geese there. To honk, honky, and honky tonk all come
Match coat: From matchcores, skins or garment.
Maypop: From mahcawq, a vine with purple and white flowers that has an edible yellow fruit.
Moccasin: From mohkussin, a shoe.
Muskrat: From mussascns.
Opossum: Also possum. From aposoum, or "white beast".
Papoose: An infant or young child.
Pecan: From paccan.
Poke weed: From pak, or pakon, blood + weed.
Pone (Corn Pone): From apan, "baked".
Powwow: From pawwaw. An Algonquian medicine man. A dance ceremony used to invoke divine aid in
hunting, battle, or against disease. Now used as a Pan-Indian word for a social dance festival.
Racoon: From aroughcun.
Susquehanna: From suckahanna, water.
Terrapin: From toolepeiwa.
Tomahawk: From tamahaac, tamohake, a weapon. From temah- (to cut off by tool) + aakan (a noun
Tump (tump line): A strap or string hung across the forehead or chest to support a load carried on the
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|Odi, you should not
|...So, what should I call them?
|They called themselves
|Powhatan Totem Poles
Traditional and Contemporary
|(4)The "Powhatan" totem gives honor and respect to the paramount chief of the "Powhatan Confederacy" (as
it was called by later historians). Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas, headed the 34 Indian nations' alliance
at the time of Historic Jamestowne's founding by the English.