An authority on the history and anthroplogy of the 30 Algonquian-speaking Indian tribes known as the Powhatans of Virginia, Helen C. Rountree has assembled a group of contributors with the aim of providing a multifaceted look at these diverse and fascinating peoples. "Powhatan Foreign Relations" examines the Powhatan paramount chiefdom and its Indian "foreigners" from the perspectives of physical anthropology, archaeology, history and cultural anthropology. Reconstructing contacts with outsiders, Rountree and the other contributors demonstrate that Powhatan societies did not form the monolith imagined by arriving Europeans, but rather were highly individualistic in their responses both to other Indians and to the advent of the English and the Spanish. A major source of misunderstanding between the Powhatans and the Europeans was the fact that Powhatan was not the monarch the Europeans supposed him to be. He was accorded deference as Indian royalty, but there was a considerable and accepted disjunction between status and role. For example, when internal conflicts arose involving bloodshed between Powhatan tribes, there is no evidence that Powhatan made any attempt to intervene.
The volume's subject matter ranges from physical characteristics and pathology, to settlement styles and subsistence patterns, to an exploration of the intentions of the Powhatans and Europeans towards each other and the ways in which those intentions were enacted. "All people can make observations about strangers, consider their own positions and interests, and draw conclusions on the basis of both, acting upon those conclusions thereafter", writes Rountree; and indeed, this collection offers a convincing argument for viewing both Indian and Europeans as logical, sophisticated and ethnocentric peoples who often misconstrued each other's actions and motivations.
Publisher: University of Virginia Press