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Powhatan Rite of Passage and Its Main Customs

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The Powhatan Indians had many rite of passages for both males and females. The Powhatan tribe were leaders of a league called the Powhatan Confederacy, which was a union of at least 30 Algonquin-speaking tribes. North American Indian leader, father of Pocahontas, took over the Powhatan empire at the time the English established the Jamestown Colony. The rite of passages for both males and females tested their endurance of pain, sweat, tears, and being able to continue days and maybe even months without their parents who were key roles in their ways of growing up. In order for Powhatan boys and girls to become males and females, they went through tasks such as men dancing for two days straight while being distant from society in the forest and women were responsible for agricultural tasks.

The Powhatan boys were tested for their tolerance of pain and separation. The initial rite of passage lasted for about 2 days; the first 2 days were mainly dedicated to dancing. They danced around the Kwiucosuk (a small group of elites), wore antlers, and painted themselves black as a sign of mystical connection. On the 3rd day, they were separated from society and were taken to the forest. They were painted all white and sat in a group. While the boys were away, the moms sat at home pretending like their sons were dead, preparing important materials for their sons’ funeral. While blindfolded, boys were sitting in the forest, they began to hallucinate, because articles say that they were “drinking poison” (Huber). In the morning was the start of the rite of passage. The beginning of the ritual is set up at the bottom of a tree, where relatives were standing in a circle with a gauntlet that was to shield them from the whips and clubs that the boys were carrying back. The main objective of this is to knock down trees and branches for their heads. Finally, as an award, they had a feast. At the end of the feast, the boys were taken away to a part of the woods for about 9 months with the guidance of older men. Finally, they were brought back to the village as a man.

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The Powhatan girls went through a lot of difficult tasks due to the boys’ absence. They were reproducers of the Indian culture. They took care of agricultural tasks such as harvesting fruits, and vegetables, which were duties that men are responsible for taking care of. They were caretakers of people who were injured and were responsible for household activities such as cleaning, cooking, and laundry. All these tasks were put on the girls to test their ability of taking responsibility for what the men do and also to see if they can do it independently. They were responsible for providing materials to families including clothing, jewelry, and tools and they also made pots, baskets, and bedding. This was all part of their rite of passage, because it tested and trained them for when they become mothers in the near future. It showed them how all the responsibility will be put on them resulting with stress due to the boys absence. After they successfully achieved reached the end of their rite of passage, they became a woman.

The boys and girls rite of passage showed how their future would be like and mentally and physically prepared them for the real world and what will come in the future. The boys faced challenges, for example, living in the woods for 9 months with limited resources. The women had to take control of cleaning, growing food, etc… The women took control of the duties that the men were supposed to do, such as farming and harvesting food for the family. These tasks were odd for them because they were not used to doing all these manly tasks.

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