Pocahontas Tattoos: Realism and Tradition

Friday 20th of February 2009 01:08:41 PM [Add To This Article]

Nearly everyone knows the story of Pocahontas, the Indian maiden who left her home to journey to Europe after saving her love, John Rolfe. After Disney created a friendly, musical version of Pocahontas’ somewhat bloody life story, everyone was familiar with the lovely, singing maiden and her tribe of empathic animal friends. Interestingly, Disney elected to restore to Pocahontas something other than speaking animals and talking trees that history had previously taken away: her tattoos.

Pocahontas was an Algonquin Indian maiden. Around the time that she lived, a variety of portraits of native Algonquins were painted by various explorers and the researchers of that day. These women had facial tattooing across their cheekbones and their chins to indicate high status, and some even tattooed around their lips. Pocohontas, perhaps the most famous Algonquin ever, bears none of these marks according to the many portraits that were painted and distributed of her. This is almost certainly because the explorers who returned with her to England wanted to present her to the public as a non-threatening, “socially acceptable” Indian, and since most people who saw the pictures would never see the person who sat for them, the artist simply removed her tattoos, much as the Sports Illustrated editors airbrushed out Danica Patrick’s tattoo in the 2009 swimsuit issue. In a stab at realism (or maybe just an acknowledgement that tattoos are much less taboo today than they were when Cinderella and Snow White first graced the screen), Disney gave Pocahontas a discreet armband. While it in no way resembles the tribal tattoo designs of rank and status that she probably had in reality, it is a major step in the right direction.

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