John Rolfe’s uneasy letter regarding his troubled wishes to marry Pocahontas, seeking approval from the Governor:
Early European settlers here in this North American continent had in their homes Bibles, and Bibles, much like guns, were the even more forcefully effective weapons of Christianity, mechanically-produced inventions of Gutenberg whose coming into being not merely put into permanence words spoken, but rendered them in an orderly and composed way of thinking particular unto itself—and thereby, too (like phalanxes once upon a time), had both formulated and were the formulation of a very peculiar ordered system of Systems; one which was vastly more powerful than anything any previous cultures of “mythos” (etymologically meaning to be “of legend, of fable; what is murmured, what is spoken”) had hitherto created or could create—these latter being civilizations whose origins were rooted, rather, in a sense of “the immemorial,” “of Nature,” “ancestors,” “old as the hills,” and so forth, and which were not by definition inscribed, engraved, carved, cut into stone.
More important, then, than the issue of “personal agency,” which is generic, is the one that is genetic or historical in scope; and, in particular, when one culture does not take the place of another as a successive replacement, but destructively displaces one as the Other. Essentially, in the grand arc of history, this has come about in just the past several thousand years with greatest effect and increasing frequency because of “logos” used as the preeminent instrument and sometime weapon of the West—which translates roughly from the Greek as “order,” “meaning,” “logic,” and most notably in The New Testament, “the Word.”
Regarding the celebrated marriage of John Rolfe to “Pocahontas,” John Rolfe represents this: the European mind whose very foundational essence is instrumentalized weaponry, representing unto himself the Good a priori; and all else dissimilar, unlike itself, must in contradistinction to itself be construed as snares, traps, insidious evils (it being no accident of metaphor that Rolfe describes himself in his letter—after acknowledging the libidinous over-charge of his “unbridled desire of carnall affection” for the teenage Indian girl while he closed in on the age of thirty—as being “so intagled, and inthralled in so intraicate a laborith,”) only to return to these same maso-erotic images of capture, slavery, and torture later in that very same letter where he refers to the “many other imperfections wherein man is daily insnared,” (emphasis mine); which, in spite of whatever charm or “agency” one might impute or rather ascribe to “Pocahontas” (meaning “the mischievous one,” “the playful one,” “little wanton” “father’s favorite”), this rather charming and fanciful nickname itself just an epithet for her actual name Matoaka, she is still no match for her already once-widowed husband—differences of age and correlative maturity & experience notwithstanding; nor, of much greater significance, for the cultural performance that Rolfe, like a bizarre sort of anthropomorphic metonymy of his particular historically determined or genetic agency, plays and must play out.
Rolfe’s is the difference of a cultural mindset that is barely decades away from discovering calculus, a stone with which to count or reckon, paving the way from Newton onward, to all future higher mathematics; and Matoaka’s autochthonous culture whose is, if it is to be compared to any outside of itself, much more akin to the great Sappho’s that drifts and values the majestic and the poetic “having come from heaven wrapped in a purple cloak” also seen in the beautiful trade-pieces of an indigenous people’s purple-colored wampum.
The individuals—John Rolfe and Matoaka—themselves are unimportant except insofar as they represent the nexus of an ineluctable historical massacre, of one culture’s lapidary mindset over another’s, of the Bible Reading God Fearing John Rolfe as agent of one culture armed with memory-tools of de-scription against which a re-named, re-scribed Rebecca as wife qua opponent was powerless to be anything but overwritten by the logic and the Word of the Christian West.
*for who but her own father and her own people really had the right to call her that?
For further consideration, there are these (among many) movies to watch:
Navajo Joe, a brutal spaghetti western, starring Burt Reynolds; in particular :59 in the film where Joe asserts his being American and refers to his many generations past born, as well as his own, in what is now the United States, unlike the newly arrived white Indian killers who deny him citizenry.
Duck, You Sucker, a sophisticated Sergio Leone (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, among other greats) epic starring James Coburn and Rod Steiger. As formidable commentary on the ills of early Western technology used against indigenous people as you will ever see.