Suppose you were a Powhatan Indian living in eastern Virginia 400 years ago. How would you celebrate the harvest time? The Powhatans were the Virginia Indians whom English settlers met when they arrived in 1607. One of the most famous Powhatans was the princess Pocahontas. Like other Woodland Indians, the Powhatans planted corn, beans, and squash. They got meat and fish by hunting and fishing. And they gathered nuts, roots, and berries.
The fall harvest was divided into two seasons. The time of the general harvest and the falling of the leaves was called Tacquitock. The other, called Nepinough, was just for the harvest of the corn crop.
In both seasons the Powhatans thanked Ahone. Ahone was one of their two main gods, the one who brought good things. The Powhatans also gave special offerings to Okee, the god who could bring evil. The Powhatans wanted to make Okee happy if they thought the god had caused a poor harvest.
When the harvest was in, the Powhatans had a harvest festival to thank Ahone. What would Pocahontas have seen and done at a harvest festival? Englishman Captain John wrote that the Powhatans made a "great fire." Everyone came together "to sing and dance about it with rattles and shouts" for four or five hours. Powhatan children played flutes made from dried marsh gourds reeds and rattles made from dried gourds. They also banged on wooden drums covered with deerskin.
The Powhatans danced in a circle. Often one person in the center played a flute or danced, while the rest circled around.
After the dancing, the Powhatans had large feasts, almost like our Thanksgiving meals. They could last for days. People ate corn on the cob. They dried corn for cakes or dumplings. They put corn into stews with beans, squash, berries, venison (deer meat), turkey, or fish. Sometimes they cooked meat and fish on a wooden grill, like we do today. Powhatan harvest festivals were joyous times!
Illustrated by Mark Mitchell
Please note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.