Health Care Health Ancient Practices

The reason why women started giving birth lying down

I was scrolling through Twitter one day, and I scrolled by a tweet that immediately got my attention. The user @layzchipz posted a tweet that stated, “still can’t get over the fact that men sexualized birth.. and had women change from squatting to laying on their backs which is way more painful.” Wait, what? What do you mean that giving birth was sexualized by men?

A screenshot of @layzchipz tweet that states, "still can't get over the fact that men sexualized birth.. and had women change from squatting to laying on their backs which is way more painful."
[Image Description: A screenshot of @layzchipz tweet that states, “still can’t get over the fact that men sexualized birth.. and had women change from squatting to laying on their backs which is way more painful.”] Via Twitter
If you’re a little shocked right now, you are not alone. The comments were filled with people like me who had never heard anything about this whatsoever. And if you are like me, you probably want to know more about this immediately.

So, let’s talk about it!

In Western culture, it is a common medical practice to have women give birth in various positions that have them lying on their backs while reclining slightly. These positions are called recumbent and semi-recumbent positions. There is the supine position where you are lying on your back, and the bed is angled, so you are sitting at about a 45-degree angle.

There is the lithotomy position, which has you lying back in the supine position with your thighs flexed and your legs in stirrups. There is also the lateral position where you give birth while lying on your side.

We have all seen the portrayals of supine positions in movies and television. You also may have learned about these positions in birthing classes, read about it in books about pregnancy, or have firsthand experience. Our current way of perceiving childbirth is significantly shaped by all this rhetoric and material.

This makes it hard to imagine that child birthing has ever been anything besides a woman lying on their backs on a hospital bed with their legs being held up while someone holds their hand, and a doctor keeps telling them when to push.

Due to this image that I had in my head of childbirth and the dominance of this birthing position, I always assumed that giving birth lying back was simply just the best position.

However, it turns out that may not be the case or the exact reason why women give birth this way.

It is upsetting (even possibly infuriating depending on how you see it) to know that the reason lying back during labor grew in popularity and became common practice for reasons that were not based solely on women’s experiences while birthing.

Shouldn’t birthing practices be about what is best for the health of the woman and child? Shouldn’t childbirth also reflect the wants, the needs, comfort, and safety of the person doing the birthing? I certainly think so!

Early records and depictions of labor actually illustrate women not on their backs. It depicts them standing, kneeling, and squatting. There were even birthing chairs, stools, and hammocks that women would sit in during labor. Also, birthing was typically overseen by a team of midwives as a man seeing a women’s exposed body was unconsidered indecent in many cultures. It was not until male surgeons and doctors got in followed that things started changing.

Are we surprised?

Male doctors were often called in to assist with pregnancies that were likely to involve complications or mortality. In 1598, the French surgeon Jacques Guillemeau first advocated for a reclining birthing bed supposedly for labor and for comfort. However, this bed would not have women lie back completely.

Women actually started giving birth while lying down more frequently in the 17th century. This change was largely influenced by Francois Mauriceau, a French obstetrician, and King Louis XIV.

Mauriceau believed that a horizontal position would be more “comfortable” for the woman and more “convenient” for those assisting with the birth. Mauriceau also viewed pregnancy as more of an illness rather than a natural experience, which was a common perspective shared by male doctors before and during this period of time.

The concept of pregnancy became seen as abnormal and something that needed treatment. This mentality and way of thinking contributed to a shift in birthing care and conditions from midwives to doctors in Western culture.

Mauriceau even referred to pregnancy as a “tumor of the Belly.” A woman carries their child for nine months and you want to call it a tumor of the belly, really? This analogy does not sound right to me.

In addition to Mauriceau, male doctors replacing the role of midwives, and treating pregnancy like some sort of disease, scholars also talk about King Louis XIV’s involvement in the popularity of reclining in the supine positions during birthing, which we discussed above.

Here’s where things get creepy…

King Louis XIV apparently enjoyed watching women giving birth. I highly doubt his reasons for watching childbirth were strictly for scientific purposes. King Louis claimed the birthing stool blocked his view and prevented him from being able to see the birth.  So, therefore, he insisted that women should be lying back while giving birth.

His lack of expertise in obstetrics and gynecology makes me pretty sure that he had no right or qualifications to this suggestion as his version of the supine position most likely did not provide any form of elevation like it does today. It has been reported that lying back completely during childbirth can be quite uncomfortable and difficult for many women.

Upright positions, such as standing, sitting, and squatting, during childbirth have been reported to have the advantage of gravity. These also help the baby move down the pelvis and increase the size of the pelvis.

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Despite the odd way that laying back during childbirth came to be popular, it does not mean that laying back during pregnancy is wrong or should be judged. The recumbent positions are preferred and used by doctors and caregivers because it still remains convenient for doctors to monitor your baby during labor.

I, myself, had just never realized the origins of the reclining birthing or encountered the benefits of other birthing positions.

When it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, there are many factors to consider. This can include your location, the epidural, your body, and the caregiver. Ultimately, pregnancy is a personal journey. Those giving birth have the right to decide what is best, comfortable, and healthy for their own experience.

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Let’s reclaim the Santa Claus story for our children this year – the real one

“Is Santa Claus real?” While most kids bring up this question at least once in their lives, parents grapple with a more daunting task: should they perpetuate the story of Santa, the patron of Christmas, for their children? Well, Santa and the tooth fairy… The debate is profound: should you instill in your children some magical stories about quirky, enchanting creatures or should you adopt a more pragmatic approach and talk about reality?

Many parents, especially those who believe in a more secular upbringing, denounce the Santa story on the basis that it involves lying to your children. You build an illusion, and you feed it and feed it only till the external forces of realism shatter it. Eventually, when they learn the truth, they realize that they have been lied to. This essentially undermines the element of trust in their relationship with their parents – it reinforces the idea that if “my parents lied to me about this, they probably lied about other things too.”

Other arguments against Santa also include the fact that it weakens critical thinking skills only to reinforce a façade. Children ask bright questions such as “How does Santa get to so many houses in one night?” and “How are there so many Santas at the mall?” Whereas, adults deflect these questions with fabrications, further distorting their sense of reality.

[Image Description: Santa Claus and his reindeers.] via 123 Dentist
The entire premise against Santa is based on his fictitious nature. But what if I told you this: the first time you learned the truth about Santa was that he is not real… now, you’ll learn that he is very much rooted in history.

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a 4th-century bishop, St Nicholas. Nope, he did not live up in the North Pole. He was a dweller of a small Roman town, Myra (modern-day Turkey). The charitable bishop acquired a reputation of philanthropy and was memorialized in tradition as such. He reached the shores of the New World with the Dutch community arriving in New Amsterdam (now New York). Yet, till the 18th century, he was very much still known as St. Nicholas.

[Image Description: Full-length icon of Saint Nicholas by Jaroslav Čermák, showing him with a halo, dressed in clerical garb, and holding a book of the scriptures in his left hand while making the hand gesture for the sign of the cross with his right.] via Wikipedia
So how did St Nicholas become Santa Claus?

The etymology evolved from St Nicholas’ Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, and adapted to an American (read New York) accent as Santa Claus. Of course, St Nicholas may not have been anything like the caricaturish plump and jolly, red-cheeked and white-bearded man who flies from the North Pole on a sled led by flying reindeers.

In fact, he received his ultimate makeover by political cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1823. Nast, inspired by Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, etched the picture of a grandfatherly man, wearing spectacles and a red coat with white fur collars and cuffs, white-fur-cuffed red trousers, red hat with white fur, and black leather belt and boots and carrying a bag full of gifts for children. This reinvented image was transported back to Europe in reverse migration.

[Image Description: Thomas Nast’s depiction of Santa Claus.] via Britannica.
However, one iota of ingenuity to this image was that he was actually the harbinger of gifts! The commercialized image of Santa today as the man running the most efficient supply chain from his factory in the North Pole to the chimneys of all the homes of kids in the world is a far cry from the truth. It is important to realize that the image we concocted today of Santa flies in the face of St Nicholas’ own attitude.

If I may say so, Santa was actually quite the socialist. Yes, he helped children – but more so he was the protector of orphans, prisoners, and sailors – in other words, somewhat marginalized people.

Folklore narrated that St Nicholas gave away all of his inherited wealth and wandered through the countryside helping the poor and the sick. A notable story from his life reveals that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery and prostitution, by delivering three bags of gold to their father that could be used as their dowries. In fact, such was his popularity that despite the period of Protestant Reformation, his reputation remained intact.

Hence, to use him as an excuse to splurge may be doing a bit of a disservice to his legacy. A recent post on a mommy page, Scary Mommy, stated this: “Just a friendly reminder that “Santa Claus” doesn’t have the same budget in every household. It’s thoughtful, kind, and caring to others if you are mindful about what “Santa” brings your kids. That way the kids who didn’t receive holiday presents don’t feel heartbroken when your kid brags about their iPad, Air Pods, and new gaming console.”

Of course, modern psychology has taught us the dangers of using the reward-punishment paradigm to discipline children. But especially in the context of this year, where thanks to the pandemic, the rampant unemployment, and the faltering economy have already caused financial damage in many households, the idea of Santa as the bearer of expensive presents may need to be revamped a tad bit.

Perhaps the original story of St Nicholas is the more appropriate story to narrate to our children this year. Perhaps the lesson we need to teach and preach is that of charity, not materialism. Maybe, for the second time in our lives, we should forget everything we already know about him. And relearn a new truth.

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Surviving the Holidays History

I’m about to tell you when and where the most absurd Christmas traditions originated

Feeling festive and up for more Christmas spirit? Check out our holiday series.

It’s officially Christmas season, ladies, so you know what that means, it’s time for all things holiday-themed. Whatever you celebrate, chances are you have some traditions, and I’m about to tell y’all all about the Christmas traditions that you’ve either indulged in yourself, heard of before, or seriously said to yourself: “wtf.”

Ready to find out when and where they originated?

Christmas trees

[Snow falling on top of a lit up tree in front of a house] Via Giphy.
Ah yes, the time of Christmas, where we quite literally bring an actual tree into our homes. Cute, right? Christmas trees are believed to have started with the use of evergreen trees decorating the home year-round to ward off evil spirits. Germany is actually credited with bringing the conventional ideas of trees into our home. It was believed that Martin Luther, the 16th-century protestant reformer, added lights to a tree before a sermon just because he wanted to, and was so taken by the look, he recreated the scene in his own home, just to, ya know, spice up their life. Thanks, Martin Luther.


[Little boy holding a present then throwing it near the Christmas tree] Via Giphy.
Presents are said to date back to Roman times, in which those who were poor and struggled during cold winter months, would go from house to house to beg for gifts from the gentry due to severe desperation and fear of death and illness in their own families. It then became customary for gifts to be exchanged through social classes as a religious ceremony during winter, and then in the 1800s, was brought to America where we, of course, capitalized it.

Gingerbread houses

[Parks and Rec episode in which Rob smashes his gingerbread house] Via Giphy.

Cookies and milk

[Cookie monster eating cookies from people’s hands] Via Giphy.
Back in the ole’ Great Depression in the 1930s, a movement began where parents wanted to teach their kids about charity during trying times, so it became common for upper-class families, who could actually afford pleasantries during this time, to bake cookies for Santa for him to take.

Candy canes

[Mean girls quote: “So are you gonna send any candy canes?”] Via Giphy.
In the 1960s, a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany started handing out sugar sticks that would soon be known as the candy cane to keep the boys from being so fidgety. Just because kids are so. Fucking. Loud. 

Christmas lights

[House lights up covered in snow] Via Giphy.
Back to the pagan days. Before the winter solstice, when the days got shorter and the sun started leaving so early in the day, people wanted to recreate the sun in any capacity they could, thus the birth of lights decorating the household during the winter months.

Advent calendars

[Mr. Bean crossing off a December calendar] Via Giphy.
The first advent calendar was invented for a little kid in Germany in the early 20th century, Gerhard Lang, by his mother. It actually resembled pretty much exactly what the advent calendar looks like today. Lang would then go on to capitalize off of the advent calendar and bring them to the world.

Christmas cards

[Buddy the Elf saying “you should be on a Christmas card”] Via Giphy.
Christmas cards were said to have started in the late 1600s by noblemen to add a little personal touch when their friends and families were far away. Many couldn’t afford them so it wasn’t until the 1800s when they became associated with Christmas and were spread publicly.

Christmas carols 

[Gremlins sing Christmas carols] Via Giphy.
No shocker here, but carols, similar to the beginning of gift-giving, started in pagan times. In which carols were actually liturgical songs in church.


[Nutcrackers’ jaw drops] Via Giphy.
Poinsettias are native to an area of Southern Mexico, where it is rumored that a young girl, by the name of Pepita, was sad that she didn’t have a gift to give Baby Jesus, so she picked a poinsettia to leave to him, and there began the association with poinsettias at Christmas. 

Elf on the shelf

[Elf on the shelf brings hand to it’s mouth] Via Giphy.
The elf on the shelf is pretty new, starting in 2004 by a stay at home mom in Georgia because she had two antsy kids at Christmas. She just started moving the elf around the house, the kids loved it, completely took to it, and then it soon became their brainchild.

There ya go, folks. Whether or not you like the holiday season, you’ve probably wondered about at least one of these Christmas traditions. I know I have, especially because I have an absolute disdain for elf on the shelf. It’s literally the embodiment of a stalker, you can’t tell me that it’s cute, I won’t and will never accept it. I guess I can blame it on a bunch of kids, because they were the ones who brought all of these Christmas traditions upon us.

Whether or not that’s a good thing, you can decide for yourself.

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History It Happened Once

How was Christmas celebrated during the last global pandemic, the Spanish Flu?

Read more of our holiday stories here!

Christmas this year is going to be… interesting. We know the risk of public gatherings, but 8 months at home have definitely tested our own strengths. What’s fascinating to realize is that this isn’t the first time we’ve had Christmas plans go awry because of a global pandemic. This isn’t our first time experiencing a Christmas quarantine, and it may not be our last.

The current restrictions around Thanksgiving and Christmas are eerily similar to the restrictions placed in 1918 to curb the spread of the Spanish Flu or the H1N1influenza. 1918 was a tough year, because of the war and the pandemic. It was slightly easier to impose restrictions because it was seen as patriotic – people were helping the soldiers, in their own way.

In the earlier months, people were more willing to quarantine because it was tied to the war effort. It was a way for citizens to show their support to the troops. However, once the armistice was called on November 11, it became much more difficult to control the crowds. People rushed to the streets to celebrate. Suddenly, the narrative of ‘patriotism’ didn’t apply. We’ve seen firsthand accounts of how a pandemic has failed to unify the people; it wasn’t as successful then, either. 

What made matters worse was that the celebrations were premature – restrictions were lifted in certain counties in Wisconsin on December 20, when it seemed like influenza cases were coming down. However, cases began to rise after the New Year, proving that the lockdown did have a dampening effect, but the epidemic was not over yet. Cases climbed up, and many died, as people returned to normal social habits. 

In other parts of the country, trends seemed similar to what we see today – for example, cases rose after Thanksgiving in Dallas, San Francisco, and Seattle, among other places. Health officials in Nebraska announced a quarantine on Christmas Eve, and over a thousand homes in Omaha were ‘placarded’- their occupants were not allowed to leave the house for at least 4 days after the fever subsided. Christmas parties and assemblies were canceled, yet America still entered the third wave of H1N1 influenza by January, killing thousands more over the winter and the spring.

In Scotland, cases seemed to fall around mid-December in some places. This lead to parts of the country opening up in time for Christmas, removing the need for a ‘Christmas quarantine’. Churches and shops welcomed those looking to celebrate the end of the war and what seemed like the end of the pandemic as well. It was difficult to continue quarantining, partially because people wished to celebrate the end of the war. However, we know from history that loosening restrictions prematurely didn’t end well. 

H1N1 influenza took over 40 million lives worldwide by the time it subsided in 1919. A little over 100 years later, COVID-19 has taken a million lives so far, but we’re far from the finish line. 

We’ve seen this scenario play out before. This time, we’re not seeing a drop in numbers, but cases consistently climbing every day. Social isolation, particularly during the holidays, is extremely difficult. However, it’s necessary. These times are extraordinary, but we have seen them before. We have documentation of Christmas time during the last pandemic, and it did not end well.

We need to learn from history, take stock of what we know, and stay home. COVID-19 will force us all to accept some new holiday traditions, but it’s one that is temporary. It’s never too late to stay at home, stop the spread, and flatten the curve. We have first-hand accounts of the holidays acting as superspreader events. Let’s not make the same mistake again. 

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History Art History

I hadn’t fully realized how racist art history could be until I saw this Baroque painting

Before I dive into the problematic tales of my final-year high school dance, I should probably address a few of your burning questions. What on earth is Baroque and why should I care about it?

Baroque is a style of art, music, architecture, and dance that gained huge popularity in 17th century Europe. It originated in Italy and it’s characterized by rich colors, grandeur, and intricate details. Much like other styles of art, Baroque has a colonial history that overlooks diverse depictions of black people living in this era. For the most part, it’s a whitewashed style of art, however, it has taken on a new life in the last century.

Today, the term ‘African Baroque’ refers to colorful jewelry, garments and ornaments made with traditional African textiles. It marries the colorful grandeur of Baroque art with the craftsmanship and design choices of African art.

[Image description: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Parc de Montjuïc, Barcelona, Spain. An example of Baroque architecture.] via Unsplash
[Image description: Man staring at Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Parc de Montjuïc, Barcelona, Spain. An example of Baroque architecture.] via Unsplash
Nevertheless, it’s still questionable to try and link African identity to Baroque art and my high school dance was the perfect example. Back in 2014, the theme for my final-year high school dance was “African Baroque.” Bear in mind that this event is usually a fun and celebratory moment in most students’ lives and a light-hearted ‘fairy-tale’ theme would have sufficed. At the time, I had no idea what Baroque was and neither did any of my peers. The theme didn’t sit well with any of us, but the teachers had the final say and we just had to roll with it.

On the night of the dance, the table décor consisted of Baroque-style décor, African textile prints, flowers, a few other ‘African-style’ ornaments and afro combs. Yes, you did read that correctly. We did have afro combs as table decorations and for some reason the organizers thought this was a good idea. For context, I went to a wealthy private school in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, South Africa. In retrospect, I believe the whole event was a desperate attempt to promote diversity and Black culture at a predominantly white school and it missed the mark. Choosing to marry African themes with Baroque art was an arguably racist decision. And I’m here to tell you why.

In the past, depictions of African people in Baroque art were few and far between. It took ages for me to hunt down a Baroque painting on the internet that depicts a black person as the main focus. In light of this tiring research experience, I’m not going to pretend that slapping the word ‘African’ in front of ‘Baroque’ makes a meaningful difference. It’s still a deeply colonial art form.

[Image description: A Baroque-style painting by Annibale Carracci. It portrays an African woman wearing a red coral necklace, pearl earrings, and a black long-sleeve dress with a white lace collar.] Via Wikimedia Commons
[Image description: A Baroque-style painting by Annibale Carracci. It portrays an African slave woman wearing a red coral necklace, pearl earrings, and a black long-sleeve dress with a white lace collar.] Via Wikimedia Commons
Nevertheless, after a few hours of solid internet research, I stumbled upon a rare Baroque portrait painted around 1585 by Italian artist Annibale Carracci. He’s considered one of the forefathers of the Baroque style of artwork and one of the most prolific painters of his generation. His painting portrays an elegantly dressed African slave woman wearing a red coral necklace, pearl earrings, and a black long-sleeve dress with a white lace collar. The identity of the woman is yet to be discovered, but her clothing reveals that she’s a product of modernity and colonial Europe.

[Image description: 'Portrait of an African man' painting by Jan Mostaert (circa 1525-1530). The man is wearing loose long-sleeve garment the early renaissance era. via Wikimedia Commons
[Image description: ‘Portrait of an African man’ painting by Jan Mostaert (circa 1525-1530). The man is wearing loose long-sleeve garment from the early Renaissance era. via Wikimedia Commons
Similarly, Dutch painter Jan Jansz Mostaert’s Portrait of an African Man (circa 1525-1530) illustrates the presence of Black bodies within European life and the Baroque art scene. It’s a true rarity as it’s one of the only known portraits of a black individual from this period who wasn’t a slave. Due to the man’s attire, art historians believe the painting depicts a black nobleman who worked at a courthouse. Mostaert paid attention to detail and aimed to create detailed, realistic facial features, portraying the gentleman in an honored position, rather than a servant’s role.

Having a portrait taken was an exclusive practice usually reserved for wealthy white nobility or religious leaders. This means the sheer existence of this painting is groundbreaking as it depicts an upper-class black man from this era.

Unfortunately, not all depictions of black Africans in Baroque have the same energy as Mostaert’s. A 1688 Baroque painting by Benedetto Gennari depicts the notorious libertine Hortense Mancini (Duchesse de Mazarin) as Diana the Huntress.

Image description: Hortense Mancini as Diana the Huntress by Benedetto Gennari.] via
Image description: Hortense Mancini as Diana the Huntress by Benedetto Gennari.] via

Diana is the goddess of the hunt and wild animals in ancient Roman religion, the equivalent to the Greek Artemis. In the painting, Mancini is surrounded by Black slave children wearing collars and intermingling with her pet dogs. It’s a horrific depiction that explicitly equates Black children to animals.

To make matters worse, there are plenty of other Renaissance paintings that adopt this same tone, making it difficult to reference this body of work without acknowledging its dark truths.

Given the Baroque art movement’s problematic and racist history, the concept of ‘African Baroque’ is rather ironic. It certainly doesn’t seem fitting for a high school dance theme, even if it’s been adapted to incorporate modern African art.

Ultimately, we cannot overlook the entire historical context of any forms of art while paying tribute to them in the 21st century. Let’s be better.

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History Lost in History Historical Badasses

N’Nonmiton: Meet the real Dora Milaje, the most feared women in history

Imagine you’re a French colonizer, preparing for war as a horde of Dahomean fighters approach. You raise your weapon, and as the group comes closer, you see that a lot of them are…. women. You hesitate. At this point, you have two options:

  1. Don’t fire because, you know, they’re women.
  2. Keep fighting anyways.

Here’s a hint: no matter which option you choose, you’re probably going to get your derrière handed to you. 

Many men faced that situation on the battlefield of the Franco-Dahomean war as they realized their enemy combatants were women: The N’Nonmiton warriors. Their hesitancy to fire on the women cost many their lives. But make no mistake: just because these fighters were women did not make them any less deadly. Not at all.

I remember watching Black Panther in theaters and being in awe of the sheer beauty of African culture being portrayed in such a positive light. But one of the standouts for me was definitely General Okoye and her wig-snatching badassery, not to mention the fierceness of the Dora Milaje in general.


Sis did not come to play AT ALL.

As it turns out, these fictional badasses were partly inspired by real-life legends: the N’Nonmiton.

More commonly known as the Dahomey Amazons (a term coined by foreign observers after noting the women’s strength and tenacity), the group was an all-female elite warrior unit from the Kingdom of Dahomey; what is today known as The Republic of Benin.

So how did this fierce team of warriors come about, you ask?

There are a few theories about that, but the most common speculation is that the N’Nonmiton initially started as the king’s bodyguards. Some of the women were recruited from the gbeto, elephant hunters. Others were selected from the third-rank of his ahosi, the wives. Either way, considering that only women were allowed in the palace after dark, they naturally became the prime candidates for protectors.

As Dahomey became an increasingly militarized kingdom, the role of the N’Nomiton expanded accordingly. But this wasn’t your average militarized combat unit. They were “for all intents and purposes, highly trained, killing machines.”

A group of women and men, the N'Nonmiton/Dahomey Amazons, in their ceremonial clothing, holding weapons
[A group of women and men, the N’Nonmiton/Dahomey Amazons, in their ceremonial clothing, holding weapons], via Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures
Think Physical Education was hard? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Training for these warriors was intense: wrestling, target practice, simulation attacks, you name it. The process for the N’Nomiton also put heavy emphasis on discipline and mercilessness. As part of the insensitivity training, the women were instructed to throw captured prisoners over a wall to their deaths. The women were also trained to withstand a lot of pain, with drills that included scaling thorned walls.

But being an elite warrior had its perks— they had access to prized goods like alcohol and tobacco. Also, since they were technically married to the king, they had a semi-sacred status, and could not be touched by any man. In fact, whenever they left the palace, each warrior had a slave girl walk in front of them and ring a bell, alerting anyone nearby to keep their distance and avert their eyes.


As the French began making their way into kingdoms, their colonization interfered with the Dahomean activity, and surprise surprise, they were not here for it.

Cue the Franco-Dahomean Wars.

The N’Nonmiton were a key part of the battles, and in addition to them being formidable foes, the French hesitancy to attack women made it even easier to defeat them. In fact, legend has it that the reason for the lack of first-person narratives from the French is that any man who met them rarely lived to tell the tale. Eventually though, even the might of these female warriors fell under the French, who had far superior weapons. That being said, the women were the last to surrender. And there are claims that they allowed themselves to be taken as wives by some of the French, then slit the men’s throats while they were sleeping. You know, just your average housewife duties.

The name N’Nonmiton or “Mino” refers to “our mothers” in Fon, the Dahomean language. True to name, these women defended their kingdom with a fierce maternal instinct (with just a sprinkle of terrifying shenanigans). Although they are commonly referred to as “Amazons”,  they actually had different names based on their role within the army. There were huntresses (gbeto), riflewomen (gulohento), reapers (nyekpholento), archers (gohento), and gunners (agbalya).

So there you have it: your typical multi-functional, if-you-come-across-them-on-the-battlefield-good-luck, extremely deadly, unit rolled up into a killing machine.

Seeing the Dora Milaje on-screen, being fierce and beautiful and intelligent Black women was so refreshing, so to know that these fictional fighters drew inspiration from real-life (albeit incredibly ruthless) warriors, is an incredible piece of forgotten history.

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History Ancient Practices

The way ancient cultures interacted with the moon shows its true beauty

The moon enamors me. I always know when the full moon is, so I am ready to gaze at all its glory and beauty. I even plan on giving my pets moon-related names. Possibly even second names for my children one day. It is fair to say, I may be a little obsessed. 

The mystery of the moon has been somewhat demystified since the moon landing in 1969 and the current readily-available scientific knowledge. However, you can truly learn to appreciate the value and mysticism of the moon by the ways that ancient cultures have interacted with her throughout history.


Many ancient civilizations attributed feminine qualities to the moon and thus considered it a goddess.

In Greek mythology, Selene was the Titan goddess of the moon who was considered the personification of the moon itself. She drove her moon chariot across the sky providing the night with light. Another Greek goddess later assimilated with Selene and the moon was Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, wilderness, and chastity who was the twin sister of Apollo, the god of the sun, music, prophecy, archery, and healing. 

Statue of Greek goddess Selene.
[Image Description: Statue of Greek goddess Selene.] Via Wikiwand
Coyolxauhqui was the moon goddess in Aztec mythology. When her mother became mysteriously impregnated by a crown of feathers that fell in her lap, Coyolxauhqui felt her family had been dishonored and vowed to kill her mother. However, the child Huitzilopochtli sprang from his mother’s womb as a fully-grown and fully-armored adult. He killed Coyolxauhqui with his weapon which was a ray of the sun, cut off her head, and flung it into the sky where it became the moon. This gruesome tale depicts the daily victory of the sun over the moon.

Statue of Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui.
[Image Description: Statue of Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui.] Via Pinterest
The Incan moon goddess was known as Mama Quilla. The Incas feared lunar eclipses because they believed the shadow on the moon was an animal attempting to attack Mama Quilla. So they would try to scare away the animal by throwing weapons, making loud noises and gestures. The Incas believed if the animal succeeded in swallowing the moon, the world would be left in darkness. 

Golden ornament of Inca goddess Mama Quilla.
[Image Description: Golden ornament of Inca goddess Mama Quilla.] Via Pinterest
Other than the folklores surrounding the moon, the satellite was used to keep lunar calendars to tell the passage of time. The earliest lunar calendar came from the Sumerians. The ancient Sumerian calendar divided a year into 12 lunar months of 29 or 30 days. Each month began with the sighting of a new moon. To keep the lunar year synchronized with the solar years, an extra intercalary month was added every three years or so, similar to a leap year. 

Another remarkable use for the moon was to keep track of and govern farming practices. Different farming chores were performed during different moon phases as it was believed that the moon governs moisture. Many livestock farmers used the full moon to move their animals from one pasture to another, change feed, or change hay cuttings, as it was believed that changes were positive during a full moon. 

Native Americans name the different full moons every month according to their seasonal changes and farming practices. The February full moon was labeled the Snow Moon due to the heavy snowfall during the month. Hunting became difficult and so some Native American Tribes call it the Hunger Moon. In March, the earth becomes soft enough for the earthworms to reappear thus inviting the birds of spring. Therefore, the full moon in March is called the Full Worm Moon. June’s full moon is known as the Full Strawberry Moon because the Algonquin tribes knew it as a sign to gather ripening fruit.

Today, the moon is more often just a big ball in our skies that we admire for its radiance. We may think that we have conquered the moon, know every detail there is to know about it, and must now move onto the next mysterious celestial body. I think the ancients had it right to worship the moon; we sometimes forget to recognize the wonders that are known and right in front of us. If we could, for a moment, appreciate how important and vital it was for us at one time in history. Only then can we truly understand how magnificent it continues to be. 

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History History of Fashion Fashion

Fashion on Ration: the revolutionary fashion trends started by World War Two

Do you remember the affluent aesthetic of the Roaring twenties in the Great Gatsby? Do you remember the opulent sequined dresses, the fur pieces, ruffled skirts, and the overdose of glitter? Recall Daisy Buchanan with her iconic headpieces and her flapper-esque bob hair cut? Well, it was all one decade away from being irrevocably changed.

The age of the Second World War (1939-1945) marked a turning point in fashion consciousness around the world. Though it may be difficult to imagine today, wartime dictated all other aspects of life, including fashion. That is to say, if you were alive then, men would be enlisted in the army and women would be deployed as nurses or factory workers (yes, the gender roles were pretty rigid at the time). There was simply no escaping the all-encompassing nature of war. But how did this monumental moment in history manifest into new fashion collections?

Battle of the Fabrics

[Image Description: A couple at an amusement park in the early 1940s.] via FIT, NY, Pinterest
Ever wonder how women transitioned from frilly Victorian gowns to knee-length skirts? Well, fashion is a product of its time and socio-political values. While fabric coverage was gradually minimized since the 1920s, it was shortages during World War Two which cemented “revealing” clothing as the norm. 

All resources and raw materials around the world, in most countries, were concentrated at battlefields. In fact, most countries at war had introduced rationing. This means that if you wanted to go shopping in wartime Britain, you had to make do with the 33 coupons of clothing a year which were allocated to each person.

There was also a law in place which specified the amount of fabric that could be used to create a specific piece of clothing. That meant no extra pleats, drapes, or folds; all trends which we may take for granted today. Yet, fashion houses used the scarcity as an impetus to create simpler and leaner silhouettes. So it was actually World War Two that ushered fashion into a classical form, featuring pencil skirts, button-down dresses, and so on.  

Simplicity, Practicality, and Androgyny          

[Image Description: Women guards, placed on duty at the Naval Ordnance Plant, operated by the Hudson Motor Car Company in Detroit, Mich. At present the girls are unarmed, serving only as escorts for persons entering the plant, but are using weapons on the target range in preparation.] via The Atlantic
The war also saw the emergence of a new woman. Previously confined to their homes, women were now included in the workforce. The look of the wartime woman had to be cast in terms of simplicity and practicality. Utilitarian clothing was the need of the hour. And utility found itself in the form of pants, blazers, and jumpsuits. These forms also began to resemble what was then seen as a more masculine aesthetic. At a time where nationalist sentiments were on high, there was a more conscious effort to dress in a more gender-fluid manner. This is also where the shoulder pads and straight collars (which are all the rage today) came around! The roots for androgynous clothing were thus struck.


Parisian fashion and the Nazis

In the years leading up to the war, Paris had established itself as the fashion capital of the world. However, with the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940, many great fashion designers faced two choices: flee the city, or surrender to the Nazis. Names which are mammoth in the fashion industry today were mired in controversy then. Hugo Boss, for instance, was responsible for making the Nazi uniforms. Yes, you read that right. The fearful and emblematic uniform, which wreaked much havoc in the world was being produced in Boss factories. Coco Chanel, too, came under fire for her Nazi allegiances. Due to the highly controversial nature of the fashion scene in Paris, New York stepped us the fashion leader of the world. 

Christian Dior’s New Look: an anti-feminist move? 

[Image description: Exhibit of the statement ensembles from Dior’s 1947 collection, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.] via Google Arts and Culture
After the end of the war in 1945, Christian Dior wanted to reinstate Paris as the fashion capital once again. As Paris had reclaimed its sovereignty, Dior also decided women needed a new look.  His debut haute couture collection that was launched in February 1947 was instantly branded as the New Look. His collection boasted sloping shoulders, pinched waistlines, and A-line skirts. Fabric was used in excess, the hats were animated and the gowns featured full volume. The wartime aesthetic was instantly dismissed. It was a kind of rebellion against the restrictions of wartime. It was a collection that supposedly symbolized democracy.

But did it truly? Wartime restrictions had ironically brought about a certain kind of independence for women. They were no longer imprisoned by corsets and impractical voluminous gowns.  During the war, the gender binary was slowly loosening up. Social gender roles were becoming more fluid. In fact, the practicality and convenience of clothing which we enjoy today finds its roots during wartime fashion. Dior’s attempt to bring back an overtly feminine aesthetic under the guise of nostalgia for the pre-war years could be seen as a regressive move in fashion history. The excessive padding around the hips for an antebellum appeal could indeed be one of the grossest forms of cultural appropriation.

After all, this is what Coco Chanel had to say about his collection: “Dior doesn’t dress women, he upholsters them.” And rightly so, Dior’s collection just became another instance of men telling women what to wear. 

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History Historical Badasses

Madam C.J. Walker was the first Black female millionaire

Earlier this year, a mini-series on Netflix was released called Self MadeThe mini-series is inspired by the life of the first self-made Black female millionaire Madam C.J. Walker. The life and work of Madam C.J. Walker is an important story to tell because it celebrates the success of a Black woman and the beauty of Black hair.   

A few months ago, Kat Graham from The Vampire Diaries did a morning routine video on Vogue’s YouTube channel called “Kat Graham’s Natural Hair Beauty Routine.” During the video, she explained to her viewers that this is the first time that she has been completely without additional assistance when taking care of her hair. While Graham was talking about a hair care product that she was introduced to that really helped her hair throughout quarantine, she started crying and getting emotional.

Watching the video made me reflect on my own experiences with my hair as a Black woman. It also made me reflect on how having Black hair is an emotional, personal, and empowering journey. Madam C.J. Walker is a woman who truly understood the emotional and empowering experience of having black hair. And ultimately, she was able to use her experience to become a successful entrepreneur and help other Black women. 

Before she was known as Madam C.J. Walker she was born as Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, on a Louisiana plantation. Her parents were both enslaved before the Civil War ended and later became sharecroppers. At the age of seven, her parents passed away.

After their deaths, she moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi with her sister and worked picking cotton. At the age of 14, she got married to escape her abusive brother-in-law and had her daughter A’Lelia Walker at 18 years of age. Two years after giving birth to her daughter, Walker’s first husband died. After his death, she and her daughter moved to St. Louis, to work for $1.50 a day at a barbershop owned by her four brothers. In St. Louis, she joined the St. Paul A.M.E. Church and the National Association of Colored Women. She also got married to her second husband, but the couple eventually divorced.

A newspaper Ad for Madam CJ Walker's for Wonderful Hair Grower product that is titled "Is Your Hair Short?" On right is a picture of her and on the left there is an article promoting the product.
[Image Description: A newspaper Ad for Madam CJ Walker’s for Wonderful Hair Grower product that is titled “Is Your Hair Short?” On right is a picture of her and on the left there is an article promoting the product.]  Image Source
Walker’s hair care journey began in the 1890s and early 1900s. She was struggling financially and developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose her hair. In order to work on growing her hair back, she sought advice from her brothers and experimented with home remedies. She also tried hair products by Annie Malone, another prosperous Black hair-care entrepreneur. After using Annie Malone products, she became a commission agent and moved to Denver in 1905.

In Denver, she met her third husband, Charles J. Walker. Soon after meeting her husband, she began her brand. Her husband encouraged her to use the name “Madam C.J. Walker” so that her brand name would be more recognizable. She began traveling throughout the South and Southeast for almost two years selling and promoting her “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, which was a scalp conditioning and healing ointment.

By 1910, she was able to settle down in Indianapolis where she built a factory, a hair salon, a nail salon, and a hair care training school. Throughout her life, she used her own personal experience of losing and regrowing her hair to build a prosperous Black business.  Today, she is known not only as the first Black self-made female millionaire, but also as a Black woman who supported her community as a pioneer of hair care for Black women.

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History Historical Badasses

Ada Lovelace: the mathematical genius who pioneered computer programming in the 1800s

More times than I can count, women have been erased from the intricate details of human history. Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852), the visionary behind computer programming, is no exception. Her work had an unimaginable impact on society and technology. It would be an absolute shame to leave Lovelace’s story untold.

Augusta Ada Byron, later known as Ada Lovelace, was born in 1815 in London. Her parents were polar opposites, meaning childhood was overshadowed by deep tensions between her mother and father. On the one hand, we have Lord Byron, Ada’s pleasure-seeking father. The infamous poet was known for his moody temperament and multiple mistresses. To make matters worse, he had a daughter from a previous marriage whom he refused to acknowledge as his own. In a nutshell, Lord Byron was Ada’s deadbeat dad.

[Image description: oil painting portrait of 7-year-old Ada Lovelace.] via Wiki Commons
[Image description: oil painting portrait of 7-year-old Ada Lovelace.] via Wiki Commons

On the other hand, Ada’s hard-working mother, Anna Isabella Milbanke (Lady Byron), was a highly educated and religious woman. She committed her life to philosophy, mathematics, and God. When Ada was only a few weeks old, her father fled to Greece, leaving the family for good. From that point onwards, it was up to her mother to set Ada up for success. Lady Byron devised an intensive home-schooling program for Ada with the best tutors in the area. She believed that if her daughter mastered science and mathematics, she would never end up like her hedonistic father.

Meeting Charles Babbage

Ada was one of the most talented mathematicians of her time. By 17-years-old she’d met Charles Babbage (1791- 1871), a renowned academic and mathematician. He eventually became her mentor and helped her to enroll in an advanced mathematics program at the University of London. This was the start of a magical friendship that fostered Ada’s ever-growing passion for expanding her mind.

In 1843, Lovelace took on a ground-breaking project for her mentor. At the time, Ada had married William King, the Earl of Lovelace. He required his wife to accompany him during various aristocratic duties, but he still encouraged Ada to pursue her career with passion and vigor. This was an unprecedented level of support from any Victorian era husband – and we love to see it.

Babbage had written an academic article about the Analytical Engine. In his article, he theorized the possibility of the world’s first general-purpose computer. Unfortunately, the computer was never fully built due to a lack of funding. But under these circumstances, Ada was still responsible for translating Babbage’s article from French to English (yes, of course, we’re dealing with a bilingual queen). During the process of translation, she expanded on Babbage’s ideas, making them far more complex, creative and promising.

[Image description: part of the Analytical Engine made of wood and metal.] via Wikimedia Commons
[Image description: Analytical Engine parts made of wood and metal.] via Wikimedia Commons
Although Lady Bryon did everything in her power to mold her daughter into a logical-thinking mathematician, Ada was still super creative. Out-of-the-box thinking was one of her most valuable traits – much like her father. It helped Ada to imagine the Analytical Engine processing letters and symbols through codes. In other terms, computer programming. That same year, 1843, Ada went on to write the first complex computer program in the history of technology.

The legacy of Ada Lovelace

Babbage never fully built the Analytical Engine. Nevertheless, it was the springboard for some trailblazing tech discoveries. With her mentor’s encouragement, Ada published her version of Babbage’s Analytical Engine theory. Recognition wasn’t her main concern, so she published the article using her initials, ‘AAL’.  The frustrating part is that the scientific community left her ideas untouched for over 100 years. Ada died of uterine cancer in 1852 and for a long time her ideas died with her.

It was only in 1950 that Baron Bowden (1910 -1989), an English scientist, republished Lovelace’s work. This was the starting point of a tech revolution. In 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense named their newly developed computer language after Lovelace and called it “Ada”. As the code spread among more computer programmers and mathematicians, it became highly influential in the development of code for mobile phone networks, air traffic control, and satellites.

Lovelace’s legacy is so far-reaching that Zoe Philpott was inspired to create a one-women educational play about her in 2017. Philpott is an award-winning storyteller, tech guru and educator from London. Her theatrical production, Ada.Ada.Ada., shares Lovelace’s stories with new audiences in London every month. Philpott performs the entire show wearing a mechanical dress fitted with LED lights. The dress symbolizes Lovelace’s role in the history of computer programming and tech.

I hope that stories like Ada Lovelace’s get told more often as we progress into a future defined by powerful women. However, despite historical icons like her, women are still a minority in the world of tech. It’s for this reason and many more that I’m honored to share her story. I encourage young women from all walks of life to follow in her footsteps.

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Celebrating Maria Tallchief: the first (Native) American prima ballerina

The audience goes wild. The city center is alive with thunderous claps and boisterous cheers; it sounds like the stadium after a football game. But it is no quarterback that emerges into the spotlight. No, it’s a Firebird, a creature of flame and light, a piece of poetry in motion. It is Maria Tallchief.

Last weekend I was surfing the internet, as one does when a stunning Google Doodle caught my eye. It turned out the masterpiece was the work of three Indigenous artists, Lydia Cheshewalla, Chris Pappan, and Yatika Fields. They had collaborated to honor Maria Tallchief, the first Native American prima ballerina.

I’m a simple person: I see ballet, and I click. And Tallchief’s story is certainly worth learning.

Born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief on January 24, 1925, she was raised on the Osage Indian Reservation. When she was three, she attended her first ballet class and started taking weekly lessons with her sister Marjorie. Before long, the instructor put her on pointe, and her mother thought the instructor was making stars out of her daughters (spoiler alert—she was not). Betty Marie also had perfect pitch, so her mother believed she was destined to be a pianist.

In 1933, her mother, Ruth Porter, grew tired of Oklahoma, and the family moved to Los Angeles. On the drive down, they stopped for gas, where an anonymous man decided their fate; Ruth asked the store attendant if he knew any good schools in the area, and he replied that there was one right in town: Ernest Belcher’s. So that’s where the family settled—a small town where they had just stopped for gas.

Under Belcher’s scrutiny, it became clear that their past instructor’s methods were, ahem, unhelpful. With her faulty techniques, it was a miracle that they hadn’t been injured.

When Betty Marie was 12, the girls started with a new teacher; the legendary Bronislava Nijinska. Tallchief credits Nijinska with putting her on the path to her destiny; she initially thought she was going to be a concert pianist, but Madame Nijinska’s devotion to ballet showed her what she wanted to do with her life.

When Betty Marie turned 17, she did the thing—she moved to New York to pursue her ballet dreams. She joined the Ballet Russe as a corps member and danced with the touring troupe. There, her superiors suggested that she Russianize her last name, and change it to Tallchieva. Tallchief refused, remaining proud of her Indigenous heritage. She did, however, agree to change her first name to Maria.

In 1944, the company took on a project with George Balanchine for a new musical. Balanchine caught Maria’s eye; a pianist herself, Tallchief was intrigued by his unique musicality. As time went on, they became friends, and Balanchine began choreographing for the Ballet Ruse, casting Maria in several important roles. didn’t think much of it, focusing instead on her developing techniques.

In 1945, Balanchine left the Ballet Russe to start a new company: the New York City Ballet. But before he left, he asked Maria Tallchief to marry him.

A girl looking shocked
[A girl looking shocked], via Giphy
Tallchief was just as shook; she had mistaken his attention for mere professionality. Nevertheless, she eventually agreed, and they got married on August 16, 1946.

Here’s the thing about their relationship; it was very much still a working arrangement, built on their passions. In Tallchief’s words: “I was his wife, but I was also his ballerina. He was my husband, but he was also my choreographer. He was a poet and I was his muse.”

Shortly after their marriage, Tallchief accompanied Balanchine on an assignment to Paris, where she danced for the Paris Opera Ballet. The French press complimented her performance, but her Indigenous background fascinated them even more.

Maria Tallchief dancing a pas de deux
[Maria Tallchief dancing a pas de deux], via Giphy
After returning to the US, Tallchief quickly rose in the new company, becoming the first prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet. And the first Native American prima ballerina. Balanchine created many roles for Maria, including Odette in his version of the Swan Lake, and many others. And of course: The Firebird.

After months of preparation, and many stress-induced practice sessions, she debuted the role in 1949, to raving reviews. Emphasis on raving:

“Then the curtain rose again, and as long as I live I’ll never forget the roar. A firestorm of applause erupted in the city center… every time the curtain went down they started calling out my name until it went up again: ‘Tallchief !Tallchief! Tallchief! Tallchief!'”

Tallchief and Balanchine were a combination of artistic perfection; her fiery athleticism and musicality was the perfect vessel for his groundbreaking choreography. Power couple, anyone?

Not really—they annulled their marriage in 1952 after falling for other people. The pair, however, continued their working relationship on amicable terms.

Tallchief remained with the New York City Ballet until 1960, but she took time off to dance with other companies. At one point, she was the highest-paid ballerina in the world, earning 2000 dollars a week. She retired from the stage in 1966 and moved to Chicago with her new husband, Buzz Paschen. There, she founded the Chicago City Ballet.

Maria Tallchief is certainly an icon; her passionate, musicality and technique changed the face of American ballet, and through it all she remained proud of her Native American heritage. A true queen.

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History Forgotten History

The real history behind Pocahontas and her relationship with colonists

Pocahontas seems to be immortalized thanks to the Disney rendition and to countless history books. We know Pocahontas to be a young woman who fell in love with a European settler and eventually dove off the cliffs of Virginia. That’s just a story. Her true history is very different, and much darker. 

Tales have been spun about her rescuing John Smith, an English adventurer, from certain execution. This idea, that Pocahontas turned allies with the English, is one that captured the public’s imagination for centuries. Maybe because stories of star-crossed lovers are bound to fascinate humanity. However, the idea that Pocahontas turned her back on her own people to single-handedly help ‘bridge’ two cultures is not historically true. There isn’t much evidence of Pocahontas rescuing the soldier at all. 

First off, Pocahontas is just a nickname.

First off, Pocahontas is just a nickname. Her real name is Amonute, and her more private name was Matoaka. Pocahontas was just a nickname, meaning “playful”, thanks to her curious and inquisitive nature. 

Born in approximately 1596, Amonute was Powhatan’s daughter, and he ruled more than 30 Algonquian-speaking tribes, in the area that would later become Jamestown, Virginia. Before I dismiss her relationship with John Smith as a silly historical romanticization, I should mention that the misconception that Pocahontas saved his life isn’t recent at all. It’s seen in Smith’s account, too. 

Apparently, when Smith first met Powhatan, his head was placed on two stones and a warrior was prepared to kill him. Pocahontas saved him by placing her head on his, preventing the attack. The reason Smith’s account is debated is that he wrote different versions of this first meeting. Some historians even believe that Smith was never in any danger at all, and this was just a ceremony he went through. 

Pocahontas began visiting Jamestown along with Powhatan’s envoys, in an attempt to bridge some peace between the two starkly different cultures. Pocahontas saved Smith’s group time and time again. As an emissary, she brought food to the settlers and negotiated the release of Powhatan prisoners in 1608. Smith also wrote that Pocahontas warned him of a plot against his life. Historians have uncovered that if a Native American chief honored a man – the way Smith was honored by Powhatan – there wouldn’t be a threat to his life. There wasn’t any romantic relationship between Pocahontas and Smith, either.

It was an interesting period for the two groups, and the colonial leaders even agreed to an exchange – they presented Powhatan with a young 13-year old boy, Thomas Savage, and Powhatan sent a young man named Namontack in return. Don’t worry – these exchanges were common, and served as a way of learning customs and forging relationships between the groups. The peace was tenuous at best, and relations slowly devolved, leading to war.

Another misconception is that Pocahontas was willingly traded to the English.

Another misconception is that Pocahontas was willingly traded to the English. In fact, she was kidnapped. In 1613, Pocahontas was captured during the First Anglo-Powhatan War. While in captivity, she was baptised and given the name ‘Rebecca’. During her imprisonment, she met John Rolfe, a widower and tobacco planter. Pocahontas married Rolfe in 1614, and the move cemented relations between colonists and Native Americans. Though she was married to a Native American earlier (in 1610), there isn’t much record of what happened to this first relationship.

By 1616, Pocahontas arrived in London along with Rolfe and her son, Thomas. In London, she was referred to as “Lady Rebecca Wolfe”, and was treated like royalty. Unfortunately, the pollution from the city ended up killing her – she fell sick and eventually died, at the tender age of 20. 

Her contributions went beyond securing relations between these two groups. In the Chesapeake Algonquian society, women were the agriculturalists, so Pocahontas knew her stuff. Tobacco culture requires different treatments that Europeans weren’t used to so Rolfe used her expertise to aid the growth of tobacco in America, as she knew the lay of the land.

For so long Pocahontas has been touted as an ‘Indian’ princess who embraced western culture, and bridged relations between the colonists and Native Americans. It’s surmised that the marriage symbolized an alliance. Pocahontas’ relationship with colonists is complicated to say the least.

She isn’t the first Native American woman to further history, nor will she be the last. Her history was whitewashed, her trauma effectively erased. Instead of being seen as a victim of European colonization, she’s propped as one that welcomed European ‘civilization’. In such a short time period, she made lasting impacts to America, resulting in Europeans forming permanent settlements. Her passing was tragic, but her portrayal as a willing convert to European practices was simply unfair, and untrue.

It’s time to set the story straight, and remember her, as Amonute or Matoaka, for who she was – a bright, intelligent and capable young woman that was caught up between her tribe and European colonists, and paid for it with her life.

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month by learning more about another Native heroine, Sacagawea.


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