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Powhatan Words Used In 'Pocahontas'

Chama Wingapo: "Welcome, friend"
Wingapo: "Welcome" or "Our word of kindness"
Cheskchamay: "All friends"
E-wee-ne-tu: "Peace"
Husquequenatora: "Now I understand you"
Mattaquenatorath: "I don't understand you"

The Powhatan language has been extinct for a very long time, and our only records of the language are vocabularies written down by colonists in the early 1600's (including the historical John Smith.) Unfortunately, at that time in history English was not even spelled consistently itself (the same English word might be spelled three different ways in a 17th-century letter,) so it's impossible to know exactly how any of the words on these vocabulary lists were pronounced. For the movie, the writers took the closest word from the old dictionaries that matched the idea they wanted to express. "You will understand" was not listed in the dictionary, for example, so they used a word meaning "Now I understand you." Then the actors pronounced them in a way that they thought sounded reasonable for an Algonquian language--many of which are still spoken by Indian people today, but are no more closely related to the Powhatan language than English is to German and Russian.

So were the words used in the movie 'Pocahontas' authentic Powhatan words? Not exactly, and if you went back in time to use them with a Powhatan speaker, he probably would not understand you. However, given that the language is extinct and we don't really have time machines, I think the writers of the movie did a very good job making the language spoken by Pocahontas and her friends sound Algonquian and be as close to accurate as possible. For many other reasons, this is not a very historically accurate movie (the Navajo hairstyle worn by Nakoma was sort of bizarre for a movie set in Virginia, for example, and the historical Pocahontas was only eleven when she reportedly saved John Smith's life, so there certainly wasn't any romance in real life.) There's a very nice site here that tells what was fact and what was fiction in the movie, and gives an overview of the real history of Pocahontas and the Jamestown colony. You can also visit our Powhatan Information FAQ to learn more about the real Powhatan tribe.

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