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Pocahontas is the name of a character about whom a number of films, plays, musicals, ballets and so on have been written and produced.

The story of Pocahontas[1]

Pocahontas was a Native American woman closely associated with the early history of the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, who saved the life of Colonist John Smith in 1607. She later converted to Christianity and became known as "Rebecca", marrying a tobacco planter called John Rolfe. The couple later travelled to London, where she became something of a celebrity. She died in England, aged 20 or 21, and is buried in St George's Church, Gravesend in England.

Her story, greatly romanticized, became the material for many works of art, literature, and film over the years. In many versions she and Smith are portrayed as being romantically involved, though most factual sources indicate that the relationship was one of friendship rather than romance.

In many ways there is something of an echo of the South African character Sarah Baartman (also known as the Hottentot Venus) in this history.

Dramatised versions of the story

Wikipedia[2] lists the following stage versions of the tale: James Nelson Barker's The Indian Princess; or, La Belle Sauvage (1808); John Brougham's burlesque Po-ca-hon-tas, or The Gentle Savage (1855); Miss Pocahontas, a Broadway musical (1907); Elliot Carter, Jr's ballet Pocahontas (1939) and Kermit Goell's musical Pocahontas (1963).

In addition, F.C.L. Bosman (1980, p. 325) mentions a "new South African burlesque" (no author mentioned) performed by Disney Roebuck and company in 1875. Whether this was simply an adapted version of Brougham's text, or a new text is uncertain.

There have naturally been numerous film versions of the legend, the first apparently being Pocahontas, a silent short drama by the Thanhouser Company in 1910, and including the famous Walt Disney animated features of 1995 and 1998.

Performance history in South Africa

1875: On 23 June a "new South African burlesque" called Princess Pocahontas (Anon.), is performed in the Bijou Theatre, Cape Town, by the Disney Roebuck company, with The Daughter of the Regiment (Fitzball) and The Day After the Wedding (Kemble). The evening as benefit for Miss Montague.



F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: p. 325.

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