The rites of the Roanoke Indians were
almost certainly linked to the yearly
cycle of planting, fishing, reaping and
hunting. Like many primitive people
who translate the rhythm of nature into
their own lives, they appear to have
marked a girl's attainment of puberty by
whirling into frenetic dances round a ring
of strangely carved posts - an
intimate ritual and one of considerable
social significance to the Indians. That
White was allowed to record the event
reveals how ready the Indians were at
first to accept the white settlers.
Roanoke's scientist, Thomas Hariot, described how "three of the fayrest virgins" clung round a central post during the dance, while visiting tribesmen looked on, "every man attyred in the most strange fashion they can devise havinge certayne marks on the backs to declare of what place they bee." He described the dance area as a "broad playne," round which are set up "posts carved with heads like to the faces of Nonnes covered with theyr vayls."
The frenzied dancers would leave the circle as they tired, then re-enter until the end of the ceremony when, as cartographer and mathematician Thomas Hariot discreetly put it, "they go to make merrye."
White's own view of the dance reveals an aggressive vigour which the Englishmen, soon coming to expect help as if by natural right, failed to respect - and which was within the year to reduce the settlers to a small, frightened band, only too happy to flee for home as soon as they had the opportunity.
Dawn of Empire Article