The Dawn of Empire

Ritual Dancing

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


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by Stephen