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'The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History'

RICHMOND, Va. - Stories about the early Powhatan Indians who met the colonists at Jamestown have for centuries portrayed the Indians as barbaric and uncivilized, accepting trinkets and beads in exchange for food - while fickly turning against the English on a whim.

But a newly published book, ''The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History,'' reveals a savagery that includes murder, kidnapping and rape perpetrated against American Indians in the earliest contact days during the 17th century.

Written by Linwood Custalow, the Mattaponi Tribe's oral historian, ''The True Story of Pocahontas'' tells the Powhatan Nation's side of the first meeting between the Indians and the English who settled at Jamestown.

Co-authored with Angela L. Daniel ''Silver Star,'' a College of William and Mary doctoral student and an adopted member of the Mattaponi, the book reveals what the Powhatan Indians have known for centuries but could not tell.

Custalow and Daniel detail events based on the oral history of the Mattaponi passed down by the spiritual leaders, the quiakros, of the Powhatan Nation.

In telling the story, Custalow and Daniel also provided research to support the dates of the events in the oral history.

''We tried to make the book as accurate as possible,'' Custalow, a retired medical doctor who was the first Virginia Indian to graduate from college and medical school, said. ''The book is not to blame or put one down - the book is to try to show what was done and try to correct it.''

In the Powhatan Nation, Custalow said the quiakros were priests who protected the Indians' history as well as medical, religious and political knowledge. The quiakros served as advisers to the paramount chief, who led all of the tribes within the Powhatan empire.

Initially, when the English arrived in 1607, the quiakros wanted to make the English allies, and Chief Powhatan made Capt. John Smith a ''werowance,'' a title meaning chief or leader, of the English colonists at Jamestown. When the English sought to kill the Powhatan leaders, the quiakros hid among the Mattaponi.

The book explains aspects of the Powhatan culture and indicates that the American Indians were not unaware of early European explorers, as written histories teach.

The book also contradicts popular stories written by the English that the Indians accepted gifts in exchange for food. Instead, Smith and other English held chiefs at gunpoint in order to obtain food, Custalow asserts.

In the book, Custalow wrote that the Mattaponi do not believe the English royal family or the English government knew about or would have condoned the actions by the explorers and colonists.

''Only from truthful history can true history be learned,'' Custalow wrote. ''Only by true history can we learn from our mistakes. Only by learning from our mistakes can we create a better life for all mankind.''

The Mattaponi oral history refutes claims that Pocahontas saved Smith's life or warned the English about any attacks the Powhatan Indians allegedly planned to make.

More striking in the book is the history of Pocahontas' kidnapping, conversion to Christianity and marriage to John Rolfe, an Englishman. Custalow wrote that the English kidnapped Pocahontas in 1612. Prior to this, she had married Kocoum of the Potomac Tribe and had given birth to a son, Little Kocoum.

A year after Pocahontas' capture, the English sought help from the Powhatan Indians because Pocahontas had become ill. Pocahontas' older sister, Mattachanna, was sent in to assist her and Pocahontas told her that she had been raped, Custalow wrote. The Mattaponi oral history also reveals that Pocahontas was pregnant before she married Rolfe.

In 1617, after a visit to England, Pocahontas died not far from the English shore. Mattachanna and Uttamattamakin, a Powhatan priestly adviser who had gone to England with Pocahontas, returned to Virginia and told Chief Powhatan that Pocahontas had been poisoned. Grief-stricken by news of his daughter's death, Chief Powhatan blamed himself for Pocahontas' death and died a year later, Custalow wrote.

In a letter published in the book, Mattaponi Chief Carl Custalow wrote that the telling of the tribe's story is most important today.

''People have not looked through our cultural lens,'' Custalow wrote. ''It's time to look at the other side of history, the sacred history of the Mattaponi.''

''The True Story of Pocahontas'' stands out as one of the greatest true stories of family love, dedication and tragedy. The paperback, published by Fulcrum Publishing Co., is available at most bookstores. For more information, visit