Over 400 years ago, the Powhatan Indians inhabited a place called Jamestown, Virginia. Their every-day life was disrupted, though, when, in 1607, a ship carrying men from England came to claim their land, making Jamestown their new capital. This could have been seen as a bright opportunity for both parties: the Powhatan Indians could have shared their knowledge of the land they occupied, and the English could have shared some of the skills and technology brought over with them. But, of course, the two groups found that they had many differences. They had a hard time sharing and trading because of how different they were, such as in their belief systems, materials and resources, and their living environments to name a few.
As stated before, the Powhatan Indians and the English had different belief systems. For example, the English, much like many Americans today, were monotheist, believing in only one god. The Natives, on the other hand, believed that there were many gods. There were not only differences in their religious beliefs, though. For instance, the Powhatan Indians honored their women and treated them with a high respect. They believed that women were the “giver of life” in society, therefore they were greatly valued. The Colonists, on the other hand, believed that women were property. Land ownership was a conflict as well. While the Indians believed that the land was something that was Mother Earth’s and could not be owned, the English claimed land as theirs every chance they got.
Another difference between the Powhatan Indians and the Settlers was resources and how they were used. The Natives, for example, used hand-made weapons and tools that were made of stone. With the English, though, came their knowledge of metal, meaning that they had more advanced tools and weapons made of this material. There was a difference in the types of foods as well. Back in England, when one referred to “corn”, it was meant as anything in the wheat family. When the English came to the New World, though, they were introduced to the Indians’ version of corn: maize. This wasn’t the best thing, because when the settlers ate the maize, they became very sick, as they weren’t used to it.
The two parties in some ways had similar living environments. For instance, both the Indians and the English had religious gathering areas. For the English, there was a large church where everyone gathered for prayer. The Indians, on the other hand, had a dance circle where the people gathered. Houses in the two environments were different as well. The Indians built semi-permanent houses called Yehakins. The Yehakins had a hut-like structure to them with fire-pits in the center. The English had more structured houses that were shaped just like houses seen today. They were rectangular with straight roofs on top, and a fireplace rather than a fire-pit. Because of differences in their housing structures, they also had different cooking procedures. The Indians cooked things using an open fire outside. The Colonists used a technique in their fireplaces called “down-hearth cooking.”
Eventually more and more English came to live the new life in the New World. With them they brought more and more of the English culture, making more conflicts between them and the Powhatan Indians. The Settlers starting claiming a little more of the native land every day, making it hard for the Indians to live in such a small space. Although there was a lot of potential for both parties to grow from each other, differences got in the way, in some cases causing more diminishing of the cultures than growth.
Courtney from Study Moose
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