Weetamoo, Heart of the Pocassets
by Patricia Clark Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Weetamoo, Heart of the Pocassets / 0-439-12910-9
It's incredibly refreshing, after so many Royal Diaries, to be treated to a view of a culture that sees nothing unusual about a female ruler. It is further refreshing to catch glimpses of a culture that strongly values instilling virtue and wisdom in their young future rulers, as well as a strong respect for the land and animals whose survival they depend upon.
Although Weetamoo is caught between a world of change as the European immigrants continue to encroach on their lands and ruin their farms and grazing areas, this book does not focus exclusively on the tensions between the natives and immigrants, for which I am grateful. Instead, the book attempts to convey a faithful rendition of Weetamoo's childhood and coming-of-age, as she seeks to grow up and become a wise leader for her people. There is a fine and believable balance between childish attempts to prove herself and mature reflections on the nature of growing up and the life around her. Weetamoo does struggle with the new cultural challenges she faces - is it possible to use the immigrants' iron cooking pots and alphabet and still remain truly Pocasset? Or would the use of these tools compromise her cultural integrity? For that matter, she wonders, would the widespread use of such tools weaken her people, with an alphabet that no longer demands fine memories and shared storytelling? Weetamoo does not know the answer.
Not that all the immigrants seem to be trouble. Weetamoo meets an immigrant woman who kindly shares a sprig of lavender with the 'little savage' and Weetamoo returns the favor by showing her which plants will keep mosquitoes away. This and other exchanges reinforce Weetamoo's confusion - clearly, there is no right answer for how to deal with the immigrants as they are just as much a collection of individuals as the natives are.
I think what I liked best about "Weetamoo" is that the adults are wise enough to treat the young princes and princesses with increasing levels of respect and responsibility, rather than just keeping them in the shadows until the old ruler drops dead one day, and then expecting the new ruler to come up to speed in an hour, a method the elaborate European kingdoms seemed so keen on, leading to tragedy a la "Marie Antoinette" more often than not. Perhaps there's something about keeping the ruler so close to the land and the people, where a major mistake makes starvation and death intimately imminent that keeps a people sensible in how to raise rulers. Or perhaps not. Either way, this cultural glimpse into our native history is welcome and a wonderful read for both adults and children.
~ Ana Mardoll
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