Powhatan Indians lived in Virginia when the Europeans arrived in North American and they were known by people in the Jamestown colony. The most famous Powhatan is Pocahontas; many school children know Pocahontas because of cartoons about her, which are not very factual. Because of the stories that exist about members of the Powhatan tribe, they are often the subject of school projects.
One Powhatan project is recreating the mantles they wore by painting on a brown paper bag that has holes cut out for the arms, which is a common activity for children under 10 years old. This is frequently used as a Thanksgiving project. By making a mantle, children learn that the Powhatan Indians wore deer skin cloaks that had fringe along the bottom, and that the ornamentation varied according to the age and status of the one wearing the cloak. Women of high status wore skirts that were covered in fringed deer skin; young girls wore their hair braided. Powhatan Indians accessorized their clothing with pearls, shells and copper.
Powhatan Village Replica
Young people can learn a lot about Powhatan Indians by recreating a Powhatan village in groups of four or five. The village can be recreated using paints or crafted three-dimensionally using construction paper for objects like wigwams, a longhouse and the log walls that sometimes surrounded the village. Simple items such as canoes (made by Powhatan Indians by hollowing out logs) and warriors' shields can also be constructed. Tomahawks, clubs, and bows and arrows can be drawn near the constructed wigwams, and nets and pronged spears can be drawn near the canoes to show what Powhatan Indians used for fishing.
Powhatan Indians made wampum belts from white and purple shell beads, which they also used for trade. The designs on the wampum told a story about the family of its owner. The beads were sewn individually on the wampum or strung on leather with the strands then sewn on the belt. Powhatan Indians did not use glass beads until they began trading with the colonists. Besides being made from carved shells, wampum beads were also made from copper, silver, wood, ivory and animal bones, horns and teeth. Glass was used after the Europeans arrived on the continent.
Gourd Art and Accessories
Gourd art in an appropriate craft for young children. Indians used gourds as ceremonial objects. Beads were strung on leather or animal sinew, but children can use string or wire. Afterward the strands are wrapped around the gourd. These same techniques can be used for chokers, headbands or other accessories. Powhatan Indians also used beads to embellish clothing, moccasins or pouches. It's interesting for children to learn before they design their beadwork that the designs meant something to the individual families.
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