Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives

By Pauline Turner Strong | Go to book overview

4
The Politics and Poetics of Captivity in New England, 1620-1682

As we can see from the cases of Tisquantum, Pocahontas, and the Stadaconan Iroquois, both the captivity of enemies and the exchange of hostages among allies were significant indigenous practices among the Algonquian and the Iroquoian peoples of the Eastern Woodlands. Both captivity and hostage-exchange varied across indigenous groups, over time, and from situation to situation. Nevertheless, it is useful to distinguish between the two practices in a more general way. Hostage-exchange involved a poetics and politics of reciprocity, whereas captivity enacted a poetics and politics of incorporation in which captives or their symbolic equivalents--scalps, wampum, and other soul-infused substances--served to enhance the power of a leader, a war party, a lineage, or an entire polity. Both captives and hostages could be used as "statements" about sovereignty; however, the poetics of reciprocity was aimed at accomplishing diplomatic objectives such as alliance and subordination, whereas the poetics of incorporation was geared more toward internal political goals such as retaliation, recruitment, and revitalization. Still, reciprocity and incorporation were not mutually exclusive processes, and many captives inhabited an ambiguous space in which various forms of exchange and incorporation remained open possibilities possibilities they might help to realize, sometimes unwittingly, through their own actions.1

Indigenous captivity practices were affected in complex ways by the presence of colonial captives, captors, and mediators--all of whom had their own ways of interpreting, utilizing, and responding to captivity. This chapter views seventeenth-century captivity practices in the Northeast as a complex conjuncture of indigenous and European forms, focusing in particular upon the intercultural politics and poetics of Mary Rowlandson's captivity during the hostilities of 1675-76 that are commonly

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