History’s Push and Pull: Kwasy (On John White’s Lost Colony)

After our discussion in class, I felt that going back and analyzing one of Padel’s poems using the supplemental information was pertinent. I chose to hone in on “Kywash (On John White’s Lost Colony).”

Padel gives a concise description of White’s history, putting in her own thoughts here and there when she mentions “he painted in watercolour (unusually – most painters preferred oil-based paint)” and that “one thing I love about White’s portraits…is their warm smiles” (123). What I was most interested in, both in the poem and the prose, is the conflict between the English and the Indians. The paintings that White did on his first expedition depict a good relationship between the two groups of people. Here are a few pictures from his collection now pictured at the British Museum:
Group of Indians during a ceremony (possibly “their circle-dance” that Padel references in her poem.)
Woman and a girl
Like Padel notes, the people in the pictures are friendly and happy, which may be evidence that they had a good relationship at first. The poem on page 140 writes that “our first sight of them, fishing…I see myself/ painting an old man smiling at me from his winter rug/ Their sitting at meat: a husband and his wife, / smiling at me and at each other.”

I found this article that expanded on Padel’s information on John White. When it comes to the dispute, it reads that “although relations with the local Indians had been mostly friendly at first, they deteriorated as the military men struggled to feed themselves… During the summer, a dispute with the Roanoke Indians provoked Lane to storm their town of Dasemunkepeuc, where his men killed and beheaded the weroance Pemisapan (formerly Wingina).” What’s interesting is that Padel doesn’t really touch upon the disputes and the violence in her prose, but explores it in the poem. The first act of violence from the English was when “we burned/ the village of Aquascogoc” because they assumed that the Indians stole the Governor’s silver cup. I couldn’t find any information on this particular instance; what’s interesting is how these few lines subtly introduce the idea of the scapegoat into the poem. Up until that point, the relationship between them is positive. The shift is brief and almost possible to miss; immediately something is missing and it’s clearly the native people’s doing. Padel doesn’t have White, the narrator, present and evidence that it was them, they just burn down the town.

The second instance of violence is on pages 141-2, where White is the one that burns down an Indian village. By this time he is the governor and writes “then we lost a fellow/ shot in the surf by an arrow. In punishment/ I burned their village. I would to God/ men could undo what they had done.” Again, there is no evidence that an Indian shot the arrow or that it was intentional. Padel shows how easily the people jump to violence to answer the dispute.

At the end of the prose, Padel ends White’s story telling us about his return to find the settlers. On another website sheds light on what was written on the tree: “‘CRO’ carved into a tree and the word “CROATOAN” on a post of the fort. Croatoan was the name of a nearby island)…and a local tribe of Native Americans…the colonists had agreed that a message would be carved into a tree if they had moved and would include an image of a Maltese Cross if the decision was made by force. There was no cross.” We discussed in class how the last two lines of the poem, from White’s perspective, were positive about the whereabouts of the settlers and how this is more hopeful than truthful. But this new information about the cross might add to the truth of his hopefulness; on the flip side, the history of violence between the settlers and the Indians.


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