Disney fans follow the trail of Pocahontas legend to Kent

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The Independent Online
Walt Disney has brought the tourists to Florida, France and Tokyo - now it is doing the same for Gravesend, in Kent, where pilgrims are searching for the truth about Pocahontas.

St George's Church, where the Indian princess was buried in 1617, has experienced a surge of visitors since the US launch of Disney's animated film, Pocahontas, in June.

The blockbuster crosses the Atlantic this week and as Walt Disney has pledged pounds 9,000 to illuminate the church tower and Pocahontas's statue, the town is preparing for a further influx of visitors.

Disney has turned the Pocahontas legend into a romantic story of a beautiful Indian maiden who saves the life of handsome explorer John Smith and embarks on a love affair that crosses races and cultures.

In reality, though Pocahontas did save Smith from a ceremonial execution, she married someone else and was later kidnapped and taken to England where she became one of the early ethnic celebrities. She died before she could return home and was buried at Gravesend.

One visitor, Dr Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, 31, from Kahnawake Indian reserve in Canada, was in search of what he called 'real history'.

"I was disgusted by the movie so I figured I should come here and see how they presented the subject. The movie is very offensive and racist," said Dr Alfred, a Mohawk Indian who lectures in political science at Montreal's University of Concordia.

As delighted with the memorial as he was disgusted with Disney, Dr Alfred continued: "I came here to see exactly where she is buried. The presentation here seems pretty objective. It is a simple monument which is not romanticised or distorted.

"If people come and see an Indian princess so far from where she lived her life it should make them ask questions about why she died here. She was a victim of the times. You can take it for granted she wasn't here by choice."

Dr Alfred welcomed the floodlighting. "It is a good idea if it brings people here to ask questions about the continuing legacy of the treatment of Indian people, not perpetuate the mythology," he said.

Another of yesterday's visitors, Carl Lawton, 50, from Los Angeles said: "Pocahontas symbolises that there should be peace and harmony between all races." He too predicted a tourist influx. "Gravesend is too small a town to withstand it. It's going to go nuts."

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