Define “princess”

So a few days ago, I went inside my friend’s room expecting a relaxed environment and instead walked into an intense debate.  Was Pocahontas actually a princess?  It all started with a drawing of Pocahontas that my friend’s sister made for her to hang up on the wall.  Somehow my friends started talking about Pocahontas and things got heated… It was two girls against one guy, and both of my girlfriends were adamant in supporting the fact that Pocahontas was truly a princess.  My guy friend insisted that she was not a princess because she was the daughter of a Native American chief, which was not the same as being the daughter of a king.  The girls claimed that a chief was the equivalent of a king, and asserted that my friend’s opinion was based on the racist stance that chiefs were not kings simply because of their ethnicity/culture.  In my opinion, they jumped to that startling conclusion a bit too fast… In defense, the guy tried to assure them that he wasn’t being racist, but simply technical about the term.  He said that the term “princess” derived from the term “king”, which applied to monarchical systems, typically in Europe.  He used the example of Sasha and Malia Obama being the respected daughter’s of our country’s ruler, but not being regarded as “princesses.”


The debate kept going back and forth, without any new points really being made — simply disagreeing with each other.  Meanwhile, I was stuck in the middle, watching, unsure of what to contribute.  My girlfriends called in one of my hall mates (also a girl), and asked her whether she thought Pocahontas was a princess.  She confidently voiced her opinion, “Of course she is!  What kind of question is that?”, and went back to her room.  In response, my guy friend called in one of his friends (also a guy) and asked him the same question.  Before even hearing any side, he gave the same technical answer as my friend did.  Now the controversy was really boiling up.  It seemed as if it was boys against girls on this topic, and I still didn’t know where I stood on the issue.

I love Pocahontas, the movie, and I will always consider Pocahontas a Disney princess.  While I am most definitely not a racist, I do see where the guys were coming from.  Although chiefs and kings were respected by their governing people in similar ways, could they actually be considered equivalent in definition?  Could the daughter of the chief technically be called a princess?  Or is “princess” reserved for a specific type of ruling system, not any better or worse — but simply different — than a chieftainship?  I hesitate to answer that, admitting that I am no expert on political systems, especially those of Native American society.


I decided to do a little research, though, just out of curiosity.  I was surprised to find that this Pocahontas debate was actually quite common, given by the span of Yahoo! Answers questions about it.  “” refers to Pocahontas’s real historical figure as “a Native American princess, ambassador, and peacemaker to the first American settlers” but then later explains that “she was not a princess in the sense of inheriting a political station.”  “” states that the term “princess” is in fact a “very poor translation for the daughter of a chief,” since “chiefs were not kings…they were chosen by the community.”  The Natural Resources Conservation Services government website explains that while head chiefs acted like kings with strong authority, special garments, and honored families, their positions were not hereditary.  Native American tribes exhibited “fundamental democracy” with their chiefs elected “by the will of the people, not by the grace of God.”

Interesting stuff…


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