Their Dances Which They Use at Their High Feasts
“Their Danses VVhich They Vse att Their Hyghe Feastes.” Theodor de Bry’s engraving of American Indians dancing in a circle, published in Thomas Hariot’s 1588 book A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. Fourteen Indians are standing in a circle, dancing, some of them holding tree branches, rattles, or arrows. Seven posts are standing upright around the circle with faces carved in them. In the center of the circle three Indian women are standing with their arms around each other’s shoulders.
The text accompanying the images reads:
At a certain time of the year they make a great, and solemn feast whereunto their neighbors of the towns adjoining repair from all parts, every man attired in the most strange fashion they can devise having certain marks on the backs to declare of what place they be. The place where they meet is a broad plain, about the which are planted in the ground certain posts carved with heads like to the faces of nuns covered with their veils. Then being set in order they dance, sing, and use the strangest gestures that they can possibly devise. Three of the fairest virgins, of the company are in the middle, which embracing one another do as it were turn about in their dancing. All this is done after the sun is set for avoiding of heat. When they are weary of dancing. they go out of the circle, and come in until their dances be ended, and they go to make merry as is expressed in the 16. figure.
Theodor de Bry was a Flemish-born engraver and publisher who based his illustrations for Hariot’s book on the New World paintings of colonist John White. These depictions of the landscapes and residents of North Carolina provided Europeans with some of their earliest notions of what the North American continent looked like. This engraving was based on White’s watercolor painting, “Indians Dancing Around a Circle of Posts.”