A Maya heritage primer for Oklahoma Creeks
Your homes are 180 years and as much as 800 miles away from the lands of your ancestors. Common knowledge that is carried by Miccosukees, Hitchiti Creeks and Hitchiti-speaking Seminoles in the Southeast may be shocking revelations to you. However, recognizing the surviving evidence of your partial Maya heritage is really quite simple, if you know the historical and linguistic facts. Keep in mind, though, that the Itza Mayas were just ONE of the many peoples, who blended together to become the modern Creek Indians.
Originally, only certain branches of the Creek Confederacy had partial Maya heritage. They included the Hichiti-speakers and some of the Upper Creeks. However, people have intermarried so much in Oklahoma since 1836, the chances are really good that you carry at least a tad of Maya DNA.
- The proof of a Maya connection with the Creeks? – There is much artistic, DNA, linguistic, architectural and cultural evidence that links some divisions of the Creeks with some divisions of the Mayas. For example, the documents that had been lost for 280 years, which I found in April 2015, included the Migration Legend of the Hitchiti People. It stated that the ancestors of the Hitchiti Creeks had come from the south by water to settle the Southeast.
However, the irrefutable proof came from a high tech lab in October 2012. The mineral attapulgite was the critical ingredient for making the Maya murals and stucco last so long in harsh tropical conditions. Attapulgite is named after the Lower Creek town of Attapulgus. There is very, very little attapulgite in the region of the world, where the Mayas lived. However, it is abundant in Georgia.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota compared the chemical content and atomic structure of attapulgite mined in Georgia with Maya Blue stucco from the Itza capital of Palenque and Chichen Itza. There was a 100% match. Maya traders and miners had come to Georgia for many, many centuries to mine attapulgite. We are pretty sure that they also mined large quantities of mica and gold in North Georgia. There is practically no mica in the Maya lands, but the Mayas used vast quantities of mica to reinforce stucco, color murals and as cosmetics.
- The word “Maya” – None of the people, who built the great cities or the spectacular agricultural terraces called themselves Maya. In fact, the word probably didn’t even exist then. Like what they did in so many parts of the Americas, the Spanish took the name of a single province in the northern Yucatan Peninsula, Maiam, and then named all the peoples of extreme southern Mexico and northern Central America, Maia. In the language of Maiam, Maia meant “Lakes”. Apparently, these were people who had moved from a large lake somewhere after the Classic Maya civilization collapsed. Their capital was named Maiapan ~ Place of the Lakes.
- Hitchiti – Hitchiti is the Anglicization of the Itza Maya’s name for themselves – Itsate. Most Georgia Creeks did not speak Mvskoke until they were forced to move to Alabama. The spoke Itsate, which is pronounced Ĭ – jzhä – tē. British explorers from South Carolina wrote this strange sounding word as Etchate. Frontiersmen changed it to Itchati and then, Hitchiti. They said it so much that eventually even Creeks only knew the English word.
The Itza were not ethnic Mayas, but a Panoan people from Peru, who moved to the Chiapas Highlands of Southern Mexico. They brought with them the knowledge of how to build massive agricultural terrace complexes. The Itza were ruled by the Totonacs for several centuries and absorbed many of their words. That is why there are several Totonac words in Mvskoke and Hitchiti. They then were dominated by some Maya cities and so absorbed some Maya words, but did not know the Maya writing system. Around 900 AD, however, some Itza conquered a city in northern Yucatan named Chichen (Beside the Cenote.) Their city became known as Chichen Itza.
As you saw on the History Channel Program on December 21, 2012, Mexican archaeologists have found many similarities between the art at Chichen Itza and in such ancestral Creek towns as Etowah Mounds (Etula) and Ocmulgee Mounds (Waka-te.) This is nothing new. When I was a student in Mexico in the early 1970s, the Mexican archaeologists told me this. However, in 2012, the chief archaeologist at Chichen Itza told the History Channel that they now have identified murals, which appear to be delegations of the ancestors of the Creeks visiting Chichen Itza! At least for me, that was a shocker.
- Yaupon Holly in Palenque – But then . . . perhaps we should have expected that all along. Yaupon Holly is what Ase – the Sacred Black Drink – is made from. Would you believe that the region around Palenque, in the mountains of Chiapas, is the only location in Mexico or Central America where Yaupon Holly grows today?
- What kind of Creek words came from the Mayas and Totonacs? – Virtually all the words in Hitchiti having to do agriculture, architecture, trade, political offices and writing are Itza Maya words. However, they were often slightly changed by Mvskoke speakers. The Creek words for corn, beans and the Sacred Black Drink come from Itza Maya. The official title of the Second Chief of the Creek Nation, henehv, comes from the Itsate Creek and Itza Maya words hene ahau, which mean “Sun Lord.” The Itsate word for house, chiki, means the same in Maya and Totonac. However, the Mvskoke word for house, choko or chuko, comes from the Itza Maya word for “warm.” Chokopa is the Itsate Creek word for a council house. It means “warm place” in Itza Maya. In Oklahoma, you Mvskoke speakers now say chukofa.
Also, many Creek town names were Itza Maya words. For example, Chiaha means “Salvia River.” Chiapas State, Mexico is where the Itza Mayas came from. Chiapas means “Place of the Salvia.” Altamaha means “Place of the Merchant Lord.” The Itsate Creeks called Etowah Mounds, Etula. That means “Big Town.”
- Where is your research now? – Since 2012, we have discovered 14 terrace complexes in Georgia and Alabama. Track Rock was the most northerly one. There are three near Columbus, GA, but the largest concentration is in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. The oldest terrace complexes are located here, but all of these terrace complexes are in traditional Creek territory. Track Rock Gap was owned by the Upper Creeks until 1785. So the claim by some Georgia archaeologists and the North Carolina Cherokees that these massive stone, terrace complexes were built by the Cherokees as platforms to dance sacred dances and to bury their “great chiefs” is . . . what can say? . . . caco de toro.
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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