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Capital of Florida Apalachee had Southern Arawak name from Peru

Forgotten Peoples of the Southeastern United States: Part Five

During the winter of 1539-1540,  the Hernando de Soto Expedition stayed in the capital town of the people that the Spanish soon called the Apalache.   The town’s name is recorded variously as Anhaica, Anahaica or Anihaica.   The word has no meaning in the Muskogean languages, even though anthropologists have labeled the Florida Apalachee as being “Southern Muskogeans.”

I am currently translating the names of towns visited by de Soto in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama for a client.  North of Florida and east of Alabama, all of the words are either Itsate Creek, Itza Maya or Ciboney from Cuba –  no Muskogee or Cherokee words.

Florida place names are difficult to translate

The Florida town and village names have been a bear.  A few are pure Muskogean words – even some towns that Florida anthropologists have labeled “Timucuan.”  No tribe ever called itself by that name.  Timucua is a fabrication of the Spanish.

Most of the place names cannot even be translated with a “Timucuan glossary” and an “Apalachee glossary” that survive from the mission period.  I discovered that the so-called Apalachee glossary was based on the language spoken in one village, occupied by Tamatli Catholic converts from Georgia, who had been kicked out of their homeland by the Spanish-hating Tamatli.  So the Florida Apalachee glossary is really a record of the dialect of Creek, spoken in the upper Altamaha River Basin of Georgia in the 1600s.   It is useful for other purposes, but not for figuring out Florida’s heritage.

I also found that in several cases, Florida academicians had speculated inaccurately on the meanings of some place names, without use of indigenous language dictionaries. Unfortunately, those speculations were made by authority figures in the anthropology profession and have become institutionalized by the next generation of anthropology graduates and chamber of commerce brochures.

Pastor Charles de Rochefort comes to the rescue

Pioneer French ethnologist Charles de Rochefort in the 1650s said that the Florida Apalachee were originally a colony established by the Apalache of the Georgia Highlands after they built a road from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Suwannee River.  It is now US Highway 129.   De Rochefort stated that over time, the colonists absorbed the language of another people, but the original Apalache and the Florida Apalache were still friends and trade partners.  He said that the Florida Apalache actually called themselves, the Talahalwasi (Tallahassee) which means “Offspring from Highland Towns.”

I began looking around for another language, whose words had appeared on 17th century maps of the Southern Highlands and the DNA of Highland indigenous descendants. (See the article, “Cubans in Alibamer, Peruvians in Jawja.)

There was an extremely aberrant form of Arawak spoken by some tribes in northern Peru, Ecuador and Colombian Highlands that is labeled “Southern Arawak.”  They build the large cone shaped communal houses that have recently been discovered at the lowest levels of Ocmulgee National Monument.  (See the recent article on the new discoveries at Ocmulgee from the tab above.)

I found a Southern Arawak-Spanish dictionary online from a web site maintained by a Peruvian university.   It seems to be more capable of translating Florida Apalachee place names than any other dictionary identified so far.   In that language, Anahaica means “The  elite – place of.”   It makes perfect sense.  I am fairly certain that I will be able to translate Nantahala Gorge, NC and Amicalola Falls, GA with that dictionary.  Both are near US 129.

The picture that is emerging from our research in 2014 and 2015 is that Pre-European populations in the Americas were far more mobile that anthropologists imagined.  There were probably not massive movements of entire ethnic groups, but relatively large bands of people did relocate long distances in response to oppressive overlords, droughts and famines.

The movement of bands of people across hundreds or thousands of miles of varied landscape is exactly what “The Migration Legend of the Creek People” is all about.  The Cusseta’s originated near the foot of Orizaba Volcano in east-central Mexico and ended up on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River in Georgia and Alabama.

The wandering bands of people spoke MANY languages.  The response of their remnants after the American Holocaust was to form confederacies like the Yamasees, Catawbas, Cherokees and Creeks.  Our contemporary Southeastern Native American languages represent the blending of those parent languages in the 1600s.   It is a mistake for federally-recognized and funded Tribal Cultural Preservation Offices of the the Southeastern tribes to place the names of 21st century tribes on the Pre-European archaeological sites of the past.

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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.



    I remembered something while reading this article on the name Anahaica being one of the names for the Tallahassee area. The Cussetta migration myth says they came to the southeast from somewhere to the west i.e. Mexico near the Orizaba volcano which is near Vera Cruz. Well on the land route they could have used crossing Texas there is a place in east Texas not far from the coast with the name of Anahuac, a name from the Aztec Nahuatl language translating to city or center of world /four point or corners. It was sometimes used as a name of the valley where Mexico City is. At any rate the Texas site was named Anahuac before the Spanish came up from Mexico & the tribes there at that time were Atakapans from the east in Louisiana & Caddo from the North on the red River so whoever gave the place name was long gone. It could have been named by the migrating ancestors of the Cussetas & it is kind of close to the name Anahaica, so does this mean that the Cussetas & the people who settled at Tallahassee were somehow related?
    Oh your words about some of us people of Creek descent having Taino genes showing up in our DNA now answers where our tiny percentage may come from. We were wracking our brains trying to figure out where that came from. We were wondering if some lost Spanish/Taino person from one of the early entradas had joined one of the local tribes instead of returning to the Spanish & had stayed & had a family. We also have some percentage of genes from Iberia (Spain, Portugal) another piece of the puzzle. We’ve traced all our folks back to before the Revolution except one family (where the Creeks come from) which has no paper trail so far before 1802. They are the line which also has the story that the reason they were so dark skinned was that it was because they were part Portugee (their spelling). An oral history story that may have been truer than they knew it now seems. So Richard any thoughts?

  2. Marcie, the Iberian genes are easy to explain. The Spanish raped Native women wherever they went. The De Soto Chronicles matter-of-factly mentions 100, 200, 400 women over and over again being seized and made to work as porters and concubines for the 600 Spaniards on the exhibition. Can you imagine how much food the Spanish and their horses consumed as they ravaged the Southland? They may have produced thousands of mixed-race babies during the four years of their travels.


      Yes that is true. What has left us puzzled was the Taino DNA which I will admit is tiny at .3%. The Iberian was way higher at 5% so we kind of figured which line (the Creek) it comes through. We have done DNA testing for both YDNA & mtDNA with commercial testing companies–the old Relative Genetics, Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, & 23&me. Both my brothers also had testing done at two university hospital test sites looking for the source of a gene for an hitherto unknown genetic disease (Lateral Muscular Distrophy) which both developed in their late fifties. Unfortunately this disease only shows every other generation with one generation being the male carrier in which it doesn’t show. Didn’t show in Dad & our grandfather died young. We now have at least one more male cousin who has also developed it & since it suddenly appears in men who have been before healthy & athletic, testing is the only way to find out if you carry it. This is also coming from the Creek line. Our cousin who has developed it is the son of our grandfather’s brother whose father married a lady whose mother’s family also has the gene so she brought it in to his side through her mtDNA. Sorry I’ve gotten a bit off topic but I do believe in getting DNA testing for both finding your ancestry ( and ruling in or out various lines) & testing for genetic diseases.
      By the way Richard am now retired from academia, thank the gods. Am working part time in Genealogy Library helping folks find their ancestors & here we have almost everyday someone looking for their Creek or Cherokee ancestors. We have very good local records from local Creek bands so if they come from local families we can find out if they need to go to local Creek offices to check with their closed records. Am enjoying this much more than previous work as its always something different.


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