Everything that you ever wanted to know about the indigenous word, Tula . . . but were afraid to ask
Tula, tulum, tauli, Etula, Etalwa, Etowah, talula, talofa, Talasee, Tulsa, Tallahassee, Tullahoma, Tallapoosa, Talladega, Tollan
Tula is the Totonac, Itza-te Maya, Itsate-Creek and Mikkosukee word for town. It was the probable name of both the original city Tepotzlan, Morelos and Teotihuacan, plus Tula, the capital of the Toltecs. The Mexica (Aztec) name for the mysterious people, who built the Toltec Tula was Toltecatl, which means a native of Tula. As an adjective Toltecatl meant “civilized.”
From Tula has sprung a legion of modern place names in the Southeastern United States and Mexico. For most of my adult life, I have believed that what the anthropological references told me about its meaning . . . that it means “Place of the Reeds.” However, the other day, I took the same approach with this word as I do with “dumb non-facts” about the Southeastern indigenous peoples, created by Gringo academicians. Invariably, the false anthropological facts began as a poorly researched speculation by an academic authority figure, which other academicians, then and later, were afraid to challenge.
In tracing the explanations of the word, Tula, I found the repeated, unchallenged statement for almost two centuries that Tula meant “Place of the Reeds.” Astonishingly, though, I found one exception in a book published by Swiss-American archaeologist, Adolf Francis Bandelier in 1884. He was the type archaeologist, who we would love to see studying our ancient towns in the Southeast. He thoroughly studied the language and all known oral histories of a people, before ever putting a spade in the ground.
Report On An Archaeological Tour Through Mexico in 1881 by A. F. Bandelier is a must read for POOF researchers! It can be downloaded for free from Google Books.
Bandelier focused much of his research on the region between Tepotztlan southeastward to Orizaba, where a little-known people lived until being killed or driven out by the Nahuatl city states of the Valley of Mexico . . . now Mexico City. They were tall, plus wore beards and leather helmets with copper crests. Their civilization was the only one in Mesoamerica, which primarily created copper art and armor. It was mined in the region around Tepotztlan. The oral tradition of Quetzalcoatl began among this people, although the name in their lost language is unknown. He was traditionally the king, who founded Mexico’s first city at Tepotztlan. The oldest deity in Mexico, later known as the “Old Fire God” also had a goatee style beard.
Bandelier did not state this, because he knew nothing about the so-called Olmec Civilization . . . but the bearded people of Orizaba are portrayed in “Olmec” art and seemed to have been the elite or at least major participants in this civilization. They had very different physical appearance than those, who inspired the famous Olmec heads. Nevertheless, both physical types are present in the modern indigenous peoples of Central and Southern Mexico.
Of course, long time readers of POOF will immediately recognize Orizaba as the starting point of the Creek Migration Legend. The ancestors of the Kaushete-Creeks were driven out of their homeland by invaders, who were sacrificing their children. However, what immediately caught my eye was the description of a mysterious indigenous people in Orizaba, who wore beards, plus created copper art and copper helmet crests. In 1925, archaeologist Warran K. Moorehead found at Etowah Mounds over a hundred copper helmet crests, plus numerous other artifacts, fashioned from copper.
Bandelier’s analysis of the word Tula astonished me because it provided absolute proof that Tula does not mean “Place of the Reeds.” That assumption was made by early 19th century scholars because Tula is similar to the Aztec word for reed (River Cane in the Southeast). He pointed out that the word could not be Aztec because they were nowhere around when Teotihuacan was built. Instead, he pointed to the Maya word, tulum as the probable origin. Tulum was the Maya word for a type of construction, which used broken stones or field stones for its walls. It was derived from the proto-Maya word for “to cut or break.”
Talla means “tower” in Scottish Gaelic. It probably is not related to the American indigenous word, Tula.
Tvli (täu : lē) is the Choctaw and Chickasaw word for stone. However, tali is the Itstate-Creek word meaning “to survey land or plan a town.” An architect-surveyor in Itsate was called a talliya. This seems to be derived from the archaic Irish word for land is talamh. On the other hand, tulán, is the Gaelic word for a man-made mound or a medium sized hill. This is a possible connection with the Mesoamerican word for a town.
Thule: A POOF reader has suggested that the ancient geographical name of Thule was the origin of Tula. It may be a pre-Gaelic, pre-Germanic word for the lands in extreme northern Europe. He thought that it was a Norse word. It is not. It has been traced to the Pre-Gaelic Bronze Age language of Ireland . . . for which we do not have a complete dictionary. However, as discussed in previous POOF articles, there are definitely several pre-Gaelic and Irish Gaelic words in Uchee and Muskogee-Creek languages, such as the Pre-Gaelic suffix for kingdom or king, re (or le) Irish Gaelic suffix for clan or tribe, gi.
The British surveyor Charles Vallancey (1731–1812) was one of many antiquarians to argue that Ireland was Thule. In his book, An Essay On the Antiquity of the Irish Language, he identified several place names in Ireland today, which are derived from an old word similar to Thule. So it is possible that Tula was derived from the Pre-Gaelic Irish word Thule, but the connection is not nearly so obvious as the Maya word for stacked stone architecture.
Evolution of Tula into several other Creek words and place names
The Itzas and Itsate Creeks place an “E” of “I” prefix in front of nouns to describe a principal town. So, the big town on the Etowah River in Georgia was known as Etula, which became Etalwa in Muskogee Creek. White frontiersmen spelled that word, Etowah.
The descendants of the people of E-Tula (Etowah Mounds) were known as Tulase in Itsate-Creek. By the time of the Trail of Tears, Upper Creeks pronounced that word Tulse. That was the original name of a town on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma, which was settled by Upper Creeks from Loachapoka, Alabama. Whites changed the word to Tulsa!
Tulase became Tvlasi in Muskogee-Creek. It is pronounced Täw: lä: sē. That word has become the modern place name Talasee.
Talula (Itsate) and Talufa (Muskogee) became the words for a small town with one mound.
Tulamako (Itsate) and Talwamiko (Muskogee) were towns, where a provincial king lived.
Tullahoma (Tennessee) is an Itsate word that means Town – Red.
Talladega (Alabama) is derived from the Muskogee-Creek words, Talwa Vtehketv, which literally means “town in a bottle.” That term probably refers to the town on the Talladega River, which was on a long horseshoe bend in the river.
Tallapoosa (River) is derived from the Muskogee-Creek words, Talwa Posa, or Grandmother Town.
Tallahatchee is derived from the Muskogee-Creek word, Talwa Hachee, with means Town Creek or River. That word is derived from the Itza Maya words Tula Hawche, which means “Town Creek or small river.”
Tallahassee has an official meaning, which states that it is a Muskogee word meaning Town-Old. However, in 1653, French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort wrote that the Apalache-Creeks established a colony among the Arawaks in the Florida Panhandle, whose capital (at Lake Jackson in Tallahassee, FL) was named Tula Hiwalse, which means “Town from Highlands.” Rochefort’s explanation is more probable.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- New Video: Exploration of the Soque River Basin - June 24, 2019
- Like most of the other sites, the Ladds Mountain Observatory became gravel! - June 22, 2019
- Celebrating the Creek New Year! - June 21, 2019
- US Senator Richard Burr accuses Cherokees of bribing state officials and bullying other Carolina tribes. - June 20, 2019
- Joy Harjo named first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States! - June 19, 2019