Footnote: 17th century French ethnologist stated that Arawaks originated on South Atlantic Coast
Contemporary anthropologists are probably puzzled, if not dismissive, of POOF’s articles about the South American influence on the indigenous cultures of the Southeastern United States. It is 3,000 miles from the heart of Peru to the Southern Appalachians. However, like so many other statements made by 17th century French ethnologist, Charles de Rochemart, what seemed implausible at first, has turned out to be quite true.
In 2013, when Marilyn Rae and I were studying l’Histoire naturelle et morale des îles Antilles de l’Amérique in order to write our book, The Apalache Chronicles, we were puzzled by De Rochefort’s repeated statements that the “Caribs” originated on the South Atlantic Coast and were associated with the ancient shell rings that are found there. He said that the “Caribs” slowly migrated southward to Florida and then Cuba and then Colombia until they ultimately arrived in northern Peru. They then turned around and headed north again until some settled as far north as the mountains north of the “Apalache Mountains” . . . aka western North Carolina, SW Virginia and SE Kentucky. He said that formerly there were many Caribs in these mountains, but most were driven out by an advanced people from the South . . . obviously the Itza Mayas. However, some Caribs remained in remote locations.
De Rochefort said each place that they lived, some Caribs stayed behind. They established a trade and migration route that spanned from Peru to the Apalache Kingdom. Of course, this would explain the arrival of small bands of other South American peoples and later peoples from Central America into the Southeast. It would also explain the almost simultaneous arrival of corn, beans, Mesoamerican squashes, plus the bow and arrow.
According to De Rochefort, two small bands of “Caribs”, who were not associated with the shell rings, did not migrate southward. They had become separated from the main body of Caribs on the coast and lived in the interior of North America. They remained primitive, migratory hunter-gatherers, who still did not know how to make pottery. Eventually, they became predators of more advanced cultures, who had become town-dwelling farmers.
Like army ants they would periodically swarm over civilized provinces, consume everything there and move on. One of these bands devastated the Mississippi Basin, while the other migrated far north into a cold and rocky land, where they became quite primitive and lived in caves. This northern band started started moving southward again, where they intermarried with peoples of other races. They were called Cofitachete (Mixed Race People) by the Apalaches in present day Georgia. The Muskogee-speaking Creeks called them Cofitacheki. Of course, this band sounds very much like the real Proto-Cherokees, who were called “Cave Dwellers” by most Southeastern tribes.
If one reads the De Soto Chronicles closely and ignores what some academician has written in Wikipedia, the town of Cofitachequi was really a destroyed enemy town. It was not the name of the Muskogean ethnic group, who hosted the De Soto Expedition. In fact, the Muskogean nobility encouraged the Spaniards to dig up the graves in Cofitachequi to rob them of their valuables.
De Rochefort’s Caribs were really Arawaks
The Carib story did not make much sense to us at the time, because we knew that the Caribs didn’t occupy the vast territory that De Rochefort described. The lectures I received at Georgia Tech on South American and Caribbean Pre-Columbian cultures were so brief and superficial, we might as well not had them at all. I had to start at “home plate” and learn everything there was to know about the region before the Spaniards arrived. Then everything began to make sense. In 1658, when De Rochefort wrote his book, the term Arawak was not used. It is a 20th century anthropological term. The generic name at that time for the similar cultures in northern South America and the Antilles was Carib, because the Caribs were considered dominant to the Taino. The Taino were considered a separate ethnic group.
If one substitutes Arawak for Carib, then all of De Rochefort’s statements make a lot of sense and in fact, answer many gaping holes in the current orthodoxy of Pre-Columbian America. You see . . . this past year, it was discovered that the corn grown by most Southeastern Indians traced its ancestry to a species of corn grown in the eastern foothills of the Andes, which has a climate much more similar to Piedmont and Southern Highlands of the USA than where Mexican corn was developed. Modern corn varieties in the Eastern United States are hybrids that are the result of selectively mixing the genes of Mexican, Central American and South American corn varieties. The eastern foothills of the Andes is exactly where the Panoan peoples live today. It is the Panoans, whose cultural traditions and words show up in the Southeast.
How this French Huguenot minister, named De Rochefort, gained so much knowledge about the past, while he was the pastor of French and Scottish Protestants in the Caribbean Islands is anyone’s guess. His book was a best seller until the early 1700s, but then quickly forgotten, after English traders found the Southeast’s interior decimated by repeated plagues and slave raids. However, today we can say with complete confidence that Charles de Rochefort was one amazing man.
Now you know!
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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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