Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
Horned serpent tradition seems to have come from Kekchi Mayas
Regina Blackstock of the Nene Hatke Ceremonial Ground sent me a fascinating anthropology book this morning, which has recently been published online. The professor, who appeared to be at the University of Mississippi, was vastly more knowledgeable about Choctaw and Creek cultural traditions than is typical at most universities. He had far more factual and detailed knowledge about the Muskogean peoples that high profile academicians such as Charles Hudson did. My first impression was, “We need to get this guy involved with the People of One Fire. We have a lot to learn from each other.”
In particular, the professor was fascinated with the Creek Migration Legends and Frederick Von Reck, a German artist, who visited Savannah shortly after it was founded. A section of his book was devoted to proving a Mesoamerican connection to the Creeks as evidenced by the Migration Legend. He had even traveled to England to try to find the original copy of Thomas Christie’s transcript in order to prove that the Creeks had a writing system prior to the arrival of Europeans. The book didn’t say exactly when he flew to London, but he made the rounds of all the universities and government offices, like I did for years. Both us got nowhere. He reluctantly concluded that the original is lost forever. I thought, “Boy will he be surprised when I send him an email with the original Migration Legend attached!”
My dirty little secret? After “America Unearthed” was broadcast in the UK during 2013, I received a brief note from Clarence House that congratulated me on my discoveries and stated that the Prince of Wales’ had a lifelong interest in archaeology and history. I wrote back a more lengthy letter, stating my admiration for the outstanding quality of the planned communities that HRH Prince Charles was personally developing throughout England and suggested that if ever got tired of being royalty, he should be an architect . . . “Oh, and by the way, could you help me find the Lost Creek Migration Legends?” . . . and by golly, he did . . . or actually, his assistant private secretary, Dr Grahame Davies, did!
Then I kept on reading and saw some strange comments that seemed as if the Trail of Tears had only occurred a few years earlier. THE BOOK WAS WRITTEN BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR! His English syntax was amazingly modern as were his scientific inquiries. Yet, this book was written before there was even a profession called anthropology.
One section particular caught my eye. The professor stated that the horned serpent tradition of the Creeks is identical to the horned serpent tradition of the Highland Mayas. If he had published that statement in our era, his department chair would have fired him this next morning for committing blasphemy against the god, Anthropos.
What surprised me further is the professor’s discovery that the Muskogee word for Horned Serpent, chetto yhabbi, was very similar to the Kekchi Maya word for horned serpent, cheta k’yagobi. The Itsate Creek words are even closer the Kekchi words, cheta k’yuabi. The “K” symbolizes a glottal stop in Maya and Itstate Creek, so the words are actually even closer. You will hear glottal stops in the video below.
To read the book that Regina forwarded to us, go to: Nineteenth Century Book on Choctaws and Creeks
Who are the Kekchi Maya?
The Kekchi Maya are thriving today in the mountains of southern Guatemala, eastern Chiapas and western Belize. They are also known as the Q’equchi’ . . . which is pronounced the same. I strongly suspect that they are actually composed of several branches of the Mayas, who came together and began speaking the same language.
Particularly, in eastern Chiapas, southeastern Guatemala and western Belize, the Kekchi look just like the Itsate (Hitchiti) Creeks. I stayed in the home of a Kekchi Maya woman, who was virtually identical to my grandmother Ruby (Mahala). Last year, a reader sent me a photo of Kekchi man in Guatemala, who could looked very similar to me in my thirties. Those Kekchi in south central Guatemala, look like the lady below, and are much shorter. The sound of the language is very similar to Hitchiti and Miccosukee and not like Muskogee.
The Kekchi were mound builders and still farm on terrace complexes, very similar to those in North Georgia, northwestern South Carolina and eastern Alabama. They were the illiterate “thralls” of the Classical Maya Period, who provided the food to support the large Maya cities in the Lowlands. Although on several occasions catastrophic volcanic eruptions had depopulated vast sections of Kekchi and Itza countryside, the Kekchi returned and continued to expand their numbers.
As can be seen on the site plan at left, their ancestors built both four and five-sided mounds. Their stone architecture was pretty much limited to retaining walls for terraces and plazas, just like what we see in North Georgia.
On this site plan, you will also see some strange geometric shapes created with field stone walls. These same shapes are also found in the Lower Southeast. We are not sure of their function yet. They may have been for ritual purposes or used to channel water to individual terraces.
The Kekchi have become politically assertive in recent decades. One of the totally unexpected results of the bloody civil wars and insurrections in Guatemala in the late 20th century is that the majority of Mayas have become Protestants. They are getting extensive support for expanded educational opportunities from Protestant congregations and denominations in North America. As a result they are demanding equal treatment from the Spanish descendants, who run the nation. The Mayas now have their on public television TV networks in Guatemala, southern Mexico, Belize and Honduras. Below is a language lesson in Kekchi on Maya TV! Initially, she is speaking in Kekchi, then switches to Spanish, then switches back to Kekchi.
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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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