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Map of North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia showing South Americans

When French traders, surveyors and marines explored the interior of Southeastern North America in the 1680s and 1690s, they encountered tribes, villages and rivers with South American names.  What languages the indigenous peoples of that region were speaking is anyone’s guess, but since there are definitely Peruvian words in the modern Creek languages, we can assume that the influence was even stronger in the Central Appalachian Highlands.

What is really fascinating is that a few of the South American village names in the Great Smoky Mountains were also on the Georgia Coast in the 1560s, when it was first explored by the French at Fort Carolina.  Satipo, (Place of the Sati) the capital of the Satile (or Santele) was on the Satilla River in Georgia.  There was another village named Satipo on Citigo Creek in extreme eastern Tennessee, when Juan Pardo came through in 1567.  Oh, by the way, Satipo, Peru is in the heartland of the Panoan Peoples.  We will talk more about them later.

All of the words originated from either the region immediately east of the Andes Mountains or from southern Colombia and Venezuela. Some are still part of the Southern Shawnee, Cherokee or Creek languages.   For example,  the suffix ki, ke or gi means “people, clan or tribe” in Southern Arawak, some Peruvian languages,  Southern Shawnee, Cherokee and Muskogee-Creek.    Sipi, (or cipi) as in the Mississippi River, is an eastern Peruvian-Amazonian word for river.  Koa, coaqua or quah is a Middle Arawak and Cherokee suffix for people, tribe or clan.  It is seen in several traditional Cherokee village names, such as Tahlequah, Stecoah and Tocqua.  We’ll get to their etymologies a little later.

Below is a detail of Jean-Baptiste Franquelin’s 1684 map of North America.  South American place names are underlined in red.

Words on Franquelin's 1684 map, ending in qui, qua or cipi are South American in origin.

Words on Franquelin’s 1684 map, ending in qui, qua or cipi are South American in origin.  The South American name for the Tennessee River was the Agoa.  Its Koasati name was Caskinampo, which means “Many Warriors.”  This region on his map now composes Eastern Kentucky,  Eastern Tennessee and extreme Western North Carolina.  There were no South American words from the Little Tennessee River southward to the Fall Line. Note Taliqui in the southeastern corner of this inset.  That is the same place that De Soto’s Chroniclers called Tali.  The qui or ke suffixes can also be seen on village names on the coast of Georgia.

There are several extremely significant ethnic names on this map.  Cisca (Chiska) and Chaskapi are in the center.  Chiska was the name of a war-like tribe encountered by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo.  It was also a warlike tribe in eastern Peru.  The two “Chiscas” wore identical costumes.

Shipakicipi means Shipa (Monkey) People River in Peruvian languages.  The Shipiki (now known as the Shipibo or “Place of the Shipi)  made stamped pottery identical to what archaeologists label “Napier Style.”   They speak a Panoan language almost identical to their sister tribe, the Conabo (Place of the Fish).  The Conabo made a stamped pottery identical to the Swift Creek style.  Their former capital was Conas, Peru.   Juan Pardo visited a large town named Conas or Conos somewhere on the headwaters of the Savannah River – probably Tugaloo Island.


Etymologies of some Cherokee place names

On European or United States maps, Tali (1549) became Taliqui (1684) then Talicoa (1721) then Tellico (1725) then Tahlequah in 1839.  Tali is a Muskogean word.  The town name’s evolution is strong evidence that the Muskogeans were conquered by Southern Arawaks by 1684 then Colombian Arawaks then Cherokees.

The Creek ethnic name Tokale (Spotted People) was called Toque by Juan Pardo in 1567.  In the early 1700s, that became Tokakoa then Tokqua in Cherokee and finally in the 1800s a Georgia town named Toccoa.  There are also rivers in North Central and extreme Northeast Georgia named Toccoa.

The Panoan town of Satipo, visited by Juan Pardo in 1567, was called Satikoa in the early 1700s by proto-Cherokees.  Satipo means “Colonists – place of.”  On subsequent European and United States maps, it evolved in to Satiquah, Saticoa, Seticoa, Siticoah and finally was called Stecoah by early American frontiersmen.  The Stecoah Community is in eastern Graham County, North Carolina.

The Peruvian colonists on the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina called themselves alternatively the Satile, Santi or Santitli.   Those who migrated to the Great Smoky Mountains were later called Santetla by the Cherokee newcomers.  That word became the name of the Santeetlah River and Lake Santeetlah in Graham County, North Carolina.   The next time you visit the region around Fontana Lake in the Smokies,  remember that South Americans were treading those trails long before you were.

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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.


  1. Do you see Chalaka in the lower right hand corner? I have read several papers and web sites that stated that it was “the first Cherokee town to appear on a map.” Actually, Chalaka moved to near present day Talledega, Alabama when the Cherokees moved southward. Perhaps there were some people of Arawak heritage living in Chalaka.


    Great post.

    This is very interesting information.
    It’s amazing to see how far north Native South Americans and Native Caribbeans have reached.

    This really makes one wonder if the mound builders in Ohio are actually related.
    It also makes one wonder if some South Americans and Caribbeans reached Pennsylvania and New York since there might be some lexical items / words for tree in the Iroquois Mohawk Oneida language that are quite similar to Arawak and Warao.

    If there were any South Americans and Caribbeans in Iroquois territory; is it because of trade, warfare (captives?) and/or refuge?
    It could be that some sought refuge up north since they were overrun by the Cherokees.

    • I have often wondered if the Hopewell Mounds were built by people from the Amazon Basin. If you look at the recently discovered geometric earthworks, discovered in eastern Peru and western Brazil, they are almost identical to the Hopewell sites in southeastern Ohio.


    Fascinating! What is the timetable for Andean/Caribbean settlement in the SE? How many thousands of years was it empty of humankind?


    Another thought on tying the Mayan besides the blue clay might possibly be the green talc mine. It’s the only geologically known deposit and quite distinctive in both appearance and composition. I do believe at some point I came across some mention of this talc being found down in Peru or Bolivia.
    Just sharing some thoughts here.


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