Sacred Black Drink of Southeastern Indians is favorite beverage of South America
Yaupon Holly tea, by other names, is the national beverage of many South American countries and was long consumed by indigenous peoples in Eastern Peru, the Amazon Basin and Rio Plata Basin. Apparently, not a soul in the compartmentalized world of North American academia ever figured this out.
Native American Brain Food
Asse is the Creek word for the tea made from Yaupon Holly leaves. Anthropologists call it “the Sacred Black Drink.” Botanists called the Yaupon Holly, ilex vomitoria, because they incorrectly assumed that its consumption would make one vomit. Actually, it was the powdered roots of some other plants that were intentionally added to the tea, which caused purging in certain ceremonies.
The indigenous provinces of the South Carolina and Georgia coast cultivated Yaupon Holly and traded the dried leaves up the rivers to other peoples. The French Huguenots of Fort Caroline gave us several eyewitness accounts about this Yaupon Holly trade. Some tribes on the Georgia coast also grew cinchona trees (quinine) and traded the bark to the interior as a powerful medicine.
The best quality asse came from the fields on Ossabaw Island, south of Savannah. Many sources state that the name of Ossebaw came from the Creek Indian word, Asebo, which means “Place of the Yaupon Holly,” but don’t explain where the “baw” part came from. “Bo” is not a Creek word. In fact, there is not even a B in the Creek alphabet. So where in the world did Asebo come from? You will soon find out.
Over time, the cultivated holly on the coast became feral in many areas of the Southeastern Coastal Plain. Twentieth century botanists didn’t know that Yaupon holly was originally a cultivated crop on the South Atlantic Coast, and therefore assumed that it was merely an indigenous variety of holly – maybe yes, probably not.
The only location other than the Southeastern United States where the Yaupon Holly grows wild today is in the portion of the Chiapas Highlands near the Maya city of Palenque. In 2012, scientists at the University of Minnesota determined that the Maya Blue at Palenque was made from attapulgite mined in the State of Georgia. See the map at the end of the article.
Hm-m-m . . . which means that the Itza Mayas, whom certain archaeologists know for a fact didn’t come to Georgia, took a liking to Yaupon Holly tea while they were not in the Peach State and transported the Yaupon Holly seeds back to Chiapas.
Now . . . take a vacation down in the eastern foothills of the Peruvian Andes. This beautiful region looks just like the Southern Appalachians. You might stay first in the charming city of Satipo.
Does that Peruvian city’s name sound familiar? Satipo was the name of the capital of the Sati-le Province on the Satilla River in Southeast Georgia, visited by Captain René de Laudonnière in 1564 & 1565 . It was also the name of a town at the confluence of the Little Tennessee River and Citigo Creek in extreme eastern Tennessee, visited by Captain Juan Pardo in 1567.
Sati means “colonists” in several Peruvian languages. Sati was also the actual name of the tribe in South Carolina that the English colonists called the Santee. Not being aware that Sati is a Peruvian word, South Carolina anthropologists arbitrarily labeled them “Siouans” without ever trying to translate a single word of their language. They probably were the same ethnic group as the Georgia Sati. Lake Santeetlah in extreme western North Carolina gets its name from this people and is also near the site of Satipo.
Po is the Spanish pronunciation of the Panoan suffix, “bo” which means “place of” . . . as in Asebo (Ossabaw) Island in Georgia. Satipo, actually Satibo, means “Place of the Colonists.” What are such Peruvian words doing on the coast of Georgia and the Great Smoky Mountains?
Go into a neighborhood restaurant in Satipo, Peru. Ask the waitress:
¿Podría tener una taza de asé? Could I have a cup of Yaupon Holly tea.
Of course, she would think that you were a crazy Gringo, but no . . . she will answer:
Por supuesto, ¿quieres caliente o frío? Of course, do you want it hot or cold? After Jimmy Carter visited here, ice tea quickly became popular.
Would you believe that the word for Yaupon holly tea is the same in the Panoan languages of Eastern Peru and Upper Amazon Basin in Brazil as it is in the Muskogean languages? Yaupon Holly tea is a popular beverage in that region. Actually, the holly plant in eastern Peru has a different scientific name, but no one has ever thought of comparing to the Yaupon to see if they are related or even the same plant.
Now look around at the locals. They are Conibo People. You will notice that the traditional patterns on their beautiful clothing are identical to the patterns on the Swift Creek pottery of Georgia. Their chiefs wear turbans identical to those worn by the Seminole and Miccosukee in Florida. Could there be a connection?
South of Peru, the beverage made from holly leaves is usually labeled by its Spanish name, Yerba mate. Yerba Mate is a hybrid of the archaic word for herb in Spanish with the Quechua word for gourd. It means “Herb drink that one drinks from a gourd.”
The variety of holly used for commercial cultivation was developed from a wild variety growing in Paraquay. Yerba Mate was first popular with the Guarani people of Paraquay and then spread to their cousins, the Tupi People of Brazil.
When you see photos or films of South Americans sipping a beverage from a gourd shaped container with a silver tube, that is yerba mate. The holly from Paraquay is considered to have a sweeter and smoother flavor than the holly cultivated farther north by the Panoan peoples. However, chemically there is little difference between yerba mate, the asé drunk in Peru and the Amazon Basin or the asse drunk by Southeastern Native Americans. All three contain beneficial chemicals that inhibit diabetes and arterial diseases, plus antioxidants that aid immunity.
There is also a connection between the South Atlantic Coast of South America and the South Atlantic Coast of North America. Guale was the Spanish province that stretched from the Altamaha River to the Ogeechee River on the Georgia coast. All references state that the Guale People were Muskogeans. That is because the first anthropologist, who made that dumb statement didn’t know the Creek languages, while those who parroted him afterward either also didn’t know the Creek languages or else were afraid of being ostracized for questioning that orthodoxy.
Guale is the Spanish spelling of the Muskogean pronunciation of Wari, the Tupi Guarani word for “Boat People” or “Sea People” Virtually all the village names in this region, recorded by early French and Spanish explorers are Tupi-Guarani words and have no meaning in the Muskogean languages. The two main towns in Wari were Tupika’a and Takatakuro, names that would be readily understood by Native peoples in Paraquay and Brazil today. Ka’a is the Tupi word for the Sacred Black Drink or Yerba Mate.
The Wari, encountered by the Spanish, had Itza Maya political titles, which Gringo anthropologists of the 20th century assumed to be Creek words. The reason for these foreign political titles was that they were formerly under the domination of a powerful Itza province, based where Savannah is today. If readers can recall an earlier article on the original Migration Legend of the Creek People, it was stated to the founders of the Georgia Colony by Itsate and Apalache Creek leaders that their ancestors first lived at Savannah.
Commercial potential for Yaupon Holly cultivation
Since Yaupon Holly was originally a plant cultivated on the coastal islands of Georgia, it obviously could be cultivated in the Coastal Plain again. Asian tea is actually a member of the Holly family. Asian tea is already being cultivated on the South Atlantic Coast and winning blue ribbons in Europe for its exceptional quality.
It seems quite probable that botanists could hybridize Yaupon Holly with the Paraguayan Holly, whose flavor is preferred by most South Americans. That plant would produce a commercial Holly tea suitable for domestic consumption and export.
The Yaupon Hollies of the Southeast and their cousins in the Upper Amazon Basin are much more resistant to insect pests and fungal diseases than the Paraguayan Holly. Native American tribes along the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains should seriously consider hybrid Yaupon Holly cultivation as a strategy for economic development.
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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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