Richard Thornton | Aug 9, 2017 | 5
Tamaulipas, Portal Between Two Worlds
In 2006 Ric Edwards, a founding member of POOF, made the outlandish suggestion that many of the Muskogean peoples may have originated in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Ric lived across the Rio Grande from Tamaulipas. A few months later, an OMG moment occurred. Another founding member of POOF, Dr. Deborah Clifton of Louisiana, emailed me with a discovery. The original name of the section of the Gulf Coast between Mobile Bay and Apalachee Bay was in Spanish, Amichel, but in Maya, Am Ixchel . . . the place of the goddess, Ixchel. The OMG part resulted from me already knowing that Am Ixchel was the original name of the coastal plain of Tamaulipas. The rest is history.
Tamaulipas may be the “Garden of Eden” from which sprang several tribes in the Southeastern USA. Surviving place names and indigenous words from Tamaulipas can be found in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, western North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia. Nevertheless, a 300 mile (480 km) wide belt of primitive hunter-gatherer tribes always separated Tamaulipas from North American agricultural societies. The Mayas in Yucatan were much closer to indigenous peoples in Cuba and southern Florida, who farmed and built permanent architecture.
Tamaulipas is on the Gulf Coast of Mexico and adjoins the State of Texas along the Rio Grande for 150 miles (240 km.) It is a steadily growing state with an estimated population of about 3.4 million in 2013. The northern half is industrializing rapidly, plus has an agricultural base similar to southern Texas. The southern half, near the coast, is dominated by the petrochemical industry. Its mountainous west is arid and sparsely populated. The only significant tourist destination from the United States is around Tampico Bay, which contained a large number of United States citizens prior to nationalization of the oil industry.
Until recently, the pre-European history of Tamaulipas was given scant attention by both Mexican and North American scholars. It was on the frontier. The northern coast of Tamaulipas was roughly 500 miles (800 km) from both Mexico City and New Orleans. The state does not contain any archaeological zones with structures the scale of the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacan, but there are several pre-European ruins with stone pyramids, sophisticated sculptures and large plazas.
Surprisingly, civilization is very old in Tamaulipas. Its aboriginal inhabitants are currently believed to have been related to the Zoque, the same ethnic group that probably founded the Olmec civilization. The people living on the coastal plain of Tamaulipas had cultural ties to the Olmec Civilization from around 1200 BC until around 500 BC.
A branch of the Mayas, named the Huastecs, arrived in the extreme southern edge of Tamaulipas around 900 BC. The Huastecs are unique in that while being quite sophisticated, they generally did not wear clothes! . The Huastecs also called themselves the Te-Inik, meaning “the people from here.”
Huastec culture was somewhat stagnant during the period that Teotihuacan dominated much of central and southern Mexico, about 200 BC to 600 BC. It blossomed after Teotihuacan collapsed and continued to prosper until conquered by the Aztecs under Moctezuma I in 1450 AD. The Huastecs were divided up into independent provinces with varying architectural traditions. After becoming a vassal of the Aztecs, the Huastecs were forced to furnish tribute goods and sacrificial victims to their masters, but apparently continued to run their internal affairs.
Architecture varied in Tamaulipas. In the mountains one can find terraces, constructed with fieldstone walls that are remarkably like the Itza Maya villages in the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala, or the terrace complexes in northern Georgia. Some areas only built low platform mounds. Others built earthen pyramids that were stuccoed with clay to imitate stone veneered pyramids to the south. Most pyramidal mounds in the Southeastern United States were stuccoed with brightly colored clays. Earthen pyramids, veneered with fieldstones can be found in the southern tip of Tamaulipas. They can be either rectangular or round.
The traditional name of the coastal plain region in Tamaulipas, was Am Ixchel. It is an Itza Maya word meaning, “Place of the Goddess Ixchel.” The region on the Gulf Coast of the United States between Mobile Bay and Apalachee Bay was also called Am Ixchel, when the first Spanish explorers arrived. This is evidence that groups of people from Tamaulipas migrated to the Gulf Coast of the United States, or that both regions were special destinations of Putun Maya sea craft.
The culture of Am Ixchel is seldom discussed or studied. The ruins of their towns and villages can found near rivers and creeks in the northern and central part of the state. The Tamaule were pushed northward out of Vera Cruz by the Huastecs and then almost completely driven out of the region by Nahua-speaking barbarians between around 1250 AD and 1300 AD. The remaining indigenous peoples were called “Olives” by the Spanish. They are now extinct in Tamaulipas, but can found elseshere.
Linguistics suggests that the Tamaule of Tamaulipas were the same people as the Tamaule of southeastern Georgia, northwestern South Carolina and western North Carolina. Most Tamaule merged with the Creek Indian Confederacy or the Cherokee Alliance, but two bands have kept their name after seeking refuge in other regions.
The “Tamale” in Louisiana migrated from Georgia in the mid-1700s. They no longer speak their original language. Another Tamaule band, Tamulté de las Sabanas, migrated from Tamaulipas to Tabasco State in southern Mexico around 1250 AD. Their dialect of Maya maintains the “te” suffix for “people” that is used by the Itza Mayas, Huastecs and Itsate Creek Indians.
The Tamulté make frequent use of the Muskogean “v” sound, which is pronounced something like “äw”, but written by the Spaniards as a “u.” De Soto’s chroniclers recorded the Georgia ethnic group, known as the Okvte’ as the Ocute.
The Tamulté still maintain cultural traditions very different than their Maya neighbors. These traditions are almost identical to those of the Creek Indians. They are the only indigenous people in Mexico, who eat corn on the cob. They are the only indigenous people in Mexico, who begin their calendar on the Summer Solstice like the Muskogee Creeks. The Tamulté are also the only indigenous people in Mexico, who celebrate the Green Corn Festival.
The ancestors of the Creek Indians switched from the Maya Winter Solstice calendar to the Summer Solstice calendar in the 14th century. From around 900 AD till the 1300s, their five sided principal temple mounds faced the Winter Solstice sunset. When the Kusa arrived in northwestern Georgia around 1300 AD, they introduced the practice of building oval mounds that faced the Summer Solstice sunrise. After E-tula (Etowah Mounds National Landmark) was sacked around 1375 AD, all new temples mounds were like the ones built by the Kusa.
Words found in Tamaulipas and in the United States
Am Ixchel in Mexico appears to have been a frontier zone where many ethnic groups existed and assimilated. On the coast were port towns that were probably established by Putun (Chontal) Maya traders. Surviving indigenous place names in Tamaulipas often include standard Itza Maya, Totonac, Huastec, Nahuatl or indigenous Tamaule, locative suffixes. Throughout much of the eastern Southeast, where Creek Indians once lived, there are indigenous place names that are identical or similar to those in Tamaulipas. The unique word endings correspond exactly to the languages and dialects of the various provinces that came together in the late 1600s to form the Creek Confederacy.
These non-Huastec words are perplexing to scholars who are focused on Huastec Culture, even though most of Tamaulipas was never occupied by the Huastecs. Researchers struggle to find meanings in Huastec language, when the words can easily be translated by Totonac, Itza Maya or Muskogee-Creek dictionaries.
The Tamaule and Zoque used “le” for people (e.g. Wahale.) The Huastecs and Itza Mayas used “te” or “ti” for people (e.g. Koasati.). The Muskogee Creeks and some dialects of Totonac use “ke” or “ki” for people. Both the Creeks and the Totonacs use the word chiloki for barbarian. The Nahuatl’s used “ten” “tl” or “tli” for suffixes to root words (e.g. Tamatli in SE Georgia.)
The Totonacs use a “hi” attached to a verb to describe a person doing that action. As an example, tama meant “trade” in Totonac. Tamahi is a trader or merchant. One branch of the Creek Indians that formerly lived in Virginia and Georgia was known as the Tamahiti. It is a hybrid Totonac/Huastec or Itza Maya word meaning “merchant people.”
A typical feature of most Muskogean languages can also be found in few Tamaulipas place names. Muskogeans add a “se” suffix to a person’s or town’s name to mean “offspring of.” It is pronounced “she-” in the Muskogean languages. Spanish and English speakers typically wrote this down as a “che-” sound. There are several villages in Tamaulipas, whose names are formed by combining a noun with a “che” at the end. An example would be the village of Tamache.
Origin of word, Tamaulipas
An anonymous author in the Wikipedia online encyclopedia wrote the following explanation, “The name Tamaulipas is probably derived from Tamaholipa, a Huastec term in which the tam – prefix signifies “place where.” As yet, there is no scholarly agreement on the meaning of holipa, the native population of Tamaulipas, now extinct, was referred to as the “Olives” by the Spanish.” Another anonymous author in Wikipedia added, “Tamaulipas probably means “Montes Altos” (high hills). A third added version states that Tamaulipas means “Place of olives”, natives originating in Florida, USA.”
The most probable explanation is “none of the above.” A little detective work revealed that the word “Tamaholipa” was recorded by a single missionary priest from his interpretation of a Huastec word spoken by some illiterate parishioners in his village. The highly respected Mexican linguist, Jorge Silva, stated that the Huastec word, tam, means “when,” not “place of.” The root word is “tamau,” not “tam.” A literal translation of Tamaulipas in the Itsate Creek and Itza Maya languages would be, “merchants, place of.” It is known that Maya merchants frequented the Tamaulipas coast and probably settled there. The region where they originated in southern Mexico was Chiapas. That word means “Salvia, place of.”
Mexican and North American anthropologists have generally ignored the vast majority of Tamaulipas’s landscape, which was not occupied by the Huastecs. There are no published anthropological papers that provide radiocarbon dates of villages, pottery styles or descriptions of theTamaule’s architecture. The only solid cultural information was obtained from the Tamulté’s of Tabasco, who left their motherland 800 years ago. It is quite possible that when a Tamaule town is finally studied, it will look very much like the Bottle Creek Mounds town site north of Mobile, Alabama in the other land named “Am Ixchel.” The Bottle Creek town was founded at about the same time that Chichimecs drove the indigenous Tamaule out of their homeland. Such a discovery would turn the archaeology books, upside down.
The times are a-changing
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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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