The Mayas . . . Facts that you will never see on a television program!
PART FIVE OF THE MAYAS IN NORTH AMERICA SERIES
The crowd gasps . . . “But that National Geo program said that the Maya civilization disappeared around 900 AD!”
During the past 40 years, it seems that about every nationality in the Old World has claimed to have founded the first civilization in the Americas. The problem is chronology. By 3500 BC, there were folks in Peru and the Amazon Basin building pyramids and cities, plus preserving their loved ones as mummies. The Bilbo Mound and Circular Port in Savannah were begun around 3545 BC. The Watson Brake circular earthworks and mounds were constructed around 3450 BC.
At least by 3500 BC, the indigenous peoples in Alberta were building stonehenges and used a solar cross as a sacred symbol. The earliest stonehenge in the British Isles dates from around 3,000 BC. Solar crosses began appearing on European petroglyphs around 2500 BC. So . . . if anything . . . one comes up with the heretical speculation that peoples from the Americas jump-started civilization in Europe and North Africa. Old World civilizations accelerated ahead of the Americas because of domesticated animals and a much larger land area on which innovative ideas could be spawned.
When one narrows the focus to the Mayas, the level of misunderstanding becomes appalling, even among anthropology professors and mainstream TV network documentaries. It seems that most people’s concept of the Maya civilization never matured beyond high school, a five day vacation in Yucatan or perhaps pseudo-history programs such as Ancient Alien Astronauts.
One does not have to watch fringe TV networks to get bogus history. In the past two years, both PBS and National Geo have produced documentaries, which stated that all Maya cities had been abandoned by 900 AD and that all the Mayas went back to living simple lives in the jungle!
Dirty little secrets about the Mayas that your teacher never told you
(1) The “Mayas” were originally many ethnic groups, speaking over a hundred languages and dialects. Even today there are very distinct differences in the physical appearances of the various surviving branches of the Mayas. In other words, they were NEVER a single tribe as typically described in TV documentaries. Over the 3,000+ years of living near each other, the languages evolved and blended. Nevertheless, several “Maya” languages are not mutually intelligible. A “Maya” in Tabasco State, Mexico would probably be better able to understand a Miccosukee from Florida than the “Maya” languages, spoken in Belize and Honduras.
(2) North Americans mispronounce Maya! The letter Y in Spanish is pronounced as a long E, so the correct pronunciation in English phonetics is Mä : ē : ä . . . not Mī : yä.
(3) But the Mayas never called themselves the Mayas, until the Spanish told them that was their name. They had no concept of being a single ethnic group until the Spanish created an administrative district, which included all the people that they called Mayas. The Spanish did the same thing in Florida by creating the tribal labels of Apalachee and Timucua. Neither the Florida Apalachee nor the Timucua ever called themselves by that name, until their conquerors told them their new name.
(4) Bartholomew Colon (Columbus) dreamed up the name Maya around 1498, while exploring the coast of Central America, he encountered a massive trade canoe that his native guides said was from Ma-e-am, a powerful province on the northern Yucatan Peninsula. The equivalent names of this province were Ma-e-pan (Mayapan~Mexica/Nahuatl), Ma-e-ab (NE Yucatan and Belize) and Haw-e-pas (Itza). In Chontal Maya, Ma-e-am means “Water-Principal or Big (lake)-Place of.” Colon wrote down their ethnic name as Maya (Ma-e-a) and the name stuck. The trouble is that there are no lakes in the northern Yucatan Peninsula and very few streams. So where was this lake, where these people originated?
You will see another translation of the word Mayab in Wikipedia – “few people.” However, I think that is one of those many speculations by anthropology professors, which no one fact-checked. The people of Mayam or Mayapan did not speak Belize Maya! I looked up the anonymous author’s translation of “few people” and it is entire different words in Yucatec Maya . . . plus, makes no sense.
(5) In 1500 AD, a smallpox plague killed millions of Natives in Yucatan, Guatemala and the Gulf Coast of the Southeastern United States. The plague reduced the population of Yucatan by 50-75%. It was apparently introduced by the crew of Bartholomew Colon’s fleet. This holocaust was preceded by a 50 year long civil war between provinces in northern Yucatan, which caused the abandonment of most of its large cities. Thus, if the Spanish had arrived in 1400 instead of 1500, they would have encountered a fairly dense population there. Until the smallpox plague, the Chontal Mayas, Calusas and Uchees (yes, Uchees) carried on a brisk trade between Yucatan, Cuba, Florida and the Gulf Coast of the USA. The traders died along with the coastal towns they infected. There would be no myth on television programs about the Maya country being left uninhabited after 900 AD, had not this plague occurred.
(6) At the time of the Spanish Conquest, there were three provinces named Am Ixchel on the rim of the Gulf of Mexico. Am Ixchel is Chontal Maya and means “Place of the Goddess Ixchel.” They formed a perfect equilateral triangle and were located (a) the coastal region between Mobile Bay and the mouth of the Apalachicola River, (b) the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula near Merida and (c) Tampico Bay in Tamaulipas State, Mexico. Thus, there is irrefutable evidence of frequent navigation between the Yucatan, Tamaulipas and Southeastern United States, prior to the arrival of Europeans.
(7) Recent archaeological work has revealed that “Maya Civilization” began at the same time as “the Olmec Civilization.” The reason that this was overlooked was that for a thousand years these peoples mainly built “Injun Mounds” not stone veneered pyramids. The Maya mounds were underneath the later stone structures.
(8) Mound-building (aka pyramids) and pottery-making were introduced to eastern Mexico from the Southeastern United States around (1000 BC – 900 BC). The peoples of southern Mexico and Guatemala (commonly called the Olmec and Maya Civilizations) did not start constructing earthworks the scale of those at Poverty Point, Louisiana until around 700 BC or later.
The Uchee-Cuban Connection
There was very little archaeological work in Cuba until the Revolution. What one reads in standard references and Gringo anthropological texts is a mixture of partial facts, speculations and myths. They assume that there was no evidence of cultural contacts between Cuba and southeastern North America. Supposedly all of Cuba’s indigenous population and cultural influences came from the Caribbean Basin and South America. This was what I was taught in graduate school also. Put anything else on a test question, and you would get a F.
The true Native American history of Cuba couldn’t be more different, but first we will talk about the Uchee. The Uchee have always said that in ancient times, they colonized Cuba. No anthropologists or historians paid any attention to this tradition . . . but probably, very few, if any ever talked directly with the Uchee. Also, both the Uchee and the Creeks were known to have traded with Cuba until the Second Seminole War, when US Navy ships blockaded the Florida Coast. One of the primary reasons that the Creek Confederacy created its own navy in the 1780s was to protect boats traveling back and forth from Havana from pirates.
The information gleaned from 50 years of intensive archaeological study in Cuba is now appearing on the web . . . in recent months written in English to attract cultural tourists. Here is the actual chronology of Cuban indigenous history, written by Cuban anthropologists. Notice how starkly different it is from the Wikipedia article on Cuban history.
- 8000 BC – Cuba was settled by peoples from North America.
- 4,500 BC – Cuba was settled by peoples from southern Mexico, Honduras and Venezuela
- 1500 BC-1000 BC – Western Cuba was settled by shell ring people from the Southeastern United States. They introduced permanent villages, pottery and construction of shell rings on the coast.
- 500 BC – Cuba was settled by mound builders from Florida and the Southeast. This is probably the Uchee colonization. The mound builders continued to live in the western tip of Cuba even after arrival of the Arawaks (Taino).
- 600 AD – 800 AD – Immigrants from the south settle in the Mayan or Mayanabo Province area. It is now called Camaguey and is on the north-central coast, opposite south Florida. The article does not specifically state, who these immigrants were. Mayan probably refers only to specific provinces names Mayam.
- 1000 AD – Immigrants arrive from the Antilles Islands and settle on the eastern end of Cuba. These were probably ancestors of the Taino.
- 1400 AD – Caribs begin establishing settlements on the southern coast of Cuba.
Did the “real Mayas” originate in Florida?
The indigenous name of Lake Okeechobee and the culturally advanced indigenous province around it was Mayami. The word Miami was derived from it. It Florida the word is interpreted as meaning “Big Water” because the Itsate Creeks translated this word into their language as Oka chopi (Water Big) = Okeechobee in English.
Mayami is Chontal Maya . . . the “Pigeon Maya” of the people of the Tabasco Marshes, who became the premier mariners of the Mesoamerican world. It means, “Lake-Place of-Principal or Capital.” In plain English that means that this was the homeland and capital of the Big Lake People.
Strangely, the explanation of the Miami Indians in southwestern Ohio is that their name was Mayami-ke, which probably means “downstream people,” but the author did not know what language this word was from. Well, for starters, “ke” is the suffix for “people or tribe” in Muskogee-Creek. So Mayami-ke is a hybrid word, which means “Big Lake-Place of- People.” This is highly significant because the Miami Indians of Ohio are associated with the Fort Ancient Culture, an Ohio Valley element of the so-called Mississippian Culture. Large serpent effigies, probably associated with the Itza-Chontal Sky Serpent God, can be found on Lake Okeechobee, the Georgia Mountains and in southern Ohio.
This myth that Cuba was not a cultural bridge of the Americas has put blinders on anthropologists in the United States. No one seems to see the obvious linguistic connection between the four locations of peoples named Mayam or Mayami . . . the northern tip of Yucatan, north-central coast of Cuba, the southern tip of Florida and southern Ohio.
These “Mayans” were probably in Florida during the Classic Maya Period when great cities were sprouting up everywhere in Yucatan, Tabasco, Chiapas, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. Their towns were interconnected with hundreds of miles of canals and raised causeways, even though apparently (but not for certain) they did not practice large scale agriculture. They developed a highly sophisticated society that utilized almost all the cultural and artistic themes, now called “Mississippian.”
In the next article . . .
The city of Mayam or Mayapan was not even founded until after the Classic Maya Civilization collapsed. What’s really odd is that Mayapan, the Lamar Village and Etowah Mounds were founded at the exact same time. In Part Six POOF will take a look at the comparative timing of events in Mesoamerica and the Southeast to see if there are parallel developments. The readers will get to see a time line that compares what was happening at several locations in the Southeast, Cuba and in Mesoamerica. There is a direct correlation between the timing of dramatic events at Teotihuacan, Palenque, Chichen Itza and Mayapan with cultural changes in the Southeast.
Unless they read the People of One Fire, Southeastern anthropologists don’t even seem to be aware that there was a large Panoan and Arawak population in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina at the time of European Contact. In Part Seven, we will use the comparative time line to try to determine when these peoples from the south arrived and what impact they had on those, who had arrived in the Lower Southeast before them.
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