The Mayas in North America . . . They never forgot their ancient homelands
Part One of a special anniversary series . . . the Mayas in North America
The mountaintop temples of the Apalache-te, whose descendants became known to the British as the Creek Indians, were not filled with statues of blood thirsty gods, but rather with nests for Painted Buntings. One of the most beautiful birds in the Americas, these Painted Buntings functioned as messengers to the Sun Goddess, who dwelled in their ancient tropical homelands to the south. The Apalache-te and Itza-te called them by their Mesoamerican name, Tonatzuli. During the warm months, the Tonatzuli would raise their young in the protection of Apalache temples and towns then in the fall fly back to the tropics. Each autumn the Apalache-te people would climb up to these mountaintop temples and offer prayers for the Tonatzuli to take to the Sun Goddess.
You see . . . the many peoples, who came together to form the People of One Fire or Creek Confederacy, migrated to the Lower Southeast from several parts of the Americas, yet they always remembered their origins elsewhere. These cultural memories took the form of migrations legends, which Georgia’s first colonial secretary, Thomas Christie, studiously recorded and dispatched to the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Wake, in 1735. Other scholars such as Charles de Rochefort (1658), Charles Wesley (1740) , James Adair (1775), William Bartram (1791), Benjamin Hawkins (1805), Charles P. Jones, Jr. (1873) and Albert Gatschet (1884) also recorded abbreviated versions of these legends and published them in books.
To this day the Miccosukee and Hitchiti-speaking Seminoles of Florida publicly state that they ARE Mayas. The Miccosukee also state that their ancestors were the progenitors of the so-called Olmec Civilization. This is true! Thus . . . it has been commonly known for over three centuries that the ancestors of the Creek Indians came from several parts of the American tropics . . . apparently known to everyone except 21st century archaeologists in the Southeastern United States, who in 2012 proclaimed themselves to be the ultimate authority on the subject, without even knowing the Creek languages.
The truth is that the Itza, Kekchi, Cho’i-te and Tamauli Mayas were just some of the peoples from Mesoamerica, the Caribbean Basin and South America, who joined to form the Creek Confederacy. However, the word, Maya, is immediately recognizable to most readers in the United States and they did play a dominant role in the development of the Southeastern Ceremonial Mound Culture. Nevertheless, this series will discuss all the peoples from the Americas chronologically as the People of One Fire’s researchers came aware of their existence. The gaining of this knowledge was an accumulative process, which began long before “the Mayas in Georgia Thang” briefly attracted the attention of national media in 2012. We will begin at the beginning.
In 1658, French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, added two chapters to the second edition of his landmark book, l’Histoire Naturelle et Morale des isles Antilles de l’Amérique, about the indigenous peoples of the Southeastern part of North America. The original edition had been solely on the Natural History of the Caribbean Basin, but there was a good reason for De Rochefort including the inhabitants of what is now Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and western North Carolina. His interviews with some of the few remaining indigenous peoples of the Antilles had revealed an ancient history of peoples, ideas and crops moving back and forth between South America, the Caribbean Islands, Mexico and the Southeast.
De Rochefort stated that the ancestors of the Arawaks and Caribs had originated in the South Atlantic Coastal Plain. They probably created the first pottery in North America around 2500 BC or earlier. They also built the ancient shell rings and mounds along the coast. Some bands stayed in North America, but most migrated steadily southward as far as Peru and Brazil before turning around migrating northward. During the Late Woodland Period bands of Arawaks reached the Southern Appalachians. De Rochefort stated that what is now Western North Carolina had once been densely populated by “Caribs,” but now (1658) the Apalache-te were the predominant ethnic group in the region. The “te” suffix is Itza Maya, but in fact, the Apalache were a hybrid people composed of Uchee pioneers from Northwestern Europe mixed with Mesoamericans and Muskogeans, plus Panoan-speaking migrants from Peru.
De Rochefort stated that in ancient times, the Apalache had maintained cultural and trade ties with a great (unnamed) civilization in Mexico, but those connections had ended when the civilization collapsed. During the same time period, the Apalache moved their capitals farther and farther north to the point that the current one was in the southern edge of the Apalachen Mountains. Apalachen is the plural of Apalache in the Panoan language of Peru.
In an effort to renew ties with Mexico, a Paracusati (High King) of Apalache had constructed a road from a large town in the Apalachen Mountains (Chiaha) to the Gulf of Mexico. This is the Nene Hatke Rakko or Great White Road, which is now US Hwy. 129. From its southern end some trade occurred again with advanced cities on the other side of the Gulf, but the primary effect was the establishment of a colonies among local tribes along the Gulf Coast. The largest colony in the Florida Panhandle became the people that the Spanish called the Apalache . . . but who did not call themselves Apalache. The elite of this colony called their capital Tala-Hiwalsi, which means “Highlanders Town.” Although the colonists now spoke a “Carib” language, which was not intelligible to the Apalache, they still remained friends and trade partners with their former colonists.
Later editions of De Rochefort’s book were translated into Late Medieval Duets (Dutch), English, German, Italian and Spanish. There were six editions published during the late 1600s. Even today, the book is highly respected among scholars in Mainland Europe, but barely known in the English-speaking world. In 2013, it was rediscovered by POOF scholar, Marilyn Rae, gathering dust in the Fantasies and Utopia bin of the Carter Brown Library at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
British scholars “non-personed” De Rochefort’s book in the early 1700s because it described French Huguenots, Dutch Protestants, Dutch Jews and Sephardic Jews living in the Southern Appalachians for a century before Great Britain claimed the region. However, the book clearly stated that English colonists also settled there in 1621 and built an Anglican Church, but that did not matter. A myth was created that the region was occupied solely by Cherokees when English-speaking colonists arrived in North America. Those scholars knew good and well that there had been no mention of the Cherokees in the region when it was visited by English explorers in the late 1600s, but historical facts were not allowed to get in the away of imperial ambitions.
Academicians in New England during the early 1800s squashed any chance of De Rochefort’s book being incorporated into American History Books. De Rochefort described an advanced indigenous civilization in North Georgia called the Kingdom of Apalache, which built large towns in the river valleys with pyramidal mounds and large towns, constructed of stone, on the sides of mountains. These scholars “knew for fact” that this was impossible. Advanced indigenous cultures had originated north of the Mason-Dixon Line because 19th century white Southerners were lazy, backward degenerates, who owned slaves. You see . . . politicized history has a long tradition in the United States. Its flavor is merely determined by which political tribe is in power.
A vague cultural memory
Personally, I have vague memories of being told that our family was part-Maya. Most of these informants also said that there were “Maya words” in the Creek language, but never stated what these words were. This was all word-of-mouth. I never read such a thing in a textbook. The information may have come from the branch of the family descended from Uncle Earl, who had moved to Plant City, Florida during the Great Depression. They looked “VERY INJUN” and so tended to socialize more with Seminoles in high school and college.
During my university days, I became an acquaintance friend with Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, John S. Pennington. He was a Chiaha Creek from Americus, GA in the southwest part of the state. Pennington was close friends with Jimmy Carter, who grew up in Plains near Americus. He was also the friend of the famous archaeologist, Dr. Arthur Kelly.
Pennington’s family held a much stronger cultural memory of Mayas coming to Georgia. This can easily be explained now because Chiaha is an Itza Maya word. However, Pennington was certainly not aware that it was a Maya word, nor that his Chiaha ancestors had formerly lived in the North Carolina Mountains. The Pennington family remembered that Maya boats had sailed up the Chattahoochee River and established large towns.
Several years later, I was a planning consultant to the City of Americus. The chairman of the Planning Commission was also Creek, but Talasee Creek. While we were were chatting about the early history of Americus, he asked me if I was Creek Indian. I said yes. He responded, “You know down here the Mayas came up the river and mixed with the Creeks.”
In Part Two . . . Dr. Arthur Kelly finds artifacts on the Chattahoochee River, which he believes were either made by Mesoamericans or copies of artifacts made by Mesoamericans. Actually, I now understand that they were typical Cho’i-te (Chontal) Maya ceramics from Tabasco, but Kelly didn’t know that. John Pennington publicizes the discoveries by Arthur Kelly in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That brings down the wrath of a new clique of archaeologists, who hate Kelly. They frame him in order to ruin his career and end any discussion of the Mayan Connection.
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