The mind-boggling meanings of Yama, Yamasee, Yamacraw and Yamacutah
Folks . . . this one is going to end up being really bizarre . . . but I just follow the evidence, wherever it leads me.
The Yamasee Confederacy was a late 17th century/early 18th century alliance of remnant peoples in the South Atlantic Coastal Plain . . . mostly in the Georgia portion. Southeastern anthropologists and historians periodically hold academic conferences on the Yamasee . . . without one of the self-described experts on the subject ever bothering to research the meaning of Yamasee. If the academicians even knew a tidbit about the indigenous languages of the Southeast, they would have least know that Yamasee means, “Yama – descendants of.” However, what does this root word, YAMA that is in several geographical place names, mean? The answer was not quite as simple.
Several years of research on the internet provided many alternative explanations . . . all of which did not seem to make much sense until late March 2017, when I discovered that most of the sacred symbols of the Uchees and Creeks, were being carved on stones in southern Scandinavia, 2,000 years earlier. So again, we are coming full circle back to the Bronze Age mariners, who apparently explored most of the known world.
In Alabama and Georgia
In the Muskogee-Creek dictionary, yama is defined as the Muscogee word for the Mobilian Trade Jargon . . . a Muskogean dialect with many Tabasco Maya words, which was originally spoken along the Mobile, Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers. Hence, it was probably the language of the great town at Moundville, Alabama. Yama has no other meaning in Muskogee other than being a proper noun.
In Itsate (Hitchiti) Creek, the linguistic situation is a little more complex. They used generic label, Yamasi, for all the Native provinces downstream from the Itsatate province of Tama on the Altamaha River. The Itsate Creeks of Georgia called the indigenous inhabitants of present southwestern Alabama, Mapi-le. Mapi-le means “traders” in Northern Totonac and Huastec (Mexico). That is also what the Mobile Indians called themselves. The chroniclers of the de Soto Expedition wrote their name as Mabila. Europeans typically interpreted a Muskogean B and a European P sound. French explorers wrote Mapi-le as Mobile.
Yamacraw is the English name of the bluff overlooking the Savannah River, where modern day Downtown Savannah, Georgia sits. It is where the Colonial Province of Georgia was founded. Georgia archaeologists vaguely state that Yamacraw is a Creek word, but it is not listed in any contemporary Creek, Alabama, Koasati or Choctaw dictionary. At a Southeastern Archaeological Conference held in Charlotte, NC 12 years ago, North Carolina academicians argued that Cofitachequi, Yamasee and Yamacraw were Cherokee words, whose meanings have been forgotten. South Carolina scholars countered back angrily that they were Catawba words that are no longer in use.
I wonder if anybody in South Carolina other than “the Catawbas” knows that the Catawba’s never called themselves by that name, until the British told them that was their name. Catawba is actually the Anglicization of Katawpa, which was a Creek province with a Maya name that was located near Gainesville, GA. The word means “Place of the Crown (or capital) in Itza Maya.” The Muskogean Katapas established a colony among Siouan tribes in northern South Carolina, whose capital was also named Katapa.
“Catapa” is mentioned several times in the chronicles of the Captain Juan Pardo Expeditions. The North Georgia Katapa moved southward into West Central Georgia during the 1720s during the worst stages of the Creek-Cherokee War. They were thereafter shown on maps as being members of the Creek Confederacy. They disappeared as a separate branch of the Creek Confederacy in the early 1800s.
The name Yamacraw and the label of “Yamacraw Indians” on Georgia colonial maps just made no sense until 2013, when Marilyn Rae and I discovered that the Apalache Creeks of North Georgia and Northeast Alabama came from Peru. The English ethnic name, “Yama People,” would be written as Yamacora (Yamacola) in the dialect of Apalache Creek, spoke in South Georgia. Apalache speakers in Middle and North Georgia would use the word Yamate. They called themselves, Apalache-te. Either Yamacraw was the mispronunciation of Yamacora by South Carolina Indians or the Anglicization of the word. So . . . the Yama People, whoever they were . . . were NOT ethnic “Muskogee Creek” Indians, but some of their remnants did eventually join the Creek Confederacy.
It is important to remember that the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Mobilian and Pensacola suffixes for “People or Tribe” are Apalache (South American) in origin. Depending on the dialect, the word was cola, ocola, ocala or okla . . . as in Oklahoma. In South Georgia Apalache, cora means “people or tribe” and ocora means “principal people or tribe.” No Choctaw or Chickasaw linguist ever picked up on that fact.
Yamacutah is the name given in The Early History of Jackson County, Georgia to an ancient shrine, built out of quarried and field stones in that county. Although Georgia Creeks vaguely remember that there was once a very sacred shrine in Northeast Georgia, they don’t remember its name or exact location. The only detailed description and name of the shrine is found in this book. The book was published in 1911 by W. E. White and based on a hand-written manuscript, written by Gustavus Wilson in the 1840s. This manuscript was based on the childhood memories of the author’s grandfather, whose family settled Jackson County, when there were friendly Creek Indians still living in the region. The strange spelling of many Native American personal names in this book is probably the result of the words being passed orally down three generations. Actually, most of those “Creek” Indians were Arawaks, whose ancestors were living at the mouth the Altamaha River, when Fort Caroline was constructed in 1564.
The reason that Florida archaeologists can’t find Fort Caroline or its Indian neighbors in Florida is because Fort Carolina was at the mouth of the Altamaha River. All European maps say so. From 1566 until around 1600, there was a bloody war between the Spanish and the densely populated indigenous peoples of the Georgia Coast. At that time, the ethnic group that contemporary archaeologists call the Guale, lived immediately south of the Savannah River. What few indigenous people that were left alive by the Spanish farther south, moved inland . . . either westward or northward. By the mid-1700s, the Tamakua, who formerly lived about 21 miles north of Fort Caroline, now were living in Jackson County. Their version of saying “Yama People” would be Yamakua. The Apalache-te neighbors added their Maya suffix for people to Yamakoa and came up with Yamakua-te. Early white settlers on the Georgia frontier Anglicized that to Yamacutah.
According to The Early History of Jackson County, Georgia, the Yamacutah Shrine marked the location where a man (or deity), who had taught the Creeks the concepts of a monotheistic religion, advanced mathematics and social norms, which would enable them to live in harmony . . . disappeared before their eyes. White actually said that it was God, who walked among the Apalache Creeks. However, this may be an early 19th century fairytale.
A statute was carved out of a soft stone, portrayed the man looking up into the sky. Stone statues with similar postures have been found in Guatemala, Easter Island and New Zealand. The statues in New Zealand are associated with a red haired of large statue, who arrived in New Zealand many centuries before the arrival of the Maori Polynesians. The descendants of the red haired aboriginal people of New Zealand still today compose a distinct Maori Clan . . . and they still have red or blond hair. Their DNA has been traced to the southeastern tip of Iran, next to the Indus River Valley. This location is also where half the DNA of the Aracara chicken of the Andes has been traced. The other half of its DNA is from an indigenous, tail-less chicken-like bird in the Andes Mountains.
Yama in the State of Vera Cruz, Mexico
In the Totonac language of northern Vera Cruz and formerly, Tula (Teothuacan), yama means an agricultural clearing in a dense forest where a multiplicity of plants are grown together in order to enrich the soil. The better known Nahua (Aztec) version of this word is milpa. This meaning of Yama may well be the root word of many place names in the Southeastern United States . . . perhaps not.
Without doubt, the “Bloody River” that flowed off a tall volcano, which stood alone, was the Yamapa River. It is alternatively known as the Rio de Sangre (Blood River) because the iron oxide on the slopes of the volcano stains the water red. The Itza Maya word, Yamapa, means “Place where the Yama live,” so in this situation Yama was an ethnic group.
The Yamapa River was the northern edge of the Olmec Civilization, but is where the civilization began. According to Zoque tradition, around 1200 BC, three flotillas of canoes arrived near the mouth of the Yamapa River, after paddling across the Gulf of Mexico . . . bringing advanced concepts of living. The region didn’t even have pottery. Remember pottery was being made along the Savannah River in Yamacora (Yamacraw) as early as 2,350 BC. The Olmec Civilization would not have pottery until around 900 BC. So . . . the Yama People first lived in the Southeastern United States or Cuba before at least some of their people paddled to Mexico.
The approximate date of 1,200 BC and the word, Yama, have extreme significance in Southern Scandinavia. During the Late Iron Age and Viking Eras, Yama was the name of one of the red haired frost giants, who lived in Scandinavia before the Norse people arrived.
During the Bronze Age, Yama was the name of one of the two sun gods, worshiped by southern Scandinavians. He was the god of the cold months and represented by the glyph on the far left. The Sun Goddess of the warm months was symbolized by the glyph from Bormholm Island, shown above. That glyph also represented the High Priests or High Kings of those peoples. The same symbol 2,200 years later represented the Great Suns (High Priests or High Kings) of both the ancestors of the Creek Indians and the Mayas!
During the past year, the Genetic Laboratory at the University of København (Copenhagen) discovered that the genes, which cause modern day Scandinavians to have blond or red hair and blue or gray eyes originated in the extreme southeastern tip of Iran . . . the exact location where the Aracara chicken’s partial ancestors and the original New Zealanders lived.
The Sun Goddess of the Highland Apalache in Georgia. plus the Bronze Age peoples of western Spain, western France and pre-Gaelic Ireland was named Amana. She was symbolized by a spiral or the symbol seen on the Boulder 6 at Track Rock Gap. With exception of the area along the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers, the Sun God of the peoples living in the coastal plains of Georgia and South Carolina was named Atoya. He was also the original god of the Andes Mountains.
Southeast Iran, the Indus River Valley and Eastern Asia
Yama was the name of a semi-mythological, great king, who ruled over a kingdom of the same name at the southeastern tip of Iran and possibly the Indus River Valley. He was said to be a red-haired or blond giant. His home kingdom was known for its great mariners. Whereas most of the city states were known for their merchants, they were also landlubbers. On the other hand, the ships of the Kingdom of Yama plowed the waters of the Indian ocean, the sub-continent of India and even Southeast Asia . . . bringing rare commodities to the Indus Valley from far, far away.
In the Hindu religion, which developed after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization, Yama changed from a semi-mythological god-king to the horned Lord of Death. A deity named Yama or Yemi can be found in virtually all the cultures of southern and eastern Asia. In some countries, he is the Sun God. In others, he is a fertility god or perhaps a demon, like among the Arawaks. Yama was originally the word in Japanese for a mountain god, but now just means mountain. Some of the red-haired mariners from southeastern Iran sailed as far as New Zealand and colonized it. However, the word, yama, does not appear as a place name in New Zealand.
The progenitors of the first civilization in Peru, had red hair and were extremely tall. We know that they called themselves the Paracusi and that this was also the name of the elite classes among the peoples of the Southeast, who were to become the Creek Indians. The remains of the Paracusi-ti are the seven feet long skeletons found in many proto-Creek royal burials. When and how the migration of the Paracusi-ti occurred . . . we do not know.
It is clear that the Bronze Age peoples of southern Scandinavia and southeastern Iran had an extraordinary cultural impact on many parts of the world. However, the reader should avoid definitive interpretations of the appearance of the word, yama, in most continents. There is still so much that we don’t understand about the ancient past of the Americas.
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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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