The Surprising Connection between the Muskogee Language and Whiskey
NATIVE AMERICAN BRAINFOOD
There are today eight living Muskogean languages, Alabama, Apalachee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Florida Seminole, Koasati, Miccosukee and Oklahoma Muskogee (Mvskoke). In the past, there were at least seven more Muskogean languages, but they are now extinct.
Ironically, of all these surviving Muskogean languages, Muskogee is the most aberrant. In plain English, that means that Muskogee, the language for which the Muskogean Language Family was named, is the least similar to the other languages. The origin of Muskogee’s uniqueness is a Sherlock Holmes mystery that has yet to be solved.
An etymological journey back in time
Etymology is the study or the origin of words. Combined with genetics, the two sciences become powerful tools for reconstructing the history of a mixed-heritage ethnic group such as the Creek Indians or people of Great Britain. With both genetics and etymology, one is able to travel back in time thousands of years to get snapshots of cultural paradigms that might not be obvious in the archaeological record.
I apply the statistical methodology of multiple regressive analysis in order to analyze borrowed words between distinct cultures. To be classified as a borrowed word, the two words must mean the same and be pronounced the same or almost the same. This enables me to determine the probability of past cultural contacts. Multiple regression analysis was originally developed to enable urban planners to analyze the development patterns of cities and the dynamics of transportation systems.
Unlike many other federally recognized tribes, the Creeks and Seminoles openly acknowledge that they are the descendants of many distinct polities that came together to form a confederacy. The dynamics that shaped Mvskoke up to 1700 AD, were very similar to English. However, English has become such a culturally powerful language that Mvskoke today shares the fate of Latin . . . a language that many people know, but few people speak in day to day conversation.
The Muskogee Creek alphabet was adopted by the Oklahoma Creek Nation in the late 1800s. Although its letters are Roman, many of the sounds are different. Unless you are a fluent Mvskoke speaker, university published dictionaries should accompany any linguistic research. I am certainly NOT a Mvskoke speaker, so I keep several Muskogean dictionaries at my side.
The evolution of English
Very few of our readers are knowledgeable about Mvksoke, so we will start with the example of English, so you can comprehend the process that modern Muskogean languages evolved through. Three North Germanic tribes invaded Britannia after the Roman Empire fell – the Angles and the Jutes from Denmark and the Saxons from northwestern Germany. Those languages blended to become Old English. Between 865 AD and 954 AD, the Danes and the Norse controlled over half of England. The influence of these Scandinavians caused Early Medieval English to revert back to being more like Jutish. Jutland is a large island in Denmark.
In 1066, the Normans conquered England. Although they were Norse, they spoke French. For the next 250 years, the elite of England were segregated from the English-speaking commoners. They lived in castles or fortified rural villas. They spoke French, while the commoners spoke Medieval English. During this period, the King of England often owned more territory in France than the King of France or the King of Burgundy.
Over time more and more French and Latin words entered the English language, but English did not become again the official language until after England had lost most of its territory in France. The borrowed French words were associated with law, architecture, religion, medicine and fine dining,
Thus, today in English, we have synonyms for many words – some from Old English, some from French or Latin and some from Scandinavian. Nevertheless, the English spoken in daily living clearly shows it Scandinavian roots. “Seasick seamen on a boat” in Swedish is, “Sjösjuk sjömän på en båt.” When English speakers hear the Swedish words pronounced, they completely understand the meaning.
Over the past 12 years of research, we have identified multiple eyewitnesses and architectural proof that town-building cultures of the Lower Southeast between 900 AD and 1690 AD were dualistic societies in which the elite lived in separate communities and probably spoke different languages. In the Piedmont and Appalachians, where there were few large expanses of tillable bottomland, the elite lived in compact fortified towns with sophisticated architecture, while the commoners were dispersed into hamlets and farmsteads scattered across the landscape.
The many enigmas of Mvskoke
When I analyze for the presence of loan words in multiple regression, I divide up the words into categories such as, nature, family ties, architecture, government, trade, etc. When I analyzed Mvskoke and Itstate (Archaic Hitchiti) there were surprising results. Most of the words having to do with town planning, architecture, agriculture, government, politics, trade and writing in Itsate are straight from Southern Mexico. Otherwise, Itsate is more similar to Alabama than Mvskoke is. This suggests that the town building era began around 900-1000 AD with the arrival of an Itza Maya elite, who ruled over commoners, who spoke a dialect of Alabama.
On the other hand, Mvskoke has much fewer pure Maya words. Those they do have are often slightly modified.
Mvskoke words having to do with “high civilization” tend to be more like Alabama. For example, king in Itsate was the Itza word, mako, while the same meaning in Mvskoke is mikko. Itsate used the Itza word for corn, ichi, while Mvskokee uses achi. Itsate, Hitchiti and Miccosukee use the Itza Maya verb, chileam, for “to write.” On the other hand, Mvskoke uses hoccicetv for “to write.” It is very similar to the verbs, meaning “to write” in Alabama Chickasaw and Choctaw.
Georgia and Florida Creeks, Seminoles and Miccosukee, used the Totonac/Itza word for house – chiki. Alabama, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Muskogee speakers use the Itza word for warm – choko – as their word for a house. Itsate Creeks use the Mesoamerican word, chichi, for dog. Mvskoke speakers use the Muskogean word, efa.
In 2014, we discovered something . . . highly unexpected. Certain culturally important words and customs that undoubtedly dated back to the Woodland Period, were shared by Mvskoke and Itsate and had an origin in the eastern slopes of the Andes and upper Amazon Basin. They included the words for a village chief, orata, Sacred Black Drink – asi, tobacco – heche and canoe – pilla. Orata is no longer used in Oklahoma Muskogee as a chief’s title, but has become a verb, meaning “to make things happen.” There are probably many other words borrowed from Satipo Province in Peru, but we really have not examined the dictionaries closely.
Modern Mvskoke has no word for a High King or Queen, who rules many polyglot provinces. Itsate and Apalache did. It was Paracus-ti (Paracus People). The Paracus were the builders of the effigies on the Nazca Plain of Peru, but not the lines. They were built by the Nazca People, who came after them. The Paracus were extremely tall and were the first indigenous Americans to practice cranial deformation and mummification. The Apalache of Georgia mummified their elite. Many cultures in the Lower Southeast eventually practiced head deformation.
The South American connection is strongest in South Carolina and on the Georgia Coast. All of the town names (except Toa) mentioned by Hernando de Soto’s chroniclers while the conquistadors were traveling through Georgia, South Carolina, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee can be translated with either a Creek or Itza Maya dictionary. Toa was the name of Taino Arawak provinces in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Some of the provinces mentioned by Juan de Pardo in his travels around South Carolina can be translated with the same Creek and Maya dictionaries. However, most of the names of provinces that cannot be translated this way correspond to major towns or provinces in Peru or the Upper Amazon Basin in Brazil. Canos and Wara (Joara in Castilian) were major provinces in Peru and South Carolina during the time of the Moche Civilization.
This linguistic evidence suggests that during the hierarchal town-building era, the ancestors of the Muskogee Creeks lived on the fringe of the advanced cultures or else were the commoners. They probably were not ever directly ruled by Itza Maya speakers. Perhaps they were ruled later on by an elite, speaking a dialect of Itsate-Creek.
Words for “people or tribe”
One of the most powerful ways to discern ethnicity is the word for “people or tribe.” In mainstream Muskogean languages like Choctaw, Chickasaw and Alabama, the word for people was similar to okola. Itsate, Hitchiti and Miccosukee use the Itza Maya suffix, ti or te for “people.” The extinct proto-Creek languages used tli, thli, li, and bo for “people.” In Mvskoke, the suffix is ki, ke or kli, pronounced very gutterally like “gk.”
There are two other Southeastern indigenous languages that use gi or agi for “people” – Southern Shawnee and Cherokee. The Catawbas use yi – yi. This fact strongly suggests that Mvskoke evolved away from the Alabama language in a region where they were in close association with the Shawnee and Southern Siouans, or else both the proto-Muskogee and the Shawnee were in close association with another people that used ki or gi for “people.”
Yes, there was another ethnic group who used the suffix “ki” for people. They were the Asháninka and officially, they always lived in Northern Peru and Satipo Province in eastern Peru. Satipo means “colonists.” There was a town named Satipo on the Satilla River in Georgia and the Tellico River in extreme eastern Tennessee. Juan Pardo visited Satipo (Tennessee) in 1568. It became known as Satikoa under Cherokee occupation. “Koa” is the Arawak word for people.
Words for “water”
Water is one of the most basic of human concerns, and here is where things get really bizarre in Mvskoke. Mvskoke dialects use/used either (in phonetic English) we, uwe, uwa or owa for water. Itsate Creek along with all the other living Muskogean languages today use oka or oki for water. A word with such an ancient history should have been the same for all the Muskogean languages. The Itza word for water or stream is haw. We do see that word in the names of some streams in the Lower Southeast such as the Alapaha River (Alligator Water).
I could find only one other Southeastern language with a word for water similar to that used by the Muskogees. The Tuskaroras use the word, awe. That’s it. All the other Iroquoian languages use a word similar to oneka for water. The Yuchi use ‘tsach. The Cherokees use ama. The Catawbas use, ya_`’ye. This strongly suggests that the ancestors of the Tuscarora and Muskogee once lived closed to each other. Stay seated because things are going to get really weird.
In the eastern part of Georgia’s Piedmont and Coastal Plain, geographical and ethnic names that mean “Water People” are common. The name of the Ocute (Okvte) People in northeast Georgia that was visited by De Soto, meant “Water People.”
While attempting to colonize the coast of South Carolina and Georgia between 1562 and 1565, the French Huguenots made several friendly contacts with a people along the lower Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers that they called the Ouede. The French invariably wrote down a Muskogean “t” sound as a “d.” It was a no brainer. This province used the Muskogee word for water with the Itsate suffix for people. Well, no, maybe there is another etymology.
Yesterday, while still unsuccessfully looking for another Native American language that used the same word for water as the Muskogee, I stumbled upon shocking information. The Muskogee word for water was the word used for water by a Pre-Celtic, Bronze Age peoples in northwestern Europe. That word is still spoken on the Atlantic Coasts of Ireland and Scotland. It was formerly spoken on the Atlantic Coast of France and is the source of the modern French word for water, eau.
Until they were exterminated by order of Julius Caesar, there was a coastal tribe in Gaul (France) that built massive ships with leather sails. Their ships were much bigger than those utilized by Christopher Columbus, and quite capable of crossing the Atlantic.
The aboriginal people of Ireland, Scotland, western France and Scandinavia did not look like modern Europeans. They had black hair, bronze skin and non-European faces. The Celtic-speaking invaders of Ireland called them Ciarraige, which means “Dark skinned People.” County Kerry, Ireland is the Anglicization of Ciarraige. In other parts of Europe, they were called the “Sea People” or the “Water People.” They were the progenitors of the Northwestern European Bronze Age Civilization that built cone shaped burial mounds over log tombs. They disappeared from the scene in all areas except Ireland around 1200 BC, when Celtic and Germanic peoples expanded into their territory.
Pre-Celtic peoples in southern Europe, near the Mediterranean Sea. used the words, aka or akwa, for water. That is awfully close to oka, the word for water used by Muskogeans, other than the Muskogee.
Celtic tribes living in western Ireland and western Scotland during the Roman and Early Medieval Periods, used the word, uide for water. That word is essentially the same as Ouede, written by the French. The dominant Celtic word for water, uisge, became prevalent in the rest of the Medieval Period, but it still had the ancient “ui” root at the beginning. The word “whiskey” comes from the 18th century Gaelic words uisge breatha, which mean “Water of Life.” Is this why the Muskogee names for God, “Master of Life” and “Master of Breath” are interchangeable?
In 1521, Spanish slave raiders, Francisco Gordillo and Captain Pedro de Quejo, encountered a Caucasian people on the South Atlantic Coast, who lived like American Indians, except that they made cheese from the milk of dairy deer. In addition to maize, they raised a grain that looked like barely. They called their province Duhare, which was the Early Medieval Gaelic word for “Irish”. They spoke Early Medieval Gaelic. Dairy deer were the primary source of milk for the Irish until the Vikings introduced dairy goats and the Normans introduced cattle.
In the first published history of the State of Georgia, author William Bacon Stephens, mentioned that early colonists on the coast of Georgia and southern South Carolina encountered a mixed heritage people, who spoke Gaelic. They apparently were concentrated in the same region that Captain René de Laudonnière called Ouede.
It is not clear what all of this etymological and historical trivia means. One thing is for sure. The petroglyphic boulders that were found on ancient trade paths of the Georgia Gold Belt are identical to the Bronze Age petroglyphic boulders in County Kerry, Ireland.
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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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