Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
Video: A Green Corn Festival Dance by our Tamaute-Creek cousins in Tamulte de Sabano, Tabasco
The Tamulte are “Southern Creeks” who fled the invasion of Chichimec barbarians into their homeland of Tamaulipas . . . southward to their Chontal Maya cousins in Tabasco . . . when most of their neighbors headed ultimately to the Peach State. Tamulte is their Spanish name. They called themselves the same name both in Mexico and the Southeastern United States – Tamaul-te. Their dialect is so close to Hitchiti that Miccosukee and Tamulte can understand the gist of what each other are saying.
The Tamulte are the only indigenous people in Mexico, who celebrate the Green Corn Festival and set their New Year on the Summer Solstice. All other Mesoamerican peoples hold the New Year on the Winter Solstice. They are also the only indigenous people in Mexico, who cultivate sweet corn and eat corn on the cob. They also like their versions of brunswick stew, grits, hominy, batter fried fish and hush puppies. However, their favorite way to cook corn is the steaming of . . . you guessed it . . . tamales! Tamales were a favorite food of the Creeks until the Indian Removal Period.
The music that you are about to hear is also authentic Creek music. It was syncopated and was produced by musicians, playing at least 32 different wind and percussion instruments. The principal drum looked something like a conga drum, but there were MANY other types of percussion instruments, played by the ancestors of the Creeks. Wind instruments varied in pitch from a piccolo to a bassoon. The Creeks also played zampaňa’s (panpipes) made of copper or river cane. Many copper panpipes have been found at Creek town sites in Georgia.
I have noticed in my visits to Oklahoma that the Muskogee Creeks seem to have completely forgotten their traditional music and instruments. What one only hears is the slow, mournful acapella songs of frontier Protestant churches or at dance grounds, the the boom-boom-boom of Plains Indian drums and perhaps a Plains Indian flute. One must go back to Southern Mexico or Eastern Peru to hear the music, which early European explorers heard.
This particular dance was performed during the Green Corn Festival in the Southeast by young women, who were single and available. You can see the red circle on their authentic Tamaulte dresses. The red circle both symbolized the sun of the Summer Solstice, plus something else. In the Southeast, these women would have also painted red circles on their cheeks, if they were looking for a serious boyfriend or husband. This dance demonstrates the young women’s personal dignity, graceful figures and agility.
As you can see in the background of the stage, most Tamulte have joined the Zapatista Movement. The Zapatista Movement has caused a flowering of indigenous arts and music in the Maya regions of Mexico. The Tamulte are demanding autonomy from the federal government in their educational system, use of Zapatista soldiers to eliminate organized crime, plus the return of lands stolen from them by wealthy families in Central Mexico.
The cousins of the Tamulte, who went northeast established a province on the Altamaha and Lower Oconee Rivers was called Tamaule. Their capital was Tama. It was visited by Hernando de Soto in the spring of 1540. Known variously a the Tamaute, Tamatli, Tamale or Tamasi, these people were an important division of the early Creek Confederacy. Most of the Tamaulle either assimilated with their European and African neighbors in Georgia or else moved to Florida and became Seminoles. The majority did not want to be forced to speak Muskogee, which was quite different from their Maya-based language. Tamachichi (Tomochichi) was undoubtedly an Tamaule , because his name is 100% Tamaule Maya.
The remnants of their colonies of Tamasi in NW South Carolina and Tamatli in North Carolina joined the Cherokee Alliance. Nevertheless, the leader of the Tamatli among the Overhill Cherokees in 1763 still had an Itsate-Maya title of Mako and a Tamulte Maya name. The Tamatli Cherokees maintained their separate identity at that time by building sophisticated rectangular Maya style houses, which were stuccoed with white clay plaster, reinforced with crushed mussel shells.
And now . . . on with the show!
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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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