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Video: A Green Corn Festival Dance by our Tamaute-Creek cousins in Tamulte de Sabano, Tabasco

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. 

zamponaThe 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.

A Tamaulte-Creek town on the Altamaha River, visited by William Bartram

A Tamaulte-Creek town on the Altamaha River in Georgia, visited by William Bartram in 1776

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 Tamatli-Cherokee town on the Little Tennessee River in 1763

The Tamatli-Cherokee town on the Little Tennessee River – visited by Lt. Henry Timberlake in 1763

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.



    Wow. Those pipes are lovely — I can still hear them.

    But Richard, this sure seems Irish to me. Which at this point really wouldn’t be too surprising, now would it? (Wonder which of ’em crossed the Atlantic first…)

    We really appreciate all you are doing, and are endlessly fascinated — hubby just referred someone to POOF yesterday and I just keep hoping that somehow there’s a Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) connection. ;~)

    • The musical instruments originated locally and in South America. Remember the oldest mound in the Americas (3,550 BC) is in Georgia. Georgia mounds were originally oval shaped pyramids, which is something that you don’t see at all in South America, Europe or the Middle East.

      Thank you for your kind remarks.



        Oh no, I’m hardly disputing that! But it really does sound Irish, I swear it. And some of the movements are somewhat similar too. Soooo, if they did migrate back and forth across the Atlantic, as several of your pieces appear to substantiate, some kind of connection is not really out of the realm of possibility. And it wouldn’t have to be a great migration of peoples, Richard, just one or two with a longing for the music they grew up with. Or maybe they did develop completely separately, but the similarity of sound and movements is just striking.

        • Here’s the thing Nancy that we can’t explain . . . the word for water is the same for the Muskogee-Creeks, the Savannah River Uchee and the pre-Celtic population of western Ireland. There are Bronze Age petroglyphs in North Georgia, which are identical to Bronze Age petroglyphs in County Kerry, on the SW tip of Ireland. However, the aboriginal people of Ireland, who occupied the entire island until the Iron Age, were not Indo-Europeans, but would have resembled Native Americans. They had bronze skin, oriental faces and black hair. They were Haplo Group C6, which is a predominantly Asian DNA group.

          So . . . who knows what transpired in the past. The same music might have been played on both sides of the Atlantic.


    Mr. Thornton, can you point me to sources for early Creek music and instruments? Especially any sound recordings of work songs like corn pounding songs? I have listened to Frances Densmore’s recordings but hope that there are more. I am trying to map out connections between indigenous Southeastern music and what became the music of southern slaves, many of whom were indigenous people enslaved alongside africans. If you know any Creek descent people who are thinking about the connections between Creek, English, and African music I would love to speak with them. Even more so if they make music themselves! I have included below the Facebook page where my research musical samples are linked. Thank you in advance!

    • The closest thing to REAL Creek music is either the music of the Tamulte de Sabano in Tabasco State, Mexico or the music and dance of Shipibo People of Eastern Peru. Protestant missionaries completely eradicated the original music in Oklahoma

      This is a Shipibo song and dance that was also painted by Fort Caroline resident artist, Jacque Le Moyne, in 1565 and by a German artist, Von Heck, who lived in Savannah, GA in 1735. Fort Caroline was really in Georgia, so we know that it is aboriginal Creek music too. De Soto’s Chroniclers mentioned that a 32 member band, playing many different wind and percussion instruments, accompanied the High King of Kusa when he came out from the capital to greet the Spanish. Since there are no anacondas in Georgia, the Creek gals probably danced with something like King Snakes. Those foxy Shipibo lassies in this video are identical in appearance to Creek lassies in Alabama, Georgia and North Florida.


        Hey Richard’
        If this video is typical of Shipibo and Creek music and dance no wonder the Catholic church did not like it, that is fun!
        At the Forsyth County fair 2 years ago I saw a Cherokee dance troupe, and I did not get it. It all sounded the same and looked the same, just drums and chanting,and some shuffling around a circle. I guess it was a plains style dance. I found it boring. I want to party with the Shipibo. And yes the girls are pretty!


    Love this blog. It’s one of my addictions.


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