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What your teacher never told you about the word, Maya!

What your teacher never told you about the word, Maya!


The Mayas never called themselves Maya. The word is not pronounced Mī : yüh . . . and all Maya cities didn’t “suddenly disappear” at one time, as a legion of television and Youtube documentaries would have you believe.  There IS a connection between the words Maya and Miami.  And yes, there is a direct correlation between events in northern Yucatan and the founding of the Creek Mother towns, Etula (Etowah) and Itzasi (Lamar Village).

Secondly . . . in researching the etymology of the word, Maya, I came across something that cannot be explained by the maps, which geneticists are presenting the migration of mankind.  From Neolithic Period onward, mankind was also migrating across the oceans.   There are certain root words (and petroglyphs) which can be found across a vast swath of the coastal regions of Northwestern Europe, the Americans and the Pacific Basin.  Clearly, there were constantly migrating Sea Peoples in ancient times, who transported their culture and their genes across these regions.  Geneticists must rethink how they define indigenous DNA markers for these regions.  I am fairly certain that the Totonacs and Zoque in Mexico, the Panoans in South America, the Uchee, Apalache, Okoni, Alekmani & Wassaw in Georgia and the Maori in New Zealand are partially descended from those Sea Peoples. How else can one explain a modern day Swede and a Shipibo in Peru having the same meaning for the root word, “bo”.  It was almost the same word in the Itza language.  They use “po.” 

At the present time,  scholars of Maya cultural history and their writing system can find no evidence that the Mayas had a concept of being members of a single civilization, nation or tribe. In fact, they probably were not originally members of a single tribe.  While in southern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize I noticed stark differences in the physical appearance between regions of the so-called “Maya World.”  Today, there are over 30 Maya languages and dialects.  Going back 1500 years, we probably would find well over a hundred “Maya” languages and dialects.

Mayanists also have not found a word similar to Maya in the Classic Period “Maya” writings.  Individual “Mayas” labeled themselves either as residents of a particular city-state or as subjects of a particular king.  During the Post-Classic Period (1000 AD – 1500 AD) one city state in north central Yucatan did have a name similar to Maya.  Exactly as they did on the South Atlantic Coast of North America, the Spanish conquerors took the name of one city-state and applied it to a region.  For example, Guale was the name of a large village of newcomers on St. Catherines Island, GA.  The Timucua in Florida got their name from the Tamakoa, who lived on the Lower Altamaha River in Southeast Georgia, but moved away from the Spanish to what is now the northeastern edge of Metro Atlanta.


Maya is a Spanish word!  It the result of marginally educated Spanish conquerors trying to approximate the sound of a city-state’s name then contracting that approximation into a word, using the 16th century Castilian-Roman alphabet.  A Castilian “Y” is pronounced approximately like an English long “Ē”.   Thus,  the English version of the Spanish word should have been written as Maea.  The English “Y” sound is written as “ll” in Spanish.  However, the actual indigenous pronunciation of the word was actually Mī : äm, which is a contraction of Mia and am, roughly meaning either “Island People – Place of” or “Elite – Place of.”  Today, Mexicans call that region Mī : ä : pän. Keep that indigenous pronunciation of the word in your temporary memory storage compartment of your brain!

Origin of the word, Maya

On July30, 1502, during his fourth voyage, the fleet of Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) arrived at the Island of Guanaja, off the coast of Honduras. He dispatched two ships, commanded by his brother Bartholomew, to survey the island. As Bartholomew’s ships sailed near the island, a large canoe approached from the west, apparently being paddled toward the island. The canoe was carved from one large tree trunk and was powered by twenty-five naked rowers. Bartholomew Colon ordered that the canoe be seized and then he and a group of armed sailors boarded it.  They seized the occupants and made them slaves.  Apparently, the canoe was itself a slave raider, because its primary cargo was composed of women and children captured in Honduras, to be taken back to Yucatan.

The elderly captain of the indigenous trading canoe stated that he was from the city-state of what Bartholomew Colon wrote down in his log as “Maiam.”    That would be pronounced Ma : ï : am in English phonetics. It was actually Mahiam.  Mahiam was the indigenous name of a city-state on the north-central tip of Yucatan.  Nahua speakers called the province Mahipan, which means “Mahi – Place of.” 

Among the indigenous peoples of northern Yucatan, there were two pronunciations . . . Ma : hä : am and Mī : am.

The Spanish began a serious effort to subjugate the Yucatan Peninsula in 1526.  Many Spanish garrisons would be wiped out during the following century and rebellions would continue for the next five centuries.  The first indigenous lord to capitulate to the Spanish was in the town of Mani, which had replaced Maiam as the regional capital.  The first Spanish provincial capital was established nearby in Merida.  The Spanish called the locals Maya.  As their power extended farther and farther south, they continued to label all the indigenous peoples conquered as Maya . . . even though, the new subjects would have considered that the same as calling the French people, English.  Thus, yet another linguistic myth was born.

The mortuary temple at Fort Center around 400 BC.

Archaeologist William Sears found maize pollen mixed in with the muck near the mortuary mound at Fort Center, which was dated to 450 BC = +/- 105 years. He found ashes, bits of human bone and crushed shells in the soil. He theorized that the ashes from the human bodies, cremated at the temple, were applied to this soil.  When corn beer or corn cakes were consumed by the people, they believed that they were consuming the souls of their ancestors.

Sears’ archaeological peers never forgave him for stating that agriculture came earlier to Florida than they assumed.  Between 2010 and 2015 there was a determined effort by Midwestern archaeologists to discredit his theory.  They claimed that Sear’s soil samples, although taken as much as 4 feet under the surface had been contaminated by much more recent cultivation.  One report stated that corn grown on the site in the 1700s was the source.  Other reports stated that modern corn was the source of the contamination.   Nobody apparently actually knew anything about agriculture.  They just wanted to prove how smart they were, before their peers.

Fact Check: American corn (maize) is not grown commercially in the vicinity of the Fort Center Site because of the soil chemistry and a legion of parasitic nematodes and insects.   The Seminole tribe grows its corn in the Red Clay Hills of northwest Florida for those reasons.  When the first Seminoles arrived in the region during the late 1700s, they found that their corn did very poorly or didn’t even produce ears.  They switched to coontie (arrowroot),  yucca root and rice to get their carbohydrates.  Corn will only grow normally in that region, when the soil’s chemistry is significantly altered.  A mixture of decomposed garbage, human ashes and crushed shells contains the chemicals that must be added to the soil.  Most farmers cannot afford that alternative

The Mayas were not THE Mayas

It is going to get a little confusing now, because what we have just explained is that the label “Maya” was originally a name for a people, who lived in a specific province on the north-central tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.  However, the ethnic name “Maya” during the Early Colonial Era also was applied to the people, living around Lake Okeechobee and the Miami River, PLUS Ocmulgee Bottoms at Macon, Georgia.  French and Spanish maps label them “Mayacoa,” which means “Maya People.” We will explain below that the advanced cultures around Lake Okeechobee, Florida and Macon, Georgia had the same life span (900 AD – 1150 AD)!

Among many things that your high school history teacher didn’t tell you was this:   The indigenous peoples of eastern Georgia and the Lake Okeechobee region of Florida were making fiber-tempered pottery about 1500 years before the “Mayas” and “Olmecs” were making pottery.   Ceremonial earthworks were being constructed in the southwestern corner of Lake Okeechobee at the Fort Center site around 750 BC.  By 300 AD,  many villages, with extensive earthworks were being constructed around Lake Okeechobee. Between 900 AD and 1150 AD, the villages grew into towns, interconnected by an extensive network of raised causeways and canals (with locks!) while a large metropolis developed near present-day Macon, GA along the 14 miles length of riverine wetlands and bottomlands, known today as Ocmulgee Bottoms..  Most of the towns around 1150 AD (along with the acropolis at Ocmulgee) were abandoned.  South Florida’s advanced culture then shifted to the southwest coast of Florida, where the Calusa Kingdom thrived. 

The northern Yucatan Peninsula was considered the boonies by the city states of the Pre-Classic and Classic “Maya” Civilizations (1000 BC -900 AD).  Mexican and North American anthropology are completely silent as to who was living before the people, who were non-Mayas, but are called Mayas today, arrived.  Below is what anonymously written articles in Wikipedia.  Keep in mind that most uses of the word “Maya” here actually mean “Non-Maya, who anthropologists call Maya.”

“The first Maya moved to the Peninsula circa 250 CE, from the Petén (today northern Guatemala), to settle the southeastern peninsula in the modern Bacalar, Quintana Roo. In 525, the Chanés (Mayan tribe that preceded the Itza), moved to the west of the peninsula, founding Chichén Itzá, Izamal, Motul, Ek’ Balam, Ichcaanzihó (modern Mérida) and Champotón. Later, Tutul Xiúes, Toltec descent, who came from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, settled in the region around 990, causing displacement of the Itza and Cocomes—a diversified branch of Itzá.  The last Maya calendar date at Chichen Itza is 998 AD.  Finally, after years and many battles, the Mayapán League (composed of the Itza, the Xiús and Cocomes) that eventually disintegrated. “

“The Maya revolted in 1221 against the Maya-Toltec lords of Chichen Itza. After a short civil war, the lords of various powerful cities and families met to restore a central government to Yucatán. They decided to build a new capital city near the town of Telchaquillo, hometown of Hunac Ceel, the general who defeated the rulers of Chichen Itza. The new city was built within a defensive wall and named Mayapan (actually they called the city Mahiam).”

Key dates to remember are  900 AD, 990 AD and 1220 AD.  The radiocarbon date for the base of the Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee National Monument is 900 AD.  The radiocarbon dates for the earliest development at Etula (Etowah) and Itzasi (Lamar Village) are in the 990s AD.  After being destroyed by a flood around 1200 AD,  Etula was resettled in a big way around 1250 AD.

Tamachichi, who was Principal Chief of the Itsate Creeks in Ocmulgee Bottoms until 1717,  described the origin of his people to James Edward Oglethorpe.  His statements have been in publication since 1734, but were conveniently ignored by Georgia archaeologists during the 2012 “Maya Myth Busting in the Mountains” campaign.   He stated that his ancestors first fled across the “Great Water” to a large lake, where they lived in towns.  They then migrated to a place of many reeds (marshland, swamps) then were forced to flee to the Savannah Area, where they lived for awhile, but eventually settled on the Ocmulgee River.  It should be understood that the Itsate Creeks in the Georgia and North Carolina Mountains had a different migration legend. They came across the “Great Water” much earlier and reached the highlands via the Chattahoochee River.

Everything that you wanted to know about “Ma” and Miami, but were afraid to ask

“Ma” is one of those ancient Neolithic root words that pops up in many coastal areas of the world.  In Totonac, it means “to lay down, to set things down or to supplicate.”  Added to other root words, it creates very different meanings.  Tama in Totonac, Itza Maya and Itzate Creek means to sell or trade.  The logic is that one set down trade items on the ground to sell them. Mapi in Totonac and Tamale-Creek means “to buy.”   The logic there is that you pickup things that have been set down.

“Hi” is a suffix in Totonac, Itza, Creek and Archaic Polynesian, which was added to a verb to make it a noun.  Thus, tamahi is a merchant in Totonac, Itza and Creek.  Tamahite meant “merchant people” in Itza and Itzate Creek.  Kanahi means “to heap up earth or build a mound.” Kanahite or Konahite means “Mound Builders.”   It was not the name of a famous Cherokee Indian Chief in Towns County, GA.  LOL

Mahi literally means “to make others bow down or supplicate in Totonac, but was used for a town king.   Mahe in Muskogee Creek means “authentic, real, blueblood” in the sense that a person is a member of an old elite family.  Mahi means “great” as in a “great man or chief” in Hawaiian.  The mahi-mahi fish’s name means great-great in Hawaiian.

The Itza and Itzate Creek word for king was mako.   Ma, as stated before, means in this case, to supplicate.  The ko syllable appears to be derived from the Phonician-Canaanite root word for a leader, ku.   The Muskogee-Creek speakers changed this word to meko or micco.

The etymology of Miami, Florida is powerful evidence that the real Mayas originally lived in Florida then settled the northern tip of Yucatan.  The ancestor of the word first appeared in Spanish Colonial Archives as Mymi in 1566 and Mayaimi in 1575 then in the 1600s (probably more accurately) as Mayami.  They were the same people who were called Mayacoa by Arawak speakers.  They lived in the region around Lake Okeechobee, where formerly many large, sophisticated towns had existed.

In the earlier part of the article, we mentioned that Maiam (Mayapan) was pronounced Mī : ä : am, so Ma : am : i would actually be pronounced like Miami today.  An E or I sound at the beginning or end of a town’s name meant that it was the “principal town” or capital.  Echiaha was the capital of Chiaha.    Etula (Etowah Mounds) was the principal town or capital of the Itzate Creeks.  So Maiam-I would be the principal or oldest town of the Maiam . . . the real Mayas.   Wouldn’t you like to have a time machine? 

In the People of One Fire’s series on the North Georgia petroglyphs,  we provided proof that the Maya glyph for “royal sun” or “high king” first appeared in Early Bronze  Age Sweden around 2000 BC or earlier.  That same symbol appeared on petroglyphs in the Georgia Highlands long before it was included in the earliest form of Maya writing.   It began appearing on Maya stelas around 200 AD.  The Mayas believed that their ancestors once lived in a land of iced and snow.   That is powerful evidence that the ancestors of the real Mayas migrated from north to south then some of them migrated part of the way back north. 






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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.



    Very informative article. Thank you for writing this. My dog’s name is Maya because I’m fascinated by ‘Mayan’ culture and I know now where that word came from. On another note, my boyfriend and I visited the Etowah Indian mounds in Georgia awhile back and I pointed out to him that a replica drawing in one of the displays looked like it had Mayan influences. This was before I read some of your articles. So I had no clue that there was the possibility that the Mayans and the Native Americans integrated. I now see the truth and it’s very intriguing.

    • Actually, most of the branches of the Creek Confederacy came from Mexico. Some were Mayas. Others were Zoque, Toltec or Pima.


        Oh, that’s even more interesting.


    Richard – As you know, I’m having a wood sculptor do a scaled down rendering after The Hontoon Island Owl totem pole that was dredged out of the St. Johns River in the 1950s. It was, of course, attributed to the Timucuan people. But is now considered attributable to the “Mayaca”. Hontoon Island is about the middle of the area between Lake Monroe and Lake George that you identify as Myacoa territory. Same people, right?

    • That was Mayacoa territory at the time of European contact, but the owl was also held sacred by the Toa people of central Cuba and north central Puerto Rico. Georgia has a lot of pottery with owl motiffs and some owl stone effigies in areas where the Toa lived. Those that survived the Disease Holocaust joined the Creek Confederacy. Everywhere I turn, I find evidence that these peoples moved all over the place and that the ethnic pattern in the Lower Southeast was like a patchwork quilt.

      I did some research and indeed, the owl was held to be very sacred and wise among the Mayas of northern Yucatan. SO . . . yes, it is either Mayacoa or Toa – with Mayacoa most likely.


    Richard, Thanks for the article. The sound “SAh” is a sound that ended Native names in the South East Like: Coosa, Itsa / Issa, Kusa, Tuscaloosa….any opinion as to what that sound means to multiple peoples? The Luwian word, kursatta ( kursawar “island”) for Crete is another connection for KU and SA. The early Native Sea peoples (Gulf of Mexico area) do seem to have an ancient Maori / Hawaiian words connection…These words seems to indicate a Sea fairing trade network did exist to different ports cities.

    • Remember that those are all English words that you wrote down. Muskogeans had four S sounds that would roughly sound like and English S, Sh, Jzh and Z.


    Richard T., It’s very interesting to see links between seafaring people from distant lands/places.
    The Polynesian word similarity does make one wonder how many Polynesian words were borrowed into native American languages (vocabularies) and other way around.
    Having said that; the Polynesians do seem to have adopted a foreign language since the origin of Polynesian languages is in Taiwan and some believe the origin of the Austronesian languages which Polynesian is a branch of is in southern (coastal?) China.

    On the Online Polynesian Lexicon Project the word “mahi” have the meanings “strong”, “powerful”, “energetic” and “hardworking”.
    The word “mahi-mahi”/”mahimahi” means “dolphin”. Common words in Polynesia meaning “big”, “large” and “great” are “nui” and “rahi”/”lahi”.
    Other Polynesian words “maea”/”maia” (in context) have different meanings it can mean “rope” or “weak”; “lazY”.

    In the Austronesian Comparative Dictionary (ACD) and the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database the word “Raya” means “big” and/or “large”.
    Similar wordforms are: “laya”; “haya”; “ayo”; “ayaʔ”. In the (proto-)Malayo-Polynesian forms the prefix “ma” is often included (ma + raya) making it “ma-raya”; “ma-laya”; “ma-haya”; “ma-aya”; “ma-ayo”.

    In the dictionary “An English-Malay dictionary” published in 1916 – by W.G. Shellabear the words “maha” and “raya” means “great”.

    You did mention in several other posts that the people in the Yucatan region looked like (Island-?)Southeast Asians wich would include the Malayo-Polynesian language region. There could have been a trade (sea-/ocean-)route from Island Southeast Asia through the Pacific Ocean to the Americas.
    “According to Arturo González, the director of the Desert Museum in Saltillo, Mexico, and the lead archaeologist of this project, the bone structure of the skeleton is more consistent with that of people from Southeast Asia than that of people from Northeast Asia.”
    “Like all the other Paleo skeletons being found in Mexico, her genetic profile matches that of Southeast Asians and Proto-Polynesians from that era . . . not Siberians.”

    Furthermore there are also similar step pyramids in Island Southeast Asia eventhough many seem to be more influenced by budist and hindu religion. Perhaps new stone statues and decorations were added on existing step pyramids after the budist and hindu religion gained ground (a foothold) on some islands.

    – While many Polynesian languages and dialects commonly use the word “nui” meaning “big” some also use “ma’aka”; “ma’ata”.
    – In the Malayo-Polynesian languages Mapun language of Borneo coast Bajaw the word “mehe” means “Big; large; great; huge”; in the Sama (Sibutu) language of western Sulu Sama the word “mehe” means “big”.
    – In the Indian (hindu) language the word “maha” (from Sanskrit) means “very large”/”great”. Example: “maharaja” meaning “great king” from Sanskrit “maha” (great) and “raja” (ruler; king).

    Polynesian Lexicon Project Online: – mafi / mahi (strong, powerful, energetic, hardworking) – masi-masi / mahi-mahi (Dolphin-fish – Coryphaena hippurus) – nui (big) – maea / maia (rope) – maea (weak, lazy) – lasi / lahi (numerous, large, great)

    An English-Malay dictionary – 1916 – by William Girdlestone Shellabear – (page 229) great (maha, raya)

    Austronesian Comparative Dictionary (ACD): – Raya (big, large)

    Austronesian Basic Vocbulary Database: – ma-raya, raya/raia/ria, haya/heya/haje (big)

    Maharaja – Indian – Hindu – Sanskrit: – maharaja (great king)

    National Geo Video: Oldest known American skeleton found in Yucatan – November 18, 2016:

    Major Paleo-American Discovery in Yucatan – May 16, 2014:

    Step Pyramid in Island Southeast Asia:


    My father has an admixture of Asian and European markers, along with Aboriginal Americans while my mother’s family is Aboriginal American period, meaning copper colored or chestnut. The “Out of Africa” theory is an archaic one, but brown people created civilization from this hemisphere. “Out of America” seems more appropriate.

    • Well, the evidence is that all humanity originated in Africa. However, the genetic evidence is increasingly supporting the fact that it was mixing of different branches of the human family that strengthened humans and increased our intelligence.


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