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Who were the Kofitachiki?

The Kofitachiki ethnic trail spans from Lake Erie to Cartagena, Colombia

Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina & Florida

Several years ago, some Oklahoma Muskogees asked me to write a comprehensive Native American history of the Southeast to be accessed by tribal citizens online. It was at a time when my main concern was the restoration of two blocks of 19th century buildings in Downtown Rome, GA. The work for the Creeks in Oklahoma seemed to be primarily a way of honoring my Native American ancestors with no long term implications.

At the start, I viewed the project to be no different than previous projects, when I prepared comprehensive plans for historical cities such as Charleston, SC or Asheville, NC. One would assemble all the information created by “experts” then structure them into a logically organized document that contained verbiage which people could understand.

THEN I attended part of an annual meeting of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The theme of a session that I really wanted to see was “Native American interaction with 16th century Spanish explorers in the Carolinas.”

OH MY GOSH! The session devolved into angry arguments between North Carolina and South Carolina anthropologists as to whether Cofitachequi was a Cherokee town or a Catawba town. The professors, who were supposed to be experts on Spanish colonial history, were butchering their Spanish pronunciations. They called the town of Joara, Joe-ah-ra, instead Wha-ra. Then Charles Hudson got up and said that Joara (visited by Juan Pardo) was the same town and pronunciation as Suale (visited by de Soto) which, if he had correctly pronounced, would have been Shu-a-le (means Buzzard People.) Anthropologists from both states were labeling standard Creek and Shawnee words as either Cherokee or Catawba words.

A visibly angry Latin American señorita, sitting in the next seat, saw me chuckling at the provincials in this august gathering of scholars and started passing me notes. If she lived in the United States, people would have assumed that she was a pretty Zuni or Pima gal. She was far more indigenous than Spanish.

I learned that she was an anthropology professor in Colombia and an expert on the indigenous peoples of Central America. She felt that she had wasted her money by flying to Charlotte. She asked me why not one of the speakers on the podium was either Indian or Latin American. She urged me to stand up and speak on behalf of Native Americans. I couldn’t. I was neither a SEAC member nor an archaeologist.

Like giddy adolescents, we eventually decided to walk out of the conference. We participated in a torrid lunch at a KFC (con mucho fievre) – reminiscent of the famous scene in the movie, “Moll Flanders.” Later in the afternoon we drove 180 miles to the McClung Museum in Knoxville, TN. Over the next few days, we went on a grand tour of Creek heritage sites in Tennessee and Georgia. This last gasp of romance in my life was back when architects still had incomes.

In retrospect, I could kick myself for not having a tape recorder in my Explorer. There was so much that Pilar told me which has relevance in our research projects today. At the time, though, I was merely a mixed-heritage architect-planner, who was proud of his Native ancestors.

One of the things I do remember is the Georgia-Colombia connection during the Archaic Period. Shell rings and a fiber tempered pottery, similar to Stallings Island ceramics, appeared on the Colombian coast several hundred years after originating in Georgia and South Carolina’s Coastal Plain. At this time the fact seemed merely to be Native American history trivia.

For many years afterward, I wrote that Kofitachiki was obviously the Creek words, “Mixed People – House of.” Catawba is the Anglicization of the Itza Maya (and Itsate Creek) word, Katvpa, meaning “Crown-Place of.” The modern Catawba tribe in the Carolinas originated as a cluster of polyglot villages under the domination of an Itza-Muskogean elite. The home territory of this Itza-Muskogean elite was the area between Atlanta and Gainesville, GA – not South Carolina. The Katvpa composed one of the principal provinces of the old Mountain Apalache kingdom. In 16th century South Carolina it was merely one town.

Look on the pre-Revolutionary War 18th century maps, if you don’t believe me about the Georgia Katapa. The etymology of Catawba is still valid, but after reading the texts of 17th century French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort this past summer, I am not sure who in the heck the Kofitachiki were! The town name may mean, “Offspring of mixed-heritage people” and the town’s residents may have been Caribs!

Their name was always on the maps

Like everyone else, in the years since the SEAC conference, I ignored the tribal names Cofitachete and Cofita on 17th and early 18th century European maps. Their root word, kofita, means “mixed” in Creek. Well-l-l, I just assumed that they were Muskogeans that had merged with other provinces to form the Creek Confederacy. This may be true, but these people were NOT originally Muskogeans.

Charles de Rochefort is still highly respected in Europe, but has been consistently disdained by American anthropologists because in 1658 he described the Native American elite in northern Georgia as living in residential complexes and temples of stone on the sides and tops of mountains. It is interesting that De Rochefort’s description of the colorful clothing of the Apalache elite is identical to late 18th century Seminole clothing. He also described the towns of the Apalache commoners in the river valleys. His descriptions of their customs, post-ditch construction houses, council houses and mounds are a completely accurate portrayal of the early Creek Indians in every detail.

What kept me constantly laughing during the Great “Mayas In Georgia” brouhaha in 2012 was the insistence of the Qualla Crowd and Georgia archaeologists that Cherokees had built the 300+ stone ruins at Track Rock Gap as “ceremonial platforms.” In contrast . . . much can be learned from old Cherokee traditions. The real Cherokee scholars of the past tell us in their writings that when the indigenous portion of the people, now called Cherokee, entered the Southern Appalachians, they were already inhabited by a culturally advanced people, who lived in “great townhouses built of stone” on tops of the mountains. The Cherokees called this sophisticated people, the Nunni’hi. The Nunni’hi got along just fine with the newcomers.

The Cherokee description of the Nunne’hi closes matches Charles de Rochefort’s description of the Mountain Apalache elite. The Mountain Apalache controlled and occupied all of the Southern Appalachians and most of the Georgia Piedmont in 1658. So according to the Cherokees’ own traditions, they have not lived in the mountains for 10,000 years as the Museum of the Cherokee Indian now says, or even 1,000 years as the State of North Carolina now says.

The many parts of Charles de Rochefort’s text that can be backed up with archaeological facts have led me to believe that what he says about a people, he called the Cofitachete is also reliable. Their actual name was Kofitvsi-te meaning “Mixed offspring-people” in Itsate (Hitchiti) Creek. Creeks and Miccosukee’s pronounce the “s” in the interior of a word as something like a sharp “sh.” Europeans wrote it down as a “ch” or “tch.”

De Rochefort wrote that the ancestors of the Cofitachete were the Carib. Some bands of the Caribs in the Southeast still called themselves by that name in 1653. This may be origin of the “koa” or “qua” suffix in many Cherokee and South Atlantic Coast tribal names. Koa means “people or tribe.” He said that they were aboriginal to the South Atlantic Coast, the exact same region where people started making pottery and building shell rings around 2500 BC. Reading this passage “rang a bell” back to the conversations with the Colombian anthropologist.

According to de Rochefort, over time, many Caribs migrated southward through the Florida Peninsula and across the Caribbean Basin islands until they reached the coast of South America. In another part of his book, he says that Ciboney People of Cuba originated in Florida, but were pushed down into Cuba by the arrival of the ancestors of the Apalache (proto-Creeks) from northern Mexico.

Of course, the prevailing wisdom among anthropologists is that the Caribs originated in northern South America and began migrating northward around 1200 AD. I wonder, though. What my Colombian lady friend told me suggests that much earlier, the ancestors of the Caribs originated on the South Atlantic coast and THEN ended up in South America, before perhaps heading north again.

According to De Rochefort, three bands of Caribs stayed in North America. They devolved culturally to become primitive nomads. They absorbed the words of other peoples, through the capture of their women. One of these bands migrated northward to a land that was cold and rocky. Here they intermarried with another people (Algonquians?) and became known as Kofita-si (Cofitache.) Keep in mind that according to real Cherokee tradition, they were originally composed of three wandering bands.

The Cofitachete, according to De Rochefort, became a predatory people, who were the terror of Pre-European eastern North America. They grew no crops, built primitive abodes, and had no true religion – from the perspective of the Apalache. The Cofitacheti lived in fear of demons that dwelt in fires and springs called maybouya. The Island Caribs, encountered by the Spanish, used that same word for their demons. Cofitachete conjurers “heard” the voices of these maybouya dwelling in the fires of the council houses and told the people their messages. The maybouya, living in springs, foretold the future to Cofitachete prophets.

At this point, I am certain that you Cherokee and Shawnee scholars are now saying, “Oh my gosh! That’s our old religion.” Conjurers in their cultures spoke for the demonic spirits in fires and both peoples placed great spiritual importance to springs, particularly “blue water” springs. The unanswered question is was this animistic religion based on conjurers and prophets, something common to all indigenous peoples of North America, or was it taught to other peoples by the Caribs, or were some of the ancestors of the Cherokee and Shawnee, also the ancestors of the Caribbean Island Caribs?

De Rochefort’s other comments about the North American Caribs will also ring bells in your heads. Many Caribs settled amongst the proto-Creek towns in Georgia and South Carolina. Initially, they did a lot of damage. They temporarily occupied the Lower Ocmulgee Basin and probably caused the sudden abandonment of the acropolis at Ocmulgee National Monument. Over time, though, some Caribs totally absorbed the Mesoamerican culture of the Muskogean elite and essentially became Creeks. Other Caribs may have been the demographic cores of several provinces that the Spanish called Timucuans.

The French ethnologist specifically stated that the Caribs, who ransacked central Georgia, now composed the province in east central Georgia called Cofita. It was visited by de Soto in 1540. Hmm-m-m methinks that this French Huguenot minister was on to something. He didn’t even know the meaning of the Creek word, Cofita. I suspect that Cofitachequi and several other towns in South Carolina fall into this category, but certainly don’t know that it is a fact.

De Rochefort mentioned, however, that as the massive Cofitachete band wandered across the landscape of the Southeast, it was responsible for the complete destruction of entire advanced civilizations, not just single towns or nuisance attacks. What archaeologists are now reading as abandonment of Southeastern towns due to famine may in fact be the bitter legacies of Cofitachite raids. De Rochefort said that Southeastern Carib military skills were equal to that of the Chichimecs of northern Mexico. Only especially powerful nations like the Apalache could survive their attacks. The villages along the Ohio River covered in skeletons, killed violently at one time, may be the work of the northern Caribs (Cofitachete) as may also be the abandonment of Cahokia.

European maps in the late 1500s first located the Cofitachete in south central Tennessee. Immediately north of them was an uninhabited Cumberland River Basin that only a few decades earlier had been one of the Southeast’s most advanced cultures. Their next location was in northeast Alabama, just west of where before 1600 had been the center of the powerful Kusa’s. Afterward, the Kusa’s were split in two. Some moved farther south on the Coosa River while others became the Kusate (Kusseta) of southeastern Tennessee and extreme northern Georgia. Did the Cofitachites cause the sudden abandonment of Kusa, Etowah and nearby towns in northwest Georgia? By this time had they joined forces with Spanish Sephardim, who were pouring into the Appalachians? We don’t know. No one has ever asked that question before, because no anthropologist’s attention ever was focused at their name on the maps.

The Cofitachete’s last location on the maps is extreme northeastern Georgia and the mountains around Highlands and Franklin, NC. This period (c. 1690) corresponds to the settlement of crude round huts on the Upper Tuckasegee River that were excavated by archaeologist Bennie Keel in 1975. On the next set of European maps, beginning in 1717, the word Cofitachete has disappeared while the word Charaqui suddenly appeared in northeastern Tennessee and extreme northwestern South Carolina. There must be a connection.

Many perfectly carved stone balls have been found in the two regions where the Cofitacheti were last shown on the maps – northeast Alabama and the headwaters of the Savannah River in South Carolina. Some of these balls are quite large and resemble those in Central America and northern Colombia.

Interestingly, enough the Cofita of east central Georgia stayed on the maps until after the American Revolution. After that time, both they and the Georgia Katapa were shown as divisions of the Creek Confederacy, living on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia and Alabama.

During the late summer of 2013 Cherokee historian, Marilyn Rae, and jointly authored an annotated English translation of the chapters in Charles de Rochefort’s book about the present day Southeastern United States called Apalache Chronicles. I think that many of you will find it fascinating. It may even blow your minds!

QUID ERIMUS NUNC FACIMUS ~ We are now becoming what we are to be.

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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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