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Words in the Indigenous Language

Totonac, Maya, Arawak, Tupi-Guarani and Quechua Mercantile Words In the Indigenous Languages of the Southeastern United States or Why Jerarld Milanich’s hunches were right on the money!

Alecktown, Aleck Mountain, Altamaha, Amichel, Auchesee, Calimako, Ichese, Itsapa, Itsayi, Mabila, Mayacoa, Mobile, Potano, Quina, Quinahake, Tama, Tamale, Tamalti, Toa, Toasi, Tomatley, Tomatla, Tamahiti, Timucua, Tomahitan, Tallequah, Talako, Tula, Tupiqui and Tybee Island.

Dr. Jerald T. Milanich is the curator of Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Anthropology Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida.

In several publications he wrote during the 1990s, Dr. Milanich speculated that the Timucua Indians might not have been a distinct ethnic group, but rather descended from separate bands of hybrid traders, who frequented the South Atlantic Coast so often that they eventually settled there. In one of his latest publications, Milanich commented that the Natives around Charlesfort (South Carolina) and Fort Caroline portrayed by 16th century artist, Jacques Le Moyne, displayed South American cultural traits, not those traditionally associated with Southeastern Indians.

Dr. Milanich was correct on both counts. He was oh so on the money. The proofs of his hunches were always there right in the faces of anthropologists . . . in the etymology of the word, Timucua.

Did you know that . . .

French Huguenot Captain René de Laudonniére observed that the Native Provinces around Port Royal Sound, SC observed a form of the Green Corn Festival, but worshiped the South American and Calusa sun god, Toya? Their kings were called a Paracus. That is a Moche title and ethnic name.

A letter from a French Huguenot colonist at Fort Caroline stated that the Alecmani (Medicine People in Tupi) living near Fort Caroline, cultivated orchards of chichona (quina) trees along the banks of the May River. Its bark was traded to the Apalache living in the mountains near the headwaters of the May River for gold and greenstone. Keep in mind that in 1565, the Spanish did not even know that chichona bark was an effective treatment for malaria. Several town names on the coast of Georgia and South Carolina included the root word, “quina.” Of course, only the Altamaha and Savannah Rivers in Georgia could possibly match this description of the May River.

During the 1700s, the Creek word for a medical doctor was “alek.” Alek talula or Alecktown was located on the Altamaha River upstream a few miles from the Alecmani’s province in 1565. Nineteenth century settlers re-occupied the site of the village and named it, Doctortown.

The opening pages of De Laudonniére’s memoir clearly state that the “Timucua” were enemies of the people living near Fort Caroline and occupied a province a hundred miles northwest and upstream on the May River from Fort Caroline. Actually, he wrote “Thamagoa,” not “Timucua.” That is a word created by Castilians. We will get back to that etymology later.

Toa, the town on the Lower Ocmulgee River visited by Hernando de Soto, is the name of a prominent branch of the Taino Arawaks in Puerto Rico, and also the Arawak name of the stone grill used to bake cassava cakes? A century ago, a stone stela portraying a classic Puerto Rican Toa deity was found at a hilltop shrine on the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta.

In 2012, Towns County, GA families who always thought of themselves as Cherokees, or even were members of the Eastern Band of Cherokees, were found to carry Quechua, Maya and a trace of probable Muskogean DNA indicators, but absolutely no similarity to the DNA profiles of Cherokees on the North Carolina reservation, +/- 50 miles away? Towns County is east of Track Rock Gap and Brasstown Bald Mountain. Some “card-carrying Towns County “Cherokees” carried as much as 25% Quechua-Maya DNA. A recent, comprehensive DNA study of the reservation found the NC Cherokees to be primarily a Middle Eastern & Mediterranean population – probably descended from 17th century Spanish Sephardic colonists.

Many descendants of the Itsate-Creek Indians in Georgia, Tennessee & Carolinas, plus Seminoles/Miccosukee’s in Florida carry Maya and Tupi-Guarani DNA? The machinations of BIA bureaucrats over the past two centuries have created a myth that Muskogee is synonymous with Creek Indian. It absolutely is not, even Wikipedia tells you otherwise. The Creek Confederacy was composed of towns that spoke numerous languages and dialects. The Mvskoke (Muskogee) was just one of those groups. Most of Georgia was occupied by the Itsate Creeks, but also included towns of many other ethnic groups; several of whom were not even Muskogeans.

Linguistic evidence in early colonial archives

Trois Voyages, the memoir of René de Laudonniére, plus a cluster of little known 16th century Spanish depositions collected by scholars Richard Hakluyt and Peter Martyr, provide a much more detailed and accurate understanding of pre-European culture in the Southeastern United States than that presented by the De Soto Chronicles. After all, Hernando de Soto was a ruthless, professional soldier looking for gold and power. The French Huguenot and Spanish colonists, who followed him, took the time to learn more about the cultures of the indigenous peoples.

Charles Bennett’s translation of Trois Voyages is easier to read, but when compared to the verbatim translation by Richard Hakluyt or the original French, it is clear that Bennett omitted passages and changed words that would totally negate a Jacksonville location for Fort Caroline. Unfortunately, three generations of Florida scholars used a Jacksonville location for Fort Caroline as a benchmark for creating a legion of papers and books on the “Timucua.”

The St. Johns River was impassible to sea craft until the early 1850s, when the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged a new channel for the river. Jacksonville was originally called “Cowford” because both humans and livestock could walk across the St. Johns River, where the scaled down reproduction of Fort Caroline is now located. During the American Revolution, the Patriot government of Georgia built three flat bottomed gunboats that could skim across tidal marshes at high tide to escape conventional British warships. General Samuel Elbert reported that even those unique craft could not enter the mouth of the St. Johns River. Fort Caroline was not at present day Jacksonville.

Some of the indigenous ethnic groups in Georgia spoke two “T” sounds. One was almost a “d” sound like modern Muskogee. The other was a “TH” sound. The “TH” survived in historical period Creek town names that have no meaning in contemporary Muskogee. Sixteenth century Castilians did not associate a “T” with a “TH” sound. They interpreted a guttural Muskogean “k” as a “g.” They also interpreted a Muskogean and Mesoamerican “V” sound as either a Castilian “U” or an “I.”

SO . . . what French Captain René Goulaine de Laudonniére wrote down as Thamagoa, would be written as Tamacoa in contemporary anthropological English, or in the Creek languages, Tvmvkoa. Then we have a OMG moment. “Tama” – pronounced Tä/ : mä/ – means to barter, buy or trade in Totonac. “Koa” means “people or ethnic group” in several Arawak and South American languages. It means exactly the same as the name of the Tamatli, a very powerful branch of the Itsate Creeks on the Altamaha River in SE Georgia, whose capital was Tama. Apparently, Tamacoa was a generic Arawak label for “merchant people” and did not necessarily correspond to one ethnic group.

The Tamatli had a colony in the Keowee Valley in South Carolina and Andrews Valley of North Carolina. They spoke the same language and were close allies with the Okvte (Water People) also known as the Okvne (born in water). The Okvte occupied provinces around the Okefenokee Swamp, the Oconee River and along the Oconaluftee River in what is now the Cherokee Reservation.

There was a Native town named Tamacoa in Florida also. Either because all the provinces in extreme SE Georgia and NE Florida were originally bands of “merchant people” or because the Spanish liked the name “Timucua,” Spanish authorities applied the name to all of the provinces of the region, no matter what language they spoke. They did the same thing farther north. One village, originally on the Medway River, but later on St. Catherine’s Islands was named Wahale (Southerners in Creek). The Castilians wrote the word in their alphabet as Guale (pronounced like Wally) and gave the name to an entire region. Wahale was also a generic Creek name for people living in southern Florida and the Yucatan Peninsula.

While the names of the villages along the coast of South Carolina, Georgia and northeastern Florida have generally been treated as being “untranslatable” by anthropologists, they actually have meanings. However, some are Muskogean, some are Maya, some are Calusa, some are Arawak, some are Wareo, some are Tupi-Guarani and some are Quechua. This fact strongly suggests that at various times in the past, bands of wandering peoples came both from the west and the south to occupy unclaimed islands or habitable terrain. It was a polyglot region that absorbed and modified cultural traditions from many parts of the Americas.

Yes, Virginia, the Itza Mayas did come to Georgia . . . but also the Muskogeans, the Tamaule, the Yama, the Apala, the Taino, the Wareo, the Tupi, the Calusa and lord knows who else. Swift Creek Culture art is very similar to that of a contemporary culture in Panama and the northwestern tip of Colombia. Weeden Island art looks mighty similar to that of a contemporary culture on the coast of Colombia and also on some Caribbean Islands.

A glossary of some indigenous Southeastern words and place names derived from Mesoamerican and South American languages is attached. It will continue to grow as we have time to record all the words. This list is going to be a real shocker for anthropologists. Many word translations challenge orthodox interpretations of the Southeast’s pre-European history.

Y’all be good, hear?

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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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