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  1. Hello,

    My apologies for this long note. I couldn’t find a more appropriate place on your site to post it.
    I have posted below an article I wrote recently about the lost language of Florida’s Timucua people. My name is Lars Andersen and I am a river guide in North Florida. I am also a published author on subjects of Florida history and nature. I am currently working on a book about the Timucuas final days. This year is the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon;s “discovery” of Florida. But, by an odd symmetry of dates, it is also the 250th anniversary of when the last 89 Timucuans were shipped away to Cuba. They were all dead withing 4 years. This article is based on information that will be in my book. It is a post from my blog: http://riverguidesjournal.blogspot.com/ , I think you will find it interesting. If you do have a moment to read it and feel so incline, I would love to hear your thoughts

    The Land of Flowers

    Sometimes you can tell how a story will end after the first few lines. When the Timucuas watched a boatload of Spaniards slosh onto their beach and proclaim that they were re-naming their land, the natives had to know this story was going to end badly. Even if they found some comfort in the fact that the new name was La Florida (how bad can a marauder be if he would name a place the “Land of Flowers?”), it would take more than a flowery name to make up for such an insult. Names had great significance to the Timucua. The process for giving or receiving them was highly ritualized. In fact, being given a new name was likely one of the biggest events in a Timucua boy’s or girl’s life.

    While there are no first-hand accounts of Timucua naming ceremonies, other nearby cultures were well-documented. In looking at them, we can see some common themes that give us a rough idea of how the Timucua ceremony might have looked.

    Most naming ceremonies were lengthy affairs, preceded by weeks or even months of rituals designed to show the person was ready for the change of status and increaded responsibilities that came with the new name. For some cultures, the ceremony was conducted by a village elder along with some witnesses or “guides.” The elder would choose a name, often after much reflection on the person’s personality or notable deed. This might be a feat of courage in battle or an impressive hunt. The guides would then have to approve of the new name and attest that the recipient was worthy of it. In the years that followed, these same guides had the power to take the name away if the person dishonored it.

    In 1508, five years before he “discovered” and re-named La Florida, Ponce de Leon engaged in a sacred name-exchanging ritual with a Taino Chief in Puerto Rico. For the Taino, this important ceremony, “called guatiao,” affirmed the two men’s commitment to friendship and brotherhood. Unfortunately, none of the Spaniards in attendance recorded how the ceremony was performed, only that Chief Agueybana dropped his own name in exchange for de Leon’s. De Leon did likewise. The ceremony so inspired the chief’s mother that she converted to Christianity on the spot. De Leon sanctioned her conversion by baptizing her and giving her a new name. From that day forward she was Ines.

    While the record is admittedly vague on details of Ponce de Leon’s life, there is no mention of him ever being referred to as Agueybana. The record is even sketchier for Agueybana (Chief de Leon?) because the Taino, like the Timucua, didn’t have writing. They weren’t alone. In all of the New World, the only culture with a true system of writing was the Maya and, to a lesser extent, the Aztecs. All of the events surrounding the conquest of the New World—the discovery, the first encounters with the Timucua, the guatiao ceremony—we know only from Spanish chroniclers. As Winston Churchill famously wrote, “History is written by the victors.” (He less-famously wrote, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”).

    For North America’s native cultures, the important tasks of passing tribes history and laws and spiritual beliefs from each generation to the next was done by oral tradition. In this system, elders passed the wisdom of their ancestors to their youngers with stories and songs. Outwardly, these might have looked like simple entertainments. But in reality they were a vital part of the culture. Through stories and songs the people learned such things as how to thank the plants and animals for sacrificing themselves to the dinner plate and to ask their gods for a good harvest or favorable weather. There was no room for creative flourishes. To change a story was to tear the fabric of their society; it was to alter their reality.

    If the Timucua had a written language, the anthology of these ancient stories would have been as important to them as holy texts are to cultures that do have writing. As it was, the “anthology” of the Timucuas most important stories, like the one about a boatload of Spaniards that arrived on their shore like a death-dealing Tsunami, existed only in their minds and on their breath.

    There are no tattered scrolls of plant and animal lore tucked into a hidden nook in some Florida cave; no toppled rune stones awaiting an unsuspecting backhoe operator to reveal their trove of Timucuan mythology. There was no Timucua Herodotus who chronicled the native Floridian’s last 14,000 years. There was no Timucuan Homer, so no Floridan Odyssey. There were no Timucuan poets, so no Timucuan Meleager of Gadara to compile their works in an anthology.

    In the first century BC, Greek poet Meleager of Gadara published a collection of hundreds of epigrams from forty six of the best-known poets of that time. It was a ground-breaking work. While others had compiled collections about certain subjects, Meleager’s collection of poems by various authors was a first. The title of his book, The Garland, was a metaphorical twist on the common practice of the time of referring to poems as flowers. The idea stuck and the word “anthology,” from anthos, “flower” and legein, to gather, became synonymous with collections of stories and poems. Taken literally, an anthology of stories is a “collection of flowers.”

    As it turned out, the final story in the Timucuan “anthology”—the story that began with Ponce’s arrival 500 years ago today—ended exactly two and a half centuries years later in the same place it began. In 1763 and ’64, with Britain preparing to take control of Florida, the entire population of Spanish Florida loaded onto ships at the St. Augustine docks and sailed to Cuba. With them went the last 89 Timucua Indians who had long-since been dependents of the Spanish. I sometimes imagine that destitute group—a mix of of men, women and children— huddled on the ship’s deck as they watched the land of their ancestors grow small on the horizon. I imagine their minds reeling with countless stories and songs heard around countless campfires. Maybe in this final moment they conceded that de Leon got just this one thing right. This really is La Florida, a “Land of Stories.”

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