Ceremonies and Feasts of Timucua Indians

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The skill displayed by these Indians in debate is testified to by Spark.1 Laudonnière and Le Moyne describe at considerable length their method of holding councils. Laudonnière says:

They take no enterprise in hand, but first they assemble often times their council together, and they take very good advisement before they grow to a resolution. They meet together every morning in a great common house, whither their king repaireth, and setteth him down upon a seat, which is higher than the seats of the others; where all of them, one after another, come and salute him; and the most ancient begin their salutations, lifting up both their hands twice as high as their face, saying, Ha, he, ha! and the rest answer. Ah, ah! As soon as they have done their salutation, every man sitteth him down upon the seats which are round about in the house. If there be anything to entreat of, the king calleth the lawas, that is to say, their priests and the most ancient men, and asketh them their advice. Afterward, he commandeth cassine to be brewed, which is a drink made of the leaves of a certain tree. They drink this cassine2 very hot; he drinketh first, then he causeth to be given thereof to all of them, one after another, in the same bowl, which holdeth well a quart-measure of Paris. They make so great account of this drink, that no man may taste thereof, in this assembly, unless he hath made proof of his valor in the war. Moreover, this drink hath such a virtue, that, as soon as they have drunk it, they become all of a sweat, which sweats being past, it taketh away hunger and thirst for twenty-four hours after.3

Le Moyne’s account, as usual inserted to accompany a sketch, is as follows:

The chief and his nobles are accustomed during certain days of the year to meet early every morning for this express purpose in a public place, in which a long bench is constructed, having at the middle of it a projecting part laid with nine round trunks of trees for the chief’s seat. On this he sits by himself, for distinction’s sake, and here the rest come to salute him, one at a time, the oldest first, by lifting both hands twice to the height of the head and saying, “Ha, he, ya, ha, ha.” To this the rest answer, “Ha, ha.” Each, as he completes his salutation, takes his seat on the bench. If any question of importance is to be discussed, the chief calls upon his lailas (that is, his priests) and upon the elders, one at a time, to deliver their opinions. They decide upon nothing until they have held a number of councils over it, and they deliberate very sagely before deciding. Meanwhile the chief orders the women to boil some casina, which is a drink prepared from the leaves of a certain root [plant], and which they afterwards pass through a strainer. The chief and his coimcillors being now seated in their places, one stands before him, and spreading forth his hands wide open asks a blessing upon the chief and the others who are to drink. Then the cup bearer brings the hot drink in a capacious shell, first to the chief and then, as the chief directs, to the rest in their order, in the same shell. They esteem this drink so highly that no one is allowed to drink it in council unless he has proved himself a brave warrior. Moreover, this drink has the quality of at once throwing into a sweat whoever drinks it. On this account those who can not keep it down, but whose stomachs reject it, are not intrusted with any difficult commission or any military responsibility, being considered unfit, for they often have to go three or four days without food; but one who can drink this liquor can go for twenty-four hours afterwards without eating or drinking. In military expeditions, also, the only supplies which the hermaphrodites carry consist of gourd bottles or wooden vessels full of this drink. It strengthens and nourishes the body, and yet does not fly to the head, as we have observed on occasion of these feasts of theirs.4

To these accounts of the regular gatherings I will add one of the ceremony attending a meeting between one of the Florida chiefs, Saturiwa, and the French. The usual form of friendly greeting consisted in rubbing the body of the visitor, seemingly a continent-wide method of salutation.5

The king [Saturiwa] was accompanied by seven or eight hundred men, handsome, strong, well made, and active fellows, the best trained and swiftest of his force, all under arms as if on a military expedition. Before him marched fifty youths with javelins or spears, and behind these and next to himself were twenty pipers, so produced a wild noise without musical harmony or regularity, but only blowing away with all their might, each trying to be the loudest. Their instruments were nothing but a thick sort of reed or cane, with two openings, one at the top to blow into and the other end for the wind to come out of, like organ pipes or whistles. On his right hand limped his soothsayer, and on the left was his chief counsellor, without which two personages he never proceeded on any matter whatever. He entered the place prepared for him alone [an arbor made of boughs] and sat down in it after the Indian manner – that is, by squatting on the ground like an ape or any other animal. Then, having looked all around and having observed our little force drawn up in line of battle, he ordered MM. de Laudonnière and d’Ottigny to be invited into his tabernacle, where he delivered to them a long oration, which they understood only in part.6

All of the French chroniclers relate that these chiefs were preceded by men who built arbors for them to sit in when holding council, and Ribault speaks of arbors constructed both for the Indian chief and for the French, distant two fathoms.7 Other boughs were spread upon the ground, on which they squatted cross-legged.

Le Moyne thus describes the preparations for an ordinary social feast:

At the time of year when they are in the habit of feasting each other, they employ cooks, who are chosen on purpose for the business. These, first of all, take a great round earthen vessel (which they know how to make and to burn so that water can be boiled in it as well as in our kettles), and place it over a large wood fire, which one of them drives with a fan very effectively, holding it in the hand. The head cook now puts the things to be cooked into the great pot; others put water for washing into a hole in the ground; another brings water in a utensil that serves for a bucket; another pounds on a stone the aromatics that are to be used for seasoning; while the women are picking over or preparing the viands.8

Footnotes

  1. Hakluyt, Voyages, III, p. 613. 

  2. Le Challeux spells the word cassinet. – Gaffarel, Hist. Floride française, p. 462. 

  3. Laudonnière, La Floride, pp. 9-10; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, pp. 172-173. Strangers of note were treated to this drink and given corn to eat. – Gaffarel, Hist. Floride française, p. 407. 

  4. Le Moyne, Narrative, pp. 11-12 (ill.). 

  5. Anonymous writer in Gaffarel, Hist. Floride française, p. 404. 

  6. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 3. 

  7. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 171. 

  8. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 11 (ill.). 



MLA Source Citation:

Swanton, John Reed. Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors. US Government Printing Office. 1902. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 14 December 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/ceremonies-and-feasts-of-timucua-indians.htm - Last updated on Jun 28th, 2014


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