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Government of the Timucua Indians
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Florida,Native American | No Comments
The aristocratic nature of Timucua government is apparent from the statements of the French already referred to as well as from the information regarding their social organization recorded by Pareja.
From Pareja’s Catechism it appears that chiefs were allowed to exact tribute and labor from their subjects, and that by way of punishment they sometimes had the arms of their laborers broken. From the same source We learn that just before assuming the chieftainship a man had a new fire lighted and maintained for six days in a small house or arbor which was closed up with laurels and “other things.” The chiefs wore at times long painted skins, the ends of which were held up from the ground by attendants. Le Moyne figures this and the custom is directly confirmed by Laudonnière, whose testimony there is no reason to doubt; otherwise we might regard it as something drawn from the customs of European courts and falsely attributed to the Floridians. These skins were often presented to the French as marks of esteem. In giving out drinking water the bearer observed “a certain order and reverence” to each.
As intimated above, the country appears to have been divided between a limited number of head chiefs, under each of whom were a very much greater number of local chiefs. These little confederacies may have been of the nature of some of the larger Creek groups which consisted of a head town and a number of outsettlements.
From Laudonnière we learn that, like Indian tribes generally, tho ancient Floridians observed taboos with reference to women at the time of their monthly periods and when a child was born. He implies that when a woman was pregnant she lived in a house apart from that of her husband. The men would not eat food touched by a menstruant woman.
Of their marriages the same writer says:
They marry, and every one hath his wife, and it is lawful for the king to have two or three, yet none but the first is honored and acknowledged for queen, and none but the children of the first wife inherit the goods and authority of the father.
The marriage of a chief was consummated in a great ceremony, to which Le Moyne devotes two of his illustrations and the following descriptions:
When a king chooses to take a wife, he directs the tallest and handsomest of the daughters of the chief men to be selected. Then a seat is made on two stout poles and covered with the skin of some rare sort of animal, while it is set off with a structure of boughs, bending over forward so as to shade the head of the sitter. The queen elect having been placed on this, four strong men take up the poles and support them on their shoulders, each carrying in one hand a forked wooden stick to support the pole at halting. Two more walk at the sides, each carrying on a staff a round screen elegantly made, to protect the queen from the sun’s rays. Others go before, blowing upon tmmpets made of bark, which are smaller above and larger at the farther end and having only the two orifices, one at each end. They are hung with small oval balls of gold, silver, and brass, for the sake of a finer combination of sounds. Behind follow the most beautiful girls that can be found, elegantly decorated with necklaces and armlets of pearls, each carrying in her hand a basket full of choice fruits and belted below the navel and down to the thighs with the moss of certain trees, to cover their nakedness. After them come the bodyguards.
With this display the queen is brought to the king in a place arranged for the purpose, where a good-sized platform is built up of round logs, having on either side a long bench where the chief men are seated. The king sits on the platform on the right-hand side. The queen, who is placed on the left, is congratulated by him on her accession and told why he chose her for his first wife. She, with a certain modest majesty, and holding her fan in her hand, answers with as good a grace as she can.
Then the young women form a circle without joining hands and with a costume differing from the usual one, for their hair is tied at the back of the neck and then left to flow over the shoulders and back; and they wear a broad girdle below the navel, having in front something like a purse, which hangs down so as to cover their nudity. To the rest of this girdle are hung ovals of gold and silver, coming down upon the thighs, so as to tinkle when they dance, while at the same time they chant the praises of the king and queen. In this dance they all raise and lower their hands together.
Le Challeux says that “each has his own wife, and they protect marriage indeed very rigorously,” from which it would seem that laws similar to those of the Creeks were in force among them.
Two other sketches of Le Moyne illustrate the ceremonies undergone by widows; and they are thus explained:
The wives of such as have fallen in war or died by disease are accustomed to get together on some day which they find convenient for approaching the chief. They come before him with great weeping and outcry, sit down on their heels, hide their faces in their hands, and with much clamor and lamentation require of the chief vengeance for their dead husbands, the means of living during their widowhood, and permission to marry again at the end of the time appointed by law. The chief, sympathizing with them, assents, and they go home weeping and lamenting, so as to show the strength of their love for the deceased. After some days spent in this mourning they proceed to the graves of their husbands, carrying the weapons and drinking cups of the dead, and there they mourn for them again and perform other feminine ceremonies….
After coming to the graves of their husbands they cut off their hair below the ears and scatter it upon the graves, and then cast upon them the weapons and drinking shells of the deceased, as memorials of brave men. This done they return home, but are not allowed to marry again until their hair has grown long enough to cover their shoulders.
Regarding the division of labor between the sexes, there seems to have been little difference between the Timucua and Creeks. Laudonnière says that “the women do all the business at home;” and Le Moyne indicates that the men prepared the ground for planting, while the women made holes and dropped in the seed.
Le Moyne has the following to say of berdaches:
Hermaphrodites, partaking of the nature of each sex, are quite common in these parts, and are considered odious by the Indians themselves, who, however, employ them, as they are strong, instead of beasts of burden. When a chief goes out to war the hermaphrodites carry the provisions. When any Indian is dead of wounds or disease, two hermaphrodites take a couple of stout poles, fasten cross-pieces on them, and attach to these a mat woven of reeds. On this they place the deceased, with a skin under his head, a second bound around his body, a third around one thigh, a fourth around one leg. Why these are so used I did not ascertain; but I imagine by way of ornament, as in some cases they do not go so far, but put the skin upon one leg only. Then they take thongs of hide, three or four fingers broad, fasten the ends to the ends of the poles, and put the middle over their heads, which are remarkably hard; and in this manner they carry the deceased to the place of burial. Persons having contagious diseases are also carried to places appointed for the purpose on the shoulders of the hermaphrodites, who supply them with food, and take care of them until they get quite well again.
As quoted above, he also speaks of the service rendered by these persons in bringing food to the storehouses.
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