Mesoamerican Geographical Names in the Southeast

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Am Ixel: This is a Chontal Maya word, which means Place of the Goddess, Ixel. She was the goddess of fertility in Classic Maya times and also the goddess of the new moon in Post Classic times. Both the coastal plain of Tamaulipas State and the Gulf Coast between Mobile, AL & Cedar Key, FL were recorded by the Spanish as being named Amichel. Apparently, the Spanish never recognized the connection.

Ixel was the favorite goddess of the Chontal Maya, who were considered illiterate barbarians by the Classic Period Maya. For them, she was also the patron ‘saint” of young, single Maya women and was often portrayed with her pet rabbit.

Altamaha River: The upper section of this river in southeastern Georgia was the domain of the Tama-tli

during the 1500s through the early 1700s. They also had large colonies in the North Carolina Mountains between Murphy and Andrews, plus the Keowee River in South Carolina. Al-tamv-ahv could be translated as “Territory of the Tamau Lord” or “Territory of the Tamau’s River.”

Callimaco River: The Tennessee River was originally named the Callimaco (Kallimako) River. Trade jargons used by the Chontal Maya varied with their bases of operation. In northern Vera Cruz, Tlaxpala and Tamaulipas, their dialect mixed Nahuatl with Maya and Totonac. In that dialect, Kalli-mako would mean “House of the King.” The word has no meaning in modern Muskogee, Hitchiti or Cherokee. In Itsate, the word would be Chiki-mako, It might be the original name of Chickamauaga Creek near Lookout Mountain in NW Georgia.

Chote (also Echota): Towns originally named Itsati that were absorbed the the Cherokee Alliance often

went by the “nick name” of Chote or Chotee. By the late 1700s both the Cherokee town on the Little Tennessee River and the Chattahoochee River in Georgia were officially named Chote. Cho is the name of the dialect of Maya spoken by the Chontal Maya in Tabasco. Chote in their language means “Cho People.” When Chote, TN became the capital of the Cherokee Alliance, the Cherokees added the Maya prefix “E” to designate its importance. The planned capital of the Cherokee Nation in Georgia was named Echota or New Echota.

Coosa: In the 1540s, De Soto’s chroniclers called this city, Coça (pronounced Kõ-shä.) The Cherokees say the word as kü-shä.) Today, in Oklahoma, the Upper Creeks say Käu-che-. The Lower Creeks pronounce like the Cherokees or like their Caucasian neighbors. The Kusa people called themselves the kaü-she-, so the Upper Creek way is closest. They are descended from the Kusa. The word is Itza Maya, (spelled Kaax’i in Mexico) and means forested mountains. Apparently, the Kvse were one of the last branches of the Muskogeans to arrive in the East.

Chiaha: Chiaha was a large town and province visited both by Hernando de Soto (1540) and Juan Pardo

(1567.) In its Spanish form of Chiaja, it is a common place name in southern Mexico, used in the same manner as “riverside” in English. Chi’a-ha means “beside the river” in Chontal Maya. However, there is another interpretation.

The State of Chiapas in Mexico also gets its name from the Chontal Mayas. Chia is the Chontal Maya word for salvia, a member of the mint family. A variety of salvia, known as White Sage, does grow in the Southern Highlands. It is used in smudge sticks for Native American ceremonies. The De Soto Chronicles provide us with supporting evidence that this town and province was indeed, founded by Mayas.

De Soto’s chroniclers mentioned that Chiaha was the only place in their journey where they ate honey. The people of Chiaha raised honey bees. The honey bees used today by beekeepers are from Eurasia. However, the Mayas were the only indigenous people in the Americas who domesticated a stingless bee. It is still raised today in more remote regions of Central America, but is highly threatened by the africanized honey bee.

Mabila: This was the Spanish spelling of a town in Alabama’s Coastal Plain where a great battle took place. Knowing how the Castilian chroniclers interpreted Muskogean sounds, the actual spelling of the town in English- Creek phonetics would be Mapile. Mapi’ means to buy or trade in Totonac. Around 1250 AD, Chichimec barbarians ransacked Tamaulipas. Mapile in the pre-1250 AD language of Tamaulipas would mean “Merchant People.”

Bottle Creek Mounds: This site is located on an island in a swamp near the Mobile River and probably had the name Mapile. It was obviously a major, capital town, not the fortified outpost upstream mentioned by the de Soto Chronicles. However, its founding has been radiocarbon dated to be around 1250 AD – the exact time when the Totonac capital of Tajin fell to Chichimec barbarians. Chichi-meka is the Totonac and Chontal Maya word for Coyote or Dog People.

Tama, Tamatli, Tamale: Pronounced Ta( – mäw – These were a powerful people on the Lower Ocmulgee

and Altamaha Rivers in southeastern Georgia. Tama’ means to buy or trade in Totonac. Tamatli is the

Totonac-Nahuatl version of Tama People. Tamale is the Tamau version of Tamau People. Some Tamatli joined the Creek Confederacy, where their villages were called Tamasee. Their commoners in the North and South Carolina Mountains joined the Cherokee Alliance where their villages were known as either Tamasee, Tamatly, Tomatly or Tomatla. These place names survive until this day.

In the mid-1600s, a faction broke off from the main body in Georgia and became Roman Catholic Christians. They were expelled from the Tama Province, then moved near Valdosta, GA where a mission station was established for them. The Tama Muskogee-Creek Tribal Town in Whigham, GA is named in honor of these Tamatli. However, they were not Muskogee-Creeks. The Catholic Tamatli moved to Louisiana in 1764, where they live today as a state-recognized tribe. Some Tamatli also migrated to Texas, where their identity has been lost.

Tomahitans: This was a mound-building ethnic group in extreme southwestern Virginia, who took the midnight train to Georgia in the early 1700s, to be back among their kin. Virginia anthropologists have long assumed that the Tomahitans were Algonquian, but that name is not what they called themselves. They called themselves, the Tamahi-ti. Tamahi is the Totonac word for merchant or vender. Add the Chontal Maya “ti” suffix and you get a meaning of “Merchant People.” The Shawnee word for Indian corn (maize) is Tama!

Tybee Island: Tybee Island is located at the mouth of the Savannah River. Tvbe meant “salt” in Itsate. It is Taab in Chontal Maya. In pre-European times, it was a major production center of the regional salt trade. The Southern Highlands and Piedmont were totally deficient in natural salt deposits and depended on salt, created from brine on the Atlantic and Gulf Coast. This was the most important item of regional trade, NOT seashells!

Yama: This is the Creek name of the Mobilian Trade Jargon. In Totonac, “yama” means “clearing,” as in a clearing in the jungle for practicing slash and burn agriculture. In many parts of the Southeastern Coastal Plain, the aboriginal vegetation resembles Central American jungles. The soil is sandy and easy to cultivate with a hoe, but not very fertile – except in Alabama’s Black Belt. It makes perfect sense that Native peoples in this region would have practiced slash and burn agriculture and transient villages, while maintaining regional capitals.

Yamasee means either “off spring of the Yama people” or alternatively, with the Totonac definition of the word, “people who practice slash and burn agriculture.

Yupaha: As Hernado de Soto was leaving Florida in the spring of 1540, he asked the locals where he might find gold. They told him that gold was abundant in the mountains where the Apalachee lived. The capital of the Apalachee was a great town named Yupaha. It is probably an Itsate word. If so, Yupaha can be translated to mean either “Horn River” or “Place of the Horned Lord.” Track Rock Gap just might be the location of Yupaha.



MLA Source Citation:

Thornton, Richard. The Trail to Yupaha. Web. 2012. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 22 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/mesoamerican-geographical-names-in-the-southeast.htm - Last updated on Dec 14th, 2012


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