Published on October 23, 2012 by Amy
The Timucua were not a unified political unit. Rather, they were made up of at least 35 chiefdoms, each consisting of about two to ten villages, with one being primary. In 1601 the Spanish noted more than 50 caciques (chiefs) subject to the head caciques of Santa Elena (Yustaga), San Pedro (Tacatacuru, on Cumberland Island), Timucua (Northern Utina) and Potano. The Tacatacuru, Saturiwa and Cascangue were subject to San Pedro, while the Yufera and Ibi, neighbors of the Tacatacuru and Cascangue, were independent.
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Villages were divided into family clans, usually bearing animal names. Children always belonged to their mother’s clan.
The Timucua played two related but distinct ball games. Western Timucua played a game known as the “Apalachee ball game”. Despite the name, it was as closely associated with the western Timucua as it was with the Apalachee. It involved two teams of around 40 or 50 players kicking a ball at a goal post. Hitting the post was worth one point, while landing it in an eagle’s nest at the top of the post was worth two; the first team to score eleven points was the victor. The western Timucua game was evidently less associated with religious significance, violence, and fraud than the Apalachee version, and as such missionaries had a much more difficult time convincing them to give it up.
The eastern Timucua played a similar game in which balls were thrown, rather than kicked, at a goal post. The Timucua probably also played chunkey, as did the neighboring Apalachee and Guale peoples, but there is no firm evidence of this. Archery, running, and dancing were other popular pastimes.
The chief had a council that met every morning, when they would discuss the problems of the chiefdom and smoke. To initiate the meeting, the White Drink ceremony would be carried out (see “Diet” below). The council members were among the more highly respected members of the tribe.
The Timucua of northeast Florida (the Saturiwa and Agua Dulce tribes) at the time of first contact with Europeans lived in villages that typically contained about 30 houses, and 200 to 300 people. The houses were small, made of upright poles and circular in shape. Palm leaf thatching covered the pole frame, with a hole at the top for ventilation and smoke escape. The houses were 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 m) across and were used primarily for sleeping. A village would also have a council house which would usually hold all of the villagers. Europeans described some council houses as being large enough to hold 3,000 people. If a village grew too large, some of the families would start a new village nearby, so that clusters of related villages formed. Each village or small cluster of related villages had its own chief. Temporary alliances between villages for warfare were also formed. Ceremonial mounds might be in or associated with a village, but the mounds belonged to clans rather than villages.
The Timucua were a semi-agricultural people and ate many foods native to North Central Florida. They planted maize (corn), beans, squash and various vegetables as part of their diet. Archaeologists’ findings suggest that they may have employed crop rotation. In order to plant, they used fire to clear the fields of weeds and brush. They prepared the soil with various tools, such as the hoe. Later the women would plant the seeds using two sticks known as coa. They also cultivated tobacco. Their crops were stored in granaries to protect them from the insects and weather. Corn was ground into flour and used to make corn fritters.
In addition to agriculture, the Timucua men would hunt game (including alligators, manatees, and maybe even whales); fish in the many streams and lakes in the area; and collect freshwater and marine shellfish. The women gathered wild fruits, palm berries, acorns, and nuts; and baked bread made from the root koonti. Meat was cooked by boiling or over an open fire known as the barbacoa, the origin of the word “barbecue”. Fish were filleted and dried or boiled. Broths were made from meat and nuts.
After the establishment of many Spanish mission between 1595–1620, the Timuca were introduced to foods from European culture, including barley, cabbage, chickens, cucumbers, figs, garbanzo beans, garlic, European grapes, European greens, hazelnuts, various herbs, lettuce, melons, oranges, peas, peaches, pigs, pomegranates, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, watermelons, and wheat. Corn became a traded item and was exported to other Spanish colonies.
A black tea called “black drink” (or “white drink” because of its purifying effects) served a ceremonial purpose, and was a highly caffeinated Cassina tea, brewed from the leaves of the Yaupon Holly tree. The tea was only consumed by males in good status with the tribe. The drink was posited to have an effect of purification, and those who consumed it often vomited immediately. This drink was integral to most Timucua rituals and hunts.
Spanish explorers were shocked at the height of the Timucua, who averaged four inches or more above them. Timucuan men wore their hair in a bun on top of their heads, adding to the perception of height. Measurement of skeletons exhumed from beneath the floor of a presumed Northern Utina mission church (tentatively identified as San Martín de Timucua) at the Fig Springs mission site yielded a mean height of 64 inches (163 cm) for nine adult males and 62 inches (158 cm) for five adult women. The conditions of the bones and teeth indicated that the population of the mission had been chronically stressed. Each person was extensively tattooed. The tattoos were gained by deeds. Children began to acquire tattoos as they took on more responsibility. The people of higher social class had more elaborate decorations. The tattoos were made by poking holes in the skin and rubbing ashes into the holes. The Timucua had dark skin, usually brown, and black hair. They wore clothes made from moss, and cloth created from various animal skins.
The Timucua groups, never unified culturally or politically, are defined by their shared use of the Timucua language. The language is relatively well attested compared to other Native American languages of the period. This is largely due to the work of Francisco Pareja, a Franciscan missionary at San Juan del Puerto, who in the 17th century produced a grammar of the language and four catechisms in parallel Timucua and Spanish. The other sources for the language are two catechisms by another Franciscan, Gregorio de Movilla, two letters from Timucua chiefs, and bits and pieces in other European sources.
Pareja noted that there were ten dialects of Timucua, which were usually divided along tribal lines. These are Timucua proper, Potano, Itafi, Yufera, Mocama, Agua Salada, Tucururu, Agua Fresca, Acuera, and Oconi.