The Jaegas Tribe

Published on October 23, 2012 by Amy

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Map-Jaega Tribe
Map-Jaega Tribe

The Jaegas (also Jega, Xega, Jaece, Geigas, Jobe) were a tribe of Native Americans living along the coast of present-day Martin County and Palm Beach County, Florida at the time of initial European contact, and until sometime in the 18th Century. Little is known of the origins of the Jaegas, but they may have been a tribe of the Ais people that occupied the coast to their north. Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, who was held captive by tribes in Florida for 17 years during the 16th century, implied that the Ais and the Jaega spoke the same language. The Jaega were linked to the Ais by marriage between chiefs and their relatives. The Ais and Jaega languages have been tentatively assigned by some authors to the Muskogean language family, and by others to the Arawakan language family.

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History and culture

We have little written history about the Jaegas. Presumably they were similar in culture and custom to the surrounding Calusa, Tekesta and Ais tribes. To the best of our knowledge, the indigenous peoples of South Florida were all hunter-gatherers. Food was abundant enough to make agriculture unnecessary. Middens (Refuse mounds), consisting mostly of oyster and conch shell, also contain clues to the Jaega lifestyle. Their diet consisted mainly of fish, shellfish, sea turtles, deer and raccoon, as well as wild plants including coco palms, sea grapes, palmetto berries and tubers. Bits of broken pots and scraps of grass skirts demonstrate that crafts including pottery and weaving were known and practiced. One of the largest and best preserved Jaega midden lies in DuBois Park, across from the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse.

Although there are no deposits of flint in South Florida, flint dart points have been found at Jaega sites, indicating trade with northern tribes. Wood, bone and shell were also used for tools and weapons.

Spanish reports describe elaborate ceremonies involving an elite class of priests, hundreds of singers, dancers and complex ritual practice.

Early encounters with the Spanish

Some information about the Jaegas of the town of Jobe (near present-day Jupiter Inlet, Florida) comes to us from the Journal of Jonathan Dickinson, who was part of a shipwrecked party detained by the Jaega of Jobe for several days in 1696. By Dickinson’s account, Jobe was subject to the Ais chief who resided in Jece (near present-day Vero Beach, Florida). In the later part of the 16th century Spanish soldiers who had been driven out of Ais territory built a fort called St. Lucie at the Jupiter Inlet, but were soon forced to abandon it after relations with the Jaega turned sour.

The geographic name “Hobe Sound” comes from the name of the tribe. The Spanish pronounced the name “Ho-bay,” which has evolved into the current name “Hobe” (which sounds like “robe”).

Early territorial map

The full title of the map shown on the right is given as Mapa de la Florida y Laguna de Maimi donde se ha de hacer un Fuerte (Map of Florida and Lake of Miami where there is a Spring) (Lanza Map) and is dated circa 1600. The original can be found in the Archives of the Indies in Sevilla, Spain and is listed as Maps de Mexico y Florida by Pedro Torre Lanzas. A reproduction of this map is in the Library of Congress.

Easily recognizable are the relative locations of the Saint Augustine, Florida (S Agustin), Cape Canaveral (Cabo de Caña) as well as the approximate territories of the Ays (Ais) and Xega tribes.

“Laguna de Meiymi” appears as the name of the Central Florida lake now know as Lake Okeechobee. This is the first known reference to Miami. Other alternate spellings in early Spanish sources include Maimi, Mayma and Meiymi. The large black X apparently marks a fresh water spring and corresponds to the current location of the City of Miami.

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