Ribault - Jacques le Moyne

Ethnicity and Political Divisions of Coastal Tribes

Ribault - Jacques le Moyne
Ribault – Jacques le Moyne

In recent years, several anthropologists have criticized the paintings of French Huguenot artist Jacques le Moyne because “the Indians look like they are from Brazil.”  That is exactly what the indigenous linguistics recorded by René de Laudonniére on the South Atlantic Coast suggest.  Most of these ethnic groups were not Muskogeans.  Most used a political title for king associated with the Moche culture; parcusi or paracusa.  Some worshiped a sun god named Toya like the Calusas.  Others spoke languages that contained Arawak elements.  South American anthropologists currently believe that the Arawaks originated in either the northern Amazon Basin or the Orinoco Basin of Colombia and Venezuela.

The mouth of the River May was the most southerly location where de Laudonniére saw large concentrations of inhabitants. De Laudonniére stated that the Province of Alekamani at the mouth of the May River was controlled by a king named Satouriona.  No words spoken by these people that were recorded by de Laudonniére were Muskogean.  De Laudonniére never called these people the Mocama, as is stated in virtually all texts written in Florida. Mocama is a label that the Spanish used a decade later for the people on Cumberland Island, GA.  Cumberland Island, GA is about 45 miles south of the outlet of the Altamaha River and across the Cumberland Sound from Amelia Island, GA.

King Satouriona used the title of paracusi, which is Peruvian in origin.  The Alekamani were apparently different culturally from “Timucuan” societies to the south.  They farmed yamas or clearings in the coastal forests that were particularly fertile. They were part of a regional trade network that stretched to the Appalachian Mountains.

Later Spanish accounts state that the title of Paracusa or Paracusi was used by most of the provinces of the ethnic group now called Timucuans by anthropologists.   The ethnic name Timucua is problematic, however.  When the French made first contact with the people of Alekamani, they were planning to go to war with enemies named variously as Timacoa, Tamacoa, Timagoa or Thimagoa – living upstream on the May River.  Given known indigenous pronunciations, Tamacoa is the most accurate. It is a hybrid Totonac-Arawak word meaning Merchant-People.  That happens to also be the English translation of the Itsate-Creek people who dominated the Altamaha River up until being absorbed by the Creek Confederacy – the Tamatli.  De Soto made contact with them in March of 1540.

A small party of Frenchmen paddled “up” the May River 20 leagues (80 km ~ 50 miles.)  There they attacked some fishermen belonging to a province that was an arch enemy of King Satouriana. The Arawak speakers on the coast called these enemies up the May River, the Thimagona.  It is quite likely that the Thimagona called themselves something else, probably Tamale or Tamatli.  The province was ruled by King Molona, who was a vassal of a powerful ruler named Utina, who lived about 20 leagues farther up the river.

The leader of Utina was called by the Frenchmen, Olata, not Paracusi. Olata is the pronunciation of the Muskogean word, orata, in several Muskogean dialects that do not have an “r” sound.  The title is also mentioned by Juan Pardo’s chronicler.  An orata was a district leader appointed by the council or high king of a Muskogean province.

The Utina spoke a different language than the Timucua on the coast.  It apparently had at least some Muskogean words. The king of the Molona listed the following provinces as his allies: Kadecha, Chilili, Eklafu, Uakapee, Kalaney, Onachaquaro, Omitaqua, Acuero and Mokoso.  Acuero is the only ethnic name associated with the Timucuans of Florida, but may be a different Acuero.  Chilili is recognizable as a Palache (Georgia Biloxi) name.  The Taskamikko (war chief) of the town, Chilili, was a leader of the Creek Confederacy in the 1730s after the Palache joined it.  In the 1730s the Palache were located inland about 50-75 miles along the Altamaha and Ogeechee Rivers.

King Molona said that farther up the May River was the capital of Olata Ouae Utina.  This king controlled most of the lower May River, but he had an even more powerful enemy to the north.  This king’s name was remembered as Potavou in French, but is apparently the same as Patofa, visited by the Hernando de Soto Expedition in the spring of 1540.  Mikko Patofa spoke a Muskogean language and controlled the trade routes between the mountains and the coast.  The most valuable item on which the Potafa held a monopoly was greenstone, a hard volcanic stone only found in the mountains. It was used for making wedges to split logs.  Other valuable items included copper, gold and silver.

North of the Patofa Province were the provinces of Kings Onothea-qua and Housta-qua. The suffix “qua” was used to denote an ethnic group. These provinces were in the Piedmont.  De Laudonniére asked if these men were white, because their advanced cultures sounded European to him. King Molona said, “No, They are like us. However, they paint their faces, black, while we paint our faces red.”

While the names of the two kings in present day northern Georgia are not recognizable words for 18th century ethnic groups, it should be remembered that these were the names used by a province in southeastern Georgia that spoke a different language.  In March of 1540 Hernando de Soto encountered four provinces speaking different languages in the region around the confluence of the Altamaha, Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers.  They were Tama, Toa, Achese and Okaute (Ocute in Spanish.)  Based on earlier comments, evidently the Maya-qua (Maya People) composed one of these provinces.

De Laudonniére’s memoirs mentioned other indigenous provinces, both north and south of the May River.  These included the Alikamany, the Maya-qua and Marracou.  De Laudonniére stated that Alicamany was the name of the province that King Satouriona ruled.  He did not say that this king ruled the Mocama as is generally stated by Florida scholars.   He said that the Maya-qua (Maya people) were 80 leagues (200 miles) up the May River.  That would place them somewhere in the vicinity of Macon, GA.  De Laudonniére stated that the Marracou lived about 40 leagues (100 miles) to the south.

The French rescued two Spaniards, who had been prisoners of the Calusa Indians in southern Florida for 15 years and an allied tribe near Cape Canaveral for eight years.  De Laudonniére clearly considered Cape Canaveral to be different than Cape François.  The Spaniards were part of a large party of Iberians, who had been shipwrecked.  Each year one Spaniard was sacrificed to the Calusa’s sun god, Toya, at the time of harvest. The Spaniards also described a large fresh water lake in the center of southern Florida, they called Serrope.  This lake was undoubtedly Lake Okeechobee.

The memoirs of de Laudonniére mention the Island of Edelano in the River May.  It was three leagues (12 km ~ 7 miles) in diameter.  The island was near the capital of the Utina.

An expedition dispatched by de Laudonniére traveled far north on the May River as the province of the Houstaqua.   This province in the Georgia Piedmont was so densely populated that it had an army of up to 4,000 men.  Houstaqua apparently was on the lower Ocmulgee or Oconee Rivers.  It was 4-5 days walk (60-80 miles) from the mountains.  That would suggest somewhere near present day Athens, Watkinsville or Greenville, GA on the Oconee River.  The main tributary of the Oconee River begins in Hall County, GA which had commercial gold mines in the 1800s.

In a pattern that pervades past Southeastern anthropological and historical research elsewhere, scholars started out with the presumption about a century ago that the May River mentioned by de Laudonniére was the Rio San Juan (Saint Johns River.) As will be shown in Part Six, this presumption was in total conflict with the vast majority of maps produced in the late 1500s and 1600s.The 200 years of French maps showing the May and Altamaha Rivers to be the same and Fort Carolina located on the west side of the Altamaha, were ignored. From that skewed geographical base, scholars then interpolated “facts” about Florida’s Indians that permeate references.  Today, these presumed locations of Indian provinces are used as “proof” that the St. Johns River was the May River.


Thornton, Richard. Sixteenth Century French Exploration of the Southeast. Web. See Further: People of One Fire. Georgia, © 2012.

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