The Mayaimi People lived around Lake Okeechobee from at least 300 BC to until around 1700 AD. 1 Their ancestors probably lived in the region as early as 1000 BC, because some village sites show continual cultural development from that era forward. The Mayaimi were the progenitors of the Glades Culture.
During the period from around 200 AD to 1150 AD, the ancestors of the Mayaimi lived in a sophisticated society of many towns that were interconnected by canals and raised causeways. 1 They built ceremonials mounds, complex earthworks, ball courts, ornamental ponds and earthen effigies. Almost all the symbols associated with the Mississippian Culture between 900 AD and 1600 AD, could be found in Mayaimi towns as early as 500 AD or earlier. The canoes of the Mayaimi were identical in shape to those of the Mayas and quite different from the dugout canoes of advanced indigenous peoples farther north.
The Mayaimi civilization collapsed around 1150 AD at the same time that the acropolis of Ocmulgee, 600 miles to the north was abandoned. There apparently was a connection between these two cultural collapses, but it has not been identified at the present time.
Traditional folklore is that Maya-imi means “Big Water,” which is also the translation of the Itsate Creek word for Lake Okeechobee. 2 North of Lake Okeechobee lived the Maya-koa (Mayaca in Spanish,) whose name in hybrid indigenous-Arawak meant “Maya People.”
Most of the peoples that we now call Maya did not call themselves Maya. 3 It was a province in the northern end of the Yucatan Peninsula. In 1502, Bartolomé Colon, the brother of Cristobal Colon, and Cristobal’s son, Fernando, encountered a large trade canoe from a province that he called Maiam vel Lucantam. 4 Lucantam was the Medieval Castilian word for Yucatan in the late 1500s and early 1600s.
The people of the Iberian Peninsula spoke at least 15 languages at that time. 5 The letters “y” and “e” were often used for the same sound. The letter “y” in Castilian is pronounced like an English e-. The “y” sound in Castilian is written as “ll.”
The indigenous people around Lake Okeechobee were called the Maiami in Late Medieval Castilian then the Maimi in Renaissance Castilian. 6 It is quite probable that the Mayaimi of Florida originated in the Province of Maiam or the northwestern Yucatan Peninsula.
It was the Spaniards, who took the name of this one province applied it to multiple provinces in Central America, whose inhabitants spoke similar languages and had similar cultural traditions. Thus, Maya-imi and Maya-koa would refer to peoples, whose ancestors came from the section of the Yucatan Peninsula, closest to Cuba and Florida.
Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda lived with the indigenous peoples of southern Florida for 17 years during the 16th century. 7 He later wrote that most of the “Mayaimis” lived in hamlets of thirty or forty inhabitants each. There were many more places where only a few people lived. The game and fish of Lake Okeechobee provided most of the Mayaimis’ protein. They processed coontie from the root of the smilax vine for flour. In high-water season they lived on top of their mounds and ate only fish.
Between around 1700 and 1730, Cherokee slave raiders from the Province of Carolina repeatedly attacked the Mayaimi. 8 They burned villages, killed most adult males and hauled off the youth and young women to be sold in slave markets in South Carolina.
In 1710 a group of 280 refugees from Florida that included the Cacique of Maimi arrived in Cuba. 9 In 1738, the Mayaimi had a “fort” on the coast south of Cape Canaveral.] In 1743, Spanish missionaries sent to Biscayne Bay reported that a remnant of the Mayaimis (which they called Maimies or Maymíes) were part a group of about 100 people, which also included Santaluzos and Mayaca people, still lived four days north of the Miami River. Most survivors were probably evacuated to Cuba when Spain turned Florida over to the British Empire in 1763. Some remained in the interior of Florida and joined forces with the emerging Seminole Alliance. Today the Mayaimi are considered extinct.
- “Mayaimi People.” Wikipedia.
- Sturtevant, William C. (1978) “The Last of the South Florida Aborigines”, in Jerald Milanich and Samuel Proctor, Eds. Tacachale: Essays on the Indians of Florida and Southeastern Georgia during the Historic Period, The University Presses of Florida. Gainesville, Florida.
- Hajovsky, Ric. (2011) How Yucatan got its Name
- Hajovsky, Ric. (2011) How Yucatan got its Name. The Yucatec Mayans continued to call their land, “u luumil cutz yetel ceh , “or “land of turkeys and deer.”
- “Languages of Iberia.” Wikipedia
- Thornton, Richard L. “The Miami Maya Connection.” Examiner.com – National Architecture Column, October 24, 2014.
- Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda. “Fontaneda’s Memoir“. Translation by Buckingham Smith, 1854.
- Sturtevant, William C. (1978) “The Last of the South Florida Aborigines”, in Jerald Milanich and Samuel Proctor, Eds. Tacachale: Essays on the Indians of Florida and Southeastern Georgia during the Historic Period, The University Presses of Florida. Gainesville, Florida; p.143.