Coaque Indians. A tribe formerly living on Malhado Island, off the coast of Texas, where Cabeza de Vaca suffered shipwreck in 1527. This was almost certainly Galveston Island. Cabeza de Vaca found two tribes, each with its own language, living there, one the Han, the other the Coaque. The people subsisted from November to February on a root taken from the shoal water and on fish which they caught in weirs; they visited the mainland for berries and oysters. They displayed much affection toward their children and greatly mourned their death. For a year after the loss of a son the parents wailed each day before sunrise, at noon, and at sunset. As soon as this cry was heard it was echoed by all the people of the tribe. At the end of the year a ceremony for the dead was held, after which “they wash and purify themselves from the stain of smoke.” They did not lament for the aged. The dead were buried, all but those who had “practiced medicine,” who were burned. At the cremation a ceremonial dance was held, beginning when the fire was kindled and continuing until the bones were calcined. The ashes were preserved, and at the expiration of a year they were mixed with water and given to the relatives to drink. During the period of mourning the immediate family of a deceased person did not go after food, but had to depend on their kindred for means to live. When a marriage had been agreed on, custom forbade the man to address his future mother-in-law, nor could he do so after the marriage. According to Cabeza de Vaca this custom obtained among tribes “living 50 leagues inland.” The houses of the Coaque were of mats and were set up on a “mass of oyster shells.” The men wore a piece of cane, half a finger thick, inserted in the lower lip, and another piece two palms and a half long thrust through one or both nipples. Owing to the starvation which faced the Spaniards after their shipwreck, they were forced to eat their dead; this action gave the natives such great concern that “they thought to kill” the strangers, but were dissuaded by the Indian who had Cabeza de Vaca in charge.
Gatschet 1 is correct in identifying these Indians with the Cokes of Bollaert, but he is probably wrong in supposing the Cujanos are also the same. That the Coaques and the Cujanos or Cohani were disfillet seems to be indicated by the statement of an early Texan settler 2 that “the Cokes and Cohannies” were “but fragments of the Carancawa tribe.” Probably the latter are Cabeza de Vaca’s Quevenes. That the Coaque spoke a dialect of Karankawa is indicated as well by Bollaert 3 , since he refers to them as a branch of the Koronks,” a variant of Karankawa. In 1778, according to Moziéres, about 20 families of Mayeyes and Cocos lived between the Colorado and the Brazos, opposite the island of La Culebra. The mounds and graves found on the coast of Texas probably belonged to the Coaque and kindred tribes, which are now extinct.
- Gatschet, Karankawa Indians, 1, 34, 1891
- Texas Hist. Quar., vi, 1903
- Bollaert, Jour. Ethnol. Soc. Lond., ii, 265, 1850