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The Calusa: Linguistic and Cultural Origins and Relationships

The Calusa: Linguistic and Cultural Origins and Relationships

by Julian Granberry

The linguistic origins of Native American cultures and the connections between these cultures as traced through language in prehistory remain vexing questions for scholars across multiple disciplines and interests.  Native American linguist Julian Granberry defines the Calusa language, formerly spoken in southwestern coastal Florida, and traces its connections


The linguistic origins of Native American cultures and the connections between these cultures as traced through language in prehistory remain vexing questions for scholars across multiple disciplines and interests.  Native American linguist Julian Granberry defines the Calusa language, formerly spoken in southwestern coastal Florida, and traces its connections to the Tunica language of northeast Louisiana.
Archaeologists, ethnologists, and linguists have long assumed that the Calusa language of southwest Florida was unrelated to any other Native American language. Linguistic data can offer a unique window into a culture’s organization over space and time; however, scholars believed the existing lexical data was insufficient and have not previously attempted to analyze or define Calusa from a linguistic perspective.
In The Calusa: Linguistic and Cultural Origins and Relationships, Granberry presents a full phonological and morphological analysis of the total corpus of surviving Calusa language data left by a literate Spanish captive held by the Calusa from his early youth to adulthood. In addition to further defining the Calusa language, this book presents the hypothesis of language-based cultural connections between the Calusa people and other southeastern Native American cultures, specifically the Tunica. Evidence of such intercultural connections at the linguistic level has important implications for the ongoing study of life among prehistoric people in North America. Consequently, this thoroughly original and meticulously researched volume breaks new ground and will add new perspectives to the broader scholarly knowledge of ancient North American cultures and to debates about their relationships with one another.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This work provides a real needed contribution to both the archaeological and linguistic literature on one of the most vexing issues in linguistics: what is the Calusa language.”--Randolph Widmer is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Houston, and the author of The Evolution of the Calusa: A Nonagricultural Chiefdom on the Southwest Florida Coast.

"The Calusa represents a unique and innovative contribution to the scholarly discussion regarding the Calusa. Taking a different tack than previous works on the Calusa and other South Florida Indian groups, Granberry's volume will doubtless spur debate and provide fodder for much-needed future research."--John Worth is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of West Florida, and the author of The Timucuan Chiefdoms of Spanish Florida and The Struggle for the Georgia Coast: An Eighteenth-Century Spanish Retrospective on Guale andMocama.

Product Details

University of Alabama Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st Edition
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

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The Calusa

Linguistic and Cultural Origins and Relationships
By Julian Granberry


Copyright © 2011 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-1751-5

Chapter One

Investigating the Calusa

To those who know Florida prehistory the word Calusa usually conjures up visions of an extinct, fierce native Southwest Florida people, alien yet highly civilized even from our present-day point of view, politically powerful, socially and religiously highly stratified and complex, and very sophisticated in engineering, architecture, and the arts. They occupied and controlled at least some dozens of settlements throughout south and South Central Florida, some quite large, and held sway as well over subsidiary towns as far away as the Atlantic coast of Florida. Like all societies and all peoples, for the quite legitimate reason of protecting their way of life, the Calusa adamantly resisted the alien Spanish intruders of the early to late 1500s and their unusually blatant efforts to Hispanicize and, particularly, Christianize them. This they understandably did since their overall social system and religious beliefs were, as in most societies, intertwined parts of a multifaceted whole, and the concepts and practices of that culture and religion were light-years removed from those of proselytizing, culturally insensitive sixteenth-century Christian Spain and its incredibly cruel inquisition with its purposeful and routinely brutal treatment of all non-Christians, at home and abroad—so reminiscent of American actions in the middle east in the late 1900s and early 2000s.

All such efforts were consequently and predictably met with clear, firm, usually peaceful and polite but if necessary forceful refusal, and they remained so throughout the history of Spanish Florida in spite of continuous missionizing efforts and the very short-term residence of an occasional priest or priests at the fort of San Antón de Carlos in 1567 and at the equally short-lived mission of San Diego de Compostela in 1697 (MacMahon and Marquardt 2004:118). Therefore, during the centuries following initial Spanish settlement in Florida the Calusa were lucky enough to be left more to their own devices than their less fortunate Native American neighbors in north, east, Central, and West Florida. Never conquered, though constantly harassed and unsuccessfully interfered with by extremely undiplomatic and devious Spanish missionaries and military (Zubillaga 1946:272–311) and the depredations of Spanish and, particularly, English slave traders with their Yamasee and Muskogean allies, and exposed as well to European diseases, they survived in increasingly smaller and smaller numbers.

Between 1704 and 1711 some were driven to Cuba (Worth 1995, 2003, 2004) until the ultimate absorption of those who had survived by the late-coming Seminole and Mikasuki peoples in the 1700s and early 1800s, by whom they are still remembered today. As the folklorist–ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore recounted 50-some years ago, "The singer [of Seminole songs] said ... that long ago the Calusa and Seminole camped near one another and the people of each camp visited freely in the other, learning songs and joining in the dances" (Densmore 1956). Densmore, in fact, has reproduced several Calusa-inspired songs recounted to her by her Seminole informants, though they unfortunately contain no helpful Calusa words.

In recent years, thanks to the archaeological work done under the aegis of William Marquardt of the Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, thorough and meticulous analysis of the settlement and artifactual patterns of the sites in the southern section of the area inhabited by Calusa speakers has been undertaken in tandem with ethnohistoric and, particularly, extremely detailed biogeographical analysis (MacMahon and Marquardt 2004; Marquardt and Payne 1992). This type of analysis has been augmented as well by the work of Randolph Widmer in his The Evolution of the Calusa: A Nonagricultural Chiefdom on the Southwest Florida Coast (1988). The mysterious Calusa are thus no longer mysterious from a settlement, artifactual, and very basic ethnographic point of view (see, for example, John Hann's 1991 Missions to the Calusa; marquardt and Payne's 1992 Culture and Environment in the Domain of the Calusa; The Calusa and Their Legacy, co-authored by macmahon and marquardt in 2004; Randolph Widmer's 1988 The Evolution of the Calusa cited above; marquardt's 1988 Politics and Production among the Calusa and his 1999 The Archaeology of Useppa Island: A Summary; the recent doctoral dissertation of Rob Patton written under marquardt's direction; and the upcoming doctoral dissertation of Corbett McP. Torrence, the latter two brought to my attention by John Worth).

Somehow, however, the Calusa still remain one of the primary enigmas of Florida prehistory, as Marquardt himself points out in the first sentence of his introduction to John Hann's Missions to the Calusa (Hann 1991:xv). Though marquardt and his associates at the Randell Research Center in Pineland have been the Stanley-and-Livingstones of Calusa area archaeology and have, as have others before them, brought the known ethnohistoric accounts on the tribe together, yet still the origins and relationship of the people to other Florida and southeastern native groups remain seemingly complete unknowns, rarely even mentioned, never discussed, and never investigated by archaeologists, ethnologists, or ethnohistorians regardless of the existence of pertinent, easily obtainable ethnolinguistic data, of which these researchers indicate an awareness, that has been with us for almost five centuries.

Though MacMahon and Marquardt ask "Who were the Calusa" as the first topic in the initial chapter of The Calusa and Their Legacy and add, "We do not believe that the Calusa people came from any great distance away, and we have found no artifacts that would suggest that they migrated into south Florida from, say, Mexico or the Carib bean" (MacMahon and Marquardt 2004:75)—which, incidentally, no professional anthropologist has, to my knowledge, ever suggested—their statement is based solely on the sequence of archaeologically and ethnohistorically defined cultures in the region. In this regard John Hann, among others, has aptly and very importantly pointed out with regard to the Mayaca people of Central Florida that "ceramics are not always a reliable indicator of linguistic boundaries. Therefore, in the face of other evidence linking the Mayaca [of interior Central Florida] to the Ais [of coastal Central Florida], the maya ca's sharing of the Timucua's St. Johns ceramic tradition need not be interpreted as meaning that the Mayaca were Timucua" (Hann 1993:118–119, italics added). In fact, as will be discussed in Chapter 8, the Mayaca– Ais connection, along with that of the Jororo and Surruque, strongly links all of these tribal groups both together and to the Chitimacha people of southern Louisiana.

This non-necessary linkage of language and artifactual data—so evident the world-round through all time periods—has simply been ignored by present-day Florida archaeologists, who on the contrary by and large see a necessary connection between language and artifact— a part of the fortunately now fast-fading processualist philosophy as promulgated by binford and others. In the case of the Calusa the lack of such a linkage is a particularly important point, unfortunately totally ignored by Florida archaeologists.

In connection with the above quote from John Hann it should be pointed out that the term Ais, sometimes spelled as Ays in the Spanish documents, is a one-syllable word consisting of the consonant s preceded by the normal Spanish diphthong ai, which carries the stress on the initial strong vowel a followed by the unstressed weak vowel i, the entire word being properly pronounced like the english word ice. The vowels a and i never form separate syllables in that combination in the Spanish of any time period, as has been suggested by some Florida archaeologists. The pronunciation ah-EEs is, with apologies to its users, both linguistically invalid and phonologically incorrect. To be so pronounced it would, at any period in the history of the Spanish language, have to have been written as aís or a-is or a-ys, which spellings do not occur in any document known to this writer.

On the basis of our knowledge of the Calusa language through its surviving vocabulary, phonetics, morphophonemics, and, in cases, syntax, as well as archaeology, as with mayaca and Ais toponymy, I would strongly endorse hann's statement and extend it to the Calusa. The careful archaeological work undertaken by marquardt and his colleagues has given us a remarkable amount of data, but they have not answered the question "Who were the Calusa" but, rather, only discussed the "What were the Calusa like" query, and that on the basis of archaeological and ethnohistoric data alone. Analysis of the important extant linguistic data has, again, simply been ignored.

MacMahon and Marquardt (2004:75) do, however, also ask, "how long were the Calusa in south Florida, and where did their ancestors come from?" and to this writer that question and the nonarchaeological, non-ethnographic data that must be used to answer it are crucial for establishing the so-far undefined physical, cultural, and linguistic identity and origin of the Calusa people.

With due regard to the training and experience required to practice archaeology professionally—I have been through that training and experience to the doctoral level and beyond for almost 80 years, as well as linguistic training and experience to the same level for a similar period of time—and though we know the sequence of archaeological cultures for the Calusa area quite well (Marquardt and Payne 1992:13, 425; Widmer 1988:56–58, 69), the assumption that artifactual sequences alone completely define and identify the origins and nature of the people using them is, as Hann points out, not always, if ever, the case. As the archaeologist Thomas Emerson (1997:2) effectively points out with regard to the results of use of the Language = Archaeological Culture philosophy, "the past has been dehumanized; mechanistic societies have been created that operate with functionally motivated, clockwork precision and that respond, necessarily, only to external environmental stimuli. Human society appears to have disappeared from much of the archaeological literature." I endorse that statement completely judging from American archaeological literature over the past 50 years, particularly, as I have already pointed out, since the advent of the theoretical writings of Leslie White, Lewis binford, and others, creating and endorsing a strictly mathematized, linear, dehumanized "new Archaeology." As frank hole somewhat less politely put it some years ago, "One fears that as far as fieldwork is concerned, the first decade of the new Americanist archaeology will be seen at our next centennial as a kind of archaeological dark age, accompanied by the partial eclipse of literacy" (hole 1978:4). I would extend hole's statement to say not "the first decade of the new Americanist archaeology" but the first half century of that philosophy from the manner in which most American archaeologists, untrained and inexperienced in any anthropological discipline except archaeology, practice their trade these days. This remark may seem cruel, but it is, I feel, quite accurate to judge from published data and data-interpretation statements from these quite intelligent ladies and gentlemen.

As pointed out in the preface to this volume, however, many graduate students in anthropology in Florida these days are rebelling against these simplistic, linear, and dogmatic assumptions and methodologies and are in their own work returning to a more broadly based interpretation and analysis of the data they are dealing with. This, to this author, is a very encouraging sign.

On the basis of physical data alone we can easily miss and therefore ignore such examples as the present-day native American Chitimacha of southern Louisiana. Though trying, so far abortively, to revive their native language, they speak only the Louisiana dialect of English, dress only in standard American-style clothing, live in houses that would be unexceptional in any small town anywhere in the United states, use the same utensils and eat the same foods that their non-Indian neighbors eat. They are, from an outward, artifactual point of view, as Anglo-American as any other group of people in the country. Artifactual data alone, that is, can trick us. A conversation with a native Chitimacha would, however, quickly erase this seemingly exclusive Anglo-Americanism. The verbal data would contradict the artifactual data, and one would see a people who, in effect, belong to two worlds. Artifactual data alone would not reveal the full realities of the culture, which remains ideationally strongly, almost adamantly, native American Chitimacha.

Thus peoples, languages, and artifacts are not the same thing. One cannot define a people or culture on the basis of only one of those facets. They intersect, of course, but none provides a complete cultural definition in and of itself in any sense. Artifacts and settlement patterns, as Franz Boas tried to point out almost incessantly not too long ago, are only a fragment of a culture. It is, consequently, the feeling of this writer that the solution to the enigma of the physical and cultural source of the Calusa people is neither unsolvable nor solvable exclusively by the use of archaeological and ethnohistoric data alone. Language must be brought into play.

From this author's point of view, in other words, the source of the Calusa people is simply a puzzle all the pieces of which have never been assembled by those interested in the problem, for we have a small yet quite meaningful residue of language data that, though not equating one-to-one with the archaeological data, fits remarkably well with both that and the ethnographic data that we already have. The 500-year-old language data were provided for us, perhaps in somewhat fractured form, by Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda (Escalante Fontaneda 1944)—the name is also given in the Spanish records as Descalante (Menéndez de Avilés 1568 [AGI Seville, Santo Domingo 115])—a member of a Spanish noble family who with his brother, unfortunately killed shortly after capture, was a shipwrecked captive of the Calusa and a daily speaker and user of the Calusa language from the age of 13 to the age of 30, and such data also survive in some of the place names of the west coast of Florida. The data of the two fields, Calusa area archaeology and Calusa linguistics, have simply never been brought together. When they are, the results are edifying. It is an analysis of such a unification of data and what it tells us and implies that is the topic of this small book.

Chapter Two

The european Period history of the Calusa

It is unfortunate that what we know about the history of the Calusa tribe is as little as it is. We have only a number of Spanish accounts, well described and reprinted in the original Spanish by Zubillaga in 1946, and in English translation by Hann in 1991 for those Florida archaeologists and ethnologists—the majority—who, remarkably enough in an area that for almost 400 years was a Spanish colony, neither understand nor read Spanish. While many of these accounts give us little or no ethnographic information, some, such as the 1568 account of Fr. Juan Rogel, a Jesuit priest, discussed in detail in the following chapter, while culturally callous, are quite observant (see Hann 1991:230–285; Zubillaga 1946:272–311).

From both Spanish and English records we regrettably know nothing about the origins and relationships of the Calusa people to other native American peoples in Florida or elsewhere. We do know a bit about the readily observable, mechanical parts of their life, both from these ethnohistoric accounts and from the archaeological work done by William Marquardt and his associates in recent years. What we need to know, however, is who the Calusa people were, what their origins and relationships to the other native American peoples of Florida and other regions were. While the latter topic is the focus of this book, the stage will be set by giving the reader a short introductory account of what we do know about some very limited tribal activities during the time of European contact in the 1500s through the early 1700s.


Excerpted from The Calusa by Julian Granberry Copyright © 2011 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Julian Granberry is the Language Coordinator for Native American Language Services in Florida and author of numerous publications, including A Grammar and Dictionary of the Timucua Language and The Americas That Might Have Been: Native American Social Systems through Time.

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