Sacred Lands Preservation and Education 
 

Tequesta Indians

(By Mac Perry)

 

Tequesta Indians

Welcome to the people who give you the Miami Circle, a collection of post holes cut into bedrock at the mouth of the Miami River in the shape of a 35-foot circle. The price being paid for the holes by Miami-Dade County is $26.7 million. No house, just holes where the house used to be. But the house is believed to be the foundation of a rare 2,000 year-old temple or council house and has the bones of a 6-foot shark and a now-extinct monk seal buried inside the circle. Carved into the east floor, as if to watch the rising sun, is an eye-like basin with a rock iris at its center.

The Tequesta, like the Calusa were a complex, social chiefdom without an agricultural base, a rarity in North America. They ate fish, palm dates, shark, turtles, mammals, and whales. They killed alligators by shoving a long pole down their throat, turning them over, which made their walnut-sized brain fall asleep, then beating them to death with clubs. Also a rarity in North America.

Compared to the turbulent Calusa, the Tequesta were more peaceful, numbered only about 2500, and lived closer to the edge when it came to hunger. Vassal villages paid them taxes but it was usually baskets of sea grape, coco plum and saw palmetto berries, which, according to Jonathan Dickinson who was shipwrecked along the Gulf Coast, tasted like, "rotten cheese steeped in tobacco juice." Having puked a few handfuls myself, I attest to the truth of this statement.

Without corn or wheat, Tequesta Indians learned to make flour from the roots of Zamia, a small palm- like plant with a huge starchy root. Unprocessed Zamia starch is poisonous. It makes you wonder who tried the first batch. The Tequesta lived in little wigwams made by bending poles over and tying them in the center and covering them with palm fronds. The chief's council house was 40 feet by 25 feet, more room for his brides.

The shaman had a special ceremony to stay on the chief's good side. Whenever a chief died, the shaman extracted the larger bones from his carcass and set them aside to be worshipped. The chiefs just loved that idea. The shaman also had a trick to gain favor with young mothers. Whenever he cut into the forehead of a sick person and sucked the evil spirit out, he'd spit the blood into a bowl. Then he'd give the dribbly phlegm to pregnant women and nursing mothers to drink. The shaman told them it was good for their babies.

Tequesta Indians

The shaman was also responsible for overseeing the women who made the Black Drink used in ceremonies. His first job was to make sure no menstruating woman came near the big cook pot or the whole pot would have to be dumped out and started over again. Leaves and stems from Yaupon holly were collected, roasted, and crushed into a pot of boiling water. The decoction was boiled for hours to strengthen the caffeine then strained. Councilmen sat upon a dais and drank copious quantities of the hot frothy drink from a large whelk shell cup. Then each stood and vomited the liquid as far as he could, patted his stomach, and shouted Heemmm! It was a guy thing.

Botanists have named Yaupon holly Ilex vomitoria

 

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