(By Mac Perry)
The Tocobaga lived around Tampa Bay. They were almost exclusively fishermen who fished the Gulf for the big ones and harvested tons of oysters and clams out of the bay. Their world was surrounded by long shell middens made from years of discarded shells. From the thick shells they made hammers, dugout chopping tools, net weights, gorgets, plummets, and beads. They lived on top of shells, slept with shells, ate with shell
plates and spoons, traded shells, and were buried with shells. Chief Tocobaga lived on top of a twenty-foot tall temple mound overlooking Old Tampa Bay in today's Safety Harbor (see page 214 of Indian Mounds You Can Visit.)
In 1567, when be met with the Spaniard Menendez and Tocobaga's enemy Chief Carlos from the Calusa to the south, he summoned 29 subchiefs who arrived in four days. (I'm sure they brought their taxes with them.) When Narváez and Desoto arrived to begin their trek through the American south,
there were over twenty temple mounds in the Tampa Bay area. Today, only seven remain. (The one shown above is the Maximo Site in St. Petersburg, Florida.)
The Tocobaga villages were socially structured with a chief, nobles who met with the chief every morning at the temple for a sip of Black Drink and a few puffs on the old pipe, commoners who fished and crabbed and doubled as warriors, and slaves (captured Calusa warriors.) But they also had a special class the Europeans called Berdache. These hermaphrodite men sliced off their sexual organs, strapped
on mini skirts of moss, and wore their hair down their backs like women. They did menial labor such as tending the sick, carting the wounded off the battlefield, and performing sexual favors to worthy warriors (is that considered menial?)
They also assisted the shaman in the preparation of dead bodies. One Tocobaga practice was to boil the bodies, pick off the meat, break the bones at the joints, bundle them in deerskin and place them on a platform. One platform in south Florida was found to have held over 300 bundle burials. Other Indian burial practices included: Burials covered with oyster shells, a dog burial, cremation, bones placed in
an urn, flexed (bent into the fetal position) burials, full-length-flat-on-your-back burials, effigy sacrifice (artifacts laid out in the shape of a body), and bones scattered in a mound. Most burials had thousands of broken pottery sherds tossed throughout the mound, presumably to release the spirit of the pots to accompany the soul of the deceased to wherever it was going.
South Florida Indians believed they had three souls: their shadow, their image in a pond, and the pupil of their eye. When Indians died, two souls departed the body and went into the body of a lesser creature like a fish. The pupil soul remained with the body. It was this pupil soul of deceased ancestors that living Indians talked to at burial sites when they needed advice.
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