Writing a book can be a fascinating and surprising journey. One story can have multiple inspirations; a news article, a snippet of conversation, a photograph, an unrelated day trip, a song. All these influences bounce around together in my mind, inadvertently creating a spark that ignites into an unexpected and impossible to ignore world of characters with a unique story to tell. At the time, I’m not aware that it’s happening. Often, when I sit down to write, I can’t even pinpoint the specific influences. Occasionally, though, certain events leave a breadcrumb trail directly to the book I write.
This is the case with Eli’s Coming. I had no intention of writing a supernatural suspense novel (or is it dark fantasy?). This was supposed to be straight forward psychological suspense. But my mind, evidently, was focused elsewhere. Eli came to me from that other place, and he had his own opinion on where his story was going.
A short summary of those events leaving imprints: I have an interest in Native American culture, and had read a short article on long lost tribes native to Florida, where I currently live. My husband and I visited an archaeological state park that was once Native American burial grounds and temples. I’d been listening to Robbie Robertson & The Red Road Ensemble’s Music for the Native Americans. And in a moment of work avoidance, I’d taken one of those online psychological quizzes that told me I am a strong empath. (In the scientific/psychological sense, rather than the supernatural sense.) None of this on its own stood out as significant in my writing life. None of this was intended “research”. But over the months of these activities, something I wasn’t aware of continued churning in that quiet spot where my mind conjures characters and stories. And suddenly I found myself writing a book about a man with powers, who traces his roots back to the Timucuans, a long lost Native American tribe. The Timucuans were quite real, and today I thought I’d share their story.
Timucua – Pronounced TEE-Moo-Qua
While I have taken great liberties with the Timucuan culture, they were, in fact, a real group of Native Americans. What we know about them comes to us mostly through Father Francisco Pareja, a Spanish missionary friar who came to ‘La Florida’ to work with the Natives starting around the year 1595. Pareja learned the Timucuan language in order to communicate, keeping a record of words and meanings by transcribing them using his own Spanish alphabet.
The Timucua as a people flourished for 6,000 years or more, inhabiting the area that is now central Florida up to southeastern Georgia. Timucua was not a Native American tribe, in and of itself, but instead consisted of many separate tribes. Their common bond was language, although they each did retain unique dialects. They were not united politically and at times did go to war with one another over land and assorted offenses. Chiefs often formed alliances with other tribal chiefs during war, in order to obtain more power to defeat their shared enemy. War for the Timucuan was unlike European wars of their time. Battles ended when one or two men died, at which time everyone would return to their homes. Overall, the Timucuan appear to have been a peaceful people.
As for the name “Timucua”, this is a European title and not a name the Natives used to identify themselves. In 1564, the French established Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River. Here they interacted with Chief Saturiwa, who told the French that their enemies, a rival tribe, lived two or three days’ canoe-travel up the river. Saturiwa called these people Thimogona, sometimes written as Tymangoua, which means “great enemy” in the Native language. The French adopted this word as a way to refer to the enemy tribes. Later, the Spanish began using the word to describe the Natives as a whole, changing the word to Timucua in order to fit their dialect.
We have no record of what the Timucuan called themselves, if anything at all. What evidence we do have suggests they did not use specific group identifiers, but instead referred to various groups by using the tribal Chiefs’ names. When Europeans asked about a place and its occupants, the Timucuan villagers would respond with a phrase roughly translated to “we are us”.
The Timucuan history and eventual demise is too intricate for me to do justice here. In short, they were lulled into complacency by the Europeans, believing these strangers to be peaceful. They were not prepared for the brutal onslaught to follow. Many factors contributed to their death, including epidemics of European disease, their own failure to unite against the Europeans in battle, and, probably most important, their naivety in believing the Europeans to be their friends.
By the mid-1600s, the Timucuan population had greatly diminished. As tribes died off, survivors are thought to have joined the Seminole tribe while others, the last of their line, moved on to Cuba.
As I have noted, I took great liberties in my portrayal of these people and their way of life. I also took liberties with their language, although I stuck as close as possible to the words’ true meanings. All Timucuan words used in this book, such as chacaba and nahi, were recorded by Father Francisco Pareja and can be found in A Grammar and Dictionary of the Timucua Language by Julian Granberry.
Thank you for taking this journey with me. And thank you to the Timucuan people, for inspiring this story.