Sunday, July 30, 2017

Muse Over Miami

Around the 2nd century BCE, the concept of the modern nation-state is a long way off. Most folks at this point identified with a particular tribe or clan. During this period the Romans were the first to call the people in the land we now call Germany, Germans, meaning spear man. By the 2nd century CE, they were called Saxons, whose name developed from the type of knife they carried, the seax. They called themselves Diutisg, meaning "of the people" which formed into Deutsche and Deutschland. This is what they still call themselves, while the rest of the world calls them Germans. In the 8th century CE the Franks and others called new seafaring invaders from this region Northmen or Norsemen. The kingdoms in Britain called them Danes which has unclear origins but is where Denmark gets its name. The Slavs to the East called them Rus, which meant "the men who row". This is where Russia gets its name. These raiders and explorers may have called themselves VĂ­kingr. In the Icelandic Sagas, they use the phrase "to go on a vikingr" or to raid. The English variation "Viking" came along later.
By the 11th century, the seafaring Vikings encountered people they called Skraeling, believed to be ancestors of the modern Inuit, or Eskimo, the northernmost inhabitants of the New World. Skraeling meant "barbarian". This is ironic since that's what the English and the Franks thought of their Norse invaders. How's that? 12 centuries of European history in 300 words or less?

Great, but what does this have to to with Ohio history?

Fort not built by the Miami, also not in Florida
We all know that the general term Indian itself is technically incorrect. 15th-century folks thought they reached a shortcut to the East Indies.  Individual Indian tribal names can be as perplexing as European tribal names a half a millennium earlier before those groups formed into the nations of England, France, Germany, Denmark, etc. with a central authority.

We see similar names such as Cree and Creek, Dakota and Lakota, Mahican and Mohegan, for example. Are they the same tribes? Is there any relation? It can get complicated. To add to the confusion, different bands or septs within the same tribes sometimes used different or multiple names as well. I'm not going to research or attempt to explain them all in a mere blog post, but two tribes I've always found interesting are the Algonquian language speaking Delaware and Miami people.

Lord Delaware, definitely not Indian
Many times European explorers didn't bother with the difficult to pronounce or unclear indigenous name. This is true with the Lenni Lenape people who were renamed the Delaware by settlers. As is the case with many autonyms in the world, Lenni Lenape means original people. They also lived near a river named after Lord De La Warr, the first Governor of the Virginia English colony. So they were called the Delaware for many years. The state of Delaware derives its name from the same source. As settlers moved in, the Delaware people were pushed West to the Ohio Valley. Their descendants have since reverted to the name Lenape. There is also a town and a county named Delaware in Ohio.

Other times the modern tribal name is a European corruption of the tribe's autonym and/or a version of what one tribe, called another tribe. The Miami (or Maumee) people of the Ohio Valley, who incidentally are thought to be descendants of their Lenape or Delaware "grandfathers", fall into this category. So at least an attempt was made to use the correct name, even if it wasn't. More on that in a bit.

In the state of Ohio, we have the Maumee River, the Great and Little Miami Rivers. Places called Maumee, Miamitown, Miamiville. Miamisburg, New Miami, Miami County, Miami Township. A park named Miami Whitewater Forest. Miami University in Oxford OH. The British built Fort Miamis near Toledo. In Indiana and Kansas, there are similar cities, counties, and townships.

Then there is Miami Florida...a thousand miles south of Ohio. What's the story here? I've read that the Suwanee River in Florida might be connected to the Ohio Shawnee who migrated south at one point. Did the Miami people do the same?

The French were the first Europeans to encounter this Algonquin speaking Maumee in the mid 17th century. Miami comes from Maumee, a French corruption of Myaamia, which meant downstream people. Another source says it meant allies. Either way, it appears to be a name given by another tribe. These are just examples of the names. It's actually a bit more complicated.

When those French explorers encountered the Myaamia, they recorded a confederation of six bands. The French did their best to distinguish each of them by calling them "Maumee of the Ohio (river)", "Maumee of the Lake (Erie)", Maumee of the Woods", etc. This group was also known by other names by other tribes. For example, the Lenni Lenape people probably called them Twightwee which has unclear origins. One theory regarding Twightwee is that it's a reflex of Twatwa which could be the original name of the Miami people. Twatwa itself might come from the sound their sacred bird the sandhill crane makes. Whichever it is, the Miami name stuck and the Miami use the name to this day.

One of the many "Miami's" in Ohio
Through warfare, disease, and consolidation in the fight for self-survival during the French and British years, many Miami bands merged. By the end of the 18th century, there were only three bands. The Miami people were then pushed into the modern state of Indiana by United States expansion. In 1846 due to forced relocation by the US government, the Miami moved to Kansas and then to Oklahoma. By the end of the 19th century, there was basically one band, the federally recognized Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. There have been efforts to legally recognize an Eastern group that returned to Indiana in the 20th century. Both of these modern groups consider themselves to be the same people.

flag of the Miami Nation
note the Twatwa 
So how is Miami Florida related any of this? In Florida's case, "Miami" derives from the native people of that area of southern Florida through the 1740s until they became extinct. The indigenous people there referred to the large lake in that area as Mayaimi, meaning Big Water (this is now Lake Okeechobee from the Hitchiti, another extinct tribe), so similar to the English with the Delaware, the Spanish called them Mayaimi. In other words, the names are just a coincidence and "Miami" was in use in the Ohio Valley well before Florida's Miami.

I was attempting to draw parallels between ancient European history and comparatively recent American history but that's where the similarities mostly end. American Indians seem to have a unique place in this world. Today there are over 500 federally recognized self-governing nations within US borders, however, they are not completely sovereign like the nation states of Europe. Federal tribes are technically citizens of the United States, the US state in which the tribe resides, and the tribe itself. The Old World eventually would have found and explored the New World. Had history taken different courses, perhaps if European discovery occurred earlier, or had the people in the Americas been better armed, or maybe just more resistant to devastating European diseases, it's possible there would be a large multicultural Indian nation-state or even several bordering the modern United States or a different modern nation altogether. Don't laugh, the idea of a US-run Indian state was considered (sort of) at least once...with the Ohio!
Quiz time.
What's the largest ethnic group in Ohio comprising 25% of the population? Hint: It's also the largest in the US overall...Germans!
Oh, and who loves Miami Beach?...Germans!