A New World: The Peoples of La Florida

Social Organization


The ranking personage in the Guale village was the cacique, commonly referred to also as the mico. It appears that sometimes there was a cacique mayor, a chief who exercised authority over more than one settlement.


The Guales practiced polygamy, or, more exactly, polygyny. This practice, however, seems to have been restricted to the more important leaders.18

Matrilineal succession was likewise a Guale practice. Female influence in determining succession rites was for that reason quite considerable. After having examined many cases related to the matter, Grant Jones summarized the situation in these words: "Evidence of the importance of matrilineal inheritance and association remains strong through the seventeenth century, indicating that, by and large, Spanish meddling in principles of succession was minimal."19

A peculiarity of Guale social organization was the mode of inheritance, including succession to the caciqueship. Normally that position did not pass to the son of the retiring cacique, but went instead to a member of his collateral line, that is, to the son of his sister (his nephew), or to his son-in-law (the husband of a daughter).

In some extreme cases, where there was no nephew or other male to serve as successor to a retiring or deceased chief, women might be accepted, with the title of cacica. The example of the neighboring and friendly Timucuans cannot have failed to exercise an influence on Guale thinking and practice. In San Pedro, a Timucuan village with amicable association with the Guales, Doña Aña, the niece of the former cacique Don Juan, succeeded to his post upon his death; and her immediate successor was likewise a woman, Doña Maria. Cacicas are known also to have ruled in San Mateo and even in the important post at Nombre de Dios, one of them receiving a special citation from the King of Spain.

The cacique's successor – or heredero, as the Spaniards called him – spent considerable time with the chief whom he was to succeed. It was a form of apprenticeship for the high office which he would inherit. Frequently the chief took his prospective successor with him when he held discussions with the Spaniards.20

Spanish documents frequently describe the caciques as being accompanied by "principal men" of the tribe. Seemingly these formed a sort of council of elders, not unlike the senate in imperial Rome, and upon request served as advisers. In Guale the presence of a mandador and aliaguita is often noted; the precise meaning and function of that position is not clear, but seemingly it was a position of supervisor or stimulator, a rank of soine authority in the Indian societal hierarchy.

Important in each village was the position of the shaman, the medicine man whose knowledge of botany and Indian lore brought him prestige and authority. His control of ritual observances gave him a key role in the functioning of the society's life. Not only did he supervise initiation ceremonies; he also prepared warriors for conflicts and players for the games. Escobedo in his poem describes the strenuous game of ball played by the Florida Indians. 21 At the end of a game the caciques and principal men of the chiefdom, sitting on a platform in the council-house, ritually drank cacina (a drink made from the leaves of holly trees) using vessels exclusively for that purpose.22

Occupying the lowest rank in the social scale was the warrior. At some point during his puberty the male was initiated into this class, the medicine man having an important part in this ceremony. As a warrior, the young male was instructed as to the role which he would increasingly play in the life of the tribe. Deeds of valor, displays of wisdom, examples of leadership – all of these factors would help certain warriors in time to attain the status of principales or elders – men on whom the cacique would call for advice.

Jones, 202.

Ibid., 200-0 I.

Ibid., 20 I.

Escobedo, fols. 346v-349v. See below, 18-19.

Jones, 198. Cf Escobedo, fol. 33 Ir.

CREDIT: REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
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REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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