Honoring the Tocobaga

Cacique Tocobaga

Today we refer to the American Indians of the Central Gulf Coast as the Tocobaga. In truth we don’t know whether that name belongs to a leader, a city, a nationality, or to all three. It may simply mean “our revered,” a title much like the “Dali Llama” is a honorific title. The Spanish were the first to record the name and they were always quick to interpret what they heard into that which was familiar to them.

Tocobaga can be interpreted as  “the honored man,” the leader who met with Pedro Menéndez de Aviles when his ships arrived arrived in Tampa Bay in 1566.

This painting honors a very brave man. In April of 1566, Governor Pedro Menéndez de Aviles sailed six bergantines as close to the village of Tocobaga as they could get. In the morning when the residents saw the threat, they fled into the forest.

Grasping imminent danger, Tocobaga climbed the mound to the temple. That’s where Menéndez found him.

“I have lived a long life with the Great Mystery and all of my beliefs,” he told the Governor. “I came here to die with my understandings.” Menéndez told him that he come not to kill him, but to make peace.

With some relief, the Tocobaga immediately sent for 29 sub-chiefs in order to hold a council. It took five days for all of them to arrive. Thousands of people flooded into the city until Menéndez, fearing for his and his men’s safety, asked the Tocobaga to send them away.

Devastated by European diseases between 1508 and 1512, the Tocobaga people had also felt the impact of earlier expeditions, those of Panfilo de Narváez in 1528 and Hernando de Soto in 1539. They were attempting to rebuild when Menéndez arrived in 1566. Despite their valiant efforts to continue on, this new force that had arrived on their shores would bring about the demise of this ancient culture.

Note about the painting. When praying at a site, that doesn’t have anything to attach feathers in the form of prayers, sticks are used. Along with the four directions, they are the four seasons of your life. Every time the sticks are used in prayer, the prayer becomes a part of the sticks.

Pedro Menéndez de Aviles arrived at the city of Tocobaga on Tampa Bay, 1566. Acutely aware of the kind of danger the Spaniards could inflict, he tells his people to flee. Cacique Tocobaga awaited the arrival of the Spanish by praying for his people in the temple on top of the mound