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Published On: Sat, Aug 12th, 2017

Forgotten Voyagers: The Ancient Mexican Merchants Who Took to the Seas

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“They were all young, well built and not black but fairer than the other natives I have seen in the Indies. They were handsome with fine limbs and bodies, and long straight hair cut in the Spanish manner, and round their heads they wore a cotton cloth elaborately patterned in colours which I believe to be almarzares (Moorish headdresses)”.
– ‘The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus’, translated and edited by J.M. Cohen

The major seafaring group in Mexico were the Chontal Maya. They called themselves Putun. Much of what we know about the Putun seafarers comes from the research of Dr. Wiener, Peck, and Shatto. Shatto wrote a detailed Master Thesis on Chontal naval knowledge.

The Chontal and Their Origins

The Spanish names for many Mexican tribes are based on their names derived from the Nahuatl language. The Spanish referred to the Putun as Chontal from the Nahuatl word: chontalli (meaning ‘foreigner’).

In ‘The Olmec-Chontal-Itzá-Centric Theory’, Douglas Peck argues that the Chontal were descendants of the Olmec people. Peck believes the Chontal should be called Itzaì and they were the group that spread writing, the Kukulcan myth, and mathematics first to the Yucatan and later the Maya lowlands and highland areas in Belize, Honduras, etc.

The Cascajal Tablet and the bilingual Maya-Olmec/Mande inscribed brick from Comalcalco indicate that some Maya and Olmec people spoke a variant of the Mande language. This may explain the discovery of many Mande terms in the Maya languages discovered by Dr. Wiener and Clyde Winters.

The Cascajal block and glyphs.

The Cascajal block and glyphs. ( Taringa!)

Dr. Wiener was sure that many of these sailors and merchants seen by the Spanish explorers were Mande speakers. The language spoken by some of the Olmec/ Xi people was also the Mande language.

Dr. Leo Wiener was a Harvard Professor of Linguistics. He claimed the Putun were very wealthy. It has been shown that they traded salt, cocoa, waistcloths, tobacco, jade, and gold.

Chontal Jade Two Headed Serpent Found in Puerto Rico.

Chontal Jade Two Headed Serpent Found in Puerto Rico. ( Atlantic Creole )

Dr. Wiener wrote in volume 3 of ‘Africa and the Discovery of America’:

“that the Negro civilization was carried chiefly by the trader is proved not only by Columbus’ specific references but also by the presence of the African merchant, the tangoman, as tiangizman in Mexico, hence Aztec tiangiz “markets”, and by the universality of the blue and white shell money from Canada to La Plata, and the use of shells as a coin in the Peru-Guatemala trade” (p.365).

According to Dr. Wiener, the Chontal Maya dominated trade from Mesoamerica all the way up to Canada. Wiener claimed that the Chontal included Arabic and Mande speaking merchants. This view is supported by A. Quatrefages in ‘Introduction a L’Etudes des Races Humaines.’ Quatrefages also identified the Chontal as a Black Native American tribe. There is a high frequency Y-Chromosome M-173 among the Ch’ol and Chontal at around 15%. The haplogroup R-M173 is not found in Siberia, but it is found in North America and Africa.

Dr. Leo Wiener. (Author provided) Dr. Wiener claimed that the Chontal included Arabic and Mande speaking merchants.

Dr. Leo Wiener. (Author provided) Dr. Wiener claimed that the Chontal included Arabic and Mande speaking merchants.

The Chontal Homeland and Trading Posts

The Chontal Maya originated along the coast of Tabasco. They lived in a region called Chontalpa (Place or Homeland of the Chontal ) in the State of Tabasco.

This seafaring folk called themselves Putun, Yokot’anob or the  Yokot’an.  Yokot’anob  means “the speakers of Yoko Ochoko.” The Yucatan Peninsula gets its name from the Yokat’an tribe which still lived on the Peninsula when the Spanish landed in Mexico.

The Putun claimed that they were descendants of the Olmecs or Xi people. Because of their control of trade, numerous non-Olmecs, like the Maya and Zoque-Mixe speakers, immigrated to Putun trading post. These trading posts eventually evolved into cities situated along the Mexican coast. The Putun/Chontal spoke a lingua franca, or trade language, that was composed of several Mexican dialects including Itza Maya, Yucatec Maya, Zapotec, and Zoque-Mixtec.

Colossal stone head of the Olmecs. (BigStockPhoto) The Chontal claimed that they were descendants of the Olmecs or Xi people.

Colossal st one head of the Olmecs. ( BigStockPhoto) The Chontal claimed that they were descendants of the Olmecs or Xi people.

The Putun established numerous trading posts in the United States on their way to Canada. This is supported by the discovery of Itza Maya, Yucatec Maya, and Totonac words present in Putun and in the Creek language which was formerly spoken in the Carolinas and Florida. In addition to Putun words in Creek, archaeologists have found attapulgite mined in Georgia that matched Maya Blue stucco, artifacts, horseshoe shaped ball courts, and earthen mounds like those found in contemporary Chontalpa in the Swift Creek Culture of the Southeastern United States.

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