Maya and Muscogee Creek Indians Share Histories in North Georgia

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Kevin A. Thompson
February 10, 2024

(Photo: T-shirt vendor outside Chichen Itza, Maya pyramid and historical site, Yucatan, Mexico. This woman bears a striking resemblance to the author's great-grandmother. By Angel Omedo, Wikimedia Commons)

The Muscogee Creek Indians call themselves Este Mvskoke in their own language. It means, literally, “Muscogee Person.”

“Este Mvskoke” is a hybrid term.  The second part, Mvskoke, derives from an Algonquian word referring to wet ground. The Shawnee, an Algonquian people who lived among Mvskoke as part of the Creek Confederacy(Este Mvskoke em Etehvlatka), noted that the Mvskoke built many of their towns alongside rivers and Creeks, hence their similar name-meanings in English and Shawnee.

The first part of Este Mvskoke, “Este,” can mean “man” or “person.”

Mounting evidence suggests that “Este” derives from “Itza,” as in Itza Maya, who migrated to southeastern North America and built several large towns there, where a mound-building culture was already flourishing. The largest of these is in the Nacooche Valley of Georgia.

“Itza” means “enchanter of water,” probably from their ancestors’ efficient use of deep-water wells and irrigation systems. There’s that water connection again.

Their Maya relatives built the pyramids in Yucatan, Mexico at Chichen Itza. However, most surviving Itza Maya communities exist in Guatemala. The Itza Maya language currently has only1,000 fluent speakers, while Mvskoke Creek has about 5,000 fluent speakers.

Itza migrants were never the most numerous people of the southern Appalachian mountains, but they did form a temple-building elite which, for a time,  dominated the other mound-building, or Mississipian, communities of the region. They were eventually absorbed into the communities that became Este Mvskoke.

The Mvskoke are a melting pot of sorts, establishing networks across vast distances and varied peoples. They flow like the water.


Richard Thornton,