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Monday, November 30, 2009

African Influence on the Seminole Indians of Florida

The following is a recipe found on - the picture to the left is from that same site. Remember this picture...


Note: Conventional west African fufu is made by boiling such starchy foods as cassava, yam, plantain or rice, then
pounding them into a glutinous mass, usually in a giant, wooden mortar and pestle. This adaptation for North Americans may trouble you if you try to stick to minimally processed foods. But it's worth trying at least once with west African groundnut stews.

2 1/2 cups Bisquick 2 1/2 cups instant potato flakes

Bring 6 cups of water to a rapid boil in a large, heavy pot. combine the two ingredients and add to the water.

Stir constantly for 10-15 minutes -- a process that needs two people for best results: one to hold the pot while the other stirs vigorously with a strong implement (such as a thick wooden spoon). The mixture will become very thick and difficult to stir, but unless you are both vigilant and energetic, you'll get a lumpy mess.

When the fufu is ready (or you've stirred to the limits of your endurance!), dump about a cup of the mixture into a wet bowl and shake until it forms itself into a smooth ball. Serve on a large platter alongside a soup or stew.

Note the phrase in bold print. A mortar and pestle technique shows up again in historical references in South Carolina and in the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Weird, huh? Not when you consider that Spanish authorities offered safe haven to runaway slaves from the fledgling colony of Carolina and transported ex-slaves from South Carolina to Florida as early as October 1687. These Africans (ex-slaves from rice-producing Carolina) lived in Florida under the Spanish who called them "Maroons," from the word "Cimaroon," meaning runaway or "one who lives apart."

Another term came from the Spanish use of "Cimaroon." "Seminole" is a perversion of the very same word... meaning "runaway," as well. Now, look at this:

These are Seminole women using almost exactly the same technique to ground corn. The pestles even look the same, having the thinned down shaft for easy handling.

And the next photo of Gambian Artwork shows two African women operating an extraordinarily similar device!

"In Africa the standard device for preparing all cereals is the mortar, formed from a hollowed-out tree trunk. Grain is placed into the cavity of the mortar, where the hulls are removed by striking them with a wooden pestle. … a skilled operation like all other facets of food preparation, was already women's work in the initial period of the Atlantic slave trade." p. 27, Judith Carney, Black Rice.

"I am sure there is no woman can be under more servitude, with such great staves wee call Coole-Staves [pestles], beate and cleanse both the Rice, all manner of other graine they eate, which is onely womens worke..." Richard Jobson (c1620), The Golden Trade, p. 68.

H-Net Africa Discussion
Date: 8 Nov 1998
From: Judith Bettelheim

The mortar is very important in Yoruba culture, especially in Shango iconography. But I will leave that to the Yoruba scholars.

In Cuba and its diaspora, the mortar or "pilon" is also very important, often used in relation to Chango, or more generally in Santeria rituals. See David Brown's "Thrones of the Orisha" African Arts, Oct. 1993. One cabildo in Santiago de Cuba has a pilon that they say was brought to Santiago by slaves, and it is kept by a priestess of the cabildo to this day

From: Laurel Birch de Aguilar, St. Andrews University

Date: Sun, 8 Nov 1998

From my research among the Chewa in Malawi, the mortar and pestle is presented in two interesting ways, with the same kinds of significances as already cited by others. One is the appearance of imprints of the mortar and pestle in rock after the first rains fall from the sky, creating all life in thec Chewa myth of Kaphirintiwa.

The second is the action of a particular masked dancer, a male dancer and a male mask, who takes over pounding the grain for women with a mortar and pestle as part of a performance, a significant act, related to funerals and remembrances of ancestors. Both accounts are in my book: _Inscribing the Mask_, Fribourg University Press, Switzerland, 1996.

Further, the mortar in particular is an important ritual object among the Ndembu in Zambia, as cited by Victor Turner, and its significance is part of an analysis in my book.

"Black Seminoles" is a name commonly used to refer to African members of the tribe. I suppose that they would be more accurately referred to as "African-Indians" than "African Americans" for they certainly claimed nothing to do with Americans.

Judith Carney in her book, "Black Rice" refers repeatedly to the mortar and pestle technique as African technology. She also states that it was considered "Women's Wuck (work)" both in Africa as well as in South Carolina. Note all the pictures are mostly women doing the heavy pounding with the mortar and pestle.

Onnie Lee Logan spoke to Katherine Clark in Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's story (New York: Dutton, 1989), p.9 (excerpted from Black Rice by Judith Carney, p. 124-5):

"We had this great big thing that Daddy would gallons of 'em [rice] at a time in that thing and beat it. A rice beater [mortar] we always called it. He cut an oak tree down and got a big stump off of it and sit that stump up. Tryin' to make a hole in the middle of that stump. After he couldn't chisel as much as he could to make it even then he set a fire in it there and burned it as far as he wanted to. He chiseled out almost as deep as he wanted and then he burned it. After burnin' he sand it out and make it smooth, good and smooth. Then he made what we call a maul [pestle]. It was a round piece of wood with a stick on it. He would take that around put the rice in there in the stump... and then we would take that maul and beat it up and down on the top of the rice..."

George S. Nelson painted this image trying to capture the image of a mortar and pestle being used by the Caddo 900 years ago. "This scene is based on archeological details from the George C. Davis site in east Texas and on early historic accounts," according to the Texas History Online site. George C. Davis site work states nothing at all about a wooden mortar and pestle, although it does list a stone version in its collection. So, the artist probably assumed that the wooden tools were in use that long ago when they actually might not have been.

Did the African Mortar & Pestle spread through the Southeast with Slaves and Ex-slaves who were either owned or lived with Native Americans and who adapted it for corn?

"Perhaps one of the most widespread indigenous devices of Southeastern Indians surviving into the twentieth century was the large wooden mortar and pestle, found over a wide spectrum of Indian groups in the Southeast until about mid-century."


"The Black Seminole culture that took shape after 1800 was a dynamic mixture of African, Native American, Spanish, and slave traditions. In the tradition of the Native Americans, maroons wore Seminole clothing; strained koonti, a native root; and made sofkee, a paste created by mashing corn with a mortar and pestle."

"Black Seminoles"
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

Africa to South Carolina to Florida & elsewhere?
"... until the advent of water-driven mechanical devices during the second half of the eighteenth century, rice milling was performed in the African manner with an upright wooden mortar and pestle, the standard method women have used to process all food throughout the continent." p. 112, Judith Carney, Black Rice.

add to this...

"The English colonization of the Carolinas and Georgia threatened Spanish Florida. English raiders enslaved and killed thousands of Native Americans [as well as Africans], so Spain fought back by offering sanctuary to English slaves. The first eleven fugitive slaves from Charleston, South Carolina arrived by boat in October 1687; they were granted refuge by Governor Cendoya. On November 7, 1693, Spanish King Charles II issued a cedula (proclamation) promising that any English slave (maroon) who came to Spanish territory would be free. He said he was 'giving liberty to all…the men as well as the women…so that by their example and by my liberality others will do the same.' Several hundred English slaves fled by foot, horse, and boat to the sanctuary of Spanish Florida." --- Slavery in America, Jean M. West,


"Milling, until the mid-eighteenth century, employed primitive techniques, based upon the mortar and pestle, a shaped wooden plunger. Homesteads continued to use this system into the late nineteenth century in the Carolinas and Louisiana. Considerable quantities of rice were shipped unmilled or "rough" to English mills, but by the late 1700s South Carolina had developed a sophisticated milling industry equal, if not superior, to that in other places."

Henry C. Dethloff, “Colonial Rice Trade,” Agricultural History, Vol. 56, No. 1, Symposium on the History of Agricultural Trade and Marketing (Jan., 1982), 239.

Seminole women using a similar technique...

"Only the African mortar-and-pestle method reduces grain breakage in processing glaberrima; this remains a problem in commercializing African rice to this day." (NRC, Lost Crops, 29). "The mortar and pestle remained in use to mill small quantities of rice by slaves and their descendants well into the twentieth century."

Judith Carney, 'Rice milling, gender and slave labour in colonial South Carolina', Past and Present 153 (1996), 108-34.

"Rice (Oryza glaberrima). Discussed in detail in the text, rice was cultivated over a broad area from South Carolina through the Caribbean and into Brazil. Bahian planter Gabriel Soares de Sousa noted in 1587 the cultivation of both rain-fed and swamp rice, the use of the mortar and pestle for milling, and the triumph of African dietary preferences among the slave population."

African Rice in the Columbian Exchange
Author(s): Judith A. Carney
Source: The Journal of African History, Vol. 42, No. 3 (2001), pp. 377-396
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL:

This is a family in Senegal using the mortar and pestle...

"During the colonial period Carolina planters relied upon slaves hand-pounding rice in a mortar and pestle, the method used in Africa."

"In Africa the mortar and pestle is the principal mechanism by which all cereals and root-crops are processed. When rice is harvested, women alone are involved in preparing the crop for consumption. This involves cooking as well as milling."

Rice Milling, Gender and Slave Labour in Colonial South Carolina
Author(s): Judith Carney
Source: Past & Present, No. 153 (Nov., 1996), pp. 108-134
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present Society
Stable URL:

Creek Woman/Black Child/Mortar & Pestle

Evidence for the use of a mortar and pestle made of wood, from a tree stump, with a pair of wooden plungers, and usually operated by women has been found with the Seneca, Iroquois, Caddo, Creek, Cherokee and Seminole Indians so far... undoubtedly, there are more. Jamaican references were found... One East Bolivian or Amazonian reference even describes a 10-foot pole! All verifiable references to the "Mound Builders," or Mississippean cultures refer to "metates," or stone mortars. Some references were made by scholars to a wooden version, however, it is only a supposition based on the fact that Indians had the wooden mortar later.

Note the style of the mortar and pestle in these pictures of the American Indians... it is remarkably similar in appearance to those of the Africans. Still, the "wooden mortar" is different from the idea of a mortar and pestle being made from stone, sometimes a depression in a large rock utilized for this purpose with a stone or bone pestle. I have found many instances of this type of mortar and pestle. However, this refers to the (what I believe) original "stone-age" technology found by Europeans with most Native American tribes. This is not to say that they didn't use a wooden one (traces would have disintegrated long ago). This stone method arguably worked for them and they had no reason to change it. But, when Europeans brought African slaves to America, beginning roughly after the beginning of the Jamestown venture in 1607 (Africans came within a few decades after), the idea of the wooden mortar and pestle (used by Africans for centuries) made its way into the American countryside (as much as throughout the Caribbean and in Brazil). I have found many records to indicate that a wooden version was available to all of these locales... but, also a stone version found in archaeological digs. That indicates really only one thing to me... that there was a change in the available technology. Still, wooden mortars don't survive the archaeological record (they disintegrate rapidly) and we really cannot say that Indians did not have this technology before the European invasion. So, proving that the African use of the wooden mortar became widespread in America would hinge on the various traveler's accounts of the Indians they encountered. While the technology of a wooden mortar might have easily crossed native borders, these European explorers had more difficulty. Still, Spanish and French explorers penetrated deep into the American South and Southwest. It could be possible to find records of those explorers. Henri Joutel accompanied the La Salle colonizing expedition in 1684 and kept a detailed journal which contains a reference to the "wooden mortar":

"They have large mortars that they [Cenis, or Caddo Indians] make from the trunk of a tree hollowed by fire to a certain depth after which they scrape and clean it. There are up to four women pounding the corn: each one takes a thick pestle about five feet in length and they keep time, as blacksmiths do when they strike their anvils." [The La Salle Expedition to Texas: The Journal of Henri Joutel 1684-1687 (Foster, 1998), p. 221]

By 1684, the wooden mortar, if it arrived with the African had already made its way to Caddo territory. This could have been through the South Carolina slaves since 1670, or by way of slaves who accompanied Spanish or French expeditions earlier than La Salle (Joutel's visit was not the first French visit to the area, certainly not the first European visit). So, basically this proves little.

What basically needs to be explored is... did these observations occur AFTER original contact of Africans in South Carolina (perhaps elsewhere on the east coast) with indigenous tribes in America. Native Americans are very innovative peoples and were always willing to try new ideas. Africans could very well have given them one.

Interestingly, this stone mortar and pestle was captioned as a Cherokee "stone-age mortar and pestle." It should be noted that the Native American was living in the stone age when the European arrived with enslaved Africans who already had the wooden variety in their bag of tricks. The use of the term "stone age" was probably an arbitrary choice. However, the unconscious intent of distinguishing between the "ancient" Indians and the Indians known to the European is rather instructive. The stone mortar allowed stone grit or sand in the corn meal (rough on teeth). The wooden version would have been seen as an improvement. Algonquins on the North Carolina coast were known also to use a stone mortar and pestle to grind their corn.

Neck Decoration With the Seminole and Africans:

Another unusual characteristic of the Seminole was the use of glass-beaded necklaces that covered the whole neck area. This must have been somewhat uncomfortable and heavy. Still, it became fashionable among Seminole women. It may also have been a cultural introduction of African society...

Black Seminole women displaying the heavy beadwork resembling African neck art...

and a painting called "Ndebele" ... a Seminole Woman...

Ndebele woman ............... Seminole children

Ndebele Art ... Seminole Clothing patterns


"Quest for Blackbeard" has finally been approved for Global Distribution which means that it will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and other online booksellers.

It is already previewable on Google Books.

Lulu site at:

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