Sunday, 29 May 2016

Vester Week: The Calusa People

This week we didn't just learn about marine science, we also got the chance to learn about archeology. On Monday, we went to Mound Key in Estero Bay, and learned a little about the Calusa tribe that once resided there. Though we did not learn a lot about Calusa culture or history during this week, was still fascinated by them. The study of ancient civilizations is something I have always loved, and therefore took it upon myself to learn more about the Calusa.

               The Calusa were part of the greater Caloosahatchee culture, which encompassed several tribes in southwestern Florida. The Caloosahatchee culture spanned from around 500 AD to the mid-18th century. However, this region was inhabited for 4000 years before Caloosahatchee culture appeared. By the 1500s, the Calusa were aware of Spanish encroachment into Florida. The Calusa offered aid to the Native American refugees who fled the Spanish subjugation of Cuba in the 1400s.  It wasn't until 1513 that the Calusa met the Spanish, when Ponce de Leon landed at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. Ever since this first encounter, the Calusa were visited by Europeans several more times. For 150 years the Spanish tried to colonize Calusa lands and convert its people to Christianity, but every attempt was driven back. It wasn’t until the Spanish-British war in the early 1700s that the Calusa were shaken. Ravaged by the war, slave raids, and new diseases, the Calusa people suffered greatly. By 1763, when Florida was surrendered to the British Empire, the Calusa people were all but wiped out. Any remaining tribe-people left in Florida went undocumented and eventually died out.
Us at Mound Key, an island constructed by the Calusa people - Phot Credit: Corey Corrick
               The Calusa relied on the water of southwest Florida for their food and livelihood. The Calusa constructed tools like nets, hooks, spears, hammers, and canoes to get these resources. It is estimated that 93% of their diet came from fish and shellfish.  They also harvested nuts and berries from the surrounding woods. The Calusa believed that a person had three souls: the pupil, the reflection, and the shadow. They also believed in three higher-powers: one controlled the outcome of war, one controlled the physical world, and one controlled human civilization.

The Calusa trinity of higher-powers - Photo Credit: Merald Clarke (Florida Museum of Natural History)
The Calusa people also had three main leaders: The Chief, the chief priest, and the military commander. The Calusa participated in a caste system passed down through families. Commoners, nobles, and high nobles all had different statuses and responsibilities within society. Despite the existence of castes, the Calusa lived in communal housing, nobles included. These longhouses were said to hold over 2000 men and women. Commerce, allegiances, and marriages between local tribes was also common.
A Calusa village - Photo Credit: Dean Quigley (
Winn, Ed (2003). Florida's great king: King Carlos of the Calusa Indians. ISBN 0-9658489-3-0.
MacMahon, Darcie and William H. Marquardt (2004). The Calusa and their Legacy: South Florida People and their Environments. ISBN 0-8130-2773-X.
Dr. Savarese, lecture

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