The Calusa People: A Lost Tribe of Florida

May 13, 2016

The Calusa (said to mean fierce people) are a Native American tribe that once inhabited the southwestern coast of Florida.

The Calusa are said to have been a socially complex and politically powerful tribe, and most of southern Florida was controlled by them. Additionally, it has been suggested that the population of this tribe may have reached 50000 people at one point of time. The men of the Calusa are recorded to have been powerfully built, and let their hair grow long. Additionally, they had (as their name suggests) a fierce, war-like reputation.

When the Spanish explored the coast of Florida, they soon became the targets of the Calusa, and this tribe is said to have been the first one that the explorers wrote home about.  Early Calusa Days    The Calusa are said to have been the descendants of Palaeo-Indians who inhabited Southwest Florida about 12000 years ago.

The ancestors of the Calusa are said to have survived by hunting prehistoric animals such as woolly mammoths and giant tortoises, and collecting fruits and other edible plants. At some point of time in their history, this tribe discovered that there was a wealth of fish in the waters, and began to exploit this resource.

It has been proposed that as fishing was a less time-consuming means of obtaining food than hunting and gathering, the Calusa were able to devote more time to other pursuits, such as the establishment of a system of government.

When the Spanish arrived in Florida in the early 16th century, the Calusa were already in possession of a complex centralized government. At the top of the hierarchy was the chief, who had control over the life and death of his subjects, and was believed to have the ability to communicate with the spirits.

By interceding with these spirits, it was believed that the chief was ensuring that his people would be well-supplied by the land. Additionally, it has been pointed out that tribute was sent to this chief from other tribes in south Florida. Directly beneath the chief was the nobility.

This class was supported by commoners, who provided them with food and other material goods. Slaves occupy the lowest level in Calusa society. One illustration of the sophistication of the Calusa can be found in eyewitness accounts of an event in 1566. It is recorded that in that year, the Calusa chief formed an alliance with the Spanish governor, Menéndez de Avilés.

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