Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa

Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa

Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa

Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa


This book begins where the reach of archaeology and history ends," writes Charles Hudson. Grounded in careful research, his extraordinary work imaginatively brings to life the sixteenth-century world of the Coosa, a native people whose territory stretched across the Southeast, encompassing much of present-day Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

Cast as a series of conversations between Domingo de la Anunciacion, a real-life Spanish priest who traveled to the Coosa chiefdom around 1559, and the Raven, a fictional tribal elder, Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa attempts to reconstruct the worldview of the Indians of the late prehistoric Southeast. Mediating the exchange between the two men is Teresa, a character modeled on a Coosa woman captured some twenty years earlier by the Hernando de Soto expedition and taken to Mexico, where she learned Spanish and became a Christian convert.

Through story and legend, the Raven teaches Anunciacion about the rituals, traditions, and culture of the Coosa. He tells of how the Coosa world came to be and recounts tales of the birds and animals--real and mythical--that share that world. From these engaging conversations emerges a fascinating glimpse inside the Coosa belief system and an enhanced understanding of the native people who inhabited the ancient South.


This book is intended for anyone who has viewed museum displays of artifacts made by the late prehistoric Southeastern Indians or, even better, stood atop one of their earthen mounds and asked the questions: What manner of people made these things? How did they conceive of the world in which they lived? How did they explain events in their everyday lives?

Archaeologists and historians can suggest answers to some of these questions, but they cannot tell us definitively about the philosophical or religious thought processes of these people. This book begins where the reach of archaeology and history ends. Blending extant information with carefully considered fiction, Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa endeavors to represent the world of the Indians of the late prehistoric Southeast as they believed it existed. Defining a work such as this one is a challenge. Some may think of it as a historical novel, and I certainly hope that, at some level, many readers will enjoy it as they would a more traditional work of fiction. My preference— borne out of many years of research and teaching in the field of anthropology—is to call this work a fictionalized ethnography, for although it is most definitely a fictional work in a number of important respects, I have endeavored to make it as true to cultural and social facts as it is in my power to do.

My aim in this book is to reconstruct the belief system, or world view, of a late prehistoric southeastern people for which there exists hardly any primary documentary evidence. This belief system shaped the mentality of the people of the Coosa chiefdom, a once powerful polity whose existence became so lost to history that its homeland in northwestern Georgia and the Tennessee Valley has only been satisfactorily located in the past twenty years. This Coosa chiefdom existed alongside other similar chiefdoms in a social world—called Mississippian by archaeologists—that dominated most of the American South between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. But that world collapsed . . .

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