This engaging study of the Timucua Indians is one of a growing number of recent studies of Spanish missions that place Amerindians, rather than missionaries, at center stage. The Timucua were relatively sedentary people with a complex political system, who inhabited much of northern Florida and parts of southern Georgia. John Hann traces Timucuan patterns of acculturation and near-extinction in the Spanish missions of La Florida for the period up to the mid-eighteenth century. The Timucua, he shows, adopted many European ways but still remained strongly attached to their native traditions, and retained their tribal identity until their exile to Cuba in 1763.
Hann highlights a distinctive feature of the Timucuan-Franciscan missionary encounter. As early as 1616, many Timucua men and women had learned from the Franciscans to read and write in their native language. Some had learned to read on their own, after having studied the Roman alphabet. Several caciques became such adept writers that they used their literacy as a weapon of resistance against the Spanish governor in St. Augustine during the Timucua Revolt of 1656.
This book yields a great deal of information about early European impressions of the Timucua people. Hann discusses such topics as Timucua relations with the Spanish and with neighboring tribes, and Timucua demography, subsistence, warfare, language, religion, dance, games, and other aspects of culture. Hann is silent, however, about Indian autonomy, the domestic lives of the mission Indians, and how the Franciscans maintained their control over as many as 70,000 Timucua. A paucity of sources may account for these omissions.
Hann also overlooks key elements of Timucuan religious adaptation. According to his account, the Timucua became Christians; or at least he refers to them often as Indian Christians. It is more likely that the Timucua reinterpreted or blended Christianity with their own native religious beliefs and practices. Indian professions of Catholicism may have served the Timucua as a political strategy. Hann does not build on the many studies of Amerindians, missions, and colonial rebellions in other parts of Spanish America to place Timucuan resistance, demography, and adaptation in comparative settings.
Despite these criticisms, Hann’s book is a valuable addition to the study of borderland cultures and early Florida history. Archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians now have a better opportunity to compare the little-known Florida missions with those in New Spain, Canada, Brazil, Paraguay, and other parts of the New World.