Y’all just didn’t “get it” did you? Well, neither did I, when I was 21.
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
One Summer In Mexico – Part 34
During the past four editions of The Americas Revealed, most readers probably thought that I was merely providing carnal entertainment relief to the endless, tedious regurgitation of anthropological and architectural knowledge on this website. Not so. These were lessons in ethnology . . . lessons that you would never get in a university classroom, because it is highly unlikely that an academician would ever develop a warm friendship with a bright, but terribly poor Maya maid in a historic hotel in downtown Merida. They would stay at the Ramada Inn in Cancun and take a package tour to Chichen Itza.
Do you remember the America’s Revealed article in January 30, 2020 . . . Trade Girls . . . dating, intimacy, marriage and divorce in the Southeastern Tribes ? Click the article’s name to read it again. In my interactions with “regular folks” in Southern Mexico back in 1970, I discovered that the indigenous ethnic groups in southern Mexico, from which the Creeks are descended, still practiced the same traditions that typified the Creeks until the mid-1800s, when Protestant missionaries radically changed many customs. However, I did not realize that until the month of August 2020.
Remember, when I traveled to Mexico the first time, I knew very little about my own Native American heritage. One minute I was struggling to complete all the assigned work at what was one of the toughest academic programs in one of the nations’ toughest universities.
Almost the next day I was trying to adapt to a foreign culture and soon found myself in complex social interactions that I couldn’t have even imagined while a student at Georgia Tech . . . whether or not to accept a 100 peso ($16) bill from a father in order to rent his oldest daughter at a brothel for the night then bring her back to his hotel for cocktails with her parents and a night upstairs with me then a big breakfast with the family? They don’t teach problem-solving like that in Georgia Tech’s Mechanics of Deformable Bodies textbooks . . . oops! wrong choice of classes . . . how about, in Georgia Tech’s Architectural History textbooks?
I was overwhelmed and could only see the problems in the Euro-centric perspective of Judeo-Christian teachings and United States law. I was totally unaware of the Trade Girl tradition among the Creeks in the Southeastern United States and certainly didn’t realize that the same tradition existed in southern Mesoamerica.
To refresh your memory . . . the Creeks held annual beauty pageants in each administrative district. It was more like a Miss America Pageant because the adolescent girls were rated on beauty, poise, intelligence, speaking ability, artistic skills and dancing skills. The wining girls embarked on an intense education program where they learned to speak several foreign languages fluently, learned math, book-keeping, dancing, hair styling, cosmetics, politics, geography, weaving and the art of love.
Novices in each village functioned like Geisha girls in Japan . . . entertaining dignitaries from other nations, prominent traders and male leaders of the tribe. By entertaining, we use the broadest definition of the word. To refuse the companionship of a trade girl was a great insult to the village, town or mikko. It could result in the cancellation of a peace treaty or trade agreement.
The best Trade Girls rose to the highest level of influence and functioned as the Creek Confederacy’s Department of State. Mary Musgrove was a politically influential and highly respected Trade Girl. Ultimately, they married important men in other tribes or British colonies in order to cement communications and friendship.
Thoughts while weeding a garden
I spent a delightful afternoon with the owners of the inn at Tres Zapotes, Veracruz. Apparently, they considered me a “dignitary” from a foreign country. Late in the afternoon, they offered me their eldest daughter – even handed me the money to pay for her. When I backed out . . . mainly because had never been in a brothel and was a chicken . . . they were highly insulted. Her mother even said, “You think that you are too good for Mexican girls.” Not at all . . . I was just a chicken. The family was mostly Zoque Indian and their daughter was a Trade Girl. They were highly insulted and hardly spoke to me again until I caught the bus to Mexico City.
We go back to Merida. It is clear that Carin was a professionally trained master of the arts of love. (trust me!). She was very poised, ladylike and intelligent – but being at the bottom rung of society, that did not bring in much income. I totally freaked out when she suggested that her daughter begin her training by watching us and then she would watch her daughter and I to make suggestions for improved techniques. To a North American or European the proposal would sound totally perverted, but undoubtedly, it was what Maya and Creek girls thought was the norm.
But think about it. We know that the Creek Trade Girls literally took classes in love-making. Obviously, they did something akin to a autopsy watched by a medical school class. Her daughter was being prepared to be a classy Trade Girl, a mistress to a wealthy married man in southern Mexico, who would pay for her to get a university degree and enable her to travel widely. Well, there was also the possibility of her marrying a Gringo professional so that she could leave Mexico and leave behind the stigma of coming from the prostitute class.
What Carin did not plan on was the police selling her daughter at a tender age to become a sex slave of man in a foreign country or work seven days a week in a sweatshop brothel. They told me in Merida that some of these men in foreign countries buy the Maya girls to torture and kill. Whatever the case, her daughter probably lived a short, brutal life.
In Creek tradition, if a mother could not provide for her children or protect them from danger, she would give them to one of her brothers, a great warrior or a great hunter. It was a high honor for the man and the community thought no less of the mother. That exactly what Carin was doing with me. the girl was infatuated with me because she had never had a brother or father. I at least should have recognized the offer as a high honor, but instead I ran for cover. Well, the thoughts of being a step-brother with benefits was scary.
As I said, though,in an earlier article, there was no long term solution that could involve me. The girl could not enter the United States legally, I had no means to support her once I was back as school and I had to return home to Atlanta within a month. However, if I had at least talked to the young lady directly, we might have figured out some way to protect her in Mexico after I left.
Hindsight is nice . . . but it is always interesting to talk about ancient Native American customs.