Not long after the discovery of Florida, the Spanish continued toward Western North America and Central America, eventually exploring Pacific South America. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro and his army of conquistadors ambushed and captured the Emperor Atahualpa of the Inca Empire. In the following years Spain extended its rule over the empire of the Inca civilization.
It was during this early campaign to subdue the mighty Inca that this tree, woven with delicate and beautiful textiles by the skilled Chancay central-coast people during the Late Intermediate Period (900-1492 AD), was acquired as a spoil of war and conquest. Not surprising, the tree was almost trashed in favor of gold and silver. Luckily, it was saved and lovingly kept in near-pristine condition by native Tequesta slaves brought from North America to aid the Spanish in their conquest.
The Tequesta instantly recognized the tree to be representative of a cosmology not unlike their own: A mythical space where the underworld, the earth and the heavens connect. Its roots, in contact with the ground, create a nexus with the past. Its trunk, anchored in the present, is linked with life through its branches, which uplift fruits to the world of the gods.
The tree eventually made its way from Peru back to Florida. Unbeknownst to the Spanish, its use as a cosmological Rosetta Stone of sorts quickly became infamous. Enslaved native Indians used it as a bridge to communication with each other, and it aided in developing a secret solidarity between the Tequesta, the Inca-Chancay, and other indigenous peoples of the Americas with their eventual resistance against the Spanish stronghold.
The Society for the Preservation of Lost Things and Missing Time considers this acquisition lucky and rare. Only two other known woven cosmo-vision trees are known to be in existence. One is at the MALBA (Mueseo de Arte Latina Buenos Aires) and the other is held in a private collection in Madrid, Spain.
1.The Tequesta were one of the earliest American Indian groups of North America mentioned by Europeans, and contact with them and their neighbors is recorded primarily in Spanish documents. The historian Antonio de Herrera provides an account of Ponce de Leon’s 1513 and 1521 exploratory trips to Florida, including a mention of a place called “Chequescha,” which is likely Tequesta.
(LEFT) “The Keepers of the Tree”, an assembly of Native Americans from various tribes in Florida that safe guarded The Tree until they found a trust worthy home for it in the repository of the Society for the Preservation of Lost Things and Missing Time.
(photograph courtesy of the Central Florida Museum of Natural History)