Part 1 Cause of the Tsunami and First Impacts in El Salvador
Part 2 The Zapotec and Itza Float to Mexico
Part 3 The Battle for the Heart and Soul of the Otomi
Part 4 Long Distance Floaters - Tunica to Mississippi
Sand Burrowed in the Skin
The tsunami of 7200 BCE brought the pain of death and separation for many. Later some felt the joy of reunion like the Tunica. But the tsunami also had a lasting physical effect for some: severe physical pain to those who lived near the sandy coasts of present-day El Salvador’s San Vicente, Usulutan, San Miguel, and La Union. The extremely high winds of the tsunami broke open skin and pieces of sand burrowed into the skin.
The flat coastal area of eastern El Salvador, in today’s Usulutan department was one place the sand embedded in the skin, as already mentioned in the translation of Jiquilisco, located today about eight kilometers north of the Jiquilisco Bay: “see the movement of biting sand in the wind beside the tender ones.” The nearby town of San Dionisio tells us how people sought relief from the sand in the skin.
San Dionisio is located about five kilometers north of the Jiquilisco Bay. San Dionisio is also less than five kilometers from the Rio Grande de San Miguel. It seems to refer to this river in its name. San Dionisio comes from Mi, converted into a Spanish saint name, as happened with many of the San names in the region (Sandionisia to San Dionisio). San Dionisio is san ti on ni is si ha, meaning “movement of the river on many swollen bumps previously open.” This name indicates that people suffering from the sand in the skin would sit in the river for some relief. That river would likely have been the Rio Grande San Miguel. San Miguel also seems to come from this time over 9,000 years ago and relates to San Dionisia(o). It is san ni mi ik’ k’el and means “cats with swollen bumps from gashing wind.”
A similar process was going on among the survivors along the Lempa River 25 kilometers to the west of San Dionisio. Three “Lempa” villages tell the story of the sand in the skin: San Carlos Lempa, San Nicolas Lempa, and San Marcos Lempa. San Carlos Lempa, which is Sanakaros or san ak’ k’ar lo’ os in Mi and means “retained loose pieces set in place in the swollen skin.” The translation of Lempa is key though: leb em pah, which is “rub the body in the descent.” In Mi, the ‘b’ occasionally drops out in the middle of a word. The name Lempa makes it clear that the sand-in-the-skin ones sat in the river rubbing their body to get a little relief from the constant pain and irritation. The dropping of the ‘b’ in Lempa (Lebempa) also was political. The nearby Lenca/Olomeka would have spelled it Lenempa, so dropping the n/b letter altogether was a solution that worked for both the Cuscatlan and Lenca.
Twelve kilometers north of San Carlos Lempa is San Nicolas Lempa. It is san ni ik’ k’o hol la as leb em pah and means “tired of the swollen bumps from biting wind of the crest, practice of rubbing body in the descent.” In this name sitting in the river is called a practice, a habit done daily, but also similar to a religious practice. "Biting wind of the crest" refers to the tsunami. San Marcos Lempa is across the river from San Nicolas Lempa in Usulutan department. It is san ni im mar k’o os leb em pah, meaning “swollen bumps set in place from biting blasts from the sea, rub the body in the descent.”
Ten kilometers southeast of San Marcos Lempa is a town called California, the second town named California in Usulutan, the first close to Santiago de Maria. The names of each of these towns were meant to link Usulutan with California (U.S.). A few hundred years before the tsunami, a multi-ethnic migration took place to the San Francisco Bay Area, becoming the Ohlone, Miwok and related people. Each of the three California names has a different meaning. The California near the Lempa River is k’al li bor ni’ ha’ or “in the river beside for the swollen retained bumps.” Like San Marcos Lempa and related names, it refers to the practice of sitting in the river to relieve the pain from the embedded sand. It links to California (U.S.) in that both places suffered greatly from the tsunami. Alternately, those in California (U.S.) may have also sat in fresh water current to relieve their pain after the tsunami.
In the Lenca-Olmeca southeastern part of El Salvador there was also a problem with sand embedded in the skin. The small lakes in the southeast appear to have been used for soaking the skin of those with embedded sand, like the rivers in the center of the country. Laguna Maquigue is ma ak’ ki ik’ wer and means “dear ones with bad skin from the ripping wind.” It has a double meaning of “trapped in flesh.” Laguna Managuara is ma an ak’ wa ar ha’ and means “the time of the beings with bad skin in the wáter current.” A double meaning is "tired of the bad specks." Managuara was also the name of the more recent Lenca kingdom which could indicate they are the descendants of those who bathed their sore skin in the Laguna Managuara over 9,000 years ago. See Antonio Chevez in “The Royal House of Managuara.”
The name of the Lempa River and the names San Dionisio, San Miguel, San Carlos Lempa, San Nicolas Lempa, and San Marcos Lempa describe the problem of the sand burrowed in the skin from the tsunami and a partial solution of soaking in the river flow. The tsunami was found to have impacted both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the Americas. Impacts are found in the coastal names of South and North America. Similarly tsunami impacts are found in the names at the coasts of Europe, Africa, south Asia, and east Asia.
In some of these places where sand is abundant, sand likely burrowed into the skin, like in El Salvador. The mouth of the Ganges River, in Bangladesh, is one such place. The name Ganges suggests that after the tsunami, people went into the river to relieve the discomfort from the embedded sand. Ganges is k’a an che etz or “observe the flow handling the satisfying.” “Observe” in this name does not mean to see but rather a practice that is observed. This name recalls San Nicolas Lempa, in El Salvador. The Ganges was named after the soaking in the flowing river became a religious practice. Hindi follows this meaning. It is hi in ti and means “sand in the opening of the first ones" or "first ones in the sand at the mouth (of the river)." Together, Ganges and Hindi indicate that the Hindu practice began following the 7200 BCE tsunami.
The Tsunami and Mythology
The tsunami affected the mythology of the Maya and El Salvador. The most important characters in Salvadoran mythology are El Cipitio (Cipitillo) Alacran, Siguanaba, and Sihuehuet. Teotl also enters the myth. Who was Cipitillo Alacran? In mythology he is an 8 to 10 year boy with a wizard’s hat with his feet always pointed backward.
In the Mi language, the Cipitillo is si ip pi it ti il lo and Alacran is al la ak’ k’ar an. Putting the two together one gets “the time of seeing the companions in the current tired of the retentions in the opened skin from the loose blows.” El Cipitillo dates from the tsunami and specifically the time of people standing or sitting in the current of the Lempa River. Perhaps Cipitillo’s feet are backward because he ran backward looking at the arriving tsunami wave. Or while in the Lempa facing the current, one's feet were forced by the current to turn back the other way. Cipitillo’s hat may signify leadership; the orphan boy may have grown up to be a leader of the Cuscatlan.
Siguanaba is a shape-changing spirit who looks like a long-haired woman from behind with a skull (or horse) face from the front. Siguanaba is si ik’ wa an nab ha, meaning “many forgotten Ik’ beings in the water current.” It has a double meaning of “searching.” Siguanaba clearly refers to the Ik’ lineage that was based at the mouth of the Lempa River, consistent with the meaning of El Cipitillo. While some of the Ik’ lineage survived floating to Oaxaca, many did not. Siguanaba could be the search for a loved one, perhaps a woman with long hair, on the beach. You think she may be alive but when you turn her face around, she is clearly dead.
The mother of Cipitillo is Sihuehuet, si wer wet, which means “neighbors from the series of rips (the Great Lakes),” a reference to the Algonquin and the place of origin of the tsunami in North Dakota/Manitoba. This name was given after the Algonquin and Mesoamerican people determined the cause of the tsunami at Lake Winnipeg. The tsunami devastated the Atlantic coasts before it reached the Pacific coasts. Another name for Sihuehuet is Siquet or sik’ et, meaning “challenge of the search.”
Teotl is a god that is very common among the Pipil of El Salvador and who was likely brought to El Salvador by the Toltec, who were Totonac, Kakchiquel, and Otomi. The Otomi defected from the Toltec to join the Pipil, bringing, it would appear, Teotl. The prominence of Teotl among the Otomi was likely caused by the tsunami but not originating with the tsunami. Like many Mesoamerican gods, Teotl, or Teotal, seems to have originated in Africa at the time that the ancestors were leaving Africa. Teotal in the Mi of that time would have been te ot ta al and means “the time of shelter of the remnant from the sticks.” The sticks refer to the weapons of the dominant group at the Great Lakes of Africa. Teotal seems to be related to such words as Theos, Deus, and Dios. The Kiche, one of the ancestor groups of the Otomi, named their first home Teopan.
It is likely that Teotal (Teotl) gained special meaning for the Otomi when they washed ashore in Guerrero after the tsunami. In the tsunami context Teotl meant “time of shelter of sticks for the remnant,” with a double meaning of “arrival.” In more recent times the Otomi, as a member of the Azteca/Mejico alliance, may have been the ones to promote Teotl as teo tal, “arrival of the sacred,” the ever-flowing sacred energy. The Otomi would have been the only members of the Mejico alliance to have a tradition of using the syllables teo. These are just some of the examples of the impact of the tsunami on Mesoamerican mythology.
The Cuscatlan in the Bajo Lempa
After the flood, some of the remnants of the Ik’ lineage might have remained along the Pacific Coast, although likely more retired from the ocean. One could call them Lempa Maya, but I think Cuscatlan is more appropriate, given the department name of Cuscatlan along the Lempa River. Cuscatlan communities likely lived in the Jiquilisco and Usulutan areas of present-day Usulutan, the Tecoluca and San Nicolas Lempa area of present-day San Vicente, and the Zacatecoluca area of present-day La Paz, as well as areas to the north in present-day Cuscatlan and Cabanas departments and eastern Chalatenango.
Communities in the lower Lempa were important to continue to receive the logs floating down the Lempa, to be used for ocean-going rafts, but also in order to take advantage of the very good soils in the floodplain. However, while they may have planted close to the river, the post-tsunami communities were likely a long walk away at higher elevations to avoid both the ocean, in case it rose more, and the river which frequently floods. Tehuacan fits this description, rebuilt with the same name as the original Tehuacan near the ocean. The new Tehuacan may have become the spiritual center for the Cuscatlan.
The Zapotec ancestors found avocados in the Tehuacan valley of Mexico according to the archeological evidence. At some point they brought avocados back to their close relatives at the lower Lempa River. Evidence of this is the "West Indies" avocado, a lowland avocado, which developed separately from the Mexican highland avocado. It seems likely that the West Indies avocado was taken from the El Salvador-Guatemala coast at a later point to the Guatemalan highlands, creating the Guatemala variety of avocado, since the Guatemala avocado comes from the West Indies avocado.
But there is more convincing evidence for the avocado being brought to the Lower Lempa: the name of the village of Pacun near the Lempa River about 25 kilometers north of the current mouth. Pacun refers directly to avocado cultivation: pak’ un, “cultivation of avocado.” Pacun has a double meaning, pa ak’ k’un, or “skin over tender body,” describing the avocado. For more background, see Amanda J. Landon or Galindo-Tovar, etal.
One group of Cuscatlan moved about 50 kilometers northwest to the present-day department of Cuscatlan. There they named a hill Tecoluca, after their point of origin of Tecoluca in the lower Lempa. They named a nearby town Istagua – is tak’ wa’, meaning “movement of the beings to the dryness.” Another nearby name reveals their sailing heritage: San Martin (Sanamartin) or tza an nam mar ti in, which means “disappearance of the first ones in the current of the shiny open space (ocean) at the mouth (of the Lempa).” It has a double meaning of “spiders” (sailors). The name references those that were the first sailing in the ocean and the first ones lost in the tsunami (those that became the Zapotec and Triqui).
The names of San Pedro Perulapan and San Bartolome Perulapia, located close to Tecoluca hill, are revealing. San Bartolome Perulapia, is san bar to ol lo om mer Peru ul ap pi ha, and means “boat to Peru to explain to companions about those sacrificed loose by the swollen crest, failed in the foamy swinging water (ocean).” The name repeats San Bartolome from the Arcatao Ulua origin story, indicating that the Cuscatlan also explained that story to the Peruvians, if they didn’t know about it already, and seems to imply sharing the story of the origin of the Purepecha with the Peruvians, given the origin of the male side of the Purepecha quite near Arcatao. The placement of this name in Cuscatlan indicates that the companions there were those, or among those, who went to Peru to explain the tsunami and likely prior to that had traveled around to investigate the cause and effect of the tsunami.
The name San Pedro Perulapan seems to have originated about 8,000 years after the tsunami, in the post-Classic period, telling the story of the arrival of the Purepecha and Toltec to Peru and relating it to San Bartolome Perulapia and the tsunami. We will tell that story at a later time.