By Joel Hall
Around 1540, during his exploration of the "new world," Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto stumbled upon a Creek Indian village around modern-day Macon, Ga., where he witnessed native women spreading sauce onto deer meat with pine needles and grilling it over open coals.
The result, according to historian and Stately Oaks docent, Ted Key, was the first recorded taste of "barbacoa" by the western world. British settlers later anglicized the word and called it "barbecue."
This weekend, visitors to the Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro, will have a chance to experience barbacoa and other cultural traditions of the Creek Indians, who once populated the Georgia plains.
Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., will host the 29th annual Native American Heritage Day on Saturday, April 24, from 10 a.m., to 4 p.m. During the event, visitors will get to taste traditional Native-American foods, learn and practice Native-American skills and dances, and learn about the history of Georgia's Native-American tribes through storytelling and reenactments.
"There are 16 different stations where people will be able to learn about Native-American culture," said Key. "We emphasize the Creek mostly, because they were the ones that were here, but we will talk about the Cherokee as well, because they were close by. We don't just show people these skills ... they'll actually get to do them."
According to Key, the event will feature blowgun-making (and shooting), finger-weaving, bead-making, flint-knapping (the process of making stone tools), fire-making demonstrations, dance instruction by a member of the Sioux tribe, and Native-American target accuracy games.
At various stations, members of Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., will serve traditional dishes of the Creek Indians, such as fry bread, honey drink, fried corn kernels, venison stew, and barbacoa, cooked and flavored as it was in the 1540s.
New to the event this year, according to Key, will be hand-painted displays, spread throughout the Stately Oaks Plantation Italwa (Native-American Village), illustrating traditional Creek dress. A character actor, dressed as a member of the British Royal Infantry, will also reenact a trade regulation, in which British soldiers of the 17th and 18th centuries policed European imports to the Native Americans.
Ray Muse, a member of the Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., Board of Directors, has assisted with Native American Heritage Day for more than 20 years. He said the event will give people a chance to interact with Native-American history, outside of a history book.
"Let's face it, history is really boring if you just read it in a book," Muse said. "It's totally different if you get to taste the food, [and] shoot the blowguns. It also breaks the misconceptions. People are used to seeing [depictions of] the Western Plains Indians ... people living in teepees. The culture here was totally different. As they walk through the village, they'll get to sample some of the customs and food and experience a day in the life."
Admission to Native American Heritage Day is $6 for adults; $4 for seniors, 55 and up; $3 for children, six to 11; and free for kids, five and under. Children wearing Boy Scout or Girl Scout uniforms will receive half off the cost of their admission. For more information, call (770) 473-0197.