Just last week, my husband and I were taking a walk in a bird sanctuary that resembled a South American jungle! It was thick with moss and vines and huge tree roots bubbled up out of the stagnant waters. It was rather exciting, (I saw three Anhingas! And dozens of turtles.)
The adventurers we are, we went off the path (there were no signs saying we couldn’t...) Soon we found ourselves tip-toeing carefully through a terrain that was quickly becoming a full-fledged swamp.
About a half a mile away from our trail, a bizarre sight emerged. There, on the banks of the marsh, was a grouping of dozens of abandon campers and trailers that evidently had been there for a long time. They had been dreadfully weathered with rust and choked with foliage.
Uhhh... then with horror we realized they were not abandon. We saw two pairs of little eyes pop out from behind a tree. Children! A dark, elderly man, who had until this moment been camouflaged by the complex interweaving of tropical colors, sat nearby fishing. We were about to abandon the place as unwanted intruders when the native looked up and introduced himself.
He spoke English. I don’t know why that surprised me. He turned out to be very friendly, introducing himself as “man with shovel but no wife.” (I guessed that was his name.) Then he told us about living in a cave before coming here and other Astonishing Knowledge. Strange that such an educated man could live in such conditions.
The man-with-shovel-and-no-wife seemed very apologetic that the newly elected chief of their tribe, Son of Will, could not come and greet us, as he was diligently seeking wisdom in an ancient book called “The Big Beef” written to give signs about things to come.
I could tell the man was about to give us a long lecture so we made an excuse and quickly high-tailed it out of there. When we returned to the bird sanctuary trail and finally got the park ranger’s office at the entrance, we asked the woman at the information desk about the people we had encountered.
She told us that a few months back the History Channel had done a documentary and had even come to this park because it was one of the group’s branches. (I was shocked to find out this tribe had spread out and lived in almost every swamp on the planet!)
When we got home we downloaded the documentary from Itunes and couldn’t believe the interesting stuff we learned.
Believe it or not, this obscure tribe, called the Los Esdeiay Mudos, originally from the southeastern US, has grown to over 16 million worldwide; which is kind of weird because the man we met kept referring to his group as the “little tribe of leftovers.”
I had never heard of them before--as the vast majority of Americans (who keep up with such things) often confuse them with the Los Testigos del diablo or the Los Imbéciles found mainly in the Wasatch mountains.
This tribe began in the late 18th-century. The legend is that the Florida Seminoles banished their princess, forcing her to live in the Everglades because she claimed she was protected by a white tiger ghost. When she survived the elements decade after decade, the local tribes taught that evil magical was with her.
Later, in the 19th century a group of Christians sought her out because of a legend that she had discovered the "fountain of life" by eating some type of root found in the swamps. Indeed even doctors, who examined her, reported that she was of an unusual age, well over a hundred years old.
These Christians joined her and began to live in the Everglades, being instructed by her. Within two generations the group disappeared from all society and were said to be still living in the swamp and had become extremely superstitious of outsiders. Locals began referring to these strange people as Los Esdeiay Mudos or the "White Swamp People.”
While the documentary found that indeed their eating habits did add a few years compared to the average American lifespan, that they also allowed their children to grow up living in, playing in, being educated in the dark, humid environment of the dank bogs.
Occasionally one of the group would leave and join civilization, but in general most were so convinced that their swamp was far superior to the way the outsiders lived that they would actually try and get people to move in with them!
They had a cyclical religious celebration called "The Night of the White Vision." The princess claimed she was only a messenger, that the vision originated from an ancient scroll given to her by her white tiger (who protected her from the spirits).
On that night, they sacrifice a 14-day-old goat and two doves to the gods to appease them, for they believe that at any moment they may be punished by the gods. Then they all drink from the
“Clear Waters” which is actually from the muddy, putrid bayou.
During the documentary, a reporter asked a tall, white-haired tribesman why they didn't come out of the swamp and live in the sun and allow their children to play in pure, clean water.
At the time of the filming the leader was Chief Sleepy-Son-of-Paul who gave an alarmed expression and replied that an ancient prophecy, the princess warned and warned the tribe about, was that one day, a beast would come into the swamp, disguised as a man and force them to drink water from a deep hole in the ground that would have no taste and no color and then it would signal the end of all days for Los Esdeiay Mudos.
The princess implored them to always be faithful and drink only from the Clear Waters provided by the swamp gods, and not the deceptive waters from the traitorous beast (no matter how clear it seemed), and if they would keep the Night of the White Vision when the river ran dry, then all men of goodwill would one day become Los Esdeiay Mudos. Mankind would live with peace in the swamp. For one day soon, the gods will destroy all other men except those that move to the swamp and live like Los Esdeiay Mudos.
The chief offered the reporter a drink of the tribe's water, the reporter with a red face, of course refused. But the chief didn't seem offended. The tribe were really nice people.....