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The Ais people of Florida
The Ais (or Ay) Indians lived on the Atlantic Coast of Florida from Cape Canaveral to Port Lucie. They were later also known as Indians of the Coast or Indian de la Costa. It is thought that this dominant tribe lived in the area from aroung 2000 years B. C.
The Ais did not grow crops but were hunter/ gatherers and fishermen. The majority of their diet would have been made up of their catch from the sea and river with the smaller amount of their food made up of raccoons, opossums and rabbitt and berries such as sea grape and coco plumb.
They were superb fisherman and it was said that every hour they could catch enough fish for 10 men. They would gut the fish and then boil it and serve it on a palmetto leaf. They would eat the entire fish including the head and scales.
They would smoke meat and fish to preserve it for leaner times and dry berries to see them through the year.
They could also dive to deeper depths than other people due to the make up of their ears. This was very useful for the Spanish who forced them to plunder the many ship wrecks that littered the coastline. The Ais ears had bony growths that equalised the pressure within the ear.
They Ais people would also catch whales; the method for this was inventive. The men would paddle in their canoe alongside a whale until one of their number could jump on its back. He would then plug the whales blowhole til it sunk and they could take back their plunder. They would smoke the left over whale meat.
A very graphic demonstration of the whale hunting can be found at the Elliot museum in Martin County. As I write they are in the middle of an $18000000 improvemnet project.
Central to this is a spectacular mock up of an 18 foot whale with an Ais Indian riding it with a view to kill. You view this as if from the Atlantic Ocean floor.
Menendez built a garrison here 1565 but by 3 years later peace had been declared. Unlike many Native Americans this aggressive tribe refused to be converted to Christianity and they joined with the Spanish in 1605 against the French.
The last documentation of these people as Ais was in 1703 from thence on they are called Costa. A half century later and they only lived in St Augustine in 2 camps attached to a Mission.
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