Catawba

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Catawba Village
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Structure of Catawba Style House
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Catawba Style House

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The Catawba, an American Indian tribe in the southeastern United States, was a developed and diverse culture that interacted and depended on the Atlantic World. The Catawba mainly lived in South Carolina and North Carolina. Initially a powerful and fierce group of people, they ended up loosing their power due to a dependence on the Atlantic World. They may have had a population of ten thousand people and this group was weakened by warfare and disease to 500 or fewer by the mid – 18th century. In 1848, Congressional funding made it possible to remove the Catawba from the Carolinas and in 1851, a few Catawba reached the Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, where they settled and were later granted citizenship. As the years passed the number of remaining Catawba dwindled and by 1950, a very small number of Catawba were living among the Choctaw, Creek and Cherokee populations in Oklahoma. In 1990, one thousand Catawba were left in the United States.

The Catawba had a well - developed society that was influenced by the Spanish, the French, the British and other native tribes in the area. Catawba means “river people” and the “Catawba” language was only commonly used in the Carolinas after 1715. The Catawba lived in circular, bark- covered pole –framed houses along the Catawba River near the North and South Carolina border extending west to the Broad River in 1650. It is thought that the Catawba were originally a part of the Siouan – speaking tribes that lived in the Carolinas for many years before any explorers made contact. The Catawba had temple structures, which were used for public gatherings and religious ceremonies. The women grew corn, beans, squash and gourds while the men hunted for large and small game including buffalo, deer and bear. They also ate fish, pigeons, acorns and other wild plants. The chiefs wore headdresses of wild turkey feathers. The women may have worn leggings made from tree moss as special clothing when mourning. The Catawba, as well as many of the other Siouan – speaking tribes of the area, practiced forehead flattening of male infants and for this reason the Iroquois called the Catawba “flatheads”. The Catawba spoke Siouan, but scholars didn’t recognize its relationship to the Siouan language family until the late 1800s.

The Catawba people were famous for many of their ideas and inventions as well as their art. They invented stickball, which is now named lacrosse, and a game called chunkey. Chunkey was played by trying to throw a spear through a stone disc, which was rolled on the ground, with a two-centimeter hole in the middle of it. The Catawba made canoes out of birch bark as well as dugout canoes. They traveled between villages in these canoes to trade with British Colonists and other tribes. The Catawba made blowguns with an average length of five to six feet and with an effective range of no more than thirty feet. The tip of the darts was dipped in a mixture of poison ivy and water, which paralyzed their prey. These blowguns were used to bring down birds and other same game while hunting. The Catawba were famous for their pottery. It was an ancient and highly developed form of art. The pottery was often stamped with a carved piece of wood before firing. It is thought that they might have made wooden masks for religious ceremonies.

The Catawba depended on trade to survive and this was their downfall in the end. An example of their dependence upon trade is that the main regional aboriginal trade routes ran right through Catawba territory. The Catawbas became heavily involved with British traders, especially in the mid-18th century, but beginning as early on as 1673. Extensive contact with British traders in the late 17th and early 18th centuries transformed their lives. Dependence on non-native goods caused them to hunt even farther from their tribe for animal pelts, which they could trade for other goods with the British. Due to the fact that they had to hunt in wider range areas often on other tribe’s ground combined with the amount of goods carried along the trade routes, encouraged nearby enemy Indians to attack the Catawbas on the way back to their tribe. Also, the Catawba were slave hunters for the British Colonists in exchange for supply and goods. All this contact with the British Colonists exposed the Catawbas to a small pox epidemic in the mid-18th century and this almost wiped out the tribe. By 1720 the Catawba had started to adopt British ways and this caused them to loose their own culture. Because of the influx of so many new native enemies, the Catawba turned to the British. The Catawba found firearms and the colonists found an ally.

As allies of the British, the Catawba were connected to the Atlantic World. As time progressed, they became much more dependent on this new way of life and their culture was transformed. The British became more powerful and the Catawba much less powerful. Eventually the Catawba population dwindled and they moved around and lived in many different locations. In the end the Catawba became just another Indian tribe to loose its influence in the United States.