Atakapa
Overview
 
The Atakapan people
are a Southeastern culture
Southeastern tribes
Southeastern Woodlands peoples or Southeastern cultures are an ethnographic classification for Indigenous peoples that have traditionally inhabited the Southeastern United States and the northeastern border of Mexico, that share common cultural traits....

 of Native American
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 tribes who spoke Atakapa and historically lived along the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

. They called themselves the Ishak, pronounced "ee-SHAK", which translates as "The People". Although the people were decimated by infectious disease after European contact, descendants still live in Louisiana and Texas. In 2006 the Atakapa-Ishak met as one people.

Their name was also spelled Attakapa, Attakapas, or Attacapa.
Encyclopedia
The Atakapan people
are a Southeastern culture
Southeastern tribes
Southeastern Woodlands peoples or Southeastern cultures are an ethnographic classification for Indigenous peoples that have traditionally inhabited the Southeastern United States and the northeastern border of Mexico, that share common cultural traits....

 of Native American
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 tribes who spoke Atakapa and historically lived along the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

. They called themselves the Ishak, pronounced "ee-SHAK", which translates as "The People". Although the people were decimated by infectious disease after European contact, descendants still live in Louisiana and Texas. In 2006 the Atakapa-Ishak met as one people.

Their name was also spelled Attakapa, Attakapas, or Attacapa. Choctaw
Choctaw
The Choctaw are a Native American people originally from the Southeastern United States...

 in origin, it means "man eater", and was the name learned by the Europeans from the Choctaw. The peoples lived in river valleys, along lake shores, and coasts from Galveston Bay, Texas to Vermilion Bay
Vermilion Bay
Vermilion Bay is a bay in southern Louisiana in the United States.Vermilion Bay is located in southwestern Iberia Parish and southeastern Vermilion Parish...

, Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

.

After 1762, when Louisiana was transferred to Spain, little was written about the Atakapan. Infectious disease
Infectious disease
Infectious diseases, also known as communicable diseases, contagious diseases or transmissible diseases comprise clinically evident illness resulting from the infection, presence and growth of pathogenic biological agents in an individual host organism...

 epidemics of the late 18th century caused many fatalities among them. Survivors joined the Caddo
Caddo
The Caddo Nation is a confederacy of several Southeastern Native American tribes, who traditionally inhabited much of what is now East Texas, northern Louisiana and portions of southern Arkansas and Oklahoma. Today the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma is a cohesive tribe with its capital at Binger, Oklahoma...

, Koasati, and other surrounding tribes, although some culturally distinct Atakapan people survived into the 20th century.

Subdivisions or bands

Atakapa
Atakapa
The Atakapan people are a Southeastern culture of Native American tribes who spoke Atakapa and historically lived along the Gulf of Mexico. They called themselves the Ishak, pronounced "ee-SHAK", which translates as "The People". Although the people were decimated by infectious disease after...

-speaking peoples are called Atakapan, while Atakapa refers to a specific tribe.
  • Western Atakapa
    • Akokisa
      Akokisa
      The Akokisa were the indigenous tribe that lived on Galveston Bay and the lower Trinity and San Jacinto rivers in Texas, primarily in the present-day Greater Houston area...

      , lived along the lower course of Trinity
      Trinity River (Texas)
      The Trinity River is a long river that flows entirely within the U.S. state of Texas. It rises in extreme north Texas, a few miles south of the Red River. The headwaters are separated by the high bluffs on the south side of the Red River....

       and San Jacinto Rivers and eastern shores of Galveston Bay
      Galveston Bay
      Galveston Bay is a large estuary located along the upper coast of Texas in the United States. It is connected to the Gulf of Mexico and is surrounded by sub-tropic marshes and prairies on the mainland. The water in the Bay is a complex mixture of sea water and fresh water which supports a wide...

    • Atakapa (proper), Calcasieu Lake
      Calcasieu Lake
      Calcasieu Lake is a brackish lake located in southwest Louisiana, United States, located mostly within Cameron Parish. The lake is paralleled on its west shore by Louisiana Highway 27 and is located about 17 miles south of Lake Charles, Louisiana....

       near present day Lake Charles
      Lake Charles
      Lake Charles may refer to:in Canada*Lake Charles, Nova Scotia, a lake in the Halifax Regional Municipalityin the United States*Lake Charles, Louisiana, a city in the United States*Lake Charles , the lake after which it is named...

    • Bidai
      Bidai
      The Bidai were a band of Atakapa Indians from eastern Texas.-History:Their oral history says that the Bidai were the original peoples in their region. Their central settlements were along Bedias Creek, but their territory ranged from the Brazos River to the Neches River. The first written record...

      , around Bedias Creek
      Bedias Creek
      -References:**USGS Hydrologic Unit Map - State of Texas...

      , ranging from the Brazos River
      Brazos River
      The Brazos River, called the Rio de los Brazos de Dios by early Spanish explorers , is the longest river in Texas and the 11th longest river in the United States at from its source at the head of Blackwater Draw, Curry County, New Mexico to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico with a drainage...

       to Neches River
      Neches River
      The Neches River flows for through east Texas to its mouth on Sabine Lake near the Rainbow Bridge. Two major reservoirs, Lake Palestine and B. A. Steinhagen Reservoir are located on the Neches. Several cities are located along the Neches River Basin, including Evadale, Tyler, Lufkin, Silsbee,...

      , Texas
    • Deadose, a band of Bidai that separated in the early 18th c., east-central Texas
    • Orcoquiza, lived north of Galveston Bay
      Galveston Bay
      Galveston Bay is a large estuary located along the upper coast of Texas in the United States. It is connected to the Gulf of Mexico and is surrounded by sub-tropic marshes and prairies on the mainland. The water in the Bay is a complex mixture of sea water and fresh water which supports a wide...

       along the Trinity
      Trinity River (Texas)
      The Trinity River is a long river that flows entirely within the U.S. state of Texas. It rises in extreme north Texas, a few miles south of the Red River. The headwaters are separated by the high bluffs on the south side of the Red River....

       and Colorado
      Colorado River (Texas)
      The Colorado River is a river that runs through the U.S. state of Texas; it should not be confused with the much longer Colorado River which flows from Colorado into the Gulf of California....

       rivers
    • Patiri or Pastia, north of the San Jacinto River valley, Texas. Little is known about them.
    • Tlacopsel, Acopsel, or Lacopspel, southeast Texas
  • Eastern Atakapa
    • Groups settled near Vermilion Bay and the Mermentau River
      Mermentau River
      The Mermentau River is a river in southern Louisiana in the United States. It enters the Gulf of Mexico between Calcasieu Lake and Vermilion Bay on the Chenier Coastal Plain.The Mermentau River supplies freshwater for the Mermentau Basin...

      , Louisiana
      Louisiana
      Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

      . Present-day Acadiana
      Acadiana
      Acadiana, or The Heart of Acadiana, is the official name given to the French Louisiana region that is home to a large Francophone population. Of the 64 parishes that make up Louisiana, 22 named parishes and other parishes of similar cultural environment, make up the intrastate...

       parishes of St. Martin, Lafayette, Iberia, St. Landry, Vermilion, St. Mary
      St. Mary Parish, Louisiana
      St. Mary Parish is a parish located in the U.S. state of Louisiana. The parish seat is Franklin. As of 2000, the population was 53,500.The Morgan City Micropolitan Statistical Area includes all of St. Mary Parish.-Geography:...

       and Acadia in Louisiana
      Louisiana
      Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

      .

History

Atakapa oral history says that they originated from the sea. An ancestral prophet laid out the rules of conduct.

The first European contact with the Atakapa may have been in 1528 by survivors of the Spanish Pánfilo de Narváez
Pánfilo de Narváez
Pánfilo de Narváez was a Spanish conqueror and soldier in the Americas. He is most remembered as the leader of two expeditions, one to Mexico in 1520 to oppose Hernán Cortés, and the disastrous Narváez expedition to Florida in 1527....

 expedition. Two barges were blown ashore. One met the Karankawa
Karankawa
Karankawa were a group of Native American peoples, now extinct as a tribal group, who played a pivotal part in early Texas history....

, while the other probably landed on Galveston Island
Galveston Island
Galveston Island is a barrier island on the Texas Gulf coast in the United States, about 50 miles southeast of Houston. The entire island, with the exception of Jamaica Beach, is within the city limits of the City of Galveston....

. The latter recorded meeting a group who called themselves the Han, who may have been the Akokisa
Akokisa
The Akokisa were the indigenous tribe that lived on Galveston Bay and the lower Trinity and San Jacinto rivers in Texas, primarily in the present-day Greater Houston area...

.

In 1703, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, the French governor of La Louisiane, sent three men to explore the coast west of the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

. The seventh nation they encountered were the Atakapa, who captured and cannibalized one member of their party. In 1714 this tribe was one of 14 who came to Jean-Michel de Lepinay
Jean-Michel de Lepinay
Jean-Michel de Lepinay was the governor of the French colony of Louisiana from 1717 to 1718. Before serving as governor, Lepinay had been a naval officer and served over twenty years in Canada. He was appointed governor by Antoine Crozat, the royally appointed administrator of the colony...

, who was acting French Governor of Louisiana between 1717 and 1718, while he was fortifying Dauphin Island, Alabama
Dauphin Island, Alabama
Dauphin Island is a town in Mobile County, Alabama , on a barrier island also named Dauphin Island , at the Gulf of Mexico. The population was 1,371 at the 2000 census. The town is included in the Mobile metropolitan statistical area...

.

The Choctaw
Choctaw
The Choctaw are a Native American people originally from the Southeastern United States...

 told the French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 settlers about the "People of the West," who represented numerous subdivisions or tribes. The French referred to them as le sauvage. The name Atakapa is a Choctaw name meaning "people eater" (hattak 'person', apa 'to eat'), a reference to the practice of ritual cannibalism
Cannibalism
Cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy...

. The Gulf coast peoples practiced this on their enemies.

A French explorer, Francois Simars de Bellisle
Francois Simars de Bellisle
Francois Simars de Bellisle was a Frenchman who shipwrecked on the Bolivar Peninsula, near present-day Galveston, Texas, in 1722. He had been sailing for New Orleans. He was captured by Akokisa natives, and had to subsist for some time on the land. His documentation of this ordeal is considered...

, lived among the Atakapa from 1719 to 1721. He described Atakapa cannibalistic feasts which he observed firsthand. The practice of cannibalism likely had a religious, ritualistic basis.

The French historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz
Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz
Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz was an ethnographer, historian, and naturalist who is best known for his Histoire de la Louisiane. It was first published in installments from 1751-1753 in the Journal Economique, then completely in three volumes in Paris in 1758. After their victory in the Seven...

, lived in Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

, from 1718 to 1734, a total of 16 years. He wrote:
Louis LeClerc Milfort, a Frenchman who spent 20 years living with and traveling among the Muscogee Creek, came upon the Atakapa during his travels. He wrote:

In 1760, the French Gabriel Fuselier de la Claire, coming to the Attakapas Territory, bought all the land between Vermilion River
Vermilion River (Louisiana)
The Vermilion River is a river in southern Louisiana in the United States. It is formed on the common boundary of Lafayette and St. Martin parishes by a confluence of small bayous flowing from St. Landry Parish, and flows generally southward through Lafayette and Vermilion parishes, past the...

 and Bayou Teche
Bayou Teche
The Bayou Teche is a waterway of great cultural significance in south central Louisiana in the United States. Bayou Teche was the Mississippi River's main course when it developed a delta about 2,800 to 4,500 years ago...

 from the Eastern Atakapa Chief Kinemo. It was shortly after that a rival Indian tribe, the Appalousa
Appalousa
The Appalousa were Native Americans who had occupied the area around Opelousas, Louisiana before European contact.The name Opelousas has been thought to have many meanings, but the one most commonly accepted is "Blackleg", possibly because the tribe painted or stained their legs a dark color...

 (Opelousas), coming from the area between the Atchalafaya and Sabine Rivers, exterminated the Eastern Atakapa. They had occupied the area between Atchalafaya River and Bayou Nezpique (Attakapas Territory).

William Byrd Powell (1799–1867), a medical doctor and physiologist, regarded the Atakapas as cannibals. He noted that they traditionally flattened their skulls frontally and not occipitally, a practice opposite to that of neighboring tribes, such as the Natchez Nation.

The Atakapa traded with the Chitimacha
Chitimacha
The Chitimacha are a Native American federally recognized tribe that lives in the U.S. state of Louisiana, mainly in St. Mary Parish. They currently number about 720 people. The Chitimacha language is a language isolate.- History :The Chitimacha's historic home was the southern Louisiana coast...

 tribe in historical times. In the early 18th century, some Atakapa married into the Houma
Houma
Houma can refer to:*Houma, Louisiana, city in the United States*Houma, Shanxi, city in China*Houma Tribe, a Native American group*Houma, a proper name*Houma, meaning cape, the name of some capes in Tonga and villages near them such as:...

 tribe of Louisiana. Members of the Tunica-Biloxi
Tunica-Biloxi
The modern Tunica-Biloxi tribe live in Mississippi and east central Louisiana. The modern tribe is composed of descendants of Tunica, Biloxi , Ofo , Avoyel , and Muskogean Choctaw. They speak mostly English and French...

 tribe joined the Atakapa tribe in the late 18th century.

Culture

The Atapakan ate shellfish and fish. The women gathered bird eggs, the American lotus (Nelumbo lutea
Nelumbo lutea
Nelumbo lutea is a species of flowering plant in the monogeneric family Nelumbonaceae. Common names include American lotus, yellow lotus, water-chinquapin, and volée. It is native to North America...

) for its roots and seeds, as well as other wild plants. The men hunted deer
White-tailed Deer
The white-tailed deer , also known as the Virginia deer or simply as the whitetail, is a medium-sized deer native to the United States , Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America as far south as Peru...

, bear
American black bear
The American black bear is a medium-sized bear native to North America. It is the continent's smallest and most common bear species. Black bears are omnivores, with their diets varying greatly depending on season and location. They typically live in largely forested areas, but do leave forests in...

, and bison
Plains Bison
The Plains Bison or Common bison is one of two subspecies/ecotypes of the American Bison, the other being the Wood Bison . Furthermore, it has been suggested that the Plains Bison consists of a northern and a southern subspecies, bringing the total to three...

, which provided meat, fat
Animal fat
Animal fats are rendered tissue fats that can be obtained from a variety of animals.- Pet nutrition :In pet nutrition, the source of animal fat concerns food manufacturers. AAFCO states that animal fat is "obtained from the tissues of mammals and/or poultry in the commercial processes of rendering...

, and hides. The women cultivated varieties of maize
Maize
Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking as a vegetable...

. They processed the meats, bones and skins to prepare food for storage, as well as to make clothing, tent covers, tools, sewing materials, arrow cases, bridles and rigging for horses, and other necessary items for their survival.

The men made their tools for hunting and fishing: bows and arrows, fish spears with bone-tipped points, and flint
Flint
Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. Inside the nodule, flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white, or brown in colour, and...

-tipped spears. They used poisons to catch fish, caught flounder
Flounder
The flounder is an ocean-dwelling flatfish species that is found in coastal lagoons and estuaries of the Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.-Taxonomy:There are a number of geographical and taxonomical species to which flounder belong.*Western Atlantic...

s by torchlight, and speared alligators
American Alligator
The American alligator , sometimes referred to colloquially as a gator, is a reptile endemic only to the Southeastern United States. It is one of the two living species of alligator, in the genus Alligator, within the family Alligatoridae...

 in the eye. The people put alligator oil on exposed skin to repel
Insect repellent
An insect repellent is a substance applied to skin, clothing, or other surfaces which discourages insects from landing or climbing on that surface. There are also insect repellent products available based on sound production, particularly ultrasound...

 mosquito
Mosquito
Mosquitoes are members of a family of nematocerid flies: the Culicidae . The word Mosquito is from the Spanish and Portuguese for little fly...

es. The Bidai snared game and trapped animals in cane
Cane
Cane are either of two genera of tall, perennial grasses with flexible, woody stalks from the family Poaceae that grow throughout the world in wet soils. They are related to and may include species of bamboo. The genus Arundo is native from the Mediterranean region to the Far East. Arundinaria...

 pens. By 1719, the Atakapan had obtained horses and were hunting bison from horseback. They used dugout canoes to navigate the bayous and close to shore, but did not venture far into the ocean.

In the summer, families moved to the coast. In winters, they moved inland and lived in villages of houses made of pole and thatch. The Bidai lived in bearskin tents. The homes of chiefs and medicine men stood on earthwork mounds made by previous cultures.

Today

It is believed that most Western Atakapa tribes or subdivisions were decimated by the 1850s, mainly from infectious disease and poverty. Armojean Reon, of Lake Charles, Louisiana, who lived at the turn of the century, was noted as a fluent Atakapa speaker.

Descendants exist and have begun to organize to be recognized as a tribe. Numerous descendants today share a mixed lineage of Atakapa-Ishak and other ethnic ancestry, but they have maintained a sense of community and culture.

The names of present-day towns in the area can be traced back to the Ishak; they are derived both from their language and from French versions of their people and places. The town of Mermentau is a corrupted form of the local chief Nementou. Plaquemine, as in Bayou Plaquemine Brûlée and Plaquemines Parish
Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana
Plaquemines Parish is the parish with the most combined land and water area in the U.S. state of Louisiana. The parish seat is Pointe à la Hache...

, is derived from the Atakapa word pikamin, meaning "persimmon". Bayou Nezpiqué
Bayou Nezpique
Bayou Nezpique is a small river located in the Mermentau River basin of south Louisiana, USA. The bayou is long and is navigable by small shallow-draft boats for of lower course.The area was first settled by the Attakapa Indian tribe...

 was named for an Atakapan who had a tattooed nose. Bayou Queue de Tortue
Bayou Queue de Tortue
Bayou Queue de Tortue is a waterway in the Mermentau River basin of southern Louisiana in the United States. The bayou is long and is partly navigable....

 was believed to have been named for Chief Celestine La Tortue of the Atakapas nation. The name Calcasieu is a French transliteration of an Atakapa name: katkosh, for "eagle", and yok, "to cry".

On October 28, 2006, the Atakapa-Ishak Nation met for the first time in more than 100 years as "one nation." A total of 450 people represented Louisiana and Texas. Rachel Mouton, the mistress of ceremony and newly appointed Director of Publications and Communications, introduced Billy LaChapelle, who opened the afternoon with a traditional prayer in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 and in Atakapa.

The city of Lafayette, Louisiana
Lafayette, Louisiana
Lafayette is a city in and the parish seat of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, United States, on the Vermilion River. The population was 120,623 at the 2010 census...

 is planning a series of trails, funded by the Federal Highway Administration
Federal Highway Administration
The Federal Highway Administration is a division of the United States Department of Transportation that specializes in highway transportation. The agency's major activities are grouped into two "programs," the Federal-aid Highway Program and the Federal Lands Highway Program...

, to be called the "Atakapa-Ishak Trail". It will consist of a bike trail connecting downtown areas along the bayous Vermilion and Teche, which are now accessible only by foot or boat.

Atakapa language

The Atakapa language
Atakapa language
Atakapa is an extinct language isolate native to southwestern Louisiana and nearby coastal eastern Texas. It was spoken by the Atakapa people .-Geographic variation:There were two varieties of Atakapa Atakapa is an extinct language isolate native to southwestern Louisiana and nearby coastal eastern...

 is a language isolate
Language isolate
A language isolate, in the absolute sense, is a natural language with no demonstrable genealogical relationship with other languages; that is, one that has not been demonstrated to descend from an ancestor common with any other language. They are in effect language families consisting of a single...

, once spoken along the Louisiana and East Texas coast. John R. Swanton
John R. Swanton
John Reed Swanton was an American anthropologist and linguist who worked with Native American peoples throughout the United States. Swanton achieved recognition in the fields of ethnology and ethnohistory...

 proposed a Tunican language family that would include Atakapa, Tunica
Tunica language
The Tunica language was a language isolate spoken in the Central and Lower Mississippi Valley by in the United States by Native American Tunica peoples. There are no known speakers of the Tunica language remaining.When the last known fluent speaker Sesostrie Youchigant died, the language became...

, and Chitimacha
Chitimacha language
The Chitimacha language is a language isolate historically spoken by the Chitimacha people of Louisiana, United States. It went extinct in 1940 with the death of the last fluent speaker, Delphine Ducloux....

, which Mary Haas
Mary Haas
Mary Rosamund Haas was an American linguist who specialized in North American Indian languages, Thai, and historical linguistics.-Early work in linguistics:...

 later expanded into the Gulf language family
Gulf languages
Gulf is a proposed native North American language family composed of the Muskogean languages, along with four extinct language isolates: Natchez, Tunica, Atakapa, and Chitimacha....

 with the addition of the Muskogean languages
Muskogean languages
Muskogean is an indigenous language family of the Southeastern United States. Though there is an ongoing debate concerning their interrelationships, the Muskogean languages are generally divided into two branches, Eastern Muskogean and Western Muskogean...

. These proposed families have not been proven.

External links

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