17. Natchez, Atapaka (Ishak), Chitimacha

These three tribes have particular things in common with the wider Mound Builder culture. I also read suggestions that they might have been the descendants of a far older Paleolithic group.  The Natchez, Atapaka, and Chitimacha all speak or spoke language isolates but there seem to be some speculation that the three languages are distantly related.

All three of these tribes were virtually driven into extinction early on by European invaders. Those that survived are few and far between and their cultures decimated. Of the Chitimacha people less than 1000 are alive today and I found very little information about them.

The Natchez, once believed extinct, have a few surviving members. Recorded history places them within the Mound Builder culture because they did indeed build mounds and construct elite temples and homes on top of those mounds. The Natchez people practiced head flattening as did other Mound Builder groups. They worshipped the Sun and performed highly complex rituals also similar to other Mound Builder groups. The Natchez also practiced the sacrifice of wives and children when someone in the nobility class had died. Their class system was exceedingly complex as well.

Of these three groups the Atapaka provided the clearest picture. The name Atapaka is a Choctaw word that means “man eater”. The Atapaka called themselves the Ishak, meaning “the people”, and further designated themselves as the “Sunrise People” and the “Sunset People”. They claimed to have come from the sea.

Only 450 Ishak survive today and they tend to dislike the man eater name because it gives them a bad reputation. But there are plenty of references that support that the Ishak were in fact man eaters. The Choctaw had insisted to the French that the Ishak did indeed practice ritual cannibalism and the French learned it first hand in 1703. They had sent three men to explore the coast west of Mississippi. The Ishak were apparently none too happy about the intrusion and subsequently ate one of the Frenchmen. Other French explorers were eye witnesses to Ishak ritual cannibalism between 1719 and 1734. Accounts vary, some suggesting that captives were roasted alive but not actually eaten. But then there were further accounts that insisted that both the French and the English were welcomed and well treated…much to their own peril I would think. The Ishak continued to trade with the Chitimacha into historic times but in the early 20th century only one survivor was found to speak fluent Ishak.

Please remember that countless other tribes and bands did not survive the holocaust. With no known members believed to be alive their languages, history, cultures, and relationships to other tribes is lost. The ability to see the whole picture is simply not possible. But the Mississippi territory of the Natchez, Chitimacha, and Ishak was very much in range of southern Appalachia and I feel quite certain that they shared an exchange of goods and information with the Yuchi and probably the Cherokee too. We tend to think of tribal lands and territories as islands but that is simply not true. All tribes were known to travel hundreds of miles for hunting, fishing, gathering, trading, and ceremonies.

http://www.chitimacha.gov/tribal_about_history.html

http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/natchez/natchezhist.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atapaka_people

http://www.atapaka-ishak.org




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