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Our ancient neighbors from the past into the present

Iti Fabvssa

BISKINIK | May 2015

Ethnic diversity in what is now the southeastern United States did not begin with European contact. When Europeans first began to build permanent settlements in the Choctaw  region (roughly 300 years ago), it was already a multi-ethnic  place, occupied by complex, numerous, and diverse Native  American tribes. Our ancestors were a product of this diversity,  many of them spoke multiple tribal languages, knew multiple  tribal customs, and had family members from other neighboring  tribes. Formalized relationships with these tribes were carefully  negotiated by Choctaw leaders and helped to define the course  of Choctaw and southeastern history. This month, Iti Fabvssa  takes a look at some of the tribes that were our neighbors 300  years ago, and briefly examines where they are today.

Chickasaw - In 1700, the Chickasaw were living about 100  miles north of Choctaw territory. Both Chickasaw and Choctaw  oral stories indicate that the two tribes were once part of the  same group. It is no surprise that the Chickasaw and Choctaw  language are mutually understandable and the tribes are close  culturally. Yet, by 300 years ago, the Choctaw and Chickasaw  had become bitter enemies. The Choctaw (allied with the  French) and the Chickasaw (allied with the English) fought  each other regularly. Lasting peace was made in 1759. In 1837,  the Chickasaw moved in with the Choctaws in Indian Territory  (Oklahoma). In 1855, the Choctaw Nation ceded lands for  the establishment of the Chickasaw Nation to our west. This is  where Chickasaw Nation is still located today.

Alabama - 300 years ago, the Alabama lived to the east of  the Choctaw, on the Alabama River. Several generations earlier  they had lived in what is now Mississippi. Like the Chickasaws,  the Alabama have a language and culture that are similar to the  Choctaw, and according to some oral traditions all three tribes  were once a part of the same group. The Alabama tribe's name  may come from the Choctaw phrase "Alba Amo," meaning  "Vegetation-Gatherers" (Halbert 1899:65). During the French  colonial period, the Alabama were often allied with the English  and regularly fought against the Choctaw. Today the Alabama  Coushatta tribe of Texas lives near the town of Livingston, and  the Alabama Quassarte tribal town is located within the Muscogee  "Creek" Nation in Oklahoma.  Tohome/Naniaba- In the early 1700s, the Tohome and  Naniaba tribes lived to the southeast of the Choctaw, on the  Tombigbee River, above its confluence with the Alabama River.

Tohome/Naniaba language and culture were similar or identical  to Choctaw language and culture of the time period, although  the Tohome were said to have darker skin than the Choctaw  (Waselkov and Gums 2000). These two small tribes were closely  allied with the Choctaw, and allowed Choctaw people to stay  in their villages when they were processing salt from nearby  springs. In the 1760s, the Tohome/Naniaba joined the Choctaw  tribe, so today, some Choctaw tribal members are descended  from the Tohome and Naniaba.

Mobila - The Mobila were a slightly larger tribe that lived  on Mobile Bay in 1700. Under Chief Tvshkalusa, they had  fought and crippled an invading Spanish army under Hernando  DeSoto, 160 years earlier. The Mobila language was very  similar Choctaw, and they had a close political alliance with the  Choctaw. The name "Mobila" may come from the Choctaw word  "Moieli", meaning "To Paddle" (Halbert 1899:68). Mobile, Alabama,  derives its name from the tribe. In the 1760s, some of the  Mobila tribe joined the Choctaw, others moved on to Louisiana.  Some of today's Choctaw people are descended from the Mobila.

Pensacola - The name "Pensacola" comes from the Choctaw  phrase "Pvshi Okla," meaning "Hair People" (Swanton  1952:136). This tribe lived around Pensacola Bay in the Florida  panhandle. The Pensacola spoke a Muscogean dialect, and in  1700 were fighting against the Mobila and later against the  Choctaws. A few years afterwards, the Pensacola moved to the  Pearl River and then vanished from recorded history (Waselkov  and Gumm 2000:21-23).

Pascagoula - The Pascagoula lived to the south of the  Choctaws. The two tribes were on good terms and their connectedness  is shown through similar pottery designs. The name  "Pascagoula" comes from the Choctaw term "Pvlaska Okla,"  meaning "Bread People." In the late 1700s, the Pascagoula  moved west, and today some of their descendants are among  several Oklahoma/Texas tribes today.

Biloxi - The Biloxi are a Siouan-speaking tribe that may  have originated in the Ohio River Valley. In 1700, they lived on  the Pascagoula River, south of the Pascagoula tribe. Some Biloxi descendants moved to Texas and Oklahoma, others amalgamated  with the Tunica tribe. Today, their descendants make up  the Tunica-Biloxi tribe of Louisiana.

Houma - The tribe's name comes from the Choctaw word  "Homa," meaning "Red." The Houma are linguistically and  culturally related to the Choctaw. In 1700, they lived on the east  bank of the Mississippi River, across from the mouth of the Red  River. In 1706, after an attack by the Tunica, the tribe moved to  the New Orleans area. Today, thousands of Houma descendants  live in Louisiana.

Acolapissa - The tribe's name comes from the Choctaw  phrase "Haklo Pisa," meaning "Hears and Sees." In 1700, this  tribe lived on the Pearl River, to the southwest of the Choctaw.  Culturally and linguistically related to the Choctawan groups,  after a series of movements, they merged with the Houma.

Natchez - The Natchez lived on the Mississippi River to the  west of the Choctaw. They spoke their own language and were  noted for their centralized political structure After repeated affronts  by the French, the Natchez attacked and routed the local  French settlement in 1730. In retaliation, the French, and their  Choctaw allies decimated the Natchez tribe. Survivors were sold  into slavery or fled to English-Allied tribes for asylum. Today,  some individuals living among the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma,  the Muscogee "Creek" Nation, and the Seminole Nation  of Oklahoma identify themselves as Natchez.

Tunica - The Tunica were living near the mouth of the Yazzoo  River in 1700. In 1706, they moved in with the Houma and  attacked them. In the late 1700s, Tunica moved to the Marksville  area of Louisiana. Today, their descendants make up part  of the Tunica-Biloxi tribe of Louisiana.

Yazoo - The tribe lived on the Yazoo River to the northwest  of the Choctaw. They spoke a language that was related to Tunica  (Barnett 2012:77). Interestingly, in the 1700s, two Choctaw towns  were named "East Yazoo" and "West Yazoo." Their relationship  to the Yazoo tribe is unknown. In 1730, the Yazoo attacked the  French along with the Natchez. Afterwards, the Yazoo tribe was  decimated by the Quapaw. Survivors were sold into slavery in  distant places or may have joined the Choctaw and Chickasaw.

Chakchiuma - "Chakchiuma" comes from the Choctaw  phrase "Shakshi Homma," meaning "Red Crawfish." The Chakchiuma  are said to have broken off from the Choctaw, moved to  present-day Arkansas, and then to have been forced back into  present-day Mississippi between the Choctaw and Chickasaw.  Reportedly the Chakchiuma began raiding both the Choctaw  and Chickasaw. Finally, a Choctaw/Chickasaw coalition destroyed  the Chakchiuma tribe, with survivors joining the Choctaw  and Chickasaw. Several Choctaw chiefs, including Coleman  Cole were Chakchiuma descendants (Cushman 1899).

Taensa - In 1700s, the Taensa were living in present-day  northeast Louisiana. Through the 1700s, they moved down the  Mississippi River to near New Orleans, and then over to the  Mobile, Alabama, area, where they presumably mixed with Choctawan  people. In 1763, they moved to the Red River in Louisiana.  Today, a formal Taensa tribe does not exist, but their descendants  are among the Choctaw, Chitimacha, and Alabama tribes.

Quapaw- The Quapaw are a Siouan tribe, closely related to  the Osage, Kansa, and Omaha. In 1700, they were living at the  junction of the Arkansas and the Mississippi River. At times,  the Quapaw were Choctaw trading partners. At other times,  Quapaws attacked Choctaw hunting parties for trespassing on  their lands in Arkansas. Today, Quapaw Nation is located in  northeastern Oklahoma.


References Cited:

Barnett, James F. 2012. Mississippi's American Indians. Heritage of Mississippi  Series. University Press of Mississippi.

Cushman, Horatio B. 1899. History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez  Indians. Headlight Printing House, Greenville, Texas.

Halbert, Henry S. 1899. Choctaw Indian Names in Alabama and Mississippi.

Transactions of the Alabama Historic Society. Vol. 3. Pp. 64-77. 

Swanton, John R. 1952. The Indian Tribe of North America. Reprinted by  Genealogical Publishing Company, United States of America.

Waselkov, Greg and Bonnie Gum. 2000. Plantation Archaeology at Riviere  Aux Chiens ca. 1725-1848. University of South Alabama Archaeological  Monograph No. 7. Mobile.

This article and others came from the Choctaw Nation Biskinik. To see more history please refer to the following sites.
Sounds of Choctaw - Social Greeting
Sounds of Choctaw - Weather
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