by Alana A. Carmon
(sometimes rendered Atakapans) inhabited the coastal and bayou areas of
southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas, an area encompassing the
region bounded by Bayou Teche on the east, the Sabine River on the west,
and present-day Alexandria to the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the
south. The name "Attakapa" is Choctaw for "Eaters of Human
Flesh." Studies of the tribe reveal that their cannibalism was for
ritual purposes and not for subsistence since they ate certain parts of
slain adversaries only in victory ceremonies after a skirmish.
According to the eighteenth
and nineteenth century European accounts and drawings, Attakapans were
short, stocky, and dark skinned. Their clothing consisted of breechcloths
and buffalo hides. They also had tattoos, a widespread custom of all tribes.
Attakapan society was widely scattered, with lots of vacant land between
villages. Loose bands along the coastal areas frequently moved within
a designated region hunting and fishing, while the inland groups grew
some crops. Important to all bands of the Atakpan tribe was the alligator,
for it supplied meat, hides, and oil that was used as an insect repellent.
The Attakapan nation consisted
of four bands in Louisiana: two eastern tribes identified as the "Sunrise
People," and two western tribes recognized as the "Sunset People."
These tribes were known for their exceptional pottery and mound building.
They occupied a section of southern Louisiana, which became known as the
Attakapas district. The Old Attakapas encompassed the modern-day parishes
of St. Mary, Iberia, Vermilion, St. Martin, and Lafayette.
The estimated Attakapas population
of approximately 1,500 in 1650 dwindled to less than 50 in 1832. The last
full-blooded members of the tribe died in the first decade of the twentieth