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ETHNONYMS: Anitakwa, Esaw, Issa, Kadapau, Kuttawa, Oyadagahroene, Toderichroone, Ushery


Identification. The Catawba are an American Indian group who live in North and South Carolina. The meaning of the name "Catawba" is unclear. It may be derived from the Choctaw katapa, meaning "separated" or "divided." Other scholars have traced it to a Catawba word meaning "people on the edge (or bank) of a river," or "people of the fork." The Catawba called themselves "Nieye" (people), or "Ye iswa'here" (people of the river).

Location. Aboriginally the Catawba lived in the southern Piedmont between 34° and 36° N and 79° and 82° W, an area now occupied by North and South Carolina. Most Catawba today live in these two states.

Demography. Today the Catawba population is approximately fourteen hundred. At the beginning of frequent Contact with Europeans in the late seventeenth century, after 150 years of sporadic contact (and, presumably, losses to European diseases), Catawba numbers may have approached ten thousand.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Catawba aboriginal language was a branch of Siouan, often termed Eastern Siouan. The last known speaker of the language died in 1959.

History and Cultural Relations

Ancestors of the historic Catawba probably migrated to the southern Piedmont from across the Appalachian Mountains several centuries before Columbus. When Europeans arrived, the Catawba bordered on the Cherokee to the west, the Cheraw, Occaneechi, Saponi, Tutelo, and other Siouan-speaking Piedmont groups to the north, the Tuscarora to the east, and the Mississippian chiefdom of Cofitachique to the south. Contact with their fellow Piedmont peoples appears to have been peaceful; relations with other neighbors were marked by conflict. Initial contact with Europeans came with Hernando de Soto's exploratory army in 1540, but continuous contact with Europeans did not begin until the middle of the following century, when traders from Virginia (and, after 1670, South Carolina) pushed into the Piedmont.

Mutually beneficial trade relations induced the Catawba to ally with the English colonists against the Tuscarora in 1711, but in 1715 abuses by colonial traders led the Catawba to join Yamasee, Creeks, and others in a war against South Carolina. Following their defeat, Catawba relations with the English intruders were peaceful. Catawba warriors fought on the side of the British in the Seven Years' War and allied with the Patriot cause in the American Revolution.

In a 1763 treaty with representatives of the British Crown, the Catawba Nation agreed to give up its claims to much of the Carolina Piedmont in exchange for a reservation of 225 square miles (144,000 acres) along the Catawba River. In 1840, however, the Indians, under intense pressure from settlers (to whom they had leased much of the reservation), signed the Treaty of Nation Ford with South Carolina, relinquishing these lands in exchange for promises of money and the purchase of land somewhere else. Efforts to settle them elsewhereincluding an abortive attempt to remove them across the Mississippi River with other Southeastern Indianswere unsuccessful. After a short stay among the neighboring Cherokee, the Catawba returned to the Catawba River, where in 1842 South Carolina purchased a 630-acre reservation for them. In 1943 the Catawba established a relationship with the federal government that included the addition of 3,500 acres to the reservation. This relationship with the federal government was terminated in 1962, and the "new" (federal) reservation was broken up. Today many Catawba remain on or near the "old" reservation established by South Carolina in 1842.


During the aboriginal and early contact periods the Catawba built settlements along the Piedmont's rivers and streams. At one time these villages probably were widely dispersed, but by the early eighteenth century European diseases and raids by enemy Indians had helped create a tight cluster of six or seven towns, with perhaps four hundred persons in each, near the junction of the Catawba River and Sugar Creek. Palisades were a common feature, as were open areas in the center for communal activities. Most towns had a large "state house," which was used for ceremonies and for greeting and housing guests. By the late eighteenth century, disease had reduced the number of settlements to one or two, and a decline in enemy raids made palisades superfluous. A century later the towns themselves were gone, and the Catawba were scattered across the landscapesome on farms, others in nearby townsas they are today.

The aboriginal Catawba house was a circular or oval structure framed of bent saplings and covered with bark or skins. Around the time of the American Revolution they began to imitate their White neighbors and build log cabins. Today their houses are indistinguishable from those of the surrounding population.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Catawba pursued a subsistence routine that balanced agriculture with hunting, fishing, and gathering. The staples of their diet were maize and venison. The peltry procured by the hunters was in great demand by European traders, who arrived in the late seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth Century, however, the deerskin trade had declined, and the Catawba had to find other ways to acquire the European goodsfirearms, clothing, kettlesthat had become necessities. While continuing to hunt, farm, and fish, they also leased Reservation land to Whites after 1763 and peddled household goods, especially pottery, throughout the region. With the loss of the reservation in 1840, many became sharecroppers on nearby farms or earned a living selling firewood. Today most Catawba are employed in local industry; many are professionals or tradespeople.

Industrial Arts. Aboriginal craftspeople produced pottery, baskets, and other items. Today some thirty Catawba potters continue to practice their ancient craft regularly, and another sixty do so occasionally.

Trade. In aboriginal times Catawba carried on an extensive trade with neighboring groups in deerskins, natural dyes, and other products. Trade with European colonists included slaves, peltry, and baskets in exchange for firearms, alcohol, cloth, beads, and other items. The pottery trade, which began in the late eighteenth century, continues today.

Division of Labor. Until the end of the eighteenth Century, women were responsible for farming, dressing animal skins, cooking, making pottery and baskets, and raising the children. The men hunted, fished, traded, and cleared new fields. The decline of the deerskin trade reduced the men's economic importance without substantially altering the division of labor; not until the end of the nineteenth century did men begin to replace women in performing agricultural tasks. Making and peddling pottery, which was primarily the responsibility of the women, was central to the Catawba Economy until World War II. Today the division of labor mirrors that of the surrounding society.

Land Tenure. Little is known of Catawba land tenure in aboriginal times, but usufruct probably prevailed, with ultimate ownership residing in the community, but individual or familial rights to a tract respected as long as that tract was used. The reservation established in 1763 placed all lands under tribal authority, though particular families may have held the right to collect rent from certain tracts leased to Whites. On the state and federal reservations individuals "owned" a tract of land, with the right to rent it out and leave it to their heirs. When the "new" federal reservation was sold in 1962, Catawbas could choose a cash settlement or a tract of land; 286 of the 631 people on the tribal roll chose cash. Today on the "old" (state) reservation, a Catawba must apply to the tribal council for an allotment.


Kin Groups and Descent. Catawba society was matrilineal at least until the early twentieth century. Extended Kinship groups were clearly important in determining an Individual's place in societyserving to protect one from harm, determining whom one could marry, and so onbut there is no clear evidence of clans.

Kinship Terminology. Efforts to fit Catawba kinship terms into an accepted kinship classification category have been unsuccessful. Fragmentary evidence, however, suggests that the Tutelo, a Siouan-speaking Piedmont tribe living near the Catawba in colonial times, followed the Dakota system.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Catawba marriage rules in aboriginal and early-contact times probably forbade first-cousin marriages. Polygamy was neither unknown nor condemned, but most Marriages were monogamous. In courtship, a man or his relations approached the woman's parents to ask permission, though the woman's consent was also required. Marriages were Matrilocal, and divorce was easily effected by either party.

Domestic Unit. Extended families have been and continue to be the norm.

Inheritance. Matrilineal inheritance was the rule in earlier times; bilateral inheritance obtains today.

Socialization. Catawba child-rearing practices were permissive, with ostracism, ridicule, and example the rule. Folktales were (and to some degree still are) an important educational tool, setting out proper modes of behavior and warning of punishment by native enemies or supernatural beings for those who disobey. Today, formal education is highly valued: there was a primary school on the reservation from 1898 to 1966, and beginning in the 1930s Catawba were attending the local high school. Today many go on to college.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Until the early nineteenth century, men achieved status through their skills as hunters, warriors, and speakers. Age conferred status on both men and women. Women, who enjoyed equal status with men, may also have acquired status through their skills as pottersa status that may have increased in the nineteenth century as pottery's economic role became more important. Although surrounded after 1750 by a slave-owning culture, the Catawba owned few slaves themselves. Indeed, they tended to shun African-Americans.

Political Organization. Towns were largely independent before the arrival of Europeans, with each town possessing a council of elders, a headman, and a war captain. At some point in the early colonial period the six or seven villages that came to compose the core of the Catawba Nation developed a tribal government along the same lines as the town political organization: a chief (eractasswa ), apparently always drawn from a specific kin group, was selected by a council made up of leaders from each town. During the eighteenth century, refugee groupsCheraw, Wateree, and othersfrom other parts of the Piedmont arrived in the Catawba Nation, built their own towns, and participated in this national council until eventually they were thoroughly incorporated into Catawba culture.

In 1944, as part of their agreement with the federal Government, the Catawba drew up a formai constitution along the lines laid down in the Indian Reorganization Act (1934). Federal termination ended this constitutional government, but the basic political structure of chief and council continues today, with every adult member of the tribe eligible to vote for these officers.

Social Control. Until the late nineteenth century the maintenance of order among Catawbas was left to the tribe. Ostracism and ridicule were vital elements in ensuring good behavior, but more serious crimes such as homicide often led to revenge by the kin of the victim. Since the late nineteenth century the Catawba have been subject to the laws of the surrounding society. In addition, Mormon codes of conduct have been important in setting the standards of behavior.

Conflict. Alcohol was a common cause of violence in the eighteenth century; early in the next century, rights to land leases on the reservation were a point of contention between families. Apparently the decision to sell the reservation in 1840 was also a source of conflict, as was the debate about whether to remove to the west. The decision to terminate the nation's relationship with the federal government divided the Catawba in 1959, and today there are disagreements over the best strategy for seeking compensation for the Treaty of Nation Ford, which was never ratified by Congress as federal law requires.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. In aboriginal times the Catawba were polytheistic, with the emphasis on the maintenance of harmony and balance among the various forces governing the universe. The Indians as a rule rebuffed Christian missionaries until the nineteenth century, when some of the Catawba became Baptists or Methodists. In the 1880s, Mormon missionaries visited the nation, and by the 1920s virtually all the Catawba had converted to Mormonism. They remain largely Mormon today. Fragmentary evidence hints that Catawba religion had a supreme being that was associated with the sun. In addition, there were numerous spiritspersonal, animal, and elementalwhose powers could be used for good or ill. Today vestiges of these spirits remain in the stories of yehasuri, or "wild Indians," who are said to live in the woods on the reservation.

Religious Practitioners. Priests, or "conjurers," enjoyed great prestige in the aboriginal and early-contact era for their powers as healers and diviners. How long the position lasted is unclear, though certainly not past the middle of the nineteenth century. From the 1840s to 1962, the Catawba had a state-appointed physician; today many of the Indians still visit the last man to hold this office.

Ceremonies. In addition to the numerous rituals to be performed by individuals (such as hunters) during the course of daily life, the Catawba had communal ceremonies to celebrate the harvest and pray for future success in planting. The fate of their ceremonial round is unknown; during the early nineteenth century the harvest ceremony may have evolved into an annual meeting in late summer to discuss the leases of reservation lands. "Powwows" were said to have been held into the late nineteenth century, though their form and function are unknown.

Arts. Singing, accompanied by tortoise-shell rattles and pot-drums, was common at ceremonies.

Medicine. Sickness could be caused by ghosts, evil spirits, or the violation of certain taboos. Cures combined medicinal plants applied through proper rituals. Today the Catawba rely exclusively on Western medical practices.

Death and Afterlife. Death was ascribed to the same causes as sickness. The afterworld was said to be divided into good and bad spheres, though the influence of Christianity on this belief cannot be discounted. Heaven was said to have four levels. Elaborate funeral ceremonies, including speeches, feasts, and periods of mourning, were the norm in aboriginal and early-contact times. As late as the end of the nineteenth century, funerals included a fast, a three-day wait for the departure of the soul, and a taboo on speaking the name of the deceased. Today, Catawba practice mirrors that of the nation's neighbors, except that potters may be buried with a piece of their pottery.


Blumer, Thomas J. (1987). Bibliography of the Catawba. Native American Bibliography Series, no. 10. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.

Brown, Douglas Summers (1966). The Catawba Indians: The People of the River. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Hudson, Charles M. (1970). The Catawba Nation. University of Georgia Monographs, no. 18. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Merrell, James H. (1989). The Indians' New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.


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CATAWBA. Indians have been living beside the river of that name in the Carolina Piedmont since long before the first Europeans visited the region in 1540. The secret of the Catawbas' survival in their homeland is their ability to negotiate the "new world" that European and African intruders brought to America. Strategically located, shrewd diplomats, Catawbas became known as good neighbors. Even as their population fell from several thousand in 1540 to about 200 in the nineteenth century and rebounded to 2,600 by the end of the twentieth century, Catawbas kept their knack for getting along. Losing much of their aboriginal culture (including their Siouan language), they nonetheless maintained a native identity amid a sea of strangers. Some of that identity can be traced to enduring pottery traditions and a series of colorful leaders. Some is grounded in their land base, obtained from a grateful Britain after the French and Indian War, only to be lost and partially regained again and again over the next 250 years. Besides these visible traditions and this contested ground, in modern times Catawbas coalesced around the Mormon faith. A landmark 1993 agreement with state and federal officials assured governmental assistance that opened still another chapter in Catawba history.


Blumer, Thomas J. Bibliography of the Catawba. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1987.

Hudson, Charles M. The Catawba Nation. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1970.

Merrell, James H. The Indians' New World: Catawbas and their Neighbors from European Contact Through the Era of Removal. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

James H. Merrell

See also Tribes: Southeastern ; and picture (overleaf) .

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Catawba (indigenous people of North America)

Catawba (kətô´bə), Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Siouan branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). They have for centuries occupied a region in South Carolina around the Catawba River; they are noted for their ancient traditional pottery, which they still produce. Once a large and powerful group, they waged incessant but unsuccessful war against the Cherokee and tribes of the Ohio River valley. Fighting and European-introduced smallpox reduced them to a small group in the 18th cent. In 1962 the Catawbas' relationship with the federal government was terminated; in 1993, however, tribal status was restored and their reservation enlarged. Tribal headquarters are at Rock Hill, S.C. In 1990 there were close to 1,000 Catawba in the United States. The last speaker of Catawba died in 1996.

See D. S. Brown, The Catawba Indians (1966); C. M. Hudson, The Catawba Nation (1970).

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Catawba (river, N.C. and S.C.)

Catawba, river, N.C. and S.C.: see Wateree.

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catawbaabba, blabber, dabber, grabber, jabber, stabber, yabber •Alba, Galbaamber, camber, caramba, clamber, Cochabamba, gamba, mamba, Maramba, samba, timbre •Annaba, arbor, arbour, barber, Barbour, harbour (US harbor), indaba, Kaaba, Lualaba, Pearl Harbor, Saba, Sabah, Shaba •sambar, sambhar •rebbe, Weber •Elba •Bemba, December, ember, member, November, Pemba, September •belabour (US belabor), caber, labour (US labor), neighbour (US neighbor), sabre (US saber), tabor •chamber • bedchamber •antechamber •amoeba (US ameba), Bathsheba, Bourguiba, Geber, Sheba, zariba •cribber, dibber, fibber, gibber, jibba, jibber, libber, ribber •Wilbur •limber, marimba, timber •winebibber •calibre (US caliber), Excalibur •briber, fibre (US fiber), scriber, subscriber, Tiber, transcriber •clobber, cobber, jobber, mobber, robber, slobber •ombre, sombre (US somber) •carnauba, catawba, dauber, Micawber •jojoba, Manitoba, October, sober •Aruba, Cuba, Nuba, scuba, tuba, tuber •Drouzhba • Toowoomba • Yoruba •Hecuba

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