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Alabama Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Alabamas for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Alabama Indian pages for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Alabama pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




    Alabama Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Alabama"? What does it mean?
Alabama is pronounced "al-uh-BAM-uh," the same as the state (which was named after the tribe.) No one knows exactly where this name came from. It could be an English form of the word albina, which means "campsite" in their own language and may have been the name of an Alabama town. Or it could be an English form of the Choctaw words alba amo, which means "clearing brush."

Where do the Alabamas live?
As you could guess from their name, the Alabamas are original residents of Alabama. The tribe was forced to move further west in the 18th century, and today most Alabamas live in Texas (sharing a reservation with the Coushattas) and in Oklahoma (sharing a reservation with the Creeks.) Other Alabama people joined the Seminoles and were absorbed into that powerful Florida tribe, and some live in Louisiana with the Coushattas there. The total population of Alabama Indians is about 2000.

How is the Alabama Indian nation organized?
In Texas, the Alabama and Coushatta tribes share a single reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is legally under their control. In the past, each Alabama band was ruled by a chief called a miko, and the Alabama and Coushatta tribes had separate leadership. Today, the Alabama-Coushatta Indians are governed by a joint tribal council, with elected councilmembers that come from both tribes. In Oklahoma, the Alabamas are legally considered part of the Creek Nation, but they maintain their own traditional government independently of the Creeks.

What language do the Alabamas speak?
Most Alabama people speak English today, but some people, especially elders, also speak their native Alibamu or Alabama language. If you'd like to know a few easy Alabama words, "chíkmaa" (pronounced chick-mah) is a friendly greeting, and "alila mo" (pronounced ah-lee-lah moh) means 'thank you.' You can also read an Alabama picture glossary here.

Today Alabama is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Alabama people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Alabama culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is a link to the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, where you can learn about the Alabama people and their way of life.

How do Alabama Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Alabama children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have beaded dolls, toys and games to play with. Lacrosse was also a popular sport among teenage boys as it was among adult men. Like many Native Americans, Alabama mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Alabama tribe?
Alabama men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Alabama women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, the chief was always a man, but today an Alabama Indian woman can participate in government also.

What were Alabama homes like in the past?
The Alabama people lived in square-shaped villages of houses and small farm plots. Alabama houses had plaster and rivercane walls with thatched roofs. These dwellings were about as strong and warm as a log cabin. Here are some pictures of Native American houses like the ones Alabama Indians used. The Alabamas also built a larger circular lodge for town meetings, and most villages had a lacrosse field with benches for spectators. An Alabama village was usually surrounded with palisades (reinforced walls) to guard against attack. No one uses these old-fashioned houses for shelter anymore. Alabamas live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Alabama clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Alabama men wore a breechclout, sometimes with leggings to protect their legs, and women wore wraparound skirts made of woven fiber. The Alabamas also wore moccasins on their feet. Shirts were not necessary in Alabama culture, but men and women both wore poncho-style capes in cool weather. In colonial times, the Alabamas adapted European costume such as waistcoats and full skirts. Here is a webpage with pictures of traditional Alabama dress, and here are some photographs and links about Indian clothes in general.

The Alabamas didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Alabama men often shaved their heads except for a single scalplock, and sometimes they would also wear a porcupine roach. (These headdresses were made of porcupine hair, not their sharp quills!) Alabama women usually wore their long hair tied up into a bun. Both genders painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration. Some Alabamas also wore tribal tattoos.

Today, some Alabama people still wear moccasins or a ribbon shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear roaches in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Alabama transportation like in the days before cars? Did the Alabamas paddle canoes?
Yes--the Alabama Indians made dugout canoes from hollowed-out logs. Most of the time, though, Alabama people usually just walked. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe, so the Alabamas used dogs to help them carry their belongings over land. Today, of course, Alabama people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Alabama Indian food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Alabama Indians were farming people. Alabama women did most of the farming, harvesting crops of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. Alabama men did most of the hunting, shooting deer, wild turkeys, and small game and fishing in the rivers. Alabama dishes included cornbread, soups, and stews cooked on rock hearths. Here is a website with more information about American Indian food.

What were Alabama weapons and tools like in the past?
Alabama hunters primarily used bows and arrows. Fishermen generally used fishing spears. In war, Alabama men fired their bows or fought with heavy war clubs. Here is a website with pictures and more information about Native American weapons.

What are Alabama arts and crafts like?
The Alabama Indians were known for their rivercane baskets, Native American pottery, and woodcarvings. After Europeans introduced them to metalworking, Alabama Indian men became known for their beautiful silver jewelry and other ornaments.

What other Native Americans did the Alabama tribe interact with?
The Alabamas traded regularly with all the other Southeast Native Americans. These tribes communicated using a simplified trade language called Mobilian Jargon. The most important Alabama neighbors were the Coushatta Indians. The Alabamas and the Coushattas were close allies, and many of them still live together today. Other Alabama Indians banded together with the Seminoles or the Creeks to fight against Europeans who were taking their land.

What kinds of stories do the Alabamas tell?
There are lots of traditional Alabama legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Alabama Indian culture. Here is a story about the origin of fire. Here's a website where you can read more about Alabama mythology.

What about Alabama Indian religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Alabama Indian rituals and artifacts or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy The Winding Trail, which is a history book about the Alabama-Coushatta tribe written for kids. Older kids could read The Alabama-Coushatta Indians, an excellent book by a Native American author about Alabama Indian history and culture. If you like mythology, you could try this book of Myths and Folktales of the Alabama-Coushatta Indians. Alabama Native Americans is a kids' book that provides a pretty good overview of the Alabama tribes in general. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended American Indian books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Alabama Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Alabamas

Alabama Indian Tribe
An overview of the Alabama people, their language and history.

Alabama Language Resources
Alabama language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Alabama History and Culture Directory
Related links about the Alabama people past and present.

Alabama Word List
Alabama Indian vocabulary lists.



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