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Catawba Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Catawba Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Catawba"? What does it mean?
Catawba is pronounced "cuh-TAW-buh," and it comes from the Catawba placename Katapu, which means "fork in a river." Among themselves, the Catawba usually called themselves Ye Iswa, which means "river people."

Where do the Catawbas live?
The Catawbas are original residents of North Carolina and South Carolina. Most Catawba people still live in South Carolina today, although others were forced to move to Oklahoma along with the Cherokees in the 1800's.

How is the Catawba Indian nation organized?
The Catawba tribe has a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is legally under their control. The Catawbas have their own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. However, the Catawbas are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, the Catawba tribe was ruled by a chief from a leading clan. Today, the Catawbas are governed by a tribal council whose members are elected.

What language do the Catawbas speak?
The Catawba people speak English today. In the past, they spoke their native Catawba language. Unfortunately, no Catawba Indian people are fluent in this language anymore. However, some Catawbas are working to learn to speak their language again. If you'd like to know an easy Catawba word, hawoh (pronounced hah-woh) means 'thank you.' You can also read this picture glossary of Catawba Indian words.

What was Catawba culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is a link to the homepage of the Catawba Indian Nation, where you can learn about the Catawba Indians past and present.

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How do Catawba Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Catawba 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 colonial children. But they did have beaded dolls, toys and games to play with. Lacrosse was a popular sport among teenage boys as it was among adult men. Like many Native Americans, a Catawba mother traditionally carried her baby in a cradleboard on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Catawba tribe?
Catawba men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Catawba women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, traditional medicine, and leadership. Most Catawba chiefs were men, but there were a few famous female Catawba chiefs.

What were Catawba homes like in the past?
The Catawba Indians lived in settled villages of homes and small farm plots. Catawba houses had wooden frames and bark walls. Here are some pictures of Native American dwellings like the ones Catawba Indians used. The Catawbas also built larger circular buildings for town meetings, and most villages had a sports field with benches for spectators. Today, Catawba people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Catawba clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Catawba men wore deerskin breechcloths. Catawba women wore wraparound skirts and mantle-type shirts that fastened at the left shoulder (leaving their right shoulder bare.) The Catawbas also wore moccasins on their feet. In colonial times, the Catawbas adapted European costume into their own style, including colorful wool shawls and ribbon skirts. Here are some photographs and links about these styles of traditional Indian clothes.

The Catawbas didn't wear warbonnets like their cousins the Sioux. Usually Catawba people went bareheaded. Catawba men and women both wore their hair long. Catawba men usually wore their hair in a topknot, while women made their hair into buns in the back. Sometimes Catawba warriors would dye their hair red. Here is a website with pictures of these Native hair styles. Catawba men and women both wore tattoos on their faces, and the Catawbas often painted their bodies bright colors during battles and festivals.

Today, some Catawba people wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear moccasins or ribbon skirts for special occasions like a dance.

What was Catawba transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Catawba Indians made dugout canoes from hollowed-out logs. Here is an article with pictures of different American Indian canoe types. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe, so the Catawbas used dogs to help them carry their belongings over land. Today, of course, Catawba people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Catawba food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Catawbas were farming people. Catawba women harvested crops of corn, beans, and squash. Catawba men hunted deer, wild turkeys, and small game, and went fishing in the rivers. Catawba dishes included cornbread, soups, and stews. Here is a website with more information about traditional Indian food.

What were Catawba weapons and tools like in the past?
Catawba hunters used blowguns to kill birds and small animals, and spears or bows and arrows to hunt large game. In war, a Catawba man fired his bow or fought with a heavy war club.

What are Catawba arts and crafts like?
The Catawbas are especially known for their Native American pottery. Unlike many southeastern tribes, not all the Catawbas were forced to move to Oklahoma or go into hiding, so the Catawba pottery tradition has continued to the present day. Catawba artists also made beautiful baskets, wood carvings, and bead art. Here is a website from the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project displaying contemporary arts and crafts by Catawba tribal members.

What other Native Americans did the Catawba tribe interact with?
The Catawbas traded regularly with the other Southeast Native Americans. These tribes communicated using a simplified trade language called Mobilian Jargon. After Europeans arrived, the British became the Catawba tribe's most important trading partners, and the Catawbas began to fight with their Indian neighbors more often, especially the Tuscarora and and Delaware tribes. Their closest allies were the Pamunkey Indians, who were one of the old Powhatan bands. The Catawbas and Pamunkeys frequently married each other. Later, many Catawba Indians joined the Cherokee tribe.

What kinds of stories do the Catawbas tell?
There were many traditional Catawba legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Catawba Indian culture. Here is one interesting local story about the origin of evening lights. Here's a website where you can read more about Catawba mythology.

What about Catawba religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Catawba life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Catawba people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Catawba beliefs or this site about Indian religions in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy The Wonderful Sky Boat, a collection of traditional tales from several Southeastern tribes including the Catawba. Catawba Indian Pottery is an interesting book about Catawba art over the years. For an overview of Catawba culture, one good book for kids is The Catawbas. You can also browse through our reading list of books by Native American authors. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

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 2020.

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

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Learn More About The Catawbas

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

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

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

Catawba Words
Catawba Indian vocabulary lists.

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