The Attakapans (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 Attakpan 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 occupies 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 century.
by Alana A. Carmon