The Natchez were the Native people who lived along the Mississippi River in and near what is now Natchez, Mississippi in the US. They were the last of the Mound Builders.
Mississippian culture, better known as the Mound Builders, lasted from about 800 to 1730, spreading along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and across what is now the south-eastern US. They are best known for building mounds, of course, but should be better known as the ones who got maize (corn), a tropical plant from Mexico, to grow well in what is now the US. The Mississippian culture, like Meso-America and the US, was built on maize. They reached their height in the 1100s in the city of Cahokia, near present-day St Louis.
Emerald Mound (pictured at top), built by the Natchez in about 1200, is the largest mound outside of Cahokia. On top they had a temple with idols and, most important of all, the eternal flame.
Religion: their high priest was also their absolute ruler, the Great Sun, brother of the Sun god. He was carried on a litter. When he died, his wives and servants were strangled (considered an honour) and his house burned. His successor was not his son but his oldest sister’s oldest son. The Natchez had shamans and believed in a heaven and hell.
Class: Below the Great Sun were four classes:
- Suns – the royals. Could put anyone to death. The women wore crowns of swan feathers.
- Nobles – high officials
- Honoured People
- Stinkards – commoners, never called Stinkards to their faces!
The higher your class, the more tattoos you had.
Class not caste: If you were not a Stinkard, you had to marry one! You could rise in class by being a good warrior. If the Natchez took you in war, you became a Stinkard. They had slaves, but they did not seem to be hereditary.
Origins: They say they came from the south-west. Many of their ways do seem to come from Meso-America, particularly the Maya, but unlike them they did not build with stone or write. Their language is of uncertain origin.
In 1542, Hernando de Soto arrived from Spain looking for gold. He tried to cow them by saying he was the Sun’s younger brother. They made him prove it by drying up the Mississippi River. When he failed, his not-so-merry band spread destruction. Even worse, they spread Eurasian diseases like influenza, smallpox, cholera, and chicken pox.
In 1716, 1723, and 1729 the French made war on them. The last was genocide. The Choctaw fought with the French but were shocked. Some of the Natchez were able to flee to the Chickasaws. In 1731 the French sent the remaining 400 in chains to Haiti to be sold as slaves.
In the 1830s the US government sent them on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma since by then they were living with the Cherokees, Chickasaws and Creeks. Most of the Natchez are still there in Oklahoma.
In 1965 the last native speaker of Natchez died, but by 2011 six were speaking the language again.
– Abagond, 2016.
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