Piscataway Culture and Present Life

  • April 15, 2019      Friendly Borders Staff

Annapolis – Maryland houses the continuing tribal communities of the Piscataway people, well-known as a small Algonquian tribe related to the Nanticoke. They are a long-established tribal nation of Native Americans who are not only living on the western shores of Chesapeake Bay but also in Prince George’s County and St. Mary’s County, which are near Baltimore and Washington, DC.

Identification, Culture, and Practices

The Piscataway are also known as Piscataway Conoy or Piscatawa. They are said to be made up of three bands, namely, the Beaver Band, Cedarville Band, and the Turtle Band. These bands are considered as a social and cultural subgroup of this ethnic tribe. In each of these bands are a number of families which are led by an elected leader and even a group or council of elders.

According to history, the Piscataway hunted, fished, and farmed as their means of getting food. Later on, when pottery became known to them, they stored their food as well as seeds for planting in pots. As their population increased, the communities started to maintain a system of collecting and providing more food for everyone. They were able to farm corn, as well as varieties of beans, pumpkins, and squash. Their means of agriculture made it possible for the villages to grow into a permanent settlement for the people. Moreover, the Piscataway also became active in trading, and they traded food, tools, and even weapons with other neighboring tribes.

Language Extinction

There are clear records on the Piscataway people’s way of living and identification, but the record isn’t as clear when it comes to their language. There are few records remaining of the tribe’s language, but one thing is clear, their language is closely related to Nanticoke and may even be a dialect of that same language. This conclusion was made from the little available evidence from both languages. The tribe’s language was identified after gathering Delaware dialects which were spoken before in the area of what is now known as Virginia.

The people’s language is considered as an extinct Eastern Algonquian language. The decline in the remaining knowledge of the original language happened as the tribe became infected with European diseases after their colonization. This kind of interaction and exposure to foreign language as well as diseases among the community may even be dated as early as the 1630s, and the eastern tribes were one of the first to experience these. The turn of events led to the merging of the tribes with other neighboring ones. Many of their people migrated to the north and merged with the Lenape people of New Jersey. The rest of the Piscataway people stayed in their tribal communities in Maryland but with little idea of their lost language. Moreover, joining other tribes made it difficult for the Piscataway to continue using their own language, and more so in sharing this knowledge to the younger generation. The language simply got forgotten and replaced by the language more often used by the villagers and their neighboring communities.

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