Kauwets'a:ka - "People of the Water"

As Iroquoians, Meherrin people are closely related to the Tuscaroras and Nottoways.  We were once one people and shared a common language- Skaru:re (possibly with different dialects).  Today, most Meherrin Tribe Members have Tuscarora ancestry tracing back to the nearby Indian Woods Reservation.  In 1761, Meherrins were incorporated into the Tuscarora Nation.  As the community disbanded and relocated, our community moved back to the area of Meherrin Town.

The word, "Meherrin" is the Anglicized version of an Algonquin word, used by our neighbors to describe us. Because the colonists met our neighbors before they met us, they used their word to describe us, and this is why we are still called Meherrin to this day.  

Meherrins refer to ourselves as Kauwets'a:ka today, and historically.  This was also the name of our primary village near Emporia, Virginia, and the name Tuscaroras used to refer to us.

As laid out in detail below, there have been many variations in the spelling of our name, Kauwets'a:ka, which was also the name of our primary village.  To summarize:

Blair Rudes (author of the Tuscarora-English Dictionary) identified the spelling of "Kawęčʔá:ka:ʔ".  The simplified spelling of Kauwets'a:ka (based on Rudes' and Hewitt) was developed by Meherrin Tribal member Rahahe'ti David Webb, working with Chief Wayne Brown, and was later voted on and adopted by Meherrin Tribal Council in 2011.  This way, we have determined our own identity.  Since this time, this spelling has been used on maps and in many other documents. 


Kauwets'a:ka (pronounced Cauwintch-AAga)

References to our name:

Cowinchahawkon/ Cowonchahawkon, the Meherrin village located near Emporia Virginia, was pronounced Kauwets'a:ka, or Akawęč?á:ka:? which are used interchangeably as spellings.  (Rudes,  Blair A. Cowinchahawkon/ Akawęč?á:ka:?: The Meherrin in the Nineteenth Century.  Algonquin and Iroquoian Linguistics. 6 (3) PAGES 32-34.  London, Ontario). 

Cowinchehoccauk was identified as a Meherrin village name in North Carolina, in 1711.  This was a different location than the one by the same name in Virginia, indicating the name of the people, not the village.  The village in Virginia was abandoned in 1680.

o   Kauwetsaka/ Kauwetseka- a term that has been used interchangeably with Akawenchaka (Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . University of Michigan. 1910. p 33). 

o   Akawenc'aì:ka'- Tuscarora word for the Meherrin Tribe (Rudes,  Blair A. Tuscarora-English, English-Tuscarora. 1999. pages 36, and 682). 

o "Kauwetsaka- Cusick (1825) quoted by Macauley, N. Y., n, 178, 1829 (mentioned as a settlement in N.C.). "Kauwetseka" Cusick, Sketches Six Nations, 34, 1828.”  (Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . University of Michigan. 1910. p 33).

o  "The six family (of Iroquois) made resident near the mouth of Neuse river, in North Carolina, and became three tribes, the Kautanohakau, Kauwetsaka, and Tuscarora, and united into a league and were at war with the Nanticokes, and totally on the sea shores.”  (Cusick, David. Sketches of the Ancient History of the Six Nations. 1828.  page 43) 

o  “Akawěñtc'ākā'  (Onondaga: A-ka-we"ch-ha-ka). A small band that formerly lived in North Carolina, now numbering about 20 individuals, incorporated with the Tuscarora in New York. They are not regarded as true Tuscarora. Hewitt, Onondaga MS., B. A. E., 1888.  (Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . University of Michigan . 1910. p 33)   * note: Meherrins were taken into the Iroquois Confederacy and a number of Meherrin people migrated to live among them in New York and Canada (see History page, 1802).



The above photo shows the site of the primary Meherrin village near present-day Emporia Virginia, was called “Cowonchahawkon” and “Cowinchehoccauk,” by the colonists but was in fact "Kauwets'a:ka."  The English often mispronounced or misspelled Iroquois words.

From Blair Rudes, author of the Tuscarora-English Dictionary:

"A comparison of the town name (Cowinchahawkon) with the name Akawęč?a·ka·? shows them to be essentially identical. 

The graphic representation of the cluster / c?/ by -chah- is not unusual as an epenthetic vowel is often heard in such clusters. David Cusick (Sketches of the Ancient History of the Six Nations, 1828) records Kauwetseka for Akawęč?a·ka·?, suggesting that the initial A- of Hewitt's form may be gratuitous (see also Hewitt, BAE-B 30, Vol. 1, p. 33)."

(Rudes,  Blair A. Cowinchahawkon/ Akawęč?á:ka:?: The Meherrin in the Nineteenth Century.  Algonquin and Iroquoian Linguistics. 6 (3) PAGES 32-34.  London, Ontario). 


The meaning of Kauwets'a:ka:

o   "Ka"/ "Kau" -archaic gender neutral meaning, "it"
o   “Awe” meaning, "water"
o   “A:ka” is a “locative suffix” in most Iroquois languages. At the end of a word, it denotes “people” or “people of a place.”

Therefore, Kauwets'a:ka means “People of the Water.”  This is the closest translation we have, although the word may have indicated a certain type of water at our village site.

The Tuscarora/Meherrin word for mud is “u-gi-squa”  or  “u-na-re-we” these, and other terms of similar meaning do not seem to fit with the term “Muddy Water People” as some have claimed. 

There is no source which states that Kauwets'a:ka, or any disambiguation contains the word for "Muddy."  Additionally, there is a good possibility that the "Muddy Water" misnomer was due to confusion with a different Iroquois nation. The Conestoga/ Susquehanna were called Sasquesahanough by the Algonquians, and later Susquehannock by the English. The Algonquin term Sasquesahanough in fact means “People of the Muddy River.” There may have been confusion with the application of this term.  (Kent, Barry C. Susquehanna's Indians. Harrisburg: The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1984.)

An alternative translation for Cowonchahawkon” and “Cowinchehoccauk may be "Kawęnč'a:ka" indicating, "People of the Dawn":

o   "Ka" -archaic gender neutral meaning, "it"
o   "węn” root for, "day"
o   “A:ka” is a “locative suffix” in most Iroquois languages. At the end of a word, it denotes “people” or “people of a place.”

© 2011. Content copyright 2011. Meherrinnation.org, research and writing by Rahahet'i David Webb  All rights reserved