Chumash Indians Essay Research Paper CHUMASH INDIANSThe

Chumash Indians Essay, Research Paper


The Chumash Indians were natives to the coastlands in California, from Malibu to Paso Robles, as well as on all three of the Northern Channel Islands. There were 150 independent villages with a total population of 18,000 people. People in the other regions spoke a little differently although the languages were similar. The villages were made of ceremonial grounds, semi subterranean sweathouses, cleared playing fields, storage huts, and round thatched dwelling houses up to fifty feet in diameter and able to hold as many as seventy people. Their homeland was first settled about 13,000 years ago and with time, the population got bigger so some of them started migrating to other coastlands of California. With all these other villages they had access to different resources, which they would trade with one another in different villages. Some of the major groups were the Obispe o, Purisme o, Yneze , Barbare o and Venture o (named after the Franciscan missions San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, La Pur sma Concepci n, and Santa Ynez. With all this trading going on among the Chumash villages, it would have taken many days to travel by foot. Living on the coastlands they invented a seagoing plank canoe or in their language a tomol . They invented the canoe about 2,000 years ago. The plank canoe was anywhere from eight feet to thirty feet and was made from driftwood or redwood. The sides of the plank canoe were about three to four planks high, and was glued in place with yop , a melted mixture of pine pitch and hardened asphalt. After the glue was dried they drilled holes into the seams of each side and then tying the boards together with plant fiber string made from Indian hemp, then the holes were filled up again with yop . When the canoe was all put together they would sand it down using sandstone and then finished with sharkskin; then the canoe was painted and decorated. The plank canoes could hold a crew of three and probably were big enough for ten people. Seawater would sometimes seep into the plank canoes, so one of the crewmembers would serve as the bailer. A young boy would usually serve as the bailer as the men paddled the plank canoes. It s not really known how long these canoes would last, it probably depended on how much wear and tear they experienced on the sea. The Chumash kept good care of the canoes, they would store them in moist shaded areas until they were ready to be used. They would check the canoes regularly and make repairs if necessary. They took good care of them as much as possible. The last Chumash canoes were made in about 1850. In 1913 an elderly Chumash man built a canoe for an anthropologist named John P. Harrington to show how they were built. In the past twenty years several of these canoes were built using John s notes to guide them. The Chumash Indians were also excellent basket weavers. The women had this role in the tribe. The baskets were made from whole juncos rush stems or split tule (bulrush). The Chumash used both twined and coiled weaving techniques. Out of this they made coiled baskets, trays, bowls of all sizes, hats, leaching basins, sieves, fish traps, cradles and water bottles. The foundation was a spiraling of three slender rods of juncos rush, wrapped and sewn together with split strands of the same material. The baskets were naturally straw tan in color with the designs in black. The juncos stalks were dyed black by burying them in dark mud, or by soaking them in water with acorns and a piece of iron. The natural reddish-orange base of the stalks was used separately to fill in designs, or even as the entire background color. The unique thing about the Chumash baskets was that they are able to hold water. By weaving their baskets tightly together, they were capable of holding water. Some of them were even used to boil water; water or soup stirred in a basket along with heated rocks would soon boil. Twined basketry bottles were less tightly woven but were coated on the inside with asphaltum to make them watertight. The Chumash, though, are most famous for these baskets. They even exported them to other tribes, even in pre-European times. The Chumash also had a form of money. Their money was the clamshell disk bead, and they were the bankers dealing in this currency, probably furnishing the bulk of the supply for the Southern half of California. The bead money was usually made from small disks, which were shaped from the olivella shell (also called the Purple Olive, a marine snail). The Indians who lived on the Channel Islands specialized in making the bead money, or in their language anchum . The name Chumash comes from the name the mainland Indians gave to the islanders. Chumash and anchum are related words, so Chumash originally means something like bead moneymakers. The value of the money depended on the labor invested to make it and the rarity of the shell that was used. They would measure the value of a strand of beads according to its length-how many times it would wrap around a person s hand. The Chumash lived in houses or aps which were round and shaped like half an orange. They placed willow poles in the ground in a circle, and they were bent at the top to form a dome. Then smaller saplings or branches were tied crosswise. They used bulrush or cattails to cover the outside in layers, starting at the bottom with each row overlapping the layer below it, almost like shingling a roof. A hole was left open at the top for circulation, when it rained they covered the hole with skin. On a good day the cooking was outside but when it rained the cooking was moved inside. A fire could be lit in the middle as well which provided warmth. The Chumash homeland offered a wide variety of food supplies. Most of their food came from the sea. They ate many kinds of wild plants, also hunted small and large animals for food. They didn t do any planting of corn or other crops like others did. The Chumash roasted meat and fish over the fire and made shellfish into soup. Chumash Indians also built a sweathouse or apa yik which was used to cleanse the body. The sweathouses were partially built underground, and only men usually used them. To get in you would climb through a ladder on the top of the sweathouse. The purpose of these was to cleanse the body and they served as a meeting place for men. Before hunting they would sit in the sweathouses burning herbs so the deer wouldn t smell the hunters scent. This was done also for health, cleanliness, and for purification. The Chumash men and women served different roles. The women would do the cooking, weaving of baskets, and gathering the herbs. The men would make the canoes, do the hunting, and building houses. Marriage in the tribes was different between men and chiefs. Chiefs could be married to as many people as they wanted because of how much power they had in a tribe. The men would move to the women s village and stay with her and her relatives. This happened because if the men ever came back to the tribe, they could share some of the knowledge they have learnt. They did not practice agriculture but lived well by fishing, and hunting small and large game and birds, they also gathered an enormous variety of wild foods, like acorns from the California oaks. The average life span for the Chumash was about thirty-five years old, or even less. Some elders survived into their seventies and eighties. Fernando Librado was the last known full-blooded island Chumash, died in 1915. The Chumash specialized in many skills they were curers, astrologers, canoe builders, basket and bead makers, soapstone carvers, woodworkers, and rock artists. Most of the Chumash were hunters, gathers, and fishermen. The Chumash Indians didn t wear much. Women would wear a two-piece skirt of deerskin or plant fiber. It hung about knee length and had a narrow apron in the front with a wider piece that wrapped around the back. Men and boys wore nothing at all or sometimes a belt or a small net at the waist for carrying tools they might need. During ceremonies there were special outfits with feathered skirts and headdresses. Rafael Solares photographed in 1878, chief or wot of the Inese o Chumash Community, in traditional dance outfit. His skirt is milkweed fiber twisted with white feather down. The headdress is a crown of feathers topped with magpie tails. A similar headdress and skirt can be viewed in the museum’s Chumash exhibit hall. The first contact with the natives was in 1592, when Cabrillo saw the prehistoric civilization of the Chumash Indians. He was the first Spaniard to sail along the Southern coast of California . There s not much recorded about the Chumash Indians because they didn t keep any records of the past. It wasn t until people like John P. Harrington started doing research in about 1912 a couple years before Fernando died, but even then most of it was forgotten. The Chumash Indians didn t write most of their history down. They kept they history of the tribe going in stories that were told at the campfires. And when people were interested, most of the storytellers of the tribe were dead.


Work Cited Chumash . Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago. Encyclopedia Britannic Inc, 1997. Volume 3 of Encyclopedia Britannica 24 Vols. Josephy Jr., Alvin M. 500 Nations Alfred A Knope. New York 1994. Ed. Duane Champagne. Chronology of Native American History . Gale Research Inc, Detroit 1994. Terrell, John Upton. American Indian Almanac . Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York 1834. Http://


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