In beginning this topic on the Chumash Indians I take great care and appreciation for what I am about to write. I have great respect and honor for the native Americans and native peoples of a lot of different cultures such as the Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, native Hawaiian’s and other great civilizations that have been infringed upon by our European idealistic superiority. I begin to embark on this blog for Celeste and the challenge she returned to me after I desired her to expand on the Hawaiian culture in its rawest form which she did, entitling the Localism Featured blog “The History of Hawaiian Homes” which I invite you all to read.
This subject will predate the Spanish exploration of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, the first recorded European explorer of this area. The Chumash Indians in their native state is the subject of this blog, their history, their culture, and their lives.
The Chumash Indians are the natives of the area we now call the Central Coast of California, stretching South of Malibu CA, North of Cambria CA, into Big Sur, out to the Channel Islands, and inland to the San Joaquin Valley. Their culture, homes, and territories were well established with over 150 independent villages, 7,000 square miles and a population estimated at over 18,000. Science dates the first settlements in this area back to 11,000 B.C.
Chumash means “bead maker”, “Seashell people” or “the ones who make shell bead money” and were hunters, gatherers and fishermen. Like many cultures they recognized the life of nature and how the lives of their people depended on its providence. Ceremonies were set based on the times and seasons of the moon, and sun. Their father, the sun, was celebrated in his respective seasons and transition points we call the summer and winter solstices.
As one of the most advanced boat builders, the Chumash Indians used tar found naturally to strengthen the seagoing plank canoe boats (tomol) they built from native redwoods, and driftwood. Invented about 2,000 years ago and able to withstand the waves of our Pacific Ocean, these boats gave them travel up and down the coast line connecting culture and trade amongst the Chumash Indian villages. Each village had adapted cultures and resources in their distinct locations and sea shells were used as money to trade amongst the Chumash tribes.
Fine twined baskets, necklaces, jewelry, arrowheads, stone cookware, and seashell money are prevalent artifacts left by this culture. There are spots around where I live that you can be sure to find arrowheads and other artifacts after looking only a short while. A mound on a hill in Cambria is a known ceremonial ground of the Chumash. Burial grounds are scattered throughout the area, these locations are the sites of established villages. Food storage and the harvesting of crops allowed for these stationary societies to hunt, fish, and live in. Another site at a farm where I grew up was littered with old abalone shells, arrowheads, mortar and pestle remains and other treasures my family collected.
The Chumash were led by chiefs / priests (wots) of both men and women. The shamen / astrologers were knowledgeable in the changing of seasons and mapped the stars to guide the people into the future. The chief’s offspring was the inheritor of position, wealth, and ultimately supreme control of the tribe.
Chumash ceremonies were held at mounds, hills, caves or other special sites. Cave paintings can still be found depicting the events, animals and people that were part of their beliefs and rituals for generations. Most of these paintings are under 1,000 years old and are protected by the state. Their locations are even withheld to the public for the most part. One location can be visited in Santa Barbara call Painted Cave. More information about this and other Chumash facts can be found on a Santa Barbara based website: Chumash Indian Life.
Today the Chumash families and museums are found with collections of pictures and artifacts depicting culture before the Spanish Missions lined California and wiped the Chumash nearly into non existence. Some Santa Ynez Chumash have capitalized like other Native Americans on their ability to build gaming casinos; theirs is the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez. Find out more about the Santa Ynez Chumash.