[Untitled]‎ > ‎Southern‎ > ‎

Chumash Indians

Name: The name comes from a Chumashan word referring only to the people of Santa Cruz Island. Each group had its own name for itself however.

Location: The Southern California Coast and the Santa Barbara Channel Islands is where most of the villages were located. The villages along coastline, on the islands and in the interior had access to different resources, which is why they traded with one another. The Chumash house, or 'ap, was round and shaped like half an orange. It was made by setting willow poles in the ground in a circle. The poles were bent in at the top, to form a dome. Then smaller saplings or branches were tied on crosswise.

Clothing: For everyday the Chumash didn't wear much clothing. Women usually wore a two-piece skirt of deer skin or plant fiber. It hung to about knee length and had a narrow apron in 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. In cold weather, people might wear capes of animal skins for warmth. A chief often wore a waist-length bearskin cape as a sign of his special status. For festival occasions, the Chumash wore more body paint and jewelry. Dancers and singers at ceremonies had special outfits with feathered skirts and headdresses.

Food: Their diet was based largely on the sea, and they used over a hundred kinds of fish and gathered clams, mussels and abalone. The Chumash roasted meat and fish over the fire and made shellfish into soup. Acorns, the most important plant food, took a long time to prepare. Dried, shelled acorns were ground to a powder with a stone mortar and pestle. The Chumash were a hunter-gatherer tribe, and even though they were sedentary, they did not farm the land.

What They’re Known For: They were a matriarchal society, meaning their lineage was traced from the mother's side of the family, and that the Chief could be either a man or a woman. They were also considered to be the keepers of the Western Gate, and took this responsibility very seriously, which is probably why knowledge of their respect of nature is remembered as one of their defining traits. The Chumash had a rich spiritual heritage, most of which has been documented through their magnificent pictographs and petroglyphs, songs, dances, and legends. In addition to the plank canoe, the Chumash are known for their fine basketry, their mysterious cave paintings and their money made from shells.

Ceremonies/Traditions/Rituals: The Chumash had several kinds of doctors, or shamans. They believed that disease resulted from problems with a person's spiritual state, so they concentrated on healing the spirit. Songs and prayers, dietary restrictions, and special medicines were some of the treatments these doctors used. Besides bark, roots, and flowers of various kinds of plants, minerals were sometimes ground up, mixed with animal fat and painted on the sick person. Sea water was drunk as a purgative to clean the digestive system. Certain kinds of treatment required swallowing live red ants.

    Long ago, when animals were people, there was a little boy whose mother and stepfather wouldn't give him anything to eat, though they had plenty for themselves. So the boy went off to find his own food and met another boy who was also abandoned. Raccoon came along, felt sorry for the two boys, and helped them dig roots to eat. In the next few days, five more hungry abandoned boys came by, and they all went to stay with Raccoon in the temescal (sweathouse). Finally they decided to go north and take Raccoon with them. So they sprinkled themselves with goose down and sang songs. For three days they went around the temescal, singing and rising higher and higher off the ground. But Raccoon couldn't fly even though he was covered with goose down. All the mothers came to see the boys and begged them to come down, but they refused. They all turned into geese and flew away to the north, to become the seven stars we call the Pleiades. And when geese cry, they sound just like a little boy.

Current Status With Government: The Chumash have no land to call their own, as most Chumash bands have not, with the exception of the Santa Ynez Samala band,  yet made the list of federally recognized tribes.