Chumash (seashell people)

Rafael Solares, a Santa Inez Chumash man, 1878. Hayward & Muzzall, photographic artists, Santa Barbara, California

Who Are They?
The Chumash are a native people of Southern California who have historically lived in the coastal regions and islands of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The Chumash were a developed culture with deep roots in Southern California at the time of the arrival of Europeans, with some settlements dating back at least 10,000 years or more

What Did They Do?
Historically the Chumash were known throughout these regions for their prowess as hunter-gatherers and seafarers, building strong wooden plank canoes, or tomols, for fishing and trade. Like their neighbors to the southeast the Tongva, the Chumash are one of the few indigenous peoples on the west coast of America who regularly navigated the deep ocean. Chumash peoples were also well known for their skills in basket-weaving and bead-making.

What Did They Eat?
Not surprisingly, the Chumash diet and lifestyle was heavily dependent on the consumption of local fish and shellfish, and the Chumash developed a whaling practice as well with their tomols.

How Did They Live?
The Chumash lived in large domed huts built from reeds in much the same way as the Tongva, sometimes using whale bone as a support structure. Village structure became more complex over time in line with advances in basketry, stone pottery and food storage. The Chumash villages were  endowed with a shaman/astrologer, who charted the heavens and then allowed the astrologers to interpret and help guide the people. The Chumash believed that the world was in a constant state of change, with village decisions being made only after consulting the charts.

What Was Their Society Like?
The Chumash society became tiered over time and ranged from manual laborers to skilled crafters, to chiefs and shaman priests. Chumash villages did not have a lineage organization, most marriage was matrilocal, and women could serve as both chiefs and priests. Chieftains, known as wots, were usually the richest, and, therefore, the most powerful, and it was not uncommon for one chief to hold responsibility for several villages. The son or daughter could inherit this position of authority for the Chumash community when the chief died.