|CHAPTER ONE -
CALIFORNIA INDIAN CULTURES
|New Terms in this Chapter:
||A local economy where
everything is shared.
||A group of people with
common beliefs, social patterns, and material traits.
||A catch-all term for
any group, which includes a tribe, a community of villages, or
even a culture.
||An ethnie that hunts
for and gathers natural foods as opposed to farming and raising
domestic plants and animals for food.
||Soaking in water to
remove unwanted materials.
||A group of cultures
with similar beliefs, social patterns, and material traits.
||General theme and
subject matter of a story.
||Ethnies that regularly
change the place they live to find food.
||A free-standing awning
with brush on top for shade.
||Ethnies that tended to
live in one place as opposed to nomadic.
||Medicine man or woman,
often uses supernatural powers.
distinctly California Indians, those of the Pacific slope, were unlike
most other Indians of North America. The Pacific slope is that area west
of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Mojave desert.
were several ways in which these California Indians were similar to each
other yet unlike other cultures of North America:
boundaries: Unlike most other Indian cultures of North
America, the Indians of California Pacific slope recognized
property lines. These boundaries were often the ridges of
mountains or were occasionally large rivers. Ethnies
would cross property lines to trade or socialize but almost
never to hunt or to gather food without the permission of the ethnie
that owned the property. To do so would certainly result in
||Acorn diet: The
California Indians relied on acorns as a staple of their diet.
Acorns were not important as a food source anywhere else in
North America except for parts of the northwest. Acorns
grow on oak trees, and they are gathered in the fall. They were
prepared by grinding them in a mortar and then leaching
them for several hours in running water. The resulting mush was
then cooked as is or baked into a cracker-like bread. Acorns do
not have much taste when prepared in this manner, but they are
an extremely healthy food.
||Peaceful nature: War
and conflicts were uncommon in California. Surely adequate
sources of food and natural property boundaries contributed to
this, but the people tended to be peaceful by nature. If a
disaster wiped out the food stores of a village, it was more
common for another village to give aid to that village than for
stealing or conflict to occur. The Mojave and Yuma ethnies of
the eastern desert (along the Colorado River) tended to be
warlike and were unlike the distinctly California Indians in
instruments: The most popular musical instruments were
clapper sticks, but whistles and flutes were common in some
ethnies. Clapper sticks were usually made from elderberry limbs,
but river cane or other woods were sometimes used.
||Food gathering: Most
observers consider California Indians to be sedentary
hunter/gatherers, but they were more than that. The California
Indians were forest managers. Each ethnie was responsible for
its own property. They not only cared for the current year’s
food, but food for future years, including food for fish and
animals with whom they shared their territory and on whom they
depended for food. Such an interdependent relationship between
ethnies and their immediate environment was uncommon in the
remainder of North America and did not include the ethnies along
the Colorado River who farmed corn, squash, and beans. Except in
the Northwest, most hunter/gatherers in other parts of North
America were not sedentary.
California Indians did not wear war bonnets, most did not beat drums,
and they did not dance war dances. There were ways, however, in which
California Indians were similar to other cultures of North America. All
made and used bows and arrows and made arrowheads, knives, and other
tools from stone. Many stories were similar across the breadth of the
continent. All native peoples of North America had a certain reverence
for and recognized the relationship of all things in nature. This was
called some variation of circularity, like the sacred hoop or many
circles. Nonetheless, even the most inexperienced observer would not
mistake any California Indian for a Cherokee or a Cheyenne or a member
of almost any other non-California ethnie.
were five macro-cultures in California, each separated from its
neighbors by mountains or vast deserts. There were a few ethnies that
lived in the mountain and desert borderlands, and they were transition
cultures and had cultural traits of more than one of their neighbors.
are the five macro-cultures of California. Three of these cultures are
distinctly Californian. The three distinctly California Indian cultures
||Southern - The
Southern macro-culture stretched from present San Luis
Obisbo south along the coastal rim into northern Baja California
and into the western Mojave Desert. This macro-culture
was comprised of nearly 300 self-governing villages of people
living mostly in domed wickiups. As many as10 different
languages were spoken among the Southern cultures. Their economy
was communal. Their most important ceremonies were their
annual mourning of the dead and ceremonies for young people when
they became adults. Their shamans had great knowledge of
using nature and plants to cure illness. The creation stories
among the coastal ethnies had a mother earth, father sky motif.
The motif for the inland ethnies centered around
quarreling brothers. Their favorite social activities were
"Bird Songs," group songs sung by men and danced to by
both men and women. They made fine coiled baskets for cooking
and as carriers. The Southern ethnies were: Cahuilla,
Chumash, Cupeño, Diegueño, Gabrielino, Juaneño, Kamia,
Kitanemuk, Luiseño, and Serrano.
||Central - The Central
macro-culture encompassed California’s central valley. It was
comprised of at least 9 different languages. They made fine
coiled baskets and lived in hundreds of self-governing villages
of either dome-shaped wickiups or conical bark houses. Their
most important ceremonies were the Kuksu (Kook - soo) dance
cycles and ceremonies honoring their two most important types of
shamans, rattlesnake and grizzly bear. Their creation stories
have a great flood motif in which a creature dives down into the
water for soil. The Central ethnies were: Cahto, Coast Yuki,
Costanoan, Huchnom, Maidu, Mattole, Miwok, Pomo, Wailaki, Wintu,
Yanan Tribes, Yokuts, and Yuki.
||Northwest California -
This macro-culture existed in the salmon rich valleys of the
Klamath, Eel, and Trinity Rivers and was comprised of at least 8
different languages. They relied heavily on salmon for food, but
acorns were a staple as well. They used dentalium shells for
money and wealth determined a person’s status in the culture.
Their houses were made of redwood planks with a small entry hole
to keep bears out. They had virtually no government. Their
shamans were females who often became rich as a result of their
services. All of their creation stories were a variation of the
man across the water motif. Their favorite ceremonies were the
Jump Dance and the White Deer Dance. The Yurok were most
certainly the hub of the culture. The Northwest California
ethnies were: Chilula, Chimariko, Eel River Tribes, Hupa, Karuk,
Lassik, Nongatl, Shasta, Tolowa, Whilkut, Wiyot, and Yurok.
two remaining California macro-cultures were not typical of most of
California’s Indian population. They were culturally tied, in a large
part, to the cultures to the east of California:
||Colorado River - The
Colorado River or Dream macro-culture was along the Colorado
River, which includes the eastern Mojave Desert, into Arizona
(including the Gila River Valley, and northern Sonora, Mexico).
They were comprised of four or more languages. They were
farmers, depending on corn, beans, and squash for food. The
motif of the Dream macro-culture’s creation stories was the
same as the inland Southern California macro-culture, which
centered around quarreling brothers. Their shamans were always
men. Their most important ceremonies were called "Dream
Songs." They lived in pit or earth houses that were
partially sunken into the ground. They were the only California
ethnies that were warlike in nature. The Colorado River ethnies
were: Chemehuevi, Halchidhoma, Kohuana, Mojave, and Yuma.
||Great Basin - The
Great Basin macro-culture stretched from California into eastern
Oregon, southern Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and northwestern Arizona.
It was mostly comprised of nomadic or semi-sedentary
hunter/gatherers who spent their lives foraging for food in the
arid basin. The Bear Dance was their most important ceremony,
and it was both social and spiritual. They traveled in small
family groups, many only coming together for the annual Bear
Dance. They spoke many languages and at least four in
California. The California ethnies in the Great Basin
macro-cultures were: Koso, Northern Paiute, Southern Paiute,
Washoe, and Western Shoshoni.
zones existed in California in the macro-culture borderlands. Ethnies in
those zones had small populations and adopted the cultural elements of
those neighbors with whom they had the most contact. The ethnies
inhabiting the California transitional zones were: Achomawi, Atsugewi,
Esselen, Kawaiisu, Salinan, and Tubatulabl.
|California Indian Houses
|Wickiup - Southern California
were thatched from tules or cattails. Their frames were usually made of
willows. They were green when they were first built but turned yellowish
brown as the materials dried out. Notice the smoke hole in the top of
the wickiup. One family would usually live in a wickiup, often including
grandparents. A village would include 5 to 15 wickiups, a sweat house,
and several ramadas if their were few trees for shade.
Redwood plankhouse - Northwest California macro-culture
The houses of the Northwestern California macro-culture were
made of redwood planks. The planks were cut and split with stone axes.
Usually one family lived in each house, including grandparents and
single adult children. If a woman got married and her new husband could
not afford the bride fee, he would live with her family for one year and
work for them. Salmon would be smoked inside the house to keep
animals from getting at the food.
Why did these houses have a small hole for their entry?
California Indian clothes:
Men, women, boys, and girls dressed alike throughout California. All
wore front and rear aprons. In southern California and in the drier
regions, cloth for the aprons was made from yucca fibers. Yucca fibers
were pounded between rocks, and the soft fibers were woven into aprons.
Fur was used in the north and mountain areas.
Capes and blankets were made from furs for the colder winter months.
Most California Indians went bare foot. Sometimes sandals were
made from the same yucca for walking on rocks or hot sand.
The most popular team game was stick ball, a game similar to field
hockey. Teams would try to hit a leather ball through the other team’s
goal. Rules varied from ethnie to ethnie, and usually, the older the
players, the rougher the game.
Children loved to shoot their bows and arrows. This was an important
skill that they would have to develop for hunting game when they grew
Other games included throwing a spear through a hoop and dice games.
The dice were made of bones.
Doll-like toys were often made for small girls and were woven out of
cattails or tules.
Chapter One Review Questions:
Yes or no, did most California Indians use drums for making
How many macro-cultures were there in California? ___________
What was the most important food of the distinctly California
Which California macro-culture was warlike? ___________________
Which California macro-culture relied greatly on salmon for food?
Yes or no, did the ethnies in the transition zones have large
Which macro-culture raised corn? ___________________________
What was the macro-culture of the ethnie who lived where you now
What was the most popular team game for California Indian
What is the term for the general theme and subject matter of a