Who Are The Chumash ?
The Native American that flourished in the Central Coastal California region before the arrival of European
settlers are now collectively know as the Chumash. Their territory extends from northern San Luis Obispo
County, inland east of New Cuyama, south to the Malibu area, and out to the Channel Islands archipelago.
Anthropologists are studying evidence that suggests that Chumash settlements out on the Channel Islands
were among the first habitations in North America.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural history houses a research and exhibition team that are undertaking
the most in-depth current studies of prehistoric Chumash life. As a Camp Internet Community Partner, the
Museum is working with us to present The Great Eagle Expedition, and we will rely on their research on
the Chumash to present an overview of Chumash life. The quotations below are from the Museum's
publication The Chumash People - materials for teachers and students, 1982.
" Like most California Indians, the Chumash were hunters and gatherers, dependent for their food on the
natural plants and animals of the region. They had a technology - the tools and techniques - for collecting,
processing and storing these foods efficiently. And they had a trade network, stretching from the Channel
Islands to the highest pine forests, which assured them access to the widest possible variety of foods all
year round. Because of their success in using the natural environment, they did not plant crops of corn,
beans and other vegetables as so many other American Indians did. Nor did they raise domestic animals.
The natural world was also the source for Chumash craft materials and tools. Their homes, beds and
baskets were made from locally gathered plants. Their grinding tools, knives, arrowheads and cooking pots
were made of stone. They used animal hides and bones for clothing, tools and musical instruments. Shells
were important for dishes, ornaments, even money. No resource was wasted. "
The Chumash are now internationally renowned for their prehistoric rock art, which is one of the most
colorful rock painting, or pictograph, forms of ceremonial art in the world. It is thought that the religious
leaders undertook special journeys into the foothills and mountains at auspicious times of the year, and
during these quests, painting empowering and protective symbols on the sandstone cave walls in rocks and
cliffs through out the mountains behind what in now Ventura, Ojai, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. It
is from this realm of supernatural spirits on human and animal form, that the Chumash Eagle mythologies
" The Chumash believed that all beings, both human and supernatural, were able to get and use power for
either good or bad purposes. Power, therefore, was seen as dangerous. A person could gain extra power
only if he or she knew the traditional and secret rules. One could try to get a dream helper - a powerful
plant [ Datura ], animal [ Eagle ], natural force [ Wind ], star or planet [ Sky Coyote who was the North
Star ] - for assistance.... Each helper could assist a person in various ways, depending on its real and mythic
powers. " These dream helpers were acquired only through a sacred ceremony performed by the tribal
shaman wherein the initiate would enter a mystical state through the use of dream-inducing plants, and
would discover their dream helper during this vision quest.
If you undertook such a vision quest, and found the eagle to be your dream-helper, what qualities do you
think the eagle would offer to you as a source of power ?
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