Chumash Indians


The Chumash cutural sphere encompassed a large portion of southern California; from Estero Bay in the north to Malibu Canyon in the south, and from the Santa Barbara Channel Islands in the west to the Carizzo Plain in the east. Campbell Grant(The Rock Paintings of the Chumash, 1993) estimates the Chumash population at the time of the missionaries (1770's) ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 individuals along the coast. There are no figures for populations of Chumash living in the mountainous regions of their territory, but these regions "must have supported a considerable number of small bands." (Grant)

Most of the rock art is found in the mountainous interior regions of the Chumash territory. The majority of sites are found in wind-blown caves and overhangs in sandstone formations. The paintings range from simple geometric symbols (e.g. circles, lines, cross-hatching), to complex and often bizarre anthropomorphic figures. There is much speculation regarding the purpose and meaning of the paintings, but one theory is that they are semi-abstract representations of supernatural beings painted by the shamans. The predominant color used in the paintings is red, but black, white, yellow and blue were also used.

The mild coastal climate provided a rich and varied diet for the Chumash including an abundance of fish, shellfish and marine mammals, including whales, seals and sea otters (Grant 1993). The plant and animal life in the rugged, chapparal-covered interior regions also provided food, clothing, tools and medicines for the Chumash. A major porion of their diet was provided by oak acorns. Pine nuts and the seeds of plants such as islay, manzanita, toyon and elderberry also were eaten. In addition, the smaller understory plants such as chia, miner's lettuce, sages and grasses also provided food. The mountainous interior region also supported a variety of animals which were hunted by the Chumash. Grizzly and Black Bear, Mule Deer, Mountain Lion, Fox, Coyote and Badger, Mountain and Valley Quail, Pigeons and Doves were all found in this area. The California Condor as well as Bald and Golden Eagles, were important spiritually to the Chumash people, and the feathers were used in making ceremonial paraphernalia.


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