Chumash people

Total population
Regions with significant populations
English • Spanish • formerly Chumashan languages
Traditional tribal religion,
Related ethnic groups
Barbareño, Ventureño,
Ynezeño, Purismeño, Obiseño[3]

The Chumash are a Native American people who historically inhabited the central and southern coastal regions of California, in portions of what is now San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, extending from Morro Bay in the north to Malibu in the south. They also occupied three of the Channel Islands: Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel; the smaller island of Anacapa was likely inhabited seasonally due to the lack of a consistent water source.[4][5]

Modern place names with Chumash origins include Cayucos, Malibu, Nipomo, Lompoc, Ojai, Pismo Beach, Point Mugu, Port Hueneme, Piru, Lake Castaic, Saticoy, Simi Valley and Somis.

Archaeological research demonstrates that the Chumash have deep roots in the Santa Barbara Channel area and lived along the southern California coast for millennia.


Chumash pictographs in Simi Valley dating to 500 AD.[6]

Chumash environment before European contact (A.D. 1400)

The Chumash resided between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the California coasts where rivers and tributaries abound. Inside and around the modern-day Santa Barbara region, the Chumash lived with a bounty of resources. The tribe lived in an area of three environments: the interior, the coast, and the Northern Channel Islands.[7] These provided a diverse array of materials to support the Chumash lifestyle.

The interior is composed of the land outside the coast and spanning the wide plains, rivers, and mountains. The coast covers the cliffs and land close to the ocean and, in reference to resources, the areas of the ocean from which the Chumash harvested. The Northern Channel Islands lie off the coast of the Chumash territory.

All of the California coastal-interior has a Mediterranean climate due to the incoming ocean winds.[8] The mild temperatures, save for winter, made gathering easy; during the cold months, the tribespeople harvested what they could and supplemented their diets with stored foods. What villagers gathered and traded during the seasons changed depending on where they resided.[9]

With coasts populated by masses of species of fish and land densely covered by trees and animals, the Chumash had a diverse array of food. Abundant resources and a winter rarely harsh enough to cause concern meant the tribe lived a sedentary lifestyle in addition to a subsistence existence. Villages in the three aforementioned areas contained remains of sea mammals, indicating that trade networks existed for moving materials throughout the Chumash territory.[10] Such connections spread out the land’s wealth, allowing the Chumash to live comfortably without agriculture.

Chumash diet before 1400 AD

The closer a village was to the ocean, the greater its reliance on maritime resources.[11] Due to advanced canoe designs, coastal and island people could procure fish and aquatic mammals from farther out. Shellfish were a good source of nutrition: relatively easy to find and abundant. Many of the favored varieties grew in tidal zones.[12] Shellfish grew in abundance during winter to early spring; their proximity to shore made collection easier. Some of the consumed species included mussels, abalone, and a wide array of clams. Haliotis rufescens (red abalone) was harvested along the Central California coast in the pre-contact era.[13] The Chumash and other California Indians also used red abalone shells to make a variety of fishhooks, beads, ornaments, and other artifacts.

Ocean animals such as otters and seals were thought to be the primary meal of coastal tribes people, but recent evidence shows the aforementioned trade networks exchanged oceanic animals for terrestrial foods from the interior. Any village could acquire fish, but the coastal and island communities specialized in catching not just smaller fish, but also the massive catches such as swordfish.[14] This feat, difficult even for today’s technology, was made possible by the tomol plank canoe. Its design allowed for the capture of deepwater fish, and it facilitated trade routes between villages.[14]

Before contact with Europeans, coastal Chumash relied less on terrestrial resources than they did on maritime; vice versa for interior Chumash.[15] Regardless, they consumed similar land resources. Like many other tribes, deer were the most important land mammal the Chumash pursued; deer were consumed in varying amounts across all regions, which cannot be said for other terrestrial animals. Interior Chumash placed greater value on the deer, to the extent that they had unique hunting practices for them. They dressed as deer and grazed alongside the animals until the hunters were in range to use their arrows.[15] Even Chumash close to the ocean pursued deer, though in understandably fewer numbers, and what more meat the villages needed they acquired from smaller animals such as rabbits and birds.

Plant foods composed the rest of Chumash diet, especially acorns, which were the staple food despite the work needed to remove their inherent toxins. They could be ground into a paste that was easy to eat and store for years.[16] Coast live oak provided the best acorns; their mush would be served usually unseasoned with meat and/or fish.[17]

The beginning of the Chumash tribe

Native Americans have lived along the California coast for at least 13,000 years. The first settlement started over 13,000 years ago near the Santa Barbara coast. The name Chumash means “bead maker” or “seashell people” being that they originated near the Santa Barbara coast. The Chumash tribes near the coast benefited most with the “close juxtaposition of a variety or marine and terrestrial habitats, intensive upwelling in coastal waters, and intentional burning of the landscape made the Santa Barbara Channel region one of the most resource abundant places on the planet”.[18] Before the mission period, the Chumash lived in over 150 independent villages, speaking variations of the same language. Much of their culture consisted of basketry, bead manufacturing and trading, cuisine of local abalone and clam, herbalism which consisted of using local herbs to produce teas and medical reliefs, rock art, and the scorpion tree.[19] The scorpion tree was significant to the Chumash as shown in its arborglyph: a carving depicting a six-legged creature with a headdress including a crown and two spheres. The shamans participated in the carving which was used in observations of the stars and in part of the Chumash calendar.

European contact

Europeans first visited the Chumash in 1542. They were met by sailing vessels under the command of Juan Cabrillo.[clarification needed] With the arrival of the Europeans “came a series of unprecedented blows to the Chumash and their traditional lifeways. Anthropologists, historians, and other scholars have long been interested in documenting the collision of cultures that accompanied the European exploration and settlement of the Americas.”[18] Spain settled on the territory of the Chumash in 1770. They founded colonies, bringing in missionaries to begin Christianizing Native Americans in the region. Due to the large mission and Christian influence, Chumash villages began moving to many missions springing up along the coast.

It is believed that much of the Chumash’s population was diminished due to Old World diseases brought over by the Europeans. The settlement of the Spanish may have also devastated the Chumash culture. Though other sources also cite the Spanish keeping good faith with the Chumash, sharing knowledge and various productive techniques with them. It is also believed that the Chumash simply disappeared as a result of displacement; due to lack of centralized population, which in turn lowers reproduction, or birth rates.

The Chumash reservation, established in 1901, encompasses 127 acres. No native Chumash speak their own language since Inesño, whose last speaker died in 1965. Today, the Chumash are estimated to have a population of 5,000 members. Many current members can trace their ancestors to the five islands of Channel Island National Park.

Other Languages
العربية: تشوماش
беларуская: Чумашы
bosanski: Ventureño
català: Chumash
Deutsch: Chumash
español: Chumash
français: Chumash
Bahasa Indonesia: Suku Chumash
italiano: Chumash
Nederlands: Chumash (volk)
norsk: Chumash
português: Chumash (tribo)
русский: Чумаши
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Chumash
suomi: Chumashit
Türkçe: Çumaşlar