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Cupeno Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Cupeno Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Cupeno Indian homepage for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Cupeno pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Cupeno Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Cupeno"? What does it mean?
Cupeno, also spelled Cupeño, is pronounced koo-pane-yoh. This was the Spanish name for the tribe, which they took from a Native place name, Kupa.

Where do the Cupenos live?
The Cupeno are a California Indian tribe, located in the center of California. Most Cupeno people still live in this area today.

How is the Cupeno Indian nation organized?
Like many California Indians, the Cupenos were placed in reservations together with other Mission Indians from different tribes. A reservation is land that belongs to an Indian tribe and is under their control. However, since most Cupeno people share reservations with people from other tribes, they have to share that control as well. Each Mission Indian reservation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country.

In the past, Cupeno people did not have a centralized government. Each clan had its own leader, and when a village or band wanted to solve broader problems, the clan leaders needed to meet and come to an agreement, because none of the clans had authority over each other. Today, Cupeno people are led by council members elected by all the people on the reservation (both Cupeno and non-Cupeno.)

What language do the Cupenos speak?
Cupeno people all speak English today, but there are some people, especially elders, who also speak some of their native Cupeno language. If you'd like to know an easy Cupeno word, miyaxwa (pronounced similar to "mee-yukh-wuh") is a friendly greeting.

What was Cupeno culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's an article about Cupeño culture and history written by the Pala Band of Mission Indians. On their site you can find information about the Cupeno people in the past and today.

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How do Cupeno Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Cupeno children like to go hunting with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Cupeno kids enjoyed footraces. A Cupeno mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back. Here is a website with pictures and information about baby boards.

What were Cupeno men and women's roles?
Cupeno men were hunters and warriors, responsible for feeding and defending their families. Cupeno women did most of the child care, cooking, and cleaning, and also made most of the clothing and household tools. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Cupeno homes like in the past?
Most Cupeno people lived in earthen homes, which are made of an undergound room covered by a wooden frame packed with clay and brush. The thick earth walls kept this kind of house cool in the heat and warm in the cold, making it good shelter in the desert.

Cupeno people do not live in these old-fashioned dwellings today, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Cupeno families live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Cupeno clothing like? Did the Cupenos wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Originally, Cupeno people didn't wear much clothing-- men wore only native loincloths, and women wore knee-length skirts. Shirts were not necessary in Cupeno culture, but the Cupenos sometimes wore rabbit-skin robes at night when the weather became cooler. Unlike most Native American tribes, the Cupenos rarely wore moccasins. They either went barefoot or wore sandals. Here are some photos and links about Indian traditional dress in general.

Cupeno men did not wear Indian headdresses like the Sioux. Cupeno women wore basket hats, and men went bare-headed. Traditionally, Cupeno men and women both wore their hair long. The Cupenos wore Native American tattoos that showed their clan affiliations, and they also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, Cupeno people wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Cupeno transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Cupeno Indians weren't coastal people, and rarely traveled by river. Usually they just walked. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe. Once Europeans brought horses to America, the Cupenos could travel more quickly than before.

What was Cupeno food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Cupenos were hunter-gatherers, and moved from place to place frequently as they gathered food for their families. Cupeno men hunted deer, rabbits, and small game. Cupeno women gathered acorns, nuts, beans, and fruits. They baked bread from specially prepared acorn flour, or sometimes from corn they got from trade. Here is a website with more information about Indian food recipes.

What were Cupeno weapons and tools like in the past?
Cupeno hunters used bows and arrows or set snares. Cupeno warriors fired their arrows or used war clubs. Here is a website with information about Native American weapons.

What other Native Americans did the Cupeno tribe interact with?
The Cupenos traded frequently with neighboring tribes, such as the Luiseno, Cahuilla, and and Tongva tribes. The Southwest Indian trade routes ran from Southern California all the way east to Santa Fe, so the Cupenos were able to trade for many items that were not available in their own environment.

What are Cupeno arts and crafts like?
Cupeno artists are known for their Indian basketry, pottery, and sandpainting. Here is a museum website showing photographs of Cupeno and other Mission Indian baskets from the Morongo Reservation.

What kinds of stories do the Cupenos tell?
There are lots of traditional Cupeno legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Cupeno Indian culture. Here is one story about a Cupeno hero and his pet bear. Here's a website where you can read more about Cupeno mythology.

What about Cupeno religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Cupeno life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Cupeno people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Cupeno rituals or this site about Native American religious beliefs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
We don't know of any good children's books about the Cupenos. Mulu'Wetam: the First People is an excellent book of Cupeno oral history in general. It is a complex book including linguistic information and many historical details, but it also includes several Cupeno stories for children. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended books about American Indians.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Cupeno Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Cupenos

Cupeno Indian Tribe
An overview of the Cupeno people, their language and history.

Cupeno Language Resources
Cupeno language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Cupeno Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Cupeno tribe past and present.

Cupeno Words
Cupeno Indian vocabulary lists.

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Return to our list of Indian tribes
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