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Chumash Indian Fact Sheet

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

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   Chumash Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Chumash"? What does it mean?
Chumash is pronounced "choo-mosh." This was originally the name of the Chumash band who lived on the Santa Barbara islands, and meant "shell bead people." Today it is used to refer to Chumash bands on the mainland as well.

Where do the Chumashes live?
The Chumash are natives of Southern California. Most Chumash people are still living in this area today.

How is the Chumash Indian nation organized?
There are several different Chumash bands, each one with its own leadership and traditions. One of these bands, the Santa Ynez Chumash, has their own reservation. Indian reservations are lands that belong to the tribes and are under their control. Other Chumash people live on shared tribal lands with other Southern California Indians, such as the Tejon Indian Tribe, or in mixed communities throughout their traditional territories.

In the past, each Chumash village was ruled by its own chief, who was similar to a mayor. Village chiefs were chosen from important and wealthy Chumash families by village elders, and could be either men or women. Today, Chumash bands are led by elected tribal councils.

What language do the Chumash Indians speak?
Chumash people speak English today. There are elders who also remember some of their traditional Chumash language, and some young Chumash people are interested in learning to speak their language again. Chumash is a complex language with many long words. If you'd like to know an easy Chumash word, "haku" (sounds like hah-koo) is a friendly greeting in Chumash. You can also read a Chumash picture glossary here.

What was Chumash culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Santa Ynez Chumash Tribe. On their site you can find information about the Chumash people in the past and today.

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How do Chumash 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 Chumash children like to go hunting and fishing 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. One favorite Chumash children's game was a contest to throw a javelin through a rolling hoop. Chumash kids also enjoyed swimming on the beaches. A Chumash mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard basket, like the one depicted here. Here are some more pictures and information about Native American baby baskets.

What were men and women's roles in the Chumash tribe?
Chumash men were fishermen and hunters, and sometimes they went to war to protect their families. Chumash women ground acorn meal, did most of the cooking and child care, and wove baskets. Both genders took part in storytelling, music and artwork, and traditional medicine. A Chumash chief could be either a man or a woman.

What were Chumash homes like in the past?
Chumash people lived in grass houses, which are made of a domed wooden frame thatched with grass. Some of these houses were quite large (fifty feet in diameter) and could house an entire extended family.

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

What were Chumash clothes like? Did the Chumashes wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Originally, Chumash people didn't wear much clothing-- women wore only knee-length grass or deerskin skirts, and men usually went naked except for a ceremonial belt. Shirts were not necessary in Chumash culture, but the Chumashes sometimes wore deerskin capes or feather robes when the weather became cooler. Unlike most Native American tribes, the Chumashes never wore moccasins. They either went barefoot or wore sandals. Here are some photos and links about traditional Indian clothing in general.

The Chumashes did not wear Indian warbonnets like the Plains Indians. Men usually went bare-headed, while women wore fez-shaped basket hats. Both men and women wore their hair long and flowing. The Chumashes painted their faces for special occasions. They used different colors and patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, Chumash people wear modern clothes like jeans instead of grass skirts... and they only wear traditional regalia for special occasions like a dance.

What was Chumash transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Chumash built a unique kind of plank canoe called tomol in their own language. Unlike the canoes of other Indian tribes, Chumash boats were made of wooden planks sealed with natural asphalt. Here is an article about Native American canoe styles.

What was Chumash food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Chumashes were fishing people. Chumash men caught fish, seals, otters, and clams from their canoes, while Chumash women ground acorn into meal for bread and gathered nuts, fruits, and herbs. Here is a website with more information about Native Americans food.

What were Chumash weapons and tools like in the past?
Chumash hunters used bows and arrows, and fishermen used nets, harpoons, and fishing hooks. The Chumash were not known as an especially warlike tribe, but when they did have to fight, Chumash warriors usually fired their bows. Here is a website with pictures and information about American Indian weapon types.

What other Native Americans did the Chumash tribe interact with?
The Chumashes traded regularly with other tribes of Southern California, particularly coastal communities such as the Gabrielinos. Chumash beads, carved from seashells, were popular trade items with other tribes.

What are Chumash arts and crafts like?
Chumash artists are known for their Native American basket weaving, wood carvings, and rock paintings. Here is a good site about Chumash cave paintings.

What kinds of stories do the Chumashes tell?
There are lots of traditional Chumash legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Chumash Indian culture. Here are some Chumash stories about the sky. Here's a website where you can read more about Chumash mythology.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy The Beginning of the Chumash, a book of Chumash oral history that is suitable for kids. Younger children may like The Sugar Bear Story, a picture book of a traditional Chumash legend. If you want to know more about Chumash culture and history, three good choices are Chumash Native Americans, The Chumash, Seafarers of the Pacific Coast, and The Chumash of California. You can also browse through our recommendations for the best Indian books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

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 Chumash Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Chumashes

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

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

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

Chumash Words
Chumash Indian vocabulary lists.

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