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food
cooking
hunting/fishing tools
health
medicine
You are visiting Chumash Food, Cooking, Tools, Health and Medicine
          

:: FOOD ::

Seeds, baskets and hunting tools

The Chumash homeland offered a wide variety of food supplies. Their livelihood was based largely on the sea, and they used over a hundred kinds of fish and gathered clams, mussels and abalone.

The Chumash ate many kinds of wild plants and traded some among themselves. They also hunted both small and large animals for food. They did not plant corn or other crops as Indians elsewhere did.
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:: Cooking ::

pounding acorns

The Chumash roasted meat and fish over the fire and made shellfish into soup. Acorns, the most important plant food, took a long time to prepare. Dried, shelled acorns were ground to a powder with a stone mortar and pestle. acorn

The bitter tannic acid was removed by pouring water through the meal. Finally, the acorn flour was mixed with water in a tightly woven basket and cooked with red-hot stones placed into the liquid. While stirring the mixture, the liquid soon boiled and thickened. The Chumash ate this acorn soup with every meal. Other seeds were toasted and ground to a paste.
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serving bowl mortar and pestle

       
spear thrower

Follow this link to see a spear thrower in action

:: TOOLS :: (Hunting/Fishing)

What kinds of weapons, hunting tools, and fishing gear did the Chumash Indians use?
Abalone shell fishook Rafael Solares making stone projectile points, 1878. Stone-tipped arrows for deer hunting.

The Chumash used the bow and arrow beginning about 1,500 years ago. Before that, they used the spear thrower. They also used a harpoon with a detachable foreshaft for spearing large fish. They made curved, circular fishhooks from abalone and mussel shells for catching smaller fish.

Harpoon, fishnet

What tool was the most important one for the Chumash?

It is hard to say which tool was most important, because so many tools were used in their daily lives and all were useful. One of the most important tools was their plank canoe called the tomol. Tomols were used in ocean-fishing and to travel back and forth between coastal towns. These watercraft also were very important in trade between the islands and mainland.

Tomol replica, from a photo by Peter Howorth

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:: HEALTH ::

How long did Chumash Indians live?

Their lives were not as long as ours. The average life expectancy may have only been about 35, or even less, although that is similar to life expectancy of Europeans at the same period. Some elders survived into their 70s and 80s. Fernando Librado Kitsepawit

Chumash elder Fernando Librado Kitsepawit was born in 1839 at the San Buenaventura Mission and was the last known full-blooded island Chumash. He died in 1915 in Santa Barbara.

 

How did Chumash health change after the Spanish arrived?

After California became a Spanish colony, diseases were introduced that had a devastating effect on the Chumash, especially on very young children. Not too many people survived childhood, so the Chumash population declined rapidly. The worst epidemic of the Mission Period was a measles epidemic in the winter of 1806. It took many lives all up and down California. The Chumash had never experienced measles before the coming of the Europeans, so it was a deadly disease to them.
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:: MEDICINE ::

Were there doctors?

The Chumash had several kinds of doctors, or shamans. They believed that disease resulted from problems with a person's spiritual state, so they concentrated on healing the spirit. Songs and prayers, dietary restrictions, and special medicines were some of the treatments these doctors used. For more information about Chumash medicinal practices see Recommended Publications under Museum Resources.

medicine woman with datura flower
          

What was the Chumash Indians' medicine made out of?

There were many kinds of medicine. Besides bark, roots, and flowers of various kinds of plants, minerals were sometimes ground up, mixed with animal fat and painted on the sick person. Sea water was drunk as a purgative to clean the digestive system. Certain kinds of treatment required swallowing live red ants.

mugwort Giant Creek Nettle

Nettle was used as a treatment for rheumatism and paralysis. The shaman would make a bed of cut stalks then the patient would lie down and actively roll around; or by taking a handful of nettle stalks, the doctor would whip the body of the afflicted individual.

          

What were some of the Chumash plant medicines?

Nearly a hundred kinds of plants were used medicinally by the Chumash - willow bark for sore throats, elder flowers for colds, even poison oak to heal wounds!

One of the most powerful plants was called chuchupate. It was a root in the Carrot Family that grew high in the mountains. It was chewed to give a person strength and to ward off disease.

chuchupate Poison oak was used for healing. This plant can cause severe allergic reaction with skin contact

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This Tishle' blade is the only surviving example of a Chumash tomol paddle. The paddle was collected during Vancouver's visit to the Santa Barbara area in 1793 and presently resides in the British Museum collection.

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