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The Chumash World at European Contact

The Chumash World at European Contact: Power, Trade, and Feasting Among Complex Hunter-Gatherers

Lynn H. Gamble
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    The Chumash World at European Contact
    Book Description:

    When Spanish explorers and missionaries came onto Southern California's shores in 1769, they encountered the large towns and villages of the Chumash, a people who at that time were among the most advanced hunter-gatherer societies in the world. The Spanish were entertained and fed at lavish feasts hosted by chiefs who ruled over the settlements and who participated in extensive social and economic networks. In this first modern synthesis of data from the Chumash heartland, Lynn H. Gamble weaves together multiple sources of evidence to re-create the rich tapestry of Chumash society. Drawing from archaeology, historical documents, ethnography, and ecology, she describes daily life in the large mainland towns, focusing on Chumash culture, household organization, politics, economy, warfare, and more.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94268-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER 1 The Chumash at a Crossroads: Theoretical Considerations
    (pp. 1-16)

    Imagine how impressed Father Juan Crespí and the soldiers that accompanied Captain Gaspar de Portolá must have been as they marched into the Santa Barbara Channel region during the first land expedition to Alta California, while in search of the harbor of Monterey. They saw large towns¹ with houses lined up in rows packed closely together. As they passed these settlements with house roofs piled high with barbecued fish (Brown 2001:391), they were entertained and fed by the Chumash. The Spanish were offered so much fish and other food that they threw some away (Brown 2001:409). This was only weeks...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Environment and Its Management
    (pp. 17-36)

    Crespí was impressed with the lush environment and fine soils he saw as he approached the Goleta Slough on his journey to Monterey. In search of appropriate locations for a mission, Crespí often remarked on the suitability of a region for agricultural pursuits. Crespí and other late eighteenth century chroniclers provide detailed descriptions of the resources and environment in the Santa Barbara Channel region at the time Chumash culture was thriving. In this chapter, we look at the ecological setting of the channel region based on historical and more recent accounts in the context of the Chumash as environmental managers....

  6. CHAPTER 3 Cultural Setting
    (pp. 37-64)

    Crespí’s description of the inhabitants of the region around the Santa Barbara Channel in 1769 provides an accurate overview of the Chumash, who subsisted, in part, on fish that were caught with the aid of the plank canoe. But what about thousands of years ago? Did the Chumash occupy the same general region? Some of the earliest evidence for human occupation of the Santa Barbara Channel region is from the northern Santa Barbara Islands. Human remains from Arlington Springs (SRI-173) on Santa Rosa Island have yielded approximate dates of 11,000 cal BC (Johnson et al. 2002) and the earliest deposits...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Historic Chumash Settlements on the Mainland Coast
    (pp. 65-112)

    The Spanish had observed other Indian villages in both Baja and Alta California, but none as spectacular as the densely populated coastal Chumash towns, with their houses neatly arranged in rows. As Crespí marched from Ventura northwest along the Santa Barbara Channel coast, he noted that the towns became ever more populous, until they arrived at the Goleta Slough, where the greatest number of people were encountered in the Chumash region (see initial quote in chapter 1). In this chapter, we take a closer look at some of the settlements that so impressed Crespí and his companions.

    Reconstructing the populations...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Village and Household Organization
    (pp. 113-150)

    Crespí and other members of the expedition had the unusual opportunity to view the interior of several Chumash houses before the Europeans colonized the region. Crespí was impressed with the spacious appearance of the interior of the houses with their raised beds. He observed women busy cooking and making baskets, but did not refer to any men in the houses.

    Crespí’s observations serve as a starting point for this chapter, where life in a typical Chumash household along the mainland coast in the 1700s is examined. Ethnohistoric, ethnographic, and archaeological data are used to explore strategies of social organization, including...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Subsistence and Feasting
    (pp. 151-190)

    The Chumash repeatedly held lavish feasts for the Portolá expedition as the expedition passed through their territory (see chapter 4 for descriptions). Feasts such as these required the coordination of large numbers of people to gather, process, and serve the foods. Based on early historic accounts (see Brown 2001), foods served at feasts in the mainland coastal towns included fish, seeds, berries, mush (probably acorn), gruel, sage, and a “sort of honeydew … commonly yielded from reed grass patches … ” (Crespi in Brown 2001:365). The latter food was probablypanoche, a type of sugar that is deposited by aphids...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Rank, Ritual, and Power
    (pp. 191-222)

    Crespí describes an imposing chief whose authority was recognized throughout the region. He dressed in a full-length otter skin cape and was accompanied by men armed with bows and arrows, and villagers provided him “tribute” in the form of food. Few such detailed descriptions of chiefs exist from the early historic period, but the accounts that are available indicate that a chief’s power extended beyond the confines of his or her own settlement. The exact nature and full extent of that power is not well understood and is a subject of some debate (Arnold 2001a,b; Gamble et al. 2001, 2002;...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Economics and Exchange: Manifestations of Wealth Finance
    (pp. 223-248)

    Longinós Martínez was impressed with the Chumash proclivity for trade and the use of shell bead money. When the Spanish first encountered them, the Chumash practiced a system of wealth finance involving exchanges of prestige goods, a system that was partially supported by extensive marriage ties linking settlements in different ecological zones. Chiefs and other powerful individuals amassed considerable wealth in the form of prestige goods, large stores of food, feasting vessels, shell bead currency, and plank canoes. Chumash chiefs maintained extensive network systems that revolved around cyclical ceremonial feasts that were orchestrated with the help of apaxaor...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Conflict and Social Integration
    (pp. 249-274)

    Conflict among the Chumash was rife at the beginning of historic contact. Descriptions of the ravages of warfare,55such as the quotation above from Crespi, are prevalent in the early accounts written by explorers and priests. Recently, discussions about warfare in pre-state societies in North America have proliferated (Haas 1999, 2001; Keeley 1996; Lambert 1997, 2002; Leblanc 1999, 2003; Leblanc and Rice 2001; Walker 2001), and a large body of bioarchaeological data has now been examined in order to address questions concerning the causes and evolution of warfare. Despite this knowledge, warfare among the Chumash and in many other California...

  13. CHAPTER 10 The Chumash, Pomo, and Patwin: Comparative Analysis and Final Thoughts
    (pp. 275-302)

    The Chumash along the Santa Barbara Channel mainland coast were thriving and prosperous when first encountered by the Spanish. Although cyclical droughts and El Niño events repeatedly challenged them, they had developed successful coping strategies after living in an unpredictable environment for thousands of years. In this final chapter, I briefly review the evidence that clearly characterizes the Chumash as complex hunter-gatherers (Ames and Maschner 1999). This will serve as background for a discussion of the relationship between resource abundance, adaptive mechanisms that cope with environmental stresses, and the emergence of social complexity. Finally, I address two fundamental issues raised...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 303-308)
  15. References
    (pp. 309-344)
  16. Index
    (pp. 345-360)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-362)