Which Native Americans lived at San Luis Obispo and what were some of their customs?

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Cameron contacted us to say that he had a project due on “the Mission of San Luis Obispo” due in about ten days and “I have not be able to find answers to twoquestions:

1. Which Native Americans lived at San Luis Obispo and what were some of their customs?

2. What was life like for them and what were their responsibilities?

San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (the full name of the mission) was founded in the land of the Chumash people. The Chumash Indians occupied a large part of the coast from Malibu Canyon up to San Luis Obispo and inland as far as the western edge of the San Joaquin valley. They also occupied several of the Channel Islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz).

This map shows the location of the missions and villages in the land of the Chumash people.
This map shows the location
of the missions and villages in the
land of the Chumash people.

Ultimately five missions were founded in this territory: San Buenaventura (in present day Ventura), Santa Barbara, Santa Ines (in present day Solvang), La Purisima (in Lompoc) and San Luis Obispo. There were a number of Chumash languages and divisions. In the mission era the Chumash who lived around San Luis Obispo were called Obispino.

The Chumash were a remarkable people, known for the large plank canoes they constructed. These were called a tomol.

The tomol was very important to the Chumash way of life as they were avid fishermen and great traders. The Chumash were dependent on their food on wild plants and what they could catch. Acorns and other nuts were among their most important foods. The Chumash lived in villages. Each village had a playing field and a sweathouse.

Chumas in Plank Canoe (Outdoor Mural in Lompoc)
Chumas in Plank Canoe
(Outdoor Mural in Lompoc).

After the Chumash joined a mission their life became more regimented. The Native Americans in all the missions learned trades, raised crops and tended large herds of livestock. The women cooked and cleaned. They had to live at the mission.

There is more information on life at the missions on our website www.missionscalifornia.com. Navigate to Ask The Experts and look at the relevant questions and answers.

Cameron, you have time to learn more about the Chumash. Go to a library, a bookstore or the nearest mission and see what is available. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has a lot of publications on the Chumash. They publish a very interesting book California’s Chumash Indians. It cost $7.95.