Native Americans of Santa Barbara

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Mission Santa Barbara was the third mission located in the land of the Chumash people. In the mission era the Native Americans who lived at this mission were called Barbareño (after the mission). Barbareño is considered one of the three linguistic /geographic entities of the Eastern Coastal Chumash. 1

The Chumash were an exceptional group of Native Americans who the Spanish found ”of good disposition, affable, liberal, and friendly" and "extremely intelligent and skillful" according to Professor Campbell Grant. The Chumash lived in well organized coastal villages whose hemispherical houses were a marvel. The Chumash also had advanced woodworking skills, evident in their planked seagoing canoes, called tomols. The canoes measured between 8' and 30' and were made of driftwood or redwood.2

CHUMASH TOMOL

CHUMASH TOMOL
From 1992 Drawing by Robert Thomas and a Team of Lompoc Artists

This was an artistic, creative people. Chumash basketry was exceptional. Their coiled baskets were popular gifts during the mission era. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has the largest collection in the world.3

The Chumash rock paintings, mostly found in caves in the interior of the Chumash land, are considered "the most interesting and spectacular in the United States" according to Grant. These sites are sacred and not open to the general public. You can view an original painting at the Painted Cave State Historic Park near Santa Barbara.

CHUMASH ROCK PAINTING

CHUMASH ROCK PAINTING
© Mark Arnold

The Chumash neophytes at Mission Santa Barbara fashioned a creature on the mission lavenderia, said by some to be a lion, by others a lizard.

CREATURE AT BASE OF RECREATED MISSION LAVENDERIA

CREATURE AT BASE OF RECREATED MISSION LAVENDERIA
David J. McLaughlin © 2008

The primary food sources for the Chumash were acorns and pine nuts; shell fish; sharks, sea bass, halibut and other fish caught in nets or harpooned; game birds and small animals hunted with bows and arrows.

Sadly, by the mid 1820s all of the indigenous Chumash villages in the Santa Barbara area had disappeared.

  • 1. "Chumash: Introduction" pp 505 - 508, and "Eastern Coastal Chumash" 509 - 519 two articles by Campbell Grant in Volume 8 CALIFORNIA in Handbook of North American Indians, Smithsonian Institute: Washington D.C., 1978
  • 2. 2. Mission Santa Barbara by Fr. Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., Mission Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara CA, 1930
  • 3. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has an informative presentation on the Chumash, available at: http://www.sbnature.org/research/anthro/chumash/daily.htm
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