Saturday, December 7, 2013

Film Review - Rock Paintings of the Chumash Indians

 I recently came across this interesting video by the Southwest Museum titled “Rock Paintings of the Chumash Indians."  The description of Chumash material culture in the beginning of the film is quite accurate, and it provides some great reenactments of food preparation and daily practices.

The film is rather dated, however, and lacked an accurate portrayal of the Chumash worldview.  The hallucinogen Datura is portrayed out of it’s cultural context when a Chumash man in the film is shown tripping balls on it, and the Spanish Mission era was heavily glossed over.  Nevertheless, seeing the process of acorn preparation and the use of a sweat-lodge acted out on screen by native actors, and knowing that the music was performed with authentic Chumash instruments, makes this movie well worth watching.




My commentary:

  • Note the bark skirt of the Chumash woman beginning at 1:56.  These graceful skirts could be made from elderberry or cottonwood bark, and are beautifully depicted in the film.
  • Often even in paintings, Chumash and other Southern California Indian women are shown wearing coverings over their breasts.  This scene accurately depicts the absence of such clothing during much of the year.  In colder weather, people would wear rabbit-skin or otter-skin blankets and shawls.
  • 2:16 provides a wonderful depiction of traditional acorn processing, along with following scenes showing the uses of pine nuts, chia seeds, and amole beginning at 2:38.


  • Note the strap worn at the waist by the Chumash man at 3:30.  This is completely accurate.  Men usually wore nothing more than such a garment, which could be as simple as a sort of utility belt made from yucca to hang tools upon.  
  • 4:16 The shell bead money manufactured by the Chumash was actually made from olivella shells on Santa Cruz Island.  The shells were broken into round pieces, and drilled through the center.  ‘Achum, or shell bead money, is where the Chumash got their name.


  • The Chumash Tomol, or sewn plank canoe, was indeed painted red, but would probably have been decorated with abalone and looked more ornate than the replica at 4:33.  The canoes were often much larger, as well, reaching lengths of 30 feet and holding up to 12 people


  • 6:28  Most Chumash men would have experienced the hallucinogenic effects of datura very few times in their life.  The first, and most important ritual was the Chumash initiation of boys into manhood.  The sacred dream produced by datura, or momoy as the Chumash called it, would guide a man for the rest of his life and reveal his life’s purpose.  Datura was more commonly used as a medicinal foot bath for the relief of pain, or to protect the soul from evil, as written in Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West.  


  • The use of the sweat-lodge, followed by a plunge into cold water is very accurately depicted here at 7:50.  Note the woven tule mat door of the sweat-lodge.  These tule mats were used throughout Southern California for sitting on, sleeping on, and as doors as shown.  One thing not mentioned is that California Indians traditionally bathed in a cool stream before sunrise!  
  • Woven bottles were indeed lined with asphaltum and made waterproof by the Chumash as shown at 8:30.  Dried gourds would also be used.

What a paradise this used to be!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I enjoyed watching it all and learned a few new things. Your comments were right-on. By the way, I have been to the horseshoe rock in Carizo plain, an amazing place!

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