Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chumash Field Trip

Well, I'm hoping to come out of a long blogging hiatus to get caught up on our schooling adventures. This post is mainly pictures and happened in Sept to tie in our review of form drawing and math using Chumash stories as the vehicle.

I organized a field trip for our local homeschooling group and we went to an amazing museum in Thousand Oaks called the Chumash Indian Museum.

Nestled among the mountain ranges on the largest oak grove park (432 acres) in the area, we were lucky enough to have a special tour arranged where we would hike through the groves to view a 10,000 year old birthing cave to see the remaining pictographs! It was awesome!

We were met by our guide, Graywolf, and the tour began.

We got to view recreations of Aps (Chumash housing).

We got to hear Chumash legends and lore. We walked among the towering oaks and saw an incredible beehive in this giant oak.

We learned about vegetation and what the plants were used for, like "coyboy cologne" which is a sage that we rubbed on our faces and necks to keep the biting flies away! And here, Graywolf showed us where the women would come to grind acorns, the staple of the Chumash diet.

Then we continued on our 1.5 mile hike to the birthing cave.

Graywolf pointed out an outcropping with a pictograph. Can you spot it in the picture below, just above & to the left of his head (our left, his right)?

The birthing cave is closed to the general public because they don't want any damage to it, but we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit this cave that has been used for birthing for 10,000 years!

While a wooden stair case has been built, can you imagine hiking 1.5 miles while in labor and then ascending this climb without the stair case to reach the cave? These women were absolutely amazing!

Inside the cave, we got to see the remaining pictographs. Not many left, but they are ancient. It was worth every step to get here!

And a shot of Charley just before we left the cave. We lingered so I could get a good shot. The cave was open on three sides and surrounded by lush trees and the sounds of wildlife. It was so very serene and powerful. We were told they laid out skins and furs for comfort.

On our way back to the museum grounds, I had to take this shot where the trees join to make an arch.

At the museum, Graywolf gave us a lovely presentation of tools and uses of herbs and weapons. This is a model of a chumah woman. They wore very little clothing due to the temperate weather on the coast.

Graywolf has worked on and been in several movies and tv productions. One of the films he worked on (costume dept) was "Pirates of the Caribbean" with Johnny Depp. In his hands, he is holding the hair piece that he made for Captain Jack Sparrow to wear. It is actually a Chumash hair pin and you are supposed to wear two of them criss crossed at the top of the head. Johnny Depp didn't know what to do with it, so he put it on the side of his head! Graywolf loved it and that became a trademark of Captain Jack!

He took time to pose with the twins.

And here you can see how the hair pins are actually supposed to be used!

The Chumash people were very different from the other Native American tribes - in how they looked, dressed, and developed. Life on the coast was easy. They found everything they needed from nature and did not have to migrate to find food sources. They were incredibly peaceful - in fact there is no word in their language for "war". They loved to play games and had time to develop many ingenius tools and activities. They were the first tribe to develop interchangeable arrows, so they could use the same shaft, but different points when hunting - a large arrow for a large deer or a tiny arrow to hunt a bird or rabbit. They used whale bones as the doorway arches for their homes and even invented the sweathouse (steam room) with a large fire and smoke and then would rush out and cool off in the ocean. Their beds were built off the floor and they were master weavers. The word Chumash means shell money, for they specialized in making shell money and beautiful soap stone pots. They built the first tomol (canoe) so that they could sail from the mainland to the Channel Islands.

Here are some pictures of the exhibits in this small, but high quality museum.

Real Walnut Shell Dice (like what we made, but beautiful with the abalone shells as decorations).

We spent a whole day on this field trip and filled up with admiration and love for this amazing tribe of Native American Indians. The girls were thrilled when they spotted this design, which is one they painted on their fake canvas' earlier in the month!

The people who run the museum (Alfred, esp) are wonderful and I would highly recommend a trip to visit, if you are local. There is a nature hike on the weekends. Call for details, which can be found here. And there is a wonderful book put out by the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum called, The Chumash People. It is a great hands on resource for unit study.


  1. Incredibly interesting, Jen. What a wonderful opportunity to visit such a special place. The birthing room is so fascinating. What a fascinating people.
    Hope you are all well.
    Best wishes

  2. Hello dear Jen,
    This looks like it was so amazing!
    Take care

  3. looks like a fascinating place! we have the cahokia mounds about 15 minutes away from us which we like to visit frequently. the exhibits are similar in design and look. i could spend hours there at a time! generally the kids wear out and are ready to go before i am.

  4. Jen,
    What a wonderful day you all had. Thanks for all the information. I thought the hair accessories on Johnny Depp looked more native.