Thursday, November 24, 2005


My favorite pie is pumpkin pie. Native Americans, of course, first cultivated pumpkins as well as squashes, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate. So Native Americans really created much of the American diet: from clambakes to turkey banquets to salmon feasts to chocolate drinks to winter squashes to cornbread.

Two weeks ago I visited the Southwest Musuem, one of the greatest Native American musuems in the world. We walked up the steps on the hill past the Goldline (rapid train) which we had taken and then took an elevator up the hillside to the musuem that sits high on the hill. The first room we went to was the California Room on California Indians. What fascinated me was the wonderul exhibit that illlustrated how each group of Indians brilliantly adapted to its ecological niche in California getting food. Many of the exhibits on display how to do with making food.

The California coastal Indians like the Tongva of the Los Angeles region and the Chumash of Santa Barbara both fished in the sea and collected sea shells that were used as money. Examples of sea shells were in the display case. The Tongva also collected tar from the tar pits which they traded to other Indians. On display were Chumash's baskets that were particulary brilliant in design. Also both Tongva and Chumash made canoes and rowed out to the nearby Channel Islands 20 miles offshore where Natives also lived. Costal Indians hunted seals, sea lions and sea otters but not whales; if a whale did wash ashore, they would eat it. They collected clams, mussels, and crabs. The Pomo in the north would capture ducks and mud hens by the shore.

Throughout California Natives collected acorns from oak trees, leached out the acids, and made an acorn mush which was a staple. Throughout the exhibit there were great looking baskets used to gather acorns and other seeds, nuts, bulbs, and roots. Baskets were used as boiling pots. Baskets were also used to store food. The Indians often dried out meat or fish before storing it in baskets which were then put in a granery. Also the display cases had stone mortars on which Native women would pound the acorns done into a fine flour. Acorn were made into pudding, mush or soup. Native peoples used wooden spoons too cook and eat.

The desert Indians of the Great Basin learned how to flourish in that harsh environment, eating inscets grasshopers, crickets and caterpillars. The peoples of the Central Valley and the Sierra foothills such as the Yosemite existed on the plentiful fish and game. They killed game birds like quail and grouse as well as rabbits, rats, mice, and chipmunks. They also killed larger game such as deer, elk, antelope, mountain sheep, and bear. Huge herds of elk, antelope, and deer lived in the grasslands of the Central Valley,

Native Americans of Northern California were river peoples: each Indian group centered its territory on a particular river or stream. The Northern Indians fished the salmon and trout in the rivers and creeks. Since my brother lives in Burney, California, in the northeast corner of the state, I was familiar with the Pit River Indians who fished the Pit River while the Hat Creek people lived by that trout stream coming north out of Mt. Lassen. The Northern Indians also used the abundant woods to make sturdy wooden houses. On display were photos of nets the Indians used to fish with.

California's Indians drank berry juices made out of elderberry and manzanita; ciders made out of wile apples or manzanita berries; wild grape juice; nut drinks from pounded nuts; and herbal teas. The got salt from seaweed on the seashore or from mineral deposits.

The Southwest Musuem had two other splendid rooms: one on the Plains Indians and the other on Southwest Indians--the Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo. The beeding on the dresses and shirts of the Plains Indians was just beautiful. All in all, the Southwest Museum is a great museum.

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