The Cave Paintings of the Chumash Indians

Steve Penny
Steve Penny
Production Date: 
1965; Selected for broadcast on PBS circa 1976
The Southwest Museum (Los Angeles, CA)
Gary Tegler
Run Time: 
The Southwest Museum

Score: Elisabeth Waldo and her folklorico orchestra

Crew: Photography: Steve Penny; Animation: Alan Rice; Technical Supervision: Rick Lopez, Dick Mitchell, Jim Leaman; Production Assistants: Mike King, Chriss Dentzel, Conrad Corbett; Film Editor/Sound Editor: Steve Penny, Gary Tegler.

Cast: Yuki Manak, Patti Chavez, John Aldocano, Glenn Penny, Therese Barret (as Chumash people); Grant Campbell (as himself)

Facsimile Paintings (reproduced by permission of the University of California Press) Steve Penny, Campbell Grant, Susan Wollmuth, Jennie Cole, Robert Allen

Special Thanks: The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (for advice on the reconstruction of the Chumash canoe), The Santa Barbara Historical Society, Bettye Wilson, Dorothy Penny, Marion Dentzel, Georgia Lee, Ed Haas, Stewart Levin, Gregory Schaaf
Named locations: Malibu Canyon (in Santa Monica Mountains), Santa Barbara, Point Conception, San Luis Obispo, Channel Islands, Carrizo Plains (50 miles NE of Santa Barbara, in present-day Kern County), Santa Catalina Island, St. Nicolas Island, Pacific Ocean, San Marcos Pass
Major themes covered: Chumash cave paintings; (early, pre-Spanish) Chumash subsistence; Shamanistic ceremonies and rituals of the early Chumash; Chumash dwellings and canoes; Chumash culture and history (in general); current anthropological research with regard to cave paintings in the Americas

Named Individuals:  Campbell Grant, artist
Native language, audible: none

Cross-references to other AIFG films: "The Stone Age Americans" (Anasazi), "Castle of the Ancient Ones" (Anasazi), "Painting with Sand (A Navajo Ceremony)," "Storyknifing" (Eskimo); "Art: Painting on Copper" (Maya)

Based on the work of Campbell Grant, author of The Rock Paintings of the Chumash; © The Regents of the University of California; music performed on authentic Chumash Instruments by Elisabeth Waldo and her Folklorico Orchestra.

Noteworthy elements

From the "Introduction to Campbell Grant's book, The rock paintings of the Chumash; a study of a California Indian culture:

"If you were to center a pair of dividers on the bleak, windswept island of San Miguel off the Santa Barbara Coast, and describe a quarter-circle 100 miles long from north to east, you would encompass the land of the Chumash. These Indians, once so numerous, have now vanished, leaving the remains of their hundreds of villages for the pick and shovel of the archaeologist and a wealth of splendid artifacts for the museums and the pothunters. The most spectacular achievement of the Chumash is scarcely known. In the wind-scoured sandstone outcrops of the back country are thousands of caves, and many of these are decorated with rock paintings. The paintings range in size from a few feet to over 40 feet in length, and in technique from simple line drawings in red to very complex polychrome designs in six colors.

The early explorers and the missionaries have left us no account of these decorated caves. Their work was along the fertile coastal plain and in the valleys, while the paintings, or, more properly, pictographs, are almost without exception in remote mountain locations, well hidden from the curious by the trailless, precipitous, and chaparral-covered terrain."

Also from the "Introduction" to Campbell Grant's seminal work on the Chumash rock paintings:

"In order to have some understanding of the paintings, it is essential to know as much as possible about the people who painted them. It seems fairly certain the pictographs are the work of the Chumash - the people who were here when the Spanish arrived in 1542. For this purpose, I undertook to write a sketch on the history and culture of the Chumash. The more I read on the subject, the more fascinated I became, until the sketch is now the major part of the book. I make no excuse for this "tail-wagging the dog, as I discovered that there is no single book available that tells the full story of these extraordinary Indians."

Publications, websites, resource links:

*This website provides an extensive overview of Chumash history, culture, oral tradition, and subsistence practices. There are also a number of other useful, informative links and resources listed on this site for those interested in learning more about the history of the Chumash and their contemporary lifestyle.

*This website provides links to Chumash rock art samples.

*This website provides more rock art samples from the areas surrounding the Carrizo Plains.

*This is the website for the Chumash Indian Museum in the Santa Monica Mountains. One of the museum's primary goals is to make connections between contemporary Chumash culture and the history of the Chumash in Southern and Central California.

*"Wishtoyo is a bridge, preserving the wisdom of the ancient Chumash culture and linking it to the present day environmental issues." (from the website)

*"The Northern Chumash Tribal Council (NCTC) is organized as a non-profit corporation under the guidelines of the state of California Senate Bill 18. The NCTC mission is to offer a foundation for the Chumash people of San Luis Obispo County to bring our culture and heritage back to life, create dignity with the people, educate the public that the Chumash have always been here, we have not gone anywhere, and we will always be here, one continuum.  We are the Chumash of over 20,000 years of habitation in San Luis Obispo County." (from the Tribal Council's website)

*This website provides a detailed account of the uses of the Chumash "tomol," or redwood canoe, which was "among the most advanced technological achievements of North America’s indigenous peoples." The website also names and discusses three relatively recent journeys made by Chumash people in tomols (in 1976, 2001, and 2004). These new canoes and journeys represent an on-going effort among present-day Chumash to preserve the customs and practices of their ancestors.

*This link provides even more updated information on recent tomol crossings (in 2005 and 2006).

*This website provides a firsthand, personal account of the 1997 tomol crossing and the circumstances surrounding its conception and realization. Roberta Reyes Cordero, the author of the page and a member of the Coastal Band of Chumash Indians, was one of the six people manning the canoe during this sacred and celebratory ritual.

*This website provides information for hikers on how to get to the trailhead that leads to the Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park. There are also photographs of some of the cave paintings and basic information about the Chumash and the significance of the paintings.

* "This article discusses the importance of the spirit and mind in health and well-being among Chumash people. Prayer was the first step in healing since prayer invites the participation of God. Initiation practices are discussed that encouraged young people to develop the maturity and spiritual strength to become productive members of society. Pictographs were used in healing usually not only as a relaxation therapy, but also as a mode of education. A supportive environment was an important factor in Chumash health care, since the support of friends helps, comforts and relieves anxiety that is detrimental to healing."  [abstract for "Spirit, Mind and Body in Chumash Healing," by James Adams and Cecilia Garcia]

*This is a link to an article about Chumash resistance to the Santa Barbara Mission in the 19th century. The article also discusses the important role of canoes and water travel in the Chumash orchestrating a revolt in 1824.

From the article "Chumash Canoes of Mission Santa Barbara: the revolt of 1824," by Dee Travis Hudson:

"Few people realize that two Chumash plank canoes also participated in the Revolt of 1824. These canoes, though not involved in naval battles at sea, were manned by neophytes fleeing from Mission Santa Barbara. Their destination was Santa Cruz Island, some 30 miles across the channel.

The purpose of this paper is to fill in some of the missing information about these two Chumash canoes from Mission Santa Barbara and what we know at present about the men who built and used them. My principal source is the 3,200 pages of notes on Chumash canoes collected for the Smithsonian Institution by anthropologist John Peabody Harrington, who recorded considerable data on Chumash culture from about 1912 until his death in 1961."

*This is a link to website designed (most specifically) as a K-12 educational resource. The link provides information about Chumash ceremonies and rituals. Beyond this link to information about Chumash ceremonies, the website contains several other interesting links to information about Chumash culture and the geography of the Santa Barbara Channel and the Channel Islands.

*This link provides information about plant use within Chumash culture, including an account of the changes that occurred in Chumash plant use after European contact.

Print resources:

Blackburn, Thomas. December's Child: A Book of Chumash Oral Narratives. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1975. Print.

Grant, Campbell. The Rock Paintings of the Chumash: A Study of the California Indian Culture. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1965. [*This is the seminal work on Chumash rock paintings, and Campbell Grant appears in the film and briefly discusses the nature of his anthropological work with regard to the Chumash. Campbell Grant also casts the Chumash paintings in relation to similar paintings rendered by other California tribes.]

---. "Chumash: Introduction." Handbook of North American Indians. Ed. William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. Print. [*This is the entry in the Handbook of North American Indians for the Chumash. It provides accurate and useful background information about Chumash culture, although it was published in the 1970s and does not include the most current, up-to-date information about contemporary tribal practices.]

Hudson, Travis and Thomas C. Blackburn. The Material Culture of the Chumash Interaction Sphere. 4th ed. Menlo Park, CA: Ballena Press, 1986. [*This five-volume series contains a wealth of information about Chumash material culture and the geographical/cultural contexts that surround the development of Chumash material culture. This is an invaluable source for anyone interested in learning more about the history, culture, and traditions of Chumash people and their ancestors.]

--- and Ernest Underhay. Crystals in the sky: an intellectual odyssey involving Chumash astronomy, cosmology, and rock art. Socorro, NM: Ballena Press, 1978. Print.  *From a review of the book, by Albert Elsasser (of the Lowie Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley):

"During the past ten years or so, followers of archaeo-astronomical literature have been exposed to a number of books or articles with new ideas pertaining to orientations and alignments of monuments such as Stonehenge, the "American Woodhenge" and the "Medicine Wheels" in Wyoming or Montana. The present volume, while dealing with some archaeological data in the form of rock art and some cult objects, is notably different from those on alignments and such in that it falls into what properly should be caused the "ethno-astronomical" category. While the authors must necessarily have resorted to a good measure of speculation in assessing the importance and significance of about 25 stars or constellations known to the Chumash Indians, the book came through to the reviewer as a thoroughly convincing presentation, with most of the arguments well-buttressed with recently-published materials based upon long dormant notes of J.P. Harrington. These are supplemented by observations independently made by A.L. Kroeber, A.H. Gayton, and several other ethnographers on astronomical matters among neighboring Indians such as the Yokuts or Gabrielino."[retrieved from]

---, et al. Tomol : Chumash watercraft as described in the ethnographic notes of John P. Harrington. Socorro, NM: Ballena Press, 1978. Print.  *From a review by Robert F. Heizer of UC Berkeley:

"A lot has been affirmed or alleged about John P. Harrington since he died 17 years ago, but until now nobody knew he was a closet Chumash canoe expert. In Tomol we have, from Harrington's hand (and attributed to him as so much of his data have not been) an extraordinarily detailed record of what is surely the most outstanding technological achievement of Native Californians, the Chumash tomol or plank canoe. In its extraordinarily fine-cut detail this volume is decidedly reminiscent of Harrington's monograph on Karuk tobacco, a monograph of 284 pages on this single subject. Harrington's Tomol draft has been expertly annotated in the greatest detail, and the editorial notes themselves represent a major contribution to the subject. Harrington himself could scarcely have hoped for a more considerate group of editors, or a more able one." [retrieved from]

Landberg, Leif C. W. The Chumash Indians of Southern California. Los Angeles: Southwest Museum, 1965. Print. [*According to the library catalogue, this is the "expanded result of a master's thesis done for the Department of Anthropology of the University of Arizona, Tucson." The work outlines the subsistence practices of Chumash Indians in detail and according to particular regions. This work complements a lot of the basic information about Chumash subsistence that is provided throughout the film.]

Tegler, Gary, et al. Rock Art of the Chumash Area: An Annotated Bibliography. Los Angeles: Institute of Archeology, Univ. of California, 1979. Print.

Whitley, David S. The Art of the Shaman: Rock Art of California. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000.[*This book was published more recently and presents information about the possible link between Shamanistic rituals, the use of jimson weed for spiritual purposes, and the creation of the Chumash rock paintings.]

--Emily Thomas, 2013