The Chumash Indians, a Native American tribe, mainly inhabited the southern coastal regions of California, in the vicinity of what is now Santa Barbara and Ventura, extending as far south as Malibu. They also occupied the three northern islands of the Santa Barbara group, a part of the Channel Islands. Modern place names with Chumash origins include: Malibu, Point Mugu, Piru, Lake Castaic, and Simi Valley.
Estimates of their population range from 10,000-20,000 before contact with Spanish settlers in Mexico, though the population had apparently been devastated by disease prior to that. By 1900, this population had declined to just 200, though there are now some 5,000 people who identify themselves as Chumash.
The Chumash spoke half a dozen closely related Chumashan languages which can't be connected to any other language family. For a while it was assumed the Chumash family was part of the Hokan language phylum, but this was based solely on a few easily borrowed words such as that for shell-bead money.
The Chumash's name for themselves is Shamala (pronounced with the 's' and 'h' separated). The word chumaš means "islander".
The Chumash were hunter-gatherers, who specialized in fishing. Some settlements built plank canoes called tomols, which could even be used for whaling, and which were greatly admired by outsiders. Remains of a developed Chumash culture, including rock paintings (petroglyphs) apparently depicting the Chumash cosmology, can still be seen.
Anthropologists eagerly sought Chumash baskets as prime examples of the craft, and two of the finest collections are at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and the Musée de l'Homme (Museum of Mankind) in Paris, France. The Museum of Natural History at Santa Barbara is believed to have the second-largest collection of Chumash baskets.
On September 9, 2001, members of the Chumash tribe paddled from the mainland to Santa Cruz Island in a tomol, the first such crossing of the Santa Barbara Channel in 125 years. Their craft is reported to have been circled by a pod of at least 30 dolphins during part of their voyage.
The Chumash now run a casino in Santa Ynez, California. The tribe is featured in the book Sky Coyote by Kage Baker.