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By Alexa Johnson

Catalina’s First Islanders - For at least 8,000 years, Catalina Island was inhabited by Native Americans known as the Tongva or Gabrieliño. The latter name came from the San Gabriel Mission, where the Tongva labored for the Spanish colonists. Long before the invention of barges, ferries, planes or helicopters, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Tongva lived on the Island. Called Pimu or Pimungna by the Tongva, Catalina Island provided them with fresh water, plant materials, abundant marine life and rich mineral resources.

The Tongva lived in villages of extended family members that numbered from 50 to 100 individuals. Some of their largest settlements were at places that later were named Two Harbors, Avalon, Little Harbor, Empire Landing, White’s Landing and Toyon Bay. The families lived in thatched huts called ki’shes, which were framed from branches or whale bones and draped with mats made from reeds, grasses or animal hides. Father Antonio de la Ascensión, a passenger on the 1602 Spanish ship of explorer Sebastian Vizcaíno, who named the Island “Santa Catalina,” reported that these mats were so densely woven that “…neither rain nor the sun penetrates them.”

The Tongva were resourceful and manufactured goods from a variety of natural materials. They used rushes to create water bottles, tarred on the inside with asphaltum to prevent leaking. Baskets, mats, and skirts were woven from local plants and grasses. They made tools, weapons, jewelry and instruments from shells, stones and bones. Clay and minerals were used to create paints and dyes.

Ingenious in their use of natural resources, the Tongva developed an effective food system utilizing the Island’s flora and fauna. Men were responsible for hunting and fishing, while the women gathered seeds, nuts, roots, berries, acorns, mushrooms and other items. They judiciously managed the distribution of supplies, even to the point of banishing or executing a chief found guilty of mismanagement. To minimize any privileges for successful hunters and fishermen, these game gatherers were discouraged from eating their own kill. Rather, they were urged to contribute their catch to a communal supply. 

Harvesting the Ocean’s Bounty

Contributors to this issue were Wendy Teeter, Ph.D., as well as Desireé Martinez and Karimah Kennedy Richardson.

Edited by Jerry Roberts

Issue #30 / All About the Tongva


Island Ingenuity
Quid Pro Quo
Fact or Fiction: Isle Foxes Brought by Tongva
Did You Know … Tongva Still Around  

Courtesy of the Runajambi Institute

A Tongva home, or ki’sh, was framed using willow branches or whale bones and then covered in tightly woven rushes or animal skins. A ki’sh housed anywhere from a single family to as many as 50 people.

Missed recent issues?
Issue #1 / All About Bison

Issue #2 / All About Birds

Issue #3 / All About Plants
Issue #4 / All About Eagles
Issue #5 / All About Ravens & Crows
Issue #6 / All About Natives & Invasives  
Issue #7 / All About Rain
Issue #8 / All About Bison Roundup
Issue #9 / All About Foxes
Issue #10 / All About Weeds
Issue #11 / All About Eagle Hatchlings
Issue #12 / All About Snakes
Issue #13 / All About Diurnal Raptors
Issue #14 / All About Diurnal Raptors II
Issue #15 / All About Giants & Dwarves
Issue #16 / All About Fire Ecology
Issue #17 / All About Mule Deer
Issue #18 / All About Feral Cats
Issue #19 / All About Acorn Woodpeckers
Issue #20 / All About Tachi the Fox
Issue #21 / All About Observing Nature
Issue #22 / All About 2013 Bald Eagle Update
Issue #23 / All About Invasive Plants
Issue #24 / All About Poisonous Plants
Issue #25 / All About the Value of Nature
Issue #26 / All About Edible Invasives
Issue #27 / All About Plants in Summer
Issue #28 / All About Marine Ecosystems
Issue #29 / All About Dominant Rocks



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