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Malibu History

Origins of 'Malibu'

Some anthropologists argue the word 'Malibu' is a combination of Native American words mali + wu,  which mean “where the mountains meet the sea”  and the Chumash composite word Humaliwo, which means "the surf sounds loudly."

Source: Applegate, Richard B. "Chumash Placenames." The Journal of California Anthropology, 1(2), 1974.

Chumash History

At one time, Chumash territory encompassed 7,000 square miles that spanned from the beaches of Malibu to Paso Robles. The tribe also inhabited inland to the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley.

Utilizing resources from both the land and the sea, we called ourselves “the first people,” and pointed to the Pacific Ocean as our first home. These early Chumash ancestors were hunters, gatherers, and fishermen who lived in large, dome-shaped homes that were made of willow branches.

As the Chumash culture advanced with boat-making, basketry, stone cookware, and the ability to harvest and store food, the villages became more permanent. The Chumash society became tiered and ranged from manual laborers to the skilled crafters, chiefs, and shaman priests who were also accomplished astronomers. Women could serve equally as chiefs and priests.

In the rolling hills of the coastline, our Chumash ancestors found caves to use for sacred religious ceremonies. The earliest Chumash Indians used charcoal for their drawings, but as the culture evolved, so did the cave markings — using, red, orange, and yellow pigments. These vibrant paintings included human figures, animal life, and astronomy. Many of the caves still exist today, protected by the National Parks system, and illustrate the spiritual bond the Chumash hold with our environment.

As with most Native American tribes, the Chumash history was passed down from generation to generation through stories and legends. Many of these stories were lost when the Chumash Indian population faced the turmoil to come.

Source: Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, Our History

Connect with the Chumash

While their population was decimated by infectious diseases introduced by Spanish soliders and missionaries, the Chumash people remain committed to the preservation of their culture, to community health and education, and to the responsible stewardship of their ancestral lands.

Annual Tomol Crossing:

  • Centuries ago, the tomol was used to connect different island Chumash groups with each other and the mainland. Today, it links past generations of Chumash with the present-day Chumash community.
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Chumash Indian Museum:

  • This museum is dedicated to restoring and preserving an awareness of the Chumash people and their historical, cultural, material and present-day influence, as well as the natural environment and historical significance of this site. Through exhibits, events, and educational programs, the Chumash Indian Museum serves as a gathering place for a partnership with the native and non-native communities connecting the past with the present to continue our shared future.
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Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park:

  • The walls of this small cave carved from towering sandstone boulders contain some of the finest remaining rock art created by Chumash Native Americans.  A steep path leads to the cave entrance, which is protected by heavy iron grillwork. Anthropologists estimate that the paintings date to the 1600's and earlier.  The meaning of these enigmatic images has been lost.
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Malibu City Annual Chumash Day: Native American Powwow and Intertribal Gathering: 

  • The Chumash Day Powwow celebrates Native Americans from all over the country, representing hundreds of tribes who will gather at Malibu Bluffs Park. This is a non-competitive powwow. Native American food, craft vendors, tribal ceremonies and dances are a part of the event.
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Our Mother Tongues

  • This project highlights ongoing heritage language revitalization efforts. This includes research and curricula related to the seven related Chumash languages of Samala.
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Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, Chumash Life:

Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians:

  • The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is the only federally recognized Chumash tribal sovereign nation in the United States. Santa Ynez Valley is the home to tribal families, tribal government, the Chumash Casino Resort, and the Santa Ynez Chumash Museum and Cultural Center (Fall 2022).
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Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation:

  • A native-led 501c3 organization founded in 1997 by Executive Director and Chumash Elder, Mati Waiya, an enrolled member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation. Our mission is to protect and preserve the culture, history, and lifeways of Chumash and indigenous peoples, and the environment everyone depends on. Wishtoyo addresses the extraordinary need for the public, agencies, and environmental institutions to understand the vital role of Indigenous Traditional Knowledge and the interconnectedness of culture, history, and science. Wishtoyo's unique approach integrates cultural preservation and ecological conservation through restoration projects, cultural and environmental education, scientific research; community organizing; sharing and utilizing Chumash values, Indigenous Traditional Knowledge; and using the standing and protections unique to Native Peoples in legal action and advocacy.
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