Ohlone

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Map of the Costanoan languages

The Ohlone, formerly Costanoan, are an ethnic group whose members lived in what is now the San Francisco Bay Area and Monterey Bay areas of California until after the European discovery and settling of this area. At one time, the name "Ohlone", derived from a Spanish rancho called Oljon, referred to a single band who inhabited the Pacific coast near Pescadero, but since the 1960s the term is now informally extended to refer to all the native Americans who live around San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay, replacing the term Costanoan ("coastal people"), a name given to them by Spanish-speaking invaders. Their settlements included: Ahwaste, Altahmo, Ansaime, Aulintac, Chalone, Costaos, Kalindaruk, Karkin, Mutsun, Olhon, Romonan, Rumsen, Tamyen, Tulomo, and Wacharon, Werwersen.

The Ohlone people had fixed village locations, moving temporarily to gather seasonal foodstuffs like acorns and berries. Seafood from the bay and ocean were important to their diet. An estimated 10,000 Ohlone people lived in the central California coastal areas between Big Sur and the Golden Gate of San Francisco Bay prior to Spanish contact. This group consisted of approximately forty different tribelets ranging in size from 100-250 members. Unlike many other Native American ethnic groups, the tribelets did not have a common sense of identity and did not act jointly. The Ohlones spoke related Ohlone languages in the Utian linguistic family that were about as close as the languages of the Romance family, i.e. it was as if French was spoken in Berkeley and Portuguese in Monterey. Their basket-weaving skills were notable. Archeologists suggest that they arrived in the Bay Area about 500 AD, displacing or assimilating earlier Hokan-speaking populations of which the Esselen in the south represent a survival.

Their mythology centered around the Californian culture-hero/trickster Coyote, as well as Eagle and Hummingbird. Coyote - clever, wily, lustful, greedy, and irresponsible - was responsible for the creation of mankind, under the direction of Eagle, and taught mankind the arts of survival. He competed with Hummingbird, who despite his small size regularly got the better of him. Their creation story began with a world covered entirely in water, apart from a single peak (Mount Diablo in the northern Ohlone's version) on which Coyote, Hummingbird, and Eagle stood.

Spanish and U.S. encroachment into the California coast, starting with a landing by Sebastian Vizcano in December 1602, disrupted and undermined Ohlone social structures and way of life. By the early 1880s, Ohlone people had nearly been displaced from their communal land grant in the Carmel Valley. To call attention to the plight of the California Indians, Indian Agent, reformer, and popular novelist Helen Hunt Jackson published accounts of her travels among the Mission Indians of California in 1883.

The last fluent speaker of an Ohlone language, Isabel Meadows, died in 1939. Some of the Mutsun Ohlone today are attempting to revive the language.

The Mutsun and the Muwekma are among the small surviving groups of Ohlone. The Esselen Nation also describes itself as Ohlone/Costanoan, although they historically spoke an entirely different Hokan language. Their tribal council claims enrolled membership by currently approximately 500 people from thirteen extended families, approximately 60% of whom reside in Monterey and San Benito Counties.

The Ohlone language was a member of the Utian linguistic group.

There were seven major divisions of the Ohlone:

  • the Monterey, known as the Rumsen or Rumsien, who lived from the Pajaro River to Point Sur, and the lower courses of the Pajaro, as well as the Salinas and Carmel Rivers.
  • the Karkin, who lived between San Francisco and San Pablo Bay (formerly identified with the Saclan, who turned out to be Miwok)
  • the San Francisco, who lived between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific in the area which is now San Francisco
  • the San Juan Bautista, known as the Mutsun, who lived along San Benito River and San Felipe Creek
  • the Santa Clara, who lived on Coyote and Calaveras Creek
  • the Santa Cruz, who lived on the Santa Cruz coast between Pescadero and the Pajaro Rivers. Santa Cruz bands included the Sokel, who lived at Aptos, and the Chatu-mu, who lived near the current location of Santa Cruz.
  • the Soledad, who lived on the middle course of the Salinas River.

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