North-central California (Mendocino County)
Language: Yukian family
1770 estimate: 500
1910 Census: 15
The Huchnom shared a similar language and a territory border with the Yuki to the north. They were a more peaceful people than the Yuki, however, and got along well with their neighbors to the south, the Pomo. When the Yuki and the Pomo were fighting, the Huchnom sided with the Pomo. They served as go-betweens for trade between the Yuki and Pomo. Their location between the Yuki and Pomo lands resulted in them adopting some customs from each of these larger groups.
More than 30 Huchnom villages were located along the South Eel River and several smaller streams that joined it. The mountains that surrounded this area were rugged. Some Huchnom villages were very close to Pomo villages. It is likely that Huchnom and Pomo both hunted and fished in areas occupied by the other.
The name Huchnom was used for these people by the Yuki. The name means tribe outside the valley, or mountain people. Later, the Huchnom were also called Redwoods.
Huchnom villages each had a headman who gave speeches at ceremonies, and handed out food and gifts to the guests. He was responsible for building the dance house in the village. When there were decisions to be made, the headman consulted with the village elders. A son of a headman would follow him as the new headman, but if there were no son, then some other relative would be made headman.
Huchnom houses were usually cone-shaped. The poles that framed the house were placed in a circle, and covered with bark and earth. A typical family house was about ten feet in diameter. A dug-out floor made the inside of the house bigger than it looked from the outside. A fire pit was located in the center of the house, with a smoke hole above it.
Women and children spent time in the family house during the winter, working and sleeping here. In the summer, however, all the people of the village went on trips to gather food. Although the food-gathering places were just a few miles away, the people camped out through much of the warm weather in temporary shelters of poles and brush.
The larger Huchnom villages had dance houses, built in the same manner as the family houses but on a larger scale. Sometimes a dance house would be built for a special ceremony, if the village holding the ceremony did not already have a dance house. The dance house was owned by the headman.
Living in the hilly country meant that the Huchnom, like other mountain people, had a more difficult time getting a variety of food. However, the river and streams provided fish, which the men caught using nets or spears. When the fishing was good, the best fish were dried over a smoky fire and stored for use when food was scarce. Deer meat, too, was smoke dried and stored.
The Huchnom had some food customs which may have been unique to them. Although the men caught small animals like rabbits, squirrels, and quail, the meat of these animals was eaten only by women and children. As soon as a boy was initiated into manhood, he ate only the meat of deer, elk, and salmon. This continued throughout a man's life. Even other fish like trout were considered to be women's food. At certain times of their lives, women were not allowed to eat deer meat.
The Huchnom made use of many plants growing along their streams and in the mountains. Acorns were the most used of the plant foods. The acorn crop was gathered in the fall, when the nuts began to fall from the trees. Gathering the acorns was a job for both men and women as well as children. The men climbed the trees to shake the branches, so more nuts would fall. Nuts to be stored for use throughout the year were gathered in large baskets and taken back to the village. The women ground up some of the acorns right where they gathered them, as the acorn meal was easier to carry back home than the nuts.
Deerhide served as the material from which the Huchnom made their clothing. Women wore an apron-like skirt made from two pieces of deerskin, one covering the front and the other the back. Men wore a piece of deerskin around their hips. A robe of deerskin with the hair left on served to keep a person warm in winter weather.
Huchnom men wore a net over their hair, made from plant fibers. On special occasions, small feathers were drawn through the holes of the net, making a soft, fluffy cap.
Huchnom women often had lines tattooed on their faces. The tattoo was made by cutting the skin with a sharp stone or thorn. Then soot or charcoal was rubbed into the cut. This was a painful process, and the cut took a long time to heal.
Because they served as traders between the Yuki and the Pomo, the Huchnom had tools and implements used by both of these larger groups. They used stone, wood, elkhorn, and shells to make the things that would help them gather food and make clothing. Bone awls (sharp pointed tools) were used to make holes in animal skins, shells, and wood. Bone or elkhorn was used to make knives, because it could be ground to a sharp edge. These knives were used to cut and scrape the wood for making bows and arrows, which were tipped with flint or bone. Mussel shells were used as spoons.
Huchnom baskets were like the Pomo baskets in some respects, though not as finely done nor as much decorated. The Huchnom used both the twining method and the coiling method for making baskets. The coiled baskets were decorated more than the twined ones.
From the Pomo, whose lands reached to the sea coast, the Huchnom got clamshells. Pieces of clamshell were shaped into small disks and a hole was drilled in the center. The disks were polished and strung on strings. This clamshell money was then used in trade. The more the clamshells were handled, the more polished they became, and this increased their value.
A type of stone called magnesite was even more valued than clamshells. Beads were made of small pieces of magnesite. When the stone was heated in a fire and then polished, it took on colors of red, pink, and gold. A single magnesite bead was placed on a string of clamshell disks, to make it worth more.
Ceremonies that were important to the Huchnom were much like those of the Yuki, held to honor Taikomol, the creator, and the spirits of people who had died. The Huchnom had several important customs related to boys and girls growing into adulthood. Some of these rituals lasted for several months or as long as a year.
Some men had certain tasks during the ceremonies. The huno'ik was the caretaker of the dance house. The man who kept the fire going was called yehim k'awesk. Each January the Huchnom held an Acorn Sing, in the hopes of having a good crop the next fall. They also had ceremonies to welcome the first acorns and the first salmon.