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Location: Northwestern California (Humboldt County)

Language: Athapaskan family

1770 estimate:
1910 Census: 500

The Hupa shared close language ties with the Chilula and Whilkut, their neighbors to the west.  These three groups differed in dialect from other California Athapaskans.


The Hupa name came from the Yurok word for the valley, Hupo.  The Hupa people called themselves Natinnoh-hoi, after Natinnoh, the Trinity River.

The larger Hupa villages were located in the Hupa (or Hoopa) valley, an eight-mile stretch along the Trinity River that has more level land than other sections of the river valley.  The valley, one or two miles wide, is surrounded by mountains.  Twelve Hupa villages were  strung out less than a mile apart on the eastern side of the river, so that they received the warm afternoon sun.  Each village was near a spring or small stream that supplied drinking water.

Villages varied in size from about 50 to 200 people living in from six to 28 houses.  Each village had a name taken from a landmark (such as deep-water place) or an incident that occurred there (place where he was dug up).  Each village had a headman who was the richest man.  He had certain hunting and fishing rights, and others in the village obeyed him because he gave them food when they needed it.  If the headman's son inherited his wealth, he also inherited the position of headman.  When girls married, they usually went to live in the villages of their husbands.


The Hupa built their houses from cedar or fir planks which they cut from logs.  The planks were set upright in a rectangular shape surrounding a pit which had been dug to form the inside of the house.  A lower spot in the middle of the pit was lined with stones so a fire could be built there.  A dirt shelf around the pit was used for storage.  The pitched roof of the house was also made from cedar planks placed in an overlapping pattern.  People entered the house through a small round hole cut at one corner, and climbed down a notched plank to the dug-out area of the house.

Each family had its own house where they ate their meals.  The women and children slept in the house.  The men and older boys slept in the sweathouses.  There were several in each village, built in much the same way as the larger houses but with lower walls.  The door was an opening cut into the roof.


Acorns and salmon were the two main foods of the Hupa.  The salmon were caught in the Trinity River  in the spring and in the fall as they swam upriver.  Enough fish were preserved by smoke-drying them to last all year.  Other fish such as trout and sturgeon were also eaten.  Acorns were gathered each fall.  After being ground into flour, the acorns were cooked into a thin mush.  Heated stones were put into a cooking basket with water and meal, and it was stirred with a long wooden paddle. 

Adding to the food supply for the Hupa were nuts, berries, roots, and greens that they gathered in the woods.  Deer and elk were hunted in the forests, sometimes with the help of trained dogs.  Traps made of iris-fiber rope nooses were placed along deer trails.  The hunters used short bows with stone-tipped arrows to kill the deer and elk.  Rabbits, squirrels, and birds were captured in traps or shot with the bow and arrow. 


The area where the Hupa lived had a mild climate, and heavy clothing was seldom necessary.  Men wore a piece of deerskin or several smaller animal skins sewn together, around their hips.  Women wore skirts made from tree bark. For ceremonies, women wore double aprons, with a larger section in back and a narrower section in front.  The aprons, which reached from the waist to below the knees,  were usually fringed.   When more warmth was needed, robes made of animal skins were worn over the shoulders by both men and women.  Moccasins made of deerskin were used when going on a journey.  The women wore basket hats to protect their foreheads from the straps of carrying baskets and baby cradles, and fancier caps for ceremonies. 

Hupa women had tattoos of three broad stripes on their chins.  Both women and men had their ears pierced so they could wear shell ornaments in them.  Men and women wore their hair long, tied back in rolls with thongs.


Many articles were made from wood by Hupa men.  They used tools made from stone and shell to shape storage chests, platters and bowls out of cedar.  Low stools and headrests were also made from cedar logs.  For their bows and arrow shafts, they used yew wood.  The men also made utensils from elk horn.  Elkhorn spoons were used just by the men.  Women used mussel shells as spoons. 

The Hupa women did most of the basket weaving.  The technique was called twining.  Hazel branches were used as the basis for most baskets.  Pieces cut from tree roots were woven in between the hazel branches to form firm baskets that were used to carry and store all types of food.  The women also wove cradles for the babies, caps for the women to wear, and special ceremonial items.  Baskets were decorated with patterns made with grasses and ferns.

Canoes were used by the Hupa for transportation on the Trinity River, but they did not make the canoes themselves.  They traded for them with the Yurok, who lived near the redwood trees along the coast.

In addition to bows and arrows, the Hupa used short spears and stone knives as weapons.  To protect themselves in battle, men wore heavy shirts made of elkhide, or armor made from wooden rods held together with thongs.   


The Hupa carried on trade with the Yurok who lived along the coast near the mouth of the Klamath River.  From the Yurok they got canoes, salt (made from dried seaweed), and salt-water fish.  They traded acorns and other inland foods for these things.  Some things were purchased with dentalium shells, which served as the money for the people of northwestern California.  The tube-like dentalium shells could be strung on a string, matched for size.  Only the shells that were more than an inch and one-half in length were considered to be money. 

Wealth was important to the Hupa.  Besides the dentalium money, they valued deerskins that were especially light colored, red woodpecker scalps, and black or red obsidian (volcanic glass).  These prized objects were displayed at ceremonies to show what good luck had come to that person.


The Hupa held two ceremonies to celebrate the new year or harvest.  One was in the spring when the salmon began their run upriver, and the second was in the autumn when the acorns began to fall from the trees.  Feasting on the salmon in the spring and on the acorns in the fall was a part of the ceremonies. 

The most elaborate ceremonies were the White Deerskin Dance and the Jumping Dance.  Each of these dances lasted 10 days. In the White Deerskin Dance, the dancers held white deerskins up on long poles as they danced.  When doing the Jumping Dance, the men wore headbands decorated with woodpecker scalps.  Before each dance, there was a long recital of sacred words that told how the ceremony came to be.

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