Copyright © by Toucan Valley Publications, Inc. | Source Citation


Location: Southern California (Los Angeles County)

Language: Uto-Aztecan family

1770 estimate:
1,000 or less
1910 Census: 0

Within ten years of the founding of Mission San Fernando in 1797, almost all of the Tataviam people had been taken into the Mission.  The area shown on some maps of California Indian tribes as being that of the Tataviam is labeled as Fernandeņo on other maps.  The Fernandeņo are commonly grouped with the Gabrielino.


Tataviam villages were mostly along the upper part of the Santa Clara River, on the southern slopes of a range of hills.  Elevations were from 1,500 to 3,000 feet above sea level.  Their territory included part of the Sawmill Mountains and the edge of the Antelope Valley.  Their neighbors to the north and west were the Chumash people, on the east were the Serrano, and on the south were the Gabrielino.  

The name Tataviam was used by the Kitanemuk, who lived north of the Tataviam, to refer to these people, but was not used by the Tataviam themselves.  The name comes from the Kitanemuk words for sunny hillside or for he is sunning himself.  When used as a name for this group of people, it meant people facing the sun or people of the south-facing slope.  Their Chumash neighbors called them the Alliklik.

Some Tataviam villages were small, with just 10 or 15 people.  There were, however, two or three large villages of about 200 people, as well as some with 20 to 60 people.  The village leader was usually a wealthy man or the head of a large family.    


The Tataviam used willow poles to make the frame of their house.  The flexible poles were placed upright in a circle, then bent in to meet at the top.  The poles were bound together with cord.  Other poles were fastened across the basic frame.  Over the poles, bundles of tule reeds were tied to make a dome-shaped thatched house.  The tule reed thatching was thick and kept the house warm in winter and cool in summer.  This type of house was easy to make, so when the thatch got old, a new house was built.

Inside, the floor was of hard packed earth.  A fireplace was in the center of the round house, with a smokehole in the roof.  Sometimes a mat woven of tule reeds was used as a door covering.

For much of the year, when the weather was mild, the house was used just for sleeping and storing things.  Much of the cooking, sewing, basketmaking, and toolmaking took place outside.

The sweathouse was an important building in the village.  It was made much like the homes, but smaller and closer to the ground.  The brush was covered with mud, and the fire inside was kept from making much smoke.  Sweating in the sweathouse helped to keep the body clean, and was a part of the social life of the villagers.


An important food for the people in this area was the bud of the yucca plant.  These were baked in earth ovens.  Acorns were also a main part of the diet, as they were for most of the early Californians.  The women spent a lot of time preparing the acorns for eating.  After the outer shell was taken off, the nut meats had to be dug out of the inner shell and dried in the sun for several days.  Then they could be stored for use later in the year.  The dried nuts were ground up to make a flour, or meal, which was made into mush or flat cakes.  The grinding was done on a stone called a mortar, using another hammer-shaped stone called a pestle to crush the nuts.

Other plant foods gathered by the people were juniper berries, manzanita berries, the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, and seeds.  Chia seeds from the sage plant were roasted before eating.  The same tule reeds that were used to cover the houses also provided food.  The young roots of the plant were baked and eaten.

There were some deer and antelope in the hills, and the men hunted them with bows and arrows.  Smaller game animals such as rabbits and squirrels were caught using traps and clubs or throwing sticks and slingshots. 


Tataviam women wore skirts made either from bark or tule reeds.  Bark used for clothing was the inner bark of the willow, sycamore, or cottonwood tree.  This bark was cut in strips and then pounded until it was soft enough to be attached to a belt.  Tule reeds and grasses were woven to make a flat mat-like piece that could be fastened to a belt.

Tataviam men and children usually wore no clothing.  Men had a belt made from cord to which they attached things they needed to carry, like tools or food.  For the times when the weather was cold, both men and women had capes made from deerskin.

Both men and women tattooed their faces by pricking tiny holes with a cactus thorn and rubbing charcoal or other dyes into the holes.  They also painted their faces and bodies with red and brown paint.  This protected their skin from sun and wind.


The yucca plant provided fibers that were twisted together to make cord.  This cord was used for making nets and traps, as well as for tying things  together.  The bones of deer and antelope were made into scrapers and knives.  Hunting bows were made from elderberry or juniper wood.  Arrows for small game were made of hard wood with the points hardened and sharpened by fire.  Longer arrows used in hunting deer and antelope had stone tips.

The Tataviam probably made baskets using both the twining and coiling methods.  Baskets were important to them for carrying, storing, and cooking their food.  They also used earth ovens for roasting food.


Strings of shell beads were worn by the people of Southern California as decoration, as well as a sign of wealth.  The beads used as money were made from clam and olivella shells by shaping broken pieces of shell into small disks.  The disks were polished, the more polished ones being the more valuable. 

It is likely that the Tataviam traded with the Kitanemuk who lived to the northeast of them, and with the Gabrielino and Chumash on the west.  Both the Gabrielino and the Chumash had many resources, particularly from the sea, that the Tataviam did not have.  The shells that were used as money came to the Tataviam from the Chumash.  From the Gabrielino they got pots and other utensils made of steatite (soapstone), in addition to dried fish.  In exchange, the Tataviam could offer deerhides and meat, berries, and cactus fruit.


An important ceremony held each year, in the late summer or early fall, was the mourning ceremony to remember those who had died during the previous year.  Connected with the ceremony was a bundle of sacred objects.  It was the responsibility of the leader of each village to take care of the sacred bundle until it was needed for a ceremony.

Ceremonies always included dancing, singing, and feasting.  The people gathered in a large round  enclosure built especially for the ceremony.  The fence that surrounded the area was made of brush.  There was no roof.  People from nearby villages were invited to share in the feasting.

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