California Indian Baskets – part 2

September 5, 2014

The Coast Miwok, originally a Northern California group of peaceful hunter-gatherer tribes, made their home in what is today Marin and southern Sonoma counties. The Coast Miwok consisted of about fifteen independent multi-village tribes that spoke related languages – however – linguists later assigned this grouping the name Coast Miwok.

Status in this environment was achieved through the artistry and accomplishments. The Coast Miwok headman (hoipu) and headwoman (maien) controlled social behavior through suggestion and influence rather than through heredity or coercion. Baskets were constructed for gendered essential to economic stability, diplomatic intertribal relationships, and a sacred harmony. Spirit imbued the creation of baskets from the basket making materials to their eventual contents.


Oak trees were central to Coast Miwok life. Stewardship of oak groves passed through family lines. Acorns, which can be stored for two years or more, were the most important seeds for life contributing carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and fat to diet. From about 1200 A.D., the Coast Miwok and other coastal tribes began to manufacture clamshell beads used as currency in exchange for a wide range of goods and services from an edible clam Saxidomus nuttali with a thick shell found only near Tomales Bay and Limantour Estero. The value of currency was linked to communal function and aesthetics and not to abstract concepts of individually accumulated material wealth.

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