Carmel Valley is a place of spectacular natural beauty, the kind of beauty that not only pleases the eye, but lifts the human spirit as well. It is a place where plant and animal species can thrive. But it is also a rich cultural landscape, steeped in ancient human history, including that the Rumsen (Ohlone) people.
No one knows exactly how long the Rumsen had been living here when the Spanish began settling the area in 1770. There is evidence of local human activity dating as far back as 10,000 years. The Esselen people, of different linguistic origins, are also indigenous to Monterey County, and could have inhabited the lower Carmel Valley in more ancient times. But it is the Rumsen people who controlled the Monterey Peninsula, lower Carmel River valley, and Carmel Bay environs in 1770. Other neighboring tribal groups speaking Rumsen dialects extended south along the coast to Big Sur area, northward to Moss Landing, and eastward toward Salinas, along today’s Highway 68.
Local native peoples were experts at living in the natural world. They hunted, fished and harvested nutritious bulbs, seeds, fruits and greens for a healthy diet, and for medicines. They cooked in baskets, underground ovens and over open flames. They could start fire and make string from certain sticks. Even their houses and boats were made from nearby plants. They made all the tools they needed from stone, bone, wood and shell. They traveled and fished with boats made of buoyant, bundled tule reeds. In these boats they could visit and trade with people in more distant villages.
While we need stores for these things today, they developed technologies to create everything they needed directly from nature. Women made beautiful and useful baskets of all sizes from the roots and shoots of certain native plants. These baskets served as plates, bowls, drinking cups, storage containers, cooking pots, baby cradles, water jugs, sifting trays, carrying packs and more.
Many Rumsen Ohlone and Esselen people are still living today. Descendents of indigenous populations still practice the traditions of their ancestors and some are working to preserve the languages, basketry, history and traditional skills in order to keep them alive into the future.
Linda Yamane is a local Rumsen Ohlone descendent who is active in the revitalization movement of the Ohlone people here in California.
All artwork: Linda Yamane