Imagine living in a world without shopping malls, grocery stores, television, or cars. In this world, you would have to rely on your knowledge of your surroundings and your ability to make the most of available resources for your survival. To preserve these resources, your beliefs and values would need to reflect respect for the land and all (plant, vegetable, animal) who inhabit it. You would need to hunt or gather your own food as well as materials for tools, clothing and shelter. Since you don't have a mall, everything would need to be made from scratch. Add to this the beauty of an unspoiled landscape, and you have a very simple picture of life as it used to be at Tomo-Kahni.

Tomo-Kahni, or Winter Home, is a historic Kawaiisu Native American village site. Nestled atop a ridge in the Tehachapi Mountains, and overlooking the Tehachapi Valley, the site offered plentiful resources for the former residents.

The winter house was called a tomo kahni. A tomo kahni looked a little like an upside down basket and might be 12 to 15 feet across. The frame was made of willow or juniper poles tied together. Smaller branches were tied around the poles on the inside and out. The openings in between the branches were filled with bundles of brush. Bark or tule mats could be placed over the brush to help make it more waterproof. A mat could be hung as a door. The whole tomo kahni had a ring of stones around it to help hold it together so the wind wouldn't blow it apart. A small fire, surrounded by stones, was built in the center of the tomo kahni and the people slept with their feet toward the fire. A hole at the top of the tomo kahni let smoke escape.

Hava Kahni
A hava kahni

In the summer, the women might work in an open flat-roofed shade house call a hava kahni.

An earth-covered sweathouse, or tivi khani, was built near water.

The Kawaiisu also used circles of brush as windbreaks where they camped for a short time. Large brush windbreaks were built for celebration areas.

Small granaries were built about two feet above the ground to store acorns, nuts and seeds. They were built above the ground to keep critters from stealing the supplies.

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Hunting and Gathering Food

How did the Kawaiisu manage to live in the heat of summer and the cold of winter? They traveled to different parts of their homeland as the seasons changed. In the winter, they lived in the warmer, sunnier valleys and moved to the higher, cooler mountains in the summer. Another reason they moved around was to search for food. The Kawaiisu were hunter/gatherers which means that they hunted animals and gathered what grew naturally around them. Foods collected in the summer and fall were processed and stored to make sure that they had enough to eat in the winter. There were 112 plants used for food, 94 for medicine, 27 for ceremonies and 87 for other things, like rope, baskets, mats, clothing and tools.

Some of the things that the Kawaiisu ate and used are seen on the coloring page. Can you think of at least two uses for each one?

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The Kawaiisu women were skilled basket makers. They used two basic weaves, twined and coiled. In addition to a basic basket, they also wove very large burden baskets, trays, water bottles, baby carriers, hats and more. They used the materials they could find around them, such as willow and deergrass. They could weave designs into their baskets and used plants to make different colored dyes.

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Food Processing and Basket Cooking

The Kawaiisu cooked meals in round baskets by putting hot rocks in the basket to heat the food. Their food was usually a mush made of ground acorns and seeds and flavored with berries or other seasonings. The meal was heated and served in the cooking basket, just like you do when you cook something in the microwave.

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Clothing and Rabbit Skin Blankets

What did the Kawaiisu wear? Could they go to a store and buy the latest fashions or have Mom sew them at home? Nope. Mother might wrap her baby in a rabbit skin or a soft deerskin. She might use cattail fluff or the shredded soft inner bark of a juniper tree for a diaper. Young children did not wear many, if any, clothes when it was warm. When they were older, they might wear something made from animal skins or plants. Men wore a breechcloth made of deerskin. Women wore a breechcloth and a skirt woven of plant materials.

When the weather was cold, everyone wore rabbitskin blankets that fit around them like a cape. They also used this blanket to roll up in at night. It took over 100 rabbit skins to make each blanket. Guess who made the blankets? It was the men's job to make blankets for themselves and their family! If each blanket takes 100 skins, how many rabbit skins would it take to make blankets for everybody in your family?

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Pictographs and Petroglyphs

A pictograph is a picture or symbol which represents an idea. They are painted with paints made from plants.

The Kawaiisu believe in the natural world. Everything has its own spirit. They believe that “Rock Baby” lives in the rocks as he works on the pictographs in Tomo-Kahni. The Kawaiisu see changes in the pictographs and believe they change because Rock Baby is always working on them. They also believe that Rock Baby is an omen of doom. To see or hear him is deadly and touching his picture will cause blindness.

Bighorn Sheep

A petroglyph is a rock carving made by pecking or scraping a design into a rock. There is a petroglyph in Tomo-Kahni, but the Kawaiisu say that it was there before they were and they don't know who made it.

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