Traditional Economies

In Alan Salazar’s work as a storyteller, he speaks with young people about the ways of the Chumash people and the importance of not only thinking of Chumash people as hunter-gathers but also business people.

Chumash people shaped Olivella shells to produce beads that were traded like money. A Chumash called for this bead money was ‘altaqash, which should mean “raw, rough one.”

Thousands of years ago, Chumash people developed processes for shaping Olivella into beads including removing their spires by grinding or chipping and polishing the beads using fine grained abrasives.

These shell beads were used as money to obtain resources that were not readily available in Chumash territory, such as obsidian for arrowheads red ochre pigment for painting. Obsidian was traded heavily in among the Chumash villages and can often be sourced from this Casa Diablo more than 300 miles northeast, or in the Bodie Hills past what is now Yosemite National Park. Shell beads have been found as far as Pueblos in New Mexico.

Within their own territories and with nearby groups, people from the mountains traded seeds and shawls of fox skin for fish and beadwork from the coast. Manufacturing was concentrated on the in the islands and the coasts, where shell money, beadwork, and seafoods were processed.

Watch the video to learn more about the traditional Chumash economic systems.