Pomo people

Pomo people

infobox ethnic group

caption = Pomo girl photographed by Edward S. Curtis in 1924.
group = Pomo People
poptime = 1770: "8,000" 1851: "3,500-5,000"
1910: "777-1,200"
1990: "4,900"
popplace = California: "Mendocino County, Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, Lake County, Colusa County"
langs = Pomoan Family"
rels = Shamanism: "Kuksu, Messiah Cult"
*Pomo mythology
The Pomo people are a linguistic branch of Native American people of Northern California. Their historic territory was on the Pacific Coast between Cleone and Duncans Point, and inland to Clear Lake. A separate group speaking a language of the same family, called the Northeastern Pomo, also lived near Stonyford.


The name "Pomo" derived from a combination of the words IPA|"pʰoːmoː" and IPA|"pʰoʔmaʔ" in the people's native dialects; [Campbell, Lyle (1997). "American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America". Oxford: Oxford University Press, pg. 379 n.68] it originally meant "those who live at red earth hole" and was once the name of a village in Southern Potter Valley, possibly referring to local deposits of the red mineral magnesite that was used for red beads, or to the reddish earth and clay such as hematite mined in the area.McClendon and Oswalt 1978:277.] At the same time in the Northern Pomo dialect, "-pomo" or "-poma" was used as a suffix after the names of places, to mean a subgroup of people of the place. [McClendon and Oswalt 1978:277; Handbook of American Indians, 1906.] By the year 1877 (possibly beginning with Powers) "Pomo" has been extended in English to mean the entire stock of people known today as the Pomo.


The people called Pomo were originally linked by location, language, and other elements of culture. They were not socially or politically linked as a large unified "tribe." Instead, they lived in small groups ("bands"), linked by geography, lineage and marriage, and relied upon fishing, hunting and gathering for their food.

The Pomo spoke seven distinct Pomoan languages that are not mutually intelligible. There are still a few speakers of some of the Pomoan languages, and efforts are being made by the Pomo people to preserve those languages and other elements of their culture.


Pomo also known as Kulanapan, is a distinct language family that includes seven branches, including Southern Pomo, Eastern Pomo and Kashaya. Stephen Powell classified the language family as "Kulanapan" in 1891, based on the name first employed by George Gibbs in 1853, who used the name of one band from the Clear Lake Pomo.Powell 1891:87-88.]


The Pomo people participated in shamanism; one form this took was the Kuksu religion that was evident in Central and Northern California, which included elaborate acting and dancing ceremonies in traditional costume, an annual mourning ceremony, puberty rites of passage, shamanic intervention with the spirit world and an all-male society that met in subterranean dance rooms.Kroeber, Alfred. [http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/ca/ric The Religion of the Indians of California] , 1907, Vol. 4 #6, sections titled "Shamanism", "Public Ceremonies", "Ceremonial Structures and Paraphernalia", and "Mythology and Beliefs".] [ [http://www.maidu.com/maidu/maiduculture/kuksu.html The Kuksu Cult paraphrased from Kroeber.] ] The Pomo believed in a supernatural being the "Kuksu" or "Guksu" (depending on their dialect) who lived in the south and who came during ceremonies to heal their illnesses. Medicine men dressed up as Kuksu. Another later shamanistic movement that took place was the "Messiah Cult", introduced to them by the Wintun and was practiced through 1900. This cult believed in prophets who had dreams, "waking visions" and revelations from "presiding spirits" and "virtually formed a priesthood." The prophets earned much respect and status among the people. [Barret, 1917, page 398, 440-441.]

Traditional narratives

The record of Pomo myths, legends, tales, and histories is extensive. The body of narratives is classed within the Central California cultural pattern, but influences from the Northwest Coast and, more tenuously, from the Plateau region have also been noted.


The Pomo had a strong mythology of creation and world order, that includes the personification of the "Kuksu" or "Guksu" healer spirit, spirits from six cardinal directions, and the Coyote as their ancestor and creator god. [Barret, 1917:397-441.]



According to some linguistic reconstructions, the Pomo people descend from the Hokan-speaking people in the Sonoma County, California region, which was a critical meeting point of coastal redwood forests and interior valleys with their mixed woodlands. In this hypothesis, about 7000 BC, a Hokan-speaking people migrated into the valley and mountain regions around Clear Lake, and their language evolved into "Proto-Pomo." The lake was rich in resources to them. About 4000 BC to 5000 BC, some of the pro-Pomoans migrated into the Russian River Valley and north to present day Ukiah. Their language diverged into western, southern, central and northern Pomo. Another people, possibly Yukian speakers, lived first in the Russian River Valley and the Lake Sonoma area, but the Pomoans slowly took these places over. [Stewart 1985:13-15.]

Over 1,000 prehistoric charmstones and numerous arrowheads have been unearthed at Tolay Lake, in Southern Sonoma County that are attributed to both Pomo and Coast Miwok people. The lake was thought to be a sacred site and ceremonial gathering and healing place. [http://www.friendsoftolay.org/cultural.html "Tolay Lake Park: Natural and Cultural History"] , [http://www.sonoma-county.org/parks/pk_tolay_history.htm County of Sonoma Regional Parks Department: Tolay Lake Regional Park] , August 20, 2007.]

*In the oldest site ("the broken bridge site, "Skaggs Phase" 3000 BC - 500 BC), using radiocarbon dating, the surveyors dated the oldest human-inhabited site in the valley at 3280 BC. [Stewart 1985:53-56.]
*The next site ("Oregon Oak Place") was dated at 1843 BC. The surveyors suggested that this valley was remote and sparsely settled by anyone before the Pomo people, compared to the lower river valleys.

Both of these Skaggs Phase sites had millingstones and handstones for grinding seeds and may have been hunting villages or temporary camps. Obsidian was used only rarely, mainly from Mt. Konocti. Petroglyphs were absent and population was focused only along major creeks. [Stewart 1985:53-56.]

The next phase, "The Dry Creek Phase", lasting about from 500 BC to 1300 AD was very different. The land was populated more extensively and permanently. Archaeologists believe a Pomoan group took over the lands in this phase, and created 14 additional sites in the Warm Springs area and Upper Dry Creek Area. Bowl mortars and pestles appeared in this phase, probably used to pound acorns (as opposed to the milling stones used for seeds). The sites were more permanent and lifeways "more complex" as beads and ornaments appeared in this phase and half the artifacts were made of obsidian. Steatite objects were found that must have been imported into the region to make beads, pendents and mortars. Trade was clearly on a large scale. [Stewart 1985:56-59.]

The next phase, named the "Smith Phase" after the Pomo consultants, from 1300 AD to mid-1800s: The surveyors mapped 30 sites in this era showing a gradual transition and intensification of trends. The bow and arrow appeared as the main technological advancement. Shell-bead manufacturing and drill production was important. Drills were found in high numbers. Clamshell beads were also found in numbers, a major currency among the Indians of Central California, indicating a vast trade network. [Stewart 1985:59.]

Post contact

The way of life of the Pomo people changed with the arrival of immigrating Spanish and European-Americans in California. At first with the Spanish missionaries, some of the southern Pomo were moved to the Mission San Francisco, later the Mission Sonoma to work and live.

In the Russian River Valley, a missionary baptized the Makahmo Pomo people of the Cloverdale area, and many Pomo people fled the valley because of this. One such group fled to the Upper Dry Creek Area. The surveyors of the Lake Sonoma region believe this is why the villages became more centralized. They suggest the people retreated to this remote valley and attempted to band together and defend themselves there. [Stewart 1985:59.]

In 1837 a very deadly epidemic of smallpox that came from settlements at Fort Ross wiped out most native people in the Sonoma and Napa regions. [Silliman 2004.]

In 1850 the Russian River Valley Area was settled by the 49ers, and "Lake Sonoma Valley" area was homesteaded out. Many Pomo were then taken to reservations so that the new Americans could homestead the former Pomo lands. Some Pomo took jobs as ranch laborers; others lived in refuge villages.

One ghost town in the Lake Sonoma Valley excavations was identified as "Amacha" built for 100 people but hardly used. Elder natives of the region remember their grandfathers hid out from the oncoming immigrants in the mid-1850s at Amacha and think that one day soldiers reputedly took all the people in the village to government lands and burned the village houses. [Stewart 1985:59-60.]

From 1891 to 1935, starting with "National Thorn", Grace Hudson painted over 600 portraits, mainly of Pomo individuals living near her in the Ukiah area. Her artistic style in treating her subjects was sympathetic, poignant and endearing, portraying domestic and idyllic native scenes that would have been fast disappearing in that time. [ [http://www.gracehudsonmuseum.org/museum.html Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House] ]

Federal recognition

The United States acknowledges many groups of native people of the United States as "federally recognized tribes," giving them a quasi-sovereign status similar to that of states. Many other groups are not recognized. The Pomo groups presently recognized by the United States are based in Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino Counties and include:

* Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians
* Cloverdale Band of Pomo Indians
* Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians
* Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians [http://www.drycreekrancheria.com]
* Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians
* Hopland Band of Pomo Indians
* Kashia Band of Pomo Indians
* Lytton Band of Pomo Indians
* Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians
* The Redwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians
* Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians


In 1770 there were about 8,000 Pomo people; in 1851 population was estimated between 3,500 and 5,000; and in 1880 estimated at 1450. [Cook, pages 236-245.] The 1910 Census reported 777 Pomo, but that is probably low. Anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber estimated 1,200 in the same year [Kroeber] . According to the 1930 census there were 1,143. In 1990, the census showed 4,900.

Villages and communities


The following historical list of Pomo villages and tribes is taken largely from John Wesley Powell, 1891:
* Balló Kaì Pomo, "Oat Valley People."
* Batemdikáyi.
* Búldam Pomo (Rio Grande or Big River).
* Chawishek.
* Choam Chadila Pomo (Capello).
* Chwachamajù.
* Dápishul Pomo (Redwood Canyon).
* Eastern People (Clear Lake about Lakeport).
* Erío (mouth of Russian River).
* Erússi (Fort Ross).
* Gallinoméro (Russian River Valley below Cloverdale and in Dry Creek Valley).
* Grualála (northwest corner of Sonoma County).
* Kabinapek (western part of Clear Lake basin).
* Kaimé (above Healdsburg).
* Kai Pomo (between Eel River and South Fork).
* Kastel Pomo (between Eel River and South Fork).
* Kato Pomo, "Lake People." (Clear Lake)
* Komácho (Anderson and Rancheria Valleys).
* Kulá Kai Pomo (Sherwood Valley).
* Kulanapo. (Clear Lake)
* Láma (Russian River Valley).
* Misálamag [-u] n or Musakak [-u] n (above Healdsburg).
* Mitoám Kai Pomo, "Wooded Valley People" (Little Lake).
* Poam Pomo.
* Senel (Russian River Valley).
* Shódo Kaí Pomo (Coyote Valley).
* Síako (Russian River Valley).
* Sokóa (Russian River Valley).
* Yokáya Pomo, "Lower Valley People" (Ukiah City).
* Yusâl (or Kámalel) Pomo, "Ocean People" (on coast and along Yusal Creek).

Present-day Pomo communities

*Coyote Valley Reservation
*Elem Indian Colony
*Redwood Valley Rancheria
*Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (part)
*Round Valley Indian Tribes of the Round Valley Reservation (part)

ee also

Pomo mentioned in:
* Bloody Island Massacre
* Lake Mendocino
* Santa Rosa Creek



*"Pomo Indian Tribe History" from "Handbook of American Indians", 1906. Available [http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/pomo/pomoindianhist.htm Online] by Access Genealogy.
*Barret, Samuel A. "Ceremonies of the Pomo Indians", Published by University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnicity, July 6, 1917, Vol. 12, No 10., pages 397-441.
*Cook, Sherburne. "The Conflict Between the California Indian and White Civilization". Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1976. ISBN 0-520-03143-1.
*Kroeber, Alfred L. "The Religion of the Indians of California", 1907, "University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology" 4:#6. Berkeley, sections titled "Shamanism", "Public Ceremonies", "Ceremonial Structures and Paraphernalia", and "Mythology and Beliefs". [http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/ca/ric]
* Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925. "Handbook of the Indians of California". Washington, D.C: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. (part online discusses Kuksu [http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/kroeber/] ).
* McClendon, Sally and Oswalt, Robert. 1978. "Pomo: Introduction", in "Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 8 (California)". William C. Sturtevant, and Robert F. Heizer, eds. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. ISBN 0-16-004578-9 / 0160045754, pages 274-288.
* Powell, John Wesley Powell. "Indian Linguistic Families Of America, North Of Mexico", Government Printing Office, Washington, 1891, pages 87-88. [http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17286/17286-8.txt]
*cite book | last=Silliman | first=Stephen | title=Lost Laborers in Colonial California, Native Americans and the Archaeology of Rancho Petaluma | location=Tucson, AZ | publisher=University of Arizona Press | year=2004 | isbn=0816523819
* Stewart, Suzanne B. "Time before Time: Prehistory and Archaeology in the Lake Sonoma Area." Sacramento, CA: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1985.

Further reading

* "Pomo:Introduction" (Sally McLendon and Robert Oswalt), "Western Pomo and Northeastern Pomo" (Lowell Bean and Dorothea Theodoratus), and "Eastern Pomo and Southeastern Pomo" (Sally McLendon and Michael Lowry), articles in "Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 8 (California)". William C. Sturtevant, and Robert F. Heizer, eds. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. ISBN 0-16-004578-9 / 0160045754, pages 274-323.
* Barrett, S. A. " [http://www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu/ark:/13030/hb9779p385/ The ethno-geography of the Pomo and neighboring Indians] ". University of California publications in American archaeology and ethnology, v.6, no.1, 1908. Full text online via Calisphere.
* Economic Development Administration. U.S. Dept of Commerce. " [http://www.eda.gov/ImageCache/EDAPublic/documents/pdfdocs/11california_2epdf/v1/11california.pdf California Report] ". Present-day Pomo tribes and communities, each described. File retrieved May 5, 2007.

External links

* [http://www.kstrom.net/isk/art/basket/pomohist.html Pomo People: Brief History]
* [http://www.1849.org/ggg/pomo.html Gold, Greed & Genocide: The Pomo & The Paiute]
* [http://www.big-valley.net/index.htm Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians]
* [http://www.robinsonrancheria.org/index.htm Robinson Rancheria Tribe of Pomo Indians Home Page]
* [http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/cultural/northamerica/pomo.html Pomo History, Location, Language, Daily Life, Land, and Today]
* [http://www.drycreekrancheria.com Dry Creek Pomo Indians]
* [http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/ca/pbd/index.htm Pomo Bear Doctors, by S.A. Barrett, 1917]

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