Sacred Art in the Age of Contact: Chumash and Latin American Traditions in Santa Barbara reveals a great deal about the cultural practices of the Spanish and Chumash during the mission period. Colonization of the Chumash by the Spanish largely impacted Chumash cultural practices. Colonization also affected many other indigenous cultures. While walking through the exhibit and learning about the practices and sacred objects of the Chumash, I found myself feeling more connected to the exhibit than I had imagined. As a native Hawaiian, I noticed that the colonization of the Chumash Indians by the Spanish paralleled the colonization of Native Hawaiians by the British. This could be seen in many other countries that were colonized, but it was particularly poignant to me, given the similarity of cultural practice between Hawaiians and the Chumash. In both cases, cultural practices were suppressed, sometimes to the point of vanishing, and underwent a re-emergence and re-learning of methods in recent years.
One of the most illuminating examples is seen in the basket weaving native to the Chumash. The baskets arranged in the exhibit were considered very sacred to the Chumash Indians, but were then only used aesthetically in the missions. The Chumash would sing into the baskets during rituals. Similarly, the lauhala weaving in Hawaiian traditions was ritualistic as well, particularly when using leaves from the hala tree. The large neutral colored baskets made by the Chumash are similar to the lauhala. They are also created in different sizes and are also a practice that is passed down from generation to generation. However, the materials are different; while the Chumash Indians usually utilized juncus rush, the Hawaiians use dried leaves. The leaves create an angular pattern that would the most dominant physical feature.
Colonialism also led to the loss of native languages. The Chumash were taught Spanish, while Hawaiians were taught English. Both cultures languages slowly died out from settlers pushing their religious structure. In Sacred Art, a prayer card with written Barbareno is paired with an audio recording of the last native speaker. This prayer card was used by Chumash that had converted to Catholicism. The Lord’s Prayer was written in a mix of Barbareno and Spanish, since there were words that did not exist in the different languages. This demonstrates that the language is not lost and is still being studied and taught to the new generation of Chumash. Hawaiians, who also lost their language, went to older generations who still spoke the native tongue and made it a priority to learn and to teach it as well.
-Noelani Castro, Registrar Intern