The Story of the Kawaiisu

Tomo-Kahni, or Winter Village, is the historical site of a Kawaiisu/Nuooah village. Nestled atop a ridge in the Tehachapi mountains, overlooking Sand Canyon to the east and the Tehachapi valley to the west, Tomo-Kahni was likely chosen by the Kawaiisu for its moderate temperatures and plentiful resources.

The Kawaiisu where of Shoshonean lineage who spoke the Southern Numic subgroup of the Uto-Aztecan language. Migrating from the Great Basin, they had made the Tehachapi area their home for two to three thousand years. They were a peaceful, gentle people with great respect for their surroundings, living and working in small family units.

Being hunter–gatherers, the Kawaiisu roamed their territory in search of food. They traveled from the valley into the mountains and even the desert to gather supplies for everyday use and to prepare stores for the winter.

Young girls learned to gather and prepare food early in life, and young boys started hunting for the family about nine years of age. The very young would play games to sharpen their hunting skills. Dolls were made from clay or small rodent skins with the head attached and stuffed with grass. A game of hide and seek was also very popular.

The Kawaiisu are noted for the very finely woven baskets of intricate and colorful design. Young girls would learn the complex task of gathering and preparing materials for the beautiful baskets they would make. The boys learned the art of making cordage and creating rabbit skin blankets.

Spring was a time for the young men and women of other tribes or families to meet and marry. Birth and death were also times together, with feasting and dancing lasting several days.

During the winter months the Kawaiisu stayed at the Sand Canyon site in their kahnis. With water and supplies nearby, they pass their time. Women would work on baskets, and prepare the food. Men with knap arrow points and knife blades from chert and obsidian, straighten arrow shafts from willow branches and prepare the foreshafts for the arrows. Dice games were played by adults. Stories were told usually by an elder in the family and the children would receive very important lessons to be used throughout their lives. They were taught respect for each other, for the land, the plants, and the animals that live there. All things big and small had a place in the Kawaiisu culture.