“A Song of Resilience”: Exploring Communities of Practice in Chumash Basket Weaving in Southern California


This paper uses ‘communities of practice’ as an analytical framework to investigate the ways in which Chumash basket weavers reconstituted themselves and persevered during and after the colonial period in south-central California. Specifically, we focus on two distinct and chronologically-sequential Chumash basket weaving communities, including one group of weavers who lived at Mission San Buenaventura in the early 1800s and another group who fashioned baskets for the global market at the turn of the twentieth century. A detailed examination of baskets produced by these weavers and curated in museum collections reveals both similarities and distinct differences in manufacturing techniques and design styles. We suggest that during a time of cultural and political upheaval, the existence of basket weaving communities played a large part in the perseverance of Chumash cultural identities in these two historically-distinct contexts. Interviews with contemporary indigenous basket weavers lend support to these interpretations and provide insight into the significance and importance of basket weaving communities that continue to thrive today.

Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, 38(2)