Ohlone, Coastanoan or Awaswas: Correcting History’s Misnomers

The modern-day descendants of the Santa Cruz Awaswas are members of the Amah-Mutsun Tribal Band. Photo courtesy of Molly Lautamo.

The modern-day descendants of the Santa Cruz Awaswas are members of the Amah-Mutsun Tribal Band. Photo courtesy of Molly Lautamo.

Many people have heard the name Ohlone or Costanoan used to describe the native people who lived in Santa Cruz, California and the surrounding Bay Area. Costanoan was a Spanish name given to all the tribes who lived in the region from San Francisco to Monterey Bay. It is not an accurate reflection of the many diverse tribes, each with a distinct language and traditions. The blanket name “Ohlone” refers to many groups of native peoples who spoke the eight “Costanoan” languages. One of these eight languages was Awaswas.

The geographic distribution of different tribes around Santa Cruz County and Monterey. Courtesy of Vivienne Orgel.

The geographic distribution of different tribes around Santa Cruz County and Monterey. Courtesy of Vivienne Orgel. 

Awaswas was spoken by the group of people living in western Santa Cruz County, along the coast from slightly north of Davenport to Rio del Mar. The Awaswas speakers numbered fewer than a thousand and the language is now extinct, but some of their tribelet names are still remembered today. Well-known place names in Santa Cruz County like “Soquel”, “Aptos,” and “Zayante” are all Awaswas names.

Read the whole blog post here to learn what the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band is and what they are doing to preserve native history and culture.

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Julia Gaudinski


2 comments on “Ohlone, Coastanoan or Awaswas: Correcting History’s Misnomers


  1. Hi Julia, I wanted to clarify that the photo of Linda Yamane and her friends was taken by me during a presentation for families outside the Natural History Museum. If you can change the crediting that would be great! (You can confirm with Molly or the staff at the museum.
    Best, Vivienne Orgel

  2. My grandmother Bessie Caldwell born in Santa Cruz was half ohlone any record of that family? Lair?


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