North central California, from the Pacific Ocean to Clear Lake (Mendocino,
Sonoma, & Lake Counties)
Language: Hokan family
1770 estimate: 8,000
1910 Census: 1,200
The Pomo were actually seven separate groups with differing dialects (languages), each living in a defined area. Pomo people often knew two or three dialects, but not all Pomo could understand each other easily. Before other settlers came, they did not think of themselves as a single group.
The seven Pomo groups were: Southwestern (or Kashaya) Pomo; Southern Pomo; Central Pomo; Northern Pomo; Northeastern (or Salt) Pomo; Eastern (or Clear Lake) Pomo; Southeastern (or Lower Lake) Pomo. The heart of Pomo land was the valley of the Russian River. Their territory extended across the Coast Range mountains to the ocean on the west, and to Clear Lake on the east. Though some villages were along the ocean and some near Clear Lake, many more were located in the Russian River valley. Even the people near the coast preferred to have their settlements away from the ocean by some miles, along a river or creek.
The name Pomo may have come from a Northern Pomo word that was added to place names when referring to people who live at that place, as in Buldam-pomo, meaning people who live at Buldam.
A community was made up of several villages with one main village where the headman lived. There were several hundred small villages in Pomo territory, but only about 75 main villages. Each community had certain land on which they had the right to hunt and fish. In some communities, individuals owned certain trees or fishing spots.
The number of headmen differed between the groups of Pomo. Some communities had one; some had several; one Central Pomo community is said to have had 20 chiefs all at the same time, each having a specific job in the community.
There were several types of houses built by the Pomo, depending on where the group lived. Eastern and Southeastern Pomo used the tule reeds that grew in marshy areas around Clear Lake. The tules were tied in bundles and then tied to poles that formed a circular or oval-shaped building. Several families shared a house, each family having a place inside for their fireplace and an entrance door.
Those who lived in the Russian River valley built their houses in the same way as the lake people, though often they used brush and grass instead of tules to cover the poles. The groups closer to the sea coast, where there were lots of redwood trees, built cone-shaped houses of poles covered with slabs of redwood bark. These houses were 8-15 feet in diameter and occupied by one family.
Each community had a small, round house built over a hole dug in the ground. This was used by the men as a sweathouse and for sleeping. Since the sweathouse was covered with brush or tules, it looked like a little grassy hill. Larger buildings (about 70 feet in diameter) with the floor dug out were used for ceremonies and dancing.
What the Pomo ate depended on where they lived. Those in the coastal area had fish, shellfish, seaweed, seals and sea lions from the ocean, and deer, elk, and smaller animals from the redwood forests. Dried seaweed and kelp were especially liked, and were traded to those who lived in the inland valleys.
The Pomo men hunted deer, elk, antelope, rabbits, squirrels, and some kinds of birds. Sometimes each man hunted alone; other times they worked as a group to drive the larger animals into a corral, with one man wearing a deer-head mask.
The Eastern and Southeastern Pomo, near Clear Lake, depended on freshwater fish as their main food. There were many kinds of fish (blackfish, carp, suckers, bass, and pike) in the lake and the streams nearby. They caught the fish in the spawning season, and dried them so they would have food all year long.
Acorns were gathered and eaten by all of the Pomo. There were seven kinds of acorns in Pomo territory, plus buckeye nuts, berries, many kinds of seeds, roots, bulbs, and greens. The Pomo also ate grass-hoppers and caterpillars. The Northeastern Pomo supplied salt from a large salt deposit in their area.
Pomo people used tule reeds or shredded bark from redwood and willow trees to make their clothing. Only the more wealthy people had skirts or robes of deerskin. Women wore skirts that reached to their ankles. They also wore capes over their shoulders, covering the upper part of their bodies.
Men often wore nothing. Sometimes they wore short aprons of tule or shredded bark, and capes over their shoulders. For cold weather, the people had blankets made of many rabbit skins. Other animal skins (sea otter, bear, puma, wildcat) were also used. The people's feet were usually bare.
Both men and women wore ornaments made of wood, bird bone, or feathers in their ears. They used shells and colored stones to make neck and wrist bands and belts.
Pomo baskets are widely known and praised for the fine workmanship and variety of patterns. Pomo made both coiled and twined baskets in many styles, using feathers and beads in the designs. Willow shoots were commonly used as the foundation for both twined and coiled baskets, with fibers of sedgeroot and redwood bark intertwined.
The Pomo who lived along the coast made rafts of driftwood bound with plant fibers. They used them to go to the offshore islands to hunt seals, sea lions, and mussels. The Clear Lake Pomo made raft-like boats from bundles of tule reeds bound together with grape vines. The Southeastern Pomo actually lived on islands in the lake. They used basket traps and spears for their fishing. For hunting large animals the Pomo used the bow and arrow, heavy spears and clubs. For smaller animals they used nets and traps. They had knives made from obsidian (volcanic glass) or chert (a type of rock) or bone.
The Pomo held trade feasts where one group who had extra food would invite others to come to a feast. The guests brought clamshell or magnesite (a reddish stone) beads which they traded for food supplies to take home with them. In addition to food, bows and arrows, arrowheads, obsidian blades, belts, robes, feathers, and skins were traded or purchased. The Northeastern Pomo, who had the big salt deposit in their area, expected payment from people who came to get salt.
The clamshell beads used as money came mostly from Bodega Bay, in Coast Miwok land. The Pomo were known as good counters. They were able to understand and use numbers in the thousands.
The Pomo called their dances he or ke, meaning sing. A ceremony, which combined several days of dancing, was called haikil. Both men and women wore colorful dance costumes, usually made by the men. They used many bright feathers and beads to decorate the dance costumes. Headbands had flicker (a type of woodpecker) feathers in them.
The Pomo sang love songs, lullabies, hunting songs, gambling songs, and religious songs. They made music with flutes, whistles, clapper sticks, rattles, and drums made from hollow logs.