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Material Culture

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A people's material culture is the objects they manufacture, such as tools, buildings, clothing and art. The Shasta had a rich material culture. They utilized a variety of natural materials to make the things they needed for their day-to-day life.

Plant materials were used to make baskets [basket photos] for storing and cooking, netting and cordage were fashioned from hemp, and deer snares were formed from irises. Tobacco pipes, mush paddles, digging sticks and spoons were carved from wood, as were bows and arrows. While they purchased most of their boats from the Karuk or Yurok they did make a few dugouts from sugar pine logs, and they also constructed tule rafts. Bone and horn were fashioned into scrapers, spoons, awls, flutes and other items. Stone tools included pestles, obsidian knives, scrapers, and arrowheads, and soapstone bowls. Glue was made from fish, pine and chokecherry pitch. Animal hides were used to make clothing, which were decorated with a variety of shells and beads. Drums were made of animal hides and rattles made from deer hooves [deer hoof rattle] (Silver 218).

Shasta baskets.
Shasta baskets
From The Shasta by Roland Dixon

The Shasta had permanent winter villages where there was at least one dwelling structure (umma), measuring approximately 16 by 20 feet and dug about 3 feet into the ground. The upper portion of the house was constructed of dirt sidewalls, wood end walls and a steeply pitched roof. The house would have a central fire pit. Large villages also had an assembly house (okwa-umma), which was located at the center of the village. The assembly house resembled the dwelling houses but was deeper (6.5 feet) and larger (approximately 20 by 27 feet). Assembly houses were used as a general gathering areas, sweathouses, guesthouses for visitors, and as a place for doctors in training to dance. The assembly houses were owned by headmen (Winthrop 22).

Diagram of an umma, the main house of the Shasta.
Diagram of an umma, the main house of the Shasta
Diagram by Alfred Kroeber

Separate men's sweathouses (wukwu) were built in larger villages along the Klamath River and in the lower Scott and Shasta valleys. Sweathouses could seat 15 -20 men and were used daily. Sweathouses were also used as sleeping accommodations for boys older than 10 or 12 and for bachelors. Sweating was thought to promote hunting and gambling luck. Women were forbidden to enter these strictly male domains. Families also had their own steam sweathouses; these were places utilized by both women and men, but primarily by "women after menstruating, childbirth, or during mourning" (Silver 214-215).

Shasta women like many northern Californian Indians utilized menstrual huts (wapsahuumma) which the women built about 8-10 feet from the dwelling house and on the west side of the village. Menstrual huts were also used for childbirth (Silver 215).


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