A Maidu coiled basket, late 19th century.
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States of America (CA)|
|Animistic (incl. syncretistic forms), other|
The Maidu are an indigenous people of northern California. They reside in the central Sierra Nevada, in the drainage area of the Feather and American Rivers. Also they reside in Humbug Valley. In Maiduan languages, Maidu means "man".
There are three subcategories of Maidu:
- The Nisenan or Southern Maidu occupied the whole of the American, Bear, and Yuba River drainages. They live in lands that were previously home to the Martis.
- The Northeastern or Mountain Maidu, also known as Yamani Maidu, lived on the upper North and Middle forks of the Feather River.
- The Konkow (Koyom'kawi/Concow) came out of the valley between Cherokee, California and Pulga, California along the north fork of the Feather River and its tributaries. The Mechupda live in the area of Chico, California.
Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. Alfred L. Kroeber estimated the 1770 population of the Maidu (including the Konkow and Nisenan) as 9,000. Sherburne F. Cook raised this figure slightly, to 9,500.
Kroeber reported the population of the Maidu in 1910 as 1,100. The 1930 census counted only 93. As of 1995, the Maidu population had recovered to an estimated 3,500.
The Maidu were hunters and gatherers.
The Maidu were exemplary basket weavers, weaving highly detailed and useful baskets in sizes ranging from thimble-sized to huge ones ten or more feet in diameter. The stitches on some of these baskets are so fine that you need a magnifying glass to see them. In addition to closely woven, watertight baskets for cooking, they made large storage baskets, bowls, shallow trays, traps, cradles, hats and seed beaters. To make these baskets they used dozens of different kinds of wild plant stems, barks, roots and leaves. Some of the more common were fern roots, red bark of the redbud, white willow twigs and tule roots, hazel twigs, yucca leaves, brown marsh grass roots and sedge roots. By combining these different kinds of plants, they were able to make geometric designs on their baskets in red, black, white, brown or tan.
Like many other California tribes, the Maidu were hunters and gatherers and did not farm. They practiced grooming of their gathering grounds, with fire as a primary tool for this purpose, and tended local groves of oak trees to maximize production of acorns, which was their principal dietary staple. The abundance of acorns made it possible for the Maidu to store large quantities for harder times, and they used their basket-making skills to construct above-ground acorn granaries.
Besides acorns, which provided dietary starch and fat, the Maidu lived in an environment rich in plant and animal life, much of it edible, and they supplemented their acorn diet with edible roots (for which they were nicknamed "Digger Indians" by European immigrants), fish from the many streams and rivers, and other plant and animal species. The seeds from the many flowering plants as well as the corms from many wild flowers provided much of the sustenance to the People of the area. Wildlife of every sort was also utilized within a spiritual reference. Deer, elk, antelope as well as all the multitude of smaller game were utilized on a regular basis. Fish were a prime source of protein starting with the multi run salmon then relying on the local indigenous fishes that supplied food the year round.
Maidu housing, especially higher in the hills and the mountains, was largely semi-underground. These houses were sizable, circular structures twelve to 18 feet in diameter, whose floors were as much as three feet below ground level. Once the floor of the house was dug, a pole framework was built, then a covering of pine bark slabs upon which a heavy layer of earth was placed along the base of the structure. With a central fire in the house at ground level, a stone lined pit and bedrock mortar to process foods, meals were always ready to feed the family. For summer dwelling, a different structure was built from cut branches tied together and fastened to sapling posts, then covered with brush and dirt. The summer shelters were built with the principal opening facing east to catch the rising sun, and to escape the heat of the afternoon.
They lived in small villages or tribelets with no centralized political organization. Leaders were typically selected from the pool of men who headed the local Kuksu cult, but generally did not exercise day-to-day authority, being primarily responsible for settling internal disputes, and negotiating over matters arising between villages.
The primary religious tradition of the Maidu revolved around the Kuksu cult, which was a central California religious cult system based on a male secret society and characterized by the Kuksu or "big head" dances. Besides the Maidu, this cult system was also followed by the Pomo and the Patwin among the Wintun.
The Maidu spoke a language held by some authorities to be of the Penutian linguistic stock. While all Maidu spoke a form of this language, the grammar, syntax and vocabulary differed sufficiently that Maidu separated by large distances or by geographic features that discouraged travel might actually speak nearly mutually unintelligible dialects of the tongue.
The Maidu inhabited areas in northeastern Sierra Nevada. This area and the sites they occupied contain many examples of rock art and petroglyphs. There is some confusion on whether this rock art and other site remains are from previous populations of peoples or from the Maidu people themselves. Regardless, the Maidu people incorporated these works into their cultural system, due to their beliefs that artifacts are real, living energies that are an integral part of their world.
Federally Maidu recognized tribes
- Berry Creek Rancheria of Maidu Indians
- Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians of California
- Greenville Rancheria of Maidu Indians of California
- Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria
- Mooretown Rancheria of Maidu Indians of California
- Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, Shingle Springs Rancheria (Verona Tract)
- Susanville Indian Rancheria
- United Auburn Indian Community of the Auburn Rancheria
Non-federally recognized tribes
- Honey Lake Maidu Tribe
- KonKow Valley Band of Maidu Indians
- Nevada City Rancheria
- Strawberry Valley Band of Pakan'yani Maidu (aka Strawberry Valley Rancheria)
- Tsi Akim Maidu Tribe of Taylorsville Rancheria
- United Maidu Nation
- Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe of the Colfax Rancheria
- Dalbert Castro – Nisenan
- Frank Day – Konkow
- Harry Fonseca – Nisenan
- Judith Lowry – Mountain Maidu
- Frank Tuttle – Koncow Maidu
- Janice Gould – Konkow Maidu
- Wallace Clark - Koyom'kawi yepom (traditional arts)
Ninsenan Indian tribe
- "California Indians and their Reservations." SDSU Library and Information Access.
- Robbins, John (2000-12-14). "ACTION: Native American human remains and associated funerary objects:". thefederalregister.com. Retrieved 2008-08-14.
- Kroeber (1925:883)
- Cook (1976:179)
- Konkow Valley Band of Maidu
- Strawberry Valley Rancheria
- Frank Tuttle (Konkow Maidu, Yuki, Wailaki)
- "Maidu Indian Legends." Native Languages of the Americas. Retrieved 30 Dec 2011.
- Cook, Sherburne F. 1976. The Conflict between the California Indian and White Civilization. University of California Press, Berkeley.
- Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
- Heizer, Robert F. 1966. Languages, Territories, and Names of California Indian Tribes. University of California Press, Berkeley.
- Pritzker, Barry. 2000. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford University Press, New York.
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