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.
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.
Today, the descendants of the Mutsun (peoples “missionized” at San Juan Bautista) and Awaswas (peoples “missionized” at Santa Cruz) tribes do not call themselves the Ohlone. Instead, they have come together as the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band to preserve their history and culture. Learn more here.
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- Reminiscences of Seabright: Excerpts by Elizabeth M.C. Forbes.
- Santa Cruz County History - Spanish Period & Earlier. Subtitle: “A Well Looking, Affable People… ”: The Ohlone of Aulintak / Santa Cruz. Mary Ellen Ryan.
- A Gathering of Voices: The Native Peoples of the Central California Coast. “The Awaswas Language.” William Shipley; 2002.
- Amah Mutsun Tribal Band Website History.
- Personal Communication with Jim Keller, Director of Conservation and Land Initiatives, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, November 28, 2012.