About: The Chumash Tomol

Indigenous canoes represent the foundation of water borne transportation worldwide. The Chumash Tomol is America’s finest example of a canoe capable of ocean travel. Tomols are sewn plank canoes which are unique in North America—and their story is a fascinating one. They were constructed of redwood if available, which is an excellent boat building material. Besides having a high strength to weight ratio, it is more rot resistant than most other woods. Straight grained and easy to work with, redwood can also be easily split into planks using an antler fashioned into a wedge.

Even though redwood trees don’t grow in Southern California, they can travel there in the form of driftwood logs which are initially washed out to sea during the high river flows of Northern California’s winter storms.

The Chumash tribe and also their Tongva neighbors to the south, knew the value of this non-native wood and would gather the prized driftwood logs which made their way down the California coast courtesy of NW winds and currents.

These redwood logs were then split into planks, then carefully sewn and caulked together with a mixture of tar and pine pitch to construct the ocean going redwood canoes called Tomol by the Chumash and Tiat by the Tongva people.

Read this story of the most sophisticated indigenous boats ever made in North America by enlarging the panel below.