Native Americans on Catalina
People have been living on Santa Catalina Island for at least 8,000 years. Archaeologists excavating on a limited scale at Little Harbor on the seaward side of the Island have found evidence of increasingly complex material cultures. These earlier groups of peoples exploited the rich resources of the sea–from abalone and other mollusks, to small and large fish, and marine mammals such as sea lions.
The semi-arid Island offered limited plant resources, so the Islanders traded sea products and, in later years, steatite for their other needs. The Islanders made the 20-mile voyage to the mainland (and to the other Channel Islands) in well-crafted plank canoes. Steatite (an easily carvable rock that does not crack when put in the fire) from Santa Catalina has been found in both mainland and Island sites throughout Southern California.
Over the millennia, as peoples migrated through California, different groups of Native Americans would have made their homes on the Island. For several thousand years before European contact, the Los Angeles basin and the Southern Channel Islands (Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and San Nicholas) appear to have been inhabited by peoples of linguistic affinity–the Takic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family.
At the time of first European contact, it is thought that the people living on Santa Catalina Island called their island Pimu and themselves Pimungans (or Pimuvit). They were excellent seamen and paddled their plank canoes skillfully across the sometimes treacherous channel to trade. After Spanish colonization, their apparently flourishing population declined drastically with the introduction of new diseases to which they had little immunity. As the mission system altered the economic landscape of Southern California, the Pimungans’ trade and social networks were disrupted.
In the aftermath of this enormous culture shock, their society could no longer sustain itself. By the mid-1820s, the few Pimungans left had migrated or were moved to the mainland. The Pimungans, along with other Native American groups that were in the sphere of influence of Mission San Gabriel, came to be referred to in the European community as Gabrielinos. There are people living in the Southern California area today who have Gabrielinos among their ancestors.