The Miwok Indians reside in north-central California, from the coast to the west slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There are three divisions of the tribe — the Coast Miwok, the Lake Miwok, and the Sierra Miwok.
Today there are about 3,500 Miwok in total.
The Miwoks were hunter-gatherers. Miwok men hunted deer and small game and caught fish in the rivers and lakes. Miwok women gathered acorns and ground them into meal to make bread and fruits, as well as collecting berries, nuts, and other plants.
They ate plants, seeds, berries, fish and animal meats. They usually crushed acorns. They made acorn bread, acorn soup, and acorn flour. They used acorn flour to make bread and sometimes, they just ate acorn flour.
According to Miwok mythology, the people believed in animal and human spirits, and spoke of animal spirits as their ancestors. Coyote in many tales figures as their ancestor, creator god, and a trickster god. The Miwok mythology is similar to other Native American myths of Northern California.
The Miwok people were decimated by the diseases brought by the invaders and subjected to atrocities. Following the short-lived Mariposa Indian War (1850) those who survived were forced on to various reservations.
Beliefs. The Miwok had an animistic philosophy: they wanted no walls and trod lightly on the land, leaving no footsteps, always apologizing to the spirits in animals or nature whenever they disturbed them in whatever fashion. Their oral history was transmitted through the stories of the elders and shamans.
Ceremonies/ Traditions /Rituals: They only took what they needed from the land and were never wasteful. The Bay Miwok believed totally in the power of animal spirits and the spirits of each other. They worshipped animals as ancestors, imitated them in dance, and told myths about them.
The Miwok caught salmon and sturgeon from the rivers and streams and collected clams and mussels from the sea-shore. The Miwok also hunted deer and elk in the mountains and valleys.
Among other things, they were in charge of planning for various festivals that the Miwoks had. Dancing was very important to the Miwoks, both socially and also as part of their religion. Each tribe had its own “dance house”. The Miwoks often danced while wearing costumes made from animal skin.
The Miwok community lived in dome and conical shaped homes. Theses structures were then covered with redwood boards (called ‘kotcha’) or grass or tule (called ‘kaawul kotcha’). The grass houses had a willow frame covered with bundled grass and a tule mat or animal hide was used for the flap door leading into the house.
The easterly Plains Miwok lived along the rivers in the Lower Sonoran zone, the westerly in the Upper Sonoran of the Delta, chiefly regions of hot summer Mediterranean climate.
They traded fish and shells for hides. The Coast Miwok wanted mined rocks and minerals they made into body paints for religious ceremonies. When they had no items to trade they used strings of shells called dentalium for money. These shells were of great value.
Their traditional houses, called “kotcha”, were constructed with slabs of tule grass or redwood bark in a cone-shaped form. Miwok people are skilled at basketry.
All Miwok twined baskets, other than cradles, in the University’s collection, have reinforcing willow hoops sewed to their rims. There are no delicate and beautiful twined baskets.