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Obituaries : Vincent Tumamait; Helped Revive Chumash Culture

August 12, 1992

Vincent (Beaver) Tumamait, an elder and spiritual leader of the Chumash nation, died Tuesday in an Ojai hospital. Tumamait, who helped bring about a renaissance of his people's culture, was 73.

He worked for 30 years as an oil field roustabout, trucker and mechanic with Shell Oil Co. in Ventura before retiring in 1983.

But Tumamait was best known for his contributions to Chumash culture, which he helped preserve by sharing stories, dances and cultural knowledge at schools and public gatherings.

He was a frequent lecturer at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and the Ventura County Museum of History and Art, and was a subject of "Voices of the Planet," a Public Broadcasting System documentary.

"His death is a big loss for his family and for all of the Indian nation," said Tony Romero, a Chumash elder who lives on the tribe's reservation in Santa Barbara County.

"He was a wonderful philosopher of the traditional Chumash way," Romero said.

When the Spanish arrived in the area 200 years ago, as many as 20,000 Chumash inhabited the coast between Malibu and San Luis Obispo. Because of diseases the Spaniards brought with them, fewer than 1,000 Chumash survived by the mid-1800s. Today, an estimated 4,000 residents of Chumash descent live in the region. No full-blooded Chumash are known to survive.

Tumamait was born July 19, 1919, in Ventura and graduated from Ventura High School and Ventura Junior College. His father, Cecilio Tumamait, was a full-blooded Chumash and his mother, Maria, was half Chumash.

Tumamait--Chumash for "seat of the chief"--is the only Chumash surname known to remain in the area, said Kathleen Conti, the director of Chumash art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

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