Karok - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The aboriginal Karok subsisted by fishing, hunting, and gathering wild plant foods; the only cultivated crop was tobacco. Salmon, whose yearly upriver runs were the basis of ceremonial activity, were generally caught in nets from platforms on the riverbank. The prize game was deer, the hunting of which was also encompassed by ritual activities. The major plant food was the acorn of the tanbark oak prepared by cracking, drying, and grinding to flour, and then leaching to remove the bitter flavor of tannic acid. The resulting dough was diluted and boiled by placing it with heated rocks in a large basket to make "acorn mush" or "acorn soup." Hazel twigs and pine roots were used in basketry. Present-day Karok still fish and hunt, and occasionally make acorn soup. Subsistence is difficult for many modern Karok, as agriculture, industry, and tourism are very limited in the area where they live. In aboriginal times, the dog was the only domestic animal. After White contact, horses, cattle, pigs, and cats became familiar parts of Karok life.

Industrial Arts. The principal art of the aboriginal Karok was basketry, practiced by the women; baskets were woven so tightly they held water. Much care was lavished on intricate decorative designs, woven as overlays. Men carved wood with stone tools, producing storage boxes and household objects, and they carved various utensils from soapstone, horn, and shell. Obsidian was chipped to make knives and arrowheads; large blades of chipped obsidian were prized wealth objects. In modern days, basketry survived for a time, but is in danger of extinction. There are no current sales of Karok art to tourists.

Trade. Aboriginal trade was of minor importance, since most commodities were available locally. But the Karok traded with the downstream Yurok for redwood dugout canoes, for ornamental shells, and for edible seaweed. The principal Indian money was dentalium shells, which originated in British Columbia, but circulated among many tribes as a medium of exchange, with larger shells important in displays of wealth.

Division of Labor. Men hunted, fished, and carved, while women gathered plant resources and wove baskets. Strict taboos forbade female contact with men engaged in hunting and fishing.

Land Tenure. In aboriginal times, individual families owned the land closest to the river where they lived and had rights to particular fishing sites on the river. Hunting and gathering lands were used communally. The Karok are one of the few tribes in California for whom reservation land was never set aside. Most of Karok territory today is national Forest land, with some plots owned privately either by Indians or by Whites.


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