The Jumano Indians of Texas were one of the first Native American tribes to be encountered by Spanish explorers in what is today the United States. Their culture was geared toward a nomadic lifestyle. as reflected in the tools they used. Learning about the tools of the Jumano Indians offers an insight into their culture and society.
The Jumano Indians are actually several bands of Native Americans who use a similar language. Some were nomadic, traveling with the great herds of American buffalo that wandered the plains. Others were semi-settled along river basins and were adept traders, often acting as intermediaries in negotiations between the Spanish and other Native Americans. Though there are no solid numbers for Jumano indians from the 1500s through the 1700s, it is widely acknowledged by experts that by the 1800s, Jumano indians had essentially ceased to exist in their pre-contact form. Some speculate that the Jumano formed the Kiowa tribe, while others believe that they mostly faded into obscurity as Euro-Americans concentrated more on the larger, and more quarrelsome, Native American tribes.
Jumano Indians were initially called "naked" Indians by Spanish settlers because msot went without clothing in the summer heat of Texas. Still, the Jumano did wear moccasins, aprons and other clothing made from tanned leather. The buffalo that the nomadic (or "plains") Jumano hunted provided most of the material for Jumano tools. Bone splinters, for example, could be used to make needles, which then used gut string to sew the tanned leather hides into articles of clothing. In addition to bone, pre-contact Jumano used stone such as flint as well as wood to construct the majority of their tools. Everything from a hoe (for so-called "Pueblo" Jumano) to a bow and arrow were made of buffalo, wood or stone. Metalworking was completely unknown among the Jumano before European contact.
Jumano Indians of different types nonetheless decorated themselves in similar ways. Jumanos of both sexes tattooed themselves extensively by using a bone tattoo needle and pigments created from ground mineral- or plant-based dyes. Additionally, Jumano men often shaved their heads except for a single knot of hair. In order to do this, they used flint scrapers which had been sharpened by chipping an edge away, revealing a razor-thin edge.
By the time Spanish explorers first encountered Jumano, the tribe was well established, particularly the "pueblo" Jumano. Though they farmed near the banks of the Rio Grande and Gran Quivera rivers, the soil that produced the corn, beans and squash they ate needed to be tilled and tended. Often gardens were weeded using bare hands or conveniently bent wood hoes. Seeds were planted by drilling a hole in the soil with a simple stick and dropping two or three seeds into the hole. Watering was done naturally; that is they "dry farmed" and relied on the natural rainfall and nutrients from the flooding rivers to replenish the soil.
The Jumano were expert traders, often working with neighboring tribes to get the resources they needed and that hunting or farming could not supply. This tradition continued when the Spanish arrived, which probably hastened the exposure of the Jumano to diseases such as smallpox. Because Native American tribes had never been exposed to such pathogens, they had no natural defenses against the diseases and thus suffered catastrophic declines in their population. It is speculated that between 70 and 90 percent of the Native American population was killed off by European germs and viruses, though there is no concrete evidence of this kind of devastation among the Jumano.
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