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The Kawaiisu (also Nuwa or Nuooah) are a Native American group who lived in the southern Californiamarker Tehachapi Valley and in the mountains to the north, toward Lake Isabellamarker and Walker Passmarker. They also traveled eastward on food-gathering trips to areas in the Mojave Desert to the north and northeast of the Antelope Valleymarker, as far east as the Panamint Mountainsmarker and the western edge of Death Valleymarker.

The Kawaiisu lived in permanent winter villages of 60 to 100 people. They often divided into smaller groups during the warmer months of the year and exploited both mountain and desert plants and animals for food and raw materials.

The Kawaiisu were related by language and culture to the Southern Paiute of southwestern Nevadamarker and the Chemehuevi of the eastern Mojave Desert of Californiamarker. They may have originally lived in the desert before coming to the Tehachapi Mountains region, perhaps as early as 2000 years ago or before.

The Kawaiisu have been known by several other names, including the Caliente, Paiute, and Tehachapi Indians, but they called themselves Nuwu or "people." The Kawaiisu maintained friendly relations with the neighboring Kitanemuk and also participated in cooperative antelope drives (driving herds of antelope into traps so they could be more easily slaughtered) with the Yokuts, another group living in the San Joaquin Valleymarker.


The Kawaiisu language is a member of the Southern Numic division of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The Kawaiisu homeland was bordered by speakers of non-Numic Uto-Aztecan languages. The Kitanemuk to the south spoke Takic, the Tubatulabal to the north spoke Tubatualabal, a linguistic isolate. The Yokuts to the west were non-Uto-Aztecan. Because they also spoke a Southern Numic language, the Chemehuevi to the east are the closest linguistic relatives to Kawaiisu.


Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. (See Population of Native California.) Alfred L. Kroeber (1925:883) proposed the combined 1770 population of the Kawaiisu, Koso (Western Shoshone), and Chemehuevi as 1,500. He estimated the surviving population of the Kawaiisu, Koso, and Chemehuevi in 1910 as 500.

See also

External links


  • Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.

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