Ethnography database



First Contact:

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About the Tribe

!Kung Bushmen

Each waterhole has a hinterland lying within a six-mile radius which is regularly exploited for vegetable and animal foods. These areas are not territories in the zoological sense, since they are not defended against outsiders. Rather they constitute the resources that lie within a convenient walking distance of a waterhole. The camp is a self-sufficient sub­ sistence unit. The members move out each day to hunt and gather, and return in the evening to pool the collected foods in such a way that every person present receives an equitable share.

Another measure of nutritional adequacy is the average consumption of calories and pro­teins per person per day. The estimate for the Bushmen is based on observations of the weights of foods of known composition that were brought into Dobe camp on each day of the study period. The per-capita figure is ob­tained by dividing the total weight offoodstuffs by the total number of persons in the camp. These results are set out in detail elsewhere (Lee, 1969) and can only be summarized here. During the study period 410 pounds of meat were brought in by the hunters of the Dobe camp, for a daily share of nine ounces of meat per person. About 700 pounds of vege­table foods were gathered and consumed dur­ ing the same period. Table 5 sets out the calories and proteins available per capita in the !Kung Bushman dietary from meat, mongongo nuts, and other vegetable sources.

I have discussed how the !Kung Bushmen are able to manage on the scarce resources of their inhospitable environment. The essence of their successful strategy seems to be that while they depend primarily on the more stable and abundant food sources (vegetables in their case), they are nevertheless willing to devote considerable energy to the less reliable and more highly valued food sources such as medium and large mammals.

Importance of Animal Products

In their meat-eating habits, the Bushmen
show a similar selectivity. Of the 223 local
species of animals known and named by the
Bushmen, 54 species are classified as edible,
and of these only 17 species were hunted on a
regular basis. Only a handful of the dozens of edible species of small mammals, birds, rep­tiles, and insects that occur locally are regarded as food. Such animals as rodents, snakes, lizards, termites, and grasshoppers, which in the literature are included in the Bushman dietary ( Schapera, 1 930), are despised by the Bushmen of the Dobe area.

Listed in urder of their importance, the principal species in the diet are : 

wart hog, 








ant bear, 


guinea fowl, 

francolin (two species), 




they are nevertheless willing to devote considerable energy to the less reliable and more highly valued food sources such as medium and large mammals.

Importance of Plants

Here all the edible plant species are arranged in classes according to the frequency with which they were observed to be eaten. It should be noted, that although there are some 85 species available, about 90 per cent of the vegetable diet by weight is drawn from only 23 species. In other words, 75 per cent of the listed species provide only 1 0 per cent of the food value.

Vegetable foods comprise from 60-80 per cent of the total diet by weight, and col­lecting involves two or three days of work per woman per week. The men also collect plants and small animals but their major contribution to the diet is the hunting of medium and large game. The men are conscientious but not par­ticularly successful hunters; although men's and women's work input is roughly equivalent in terms of man-day of effort, the women pro­vide two to three times as much food by weight as the men.

It is impossible to define "abundance" of re­ sources absolutely. However, one index of relative abundance is whether or not a popula­ tion exhausts all the food available from a given area. By this criterion, the habitat ofthe Dobe­ area Bushmen is abundant in naturally occur­ ring foods. By far the most important food is the Mongongo (mangetti) nut (Ricinodendron rautanenii Schinz) . Although tens of thousands of pounds ofthese nuts are harvested and eaten each year, thousands more rot on the ground each year for want of picking.

The mongongo nut, because ofits abundance and reliability, alone accounts for 50 per cent of the vegetable diet by weight. In this respect it resembles a cultivated staple crop such as maize or rice. Nutritionally it is even more re­ markable, for it contains five times the calories and ten times the proteins per cooked unit of the cereal crops. The average daily per­ capita consumption of 300 nuts yields about

1,260 calories and 56 grams of protein. This modest portion, weighing only about 7.5 ounces, contains the caloric equivalent   o f 2 . 5 pounds o f cooked rice and the protein equiva­ lent of 14 ounces of lean beef (Vlatt and Merrill, 1963).

Furthermore the mongongo nut is drought resistant and it will still be abundant in the dry years when cultivated crops may fail. The extremely hard outer shell protects the inner kernel from rot and allows the nuts to be har­ vested for up to twelve months after they have fallen to the ground. A diet based on mongongo nuts is in fact more reliable than one based on cultivated foods, and it is not surprising, there­ fore, that when a Bushman was asked why he hadn't taken to agriculture he replied : "Why should we plant, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world ?"

Apart from the mongongo, the Bushmen have available 84 other species of edible food plants, including 29 species of fruits, berries, and melons and 30 species of roots and bulbs. The existence of this variety allows for a wide range of alternatives in subsistence strategy. During the summer months the Bushmen have no problem other than to choose among the tastiest and most easily collected foods. Many species, which are quite edible but less attractive, are bypassed, so that gathering never ex­hausts all the available plant foods of an area. During the dry season the diet becomes much more eclectic and the many species of roots, bulbs, and edible resins make an important contribution. It is this broad base that pro­vides an essential margin of safety during the end of the dry season when the mongongo nut forests are difficult to reach. In addition, it is likely that these rarely utilized species provide important nutritional and mineral trace ele­ments that may be lacking in the more popular foods.


Hokkaido, Japan

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About the Tribe

Is the high residential stability of the Ainu a result of their subsistence on salmon ? The economic importance of this fish for the Ainu is certainly great. But the deer also had an important place in their diet, and there is evidence to suggest that in some areas more than half of their animal food supply was derived from deer alone. In a settlement on the upper Tokapchi, for instance, the annual catch of the deer per family was not less than 300 while the annual store of fish per family consisted of 500-600 dog salmon and 600-800 cherry salmon. The figures are not likely to be exaggerated. The deer was hunted not only for the meat but also for the skin which was an important item of trade. The meat was consumed both by the Ainu themselves and by their hunting dogs. They also habitually prepared extra stores of food as insurance against the year when resources failed. The Tushipet valley in Tokapchi had no runs of dog salmon and the Ainu there lived chiefly on deer. In spite of their dependence on deer, even the Tushipet Ainu maintained perennially inhabited settlements.

One of the fundamental factors relevant to the high stability of residence among the Ainu may have been the distribution of the ecological zones within narrow river valleys they inhabited (Fig. I ) . Ecological zones refer to the zones of exploitative activities classified in terms of physiography and biota. The subsistence activities of the Ainu were conducted in the following ecological zones,each of which yielded specific resources in specific seasons : (erformt;d by women. There are concrete data (Watanabe, 1 964a) showing that those groups who practiced farming gathered wild roots with less frequency and in smaller quantities than those who did not. But there is no evidence that the introduction of the primitive (pre-I884) agriculture significantly increased the stability (jf residence among them. A similar distribution pattern of ecological zones and a high stability of residence are found among the Northern Paiute in Owens Valley (Steward, 1938). In both Hokkaido and Owens Valley, it is the presence of narrow valleys that permitted the maintenance of year-round residence . The residential shift pattern depends upon

(1) The river : cherry salmon fishing (summer, in the main stream and some tributaries) ; dog salmon fishing (autumn, in the mainstream)

(2) The river banks : collecting of wild plants (spring to autumn)

(3) The river terraces : deer hunting (autumn) ; plant collecting

(4) The hillsides along the river course : deer hunting (early winter, at or near the animals' winter quarters)

(5) The mountain region around the source of the river: bear hunting, specialized (spring and autumn)

col­lection of elm bark for clothing (usually spring) . Zones 1-3 were exploited from a single center, namely the permanent settlement which is usually situated on the edge of the river terrace. The outermost zones 4 and 5 were hunting areas, each exploited from a different hunting hut. Some Ainu, especially those living downstream, did not engage in bear hunts and consequently had no hunting huts.

Ainu women and children (Watanabe 1964a) sometimes hunted deer with sticks, ropes, and/or dogs when they had opportunities.

The indigenous people of northern Japan, the Ainu, were the only group in the country that was consistently the subject of both tourist and scientific photography. Images produced by commercial and scientific photographers appeared in travelogues and tourist albums as well as in scientific studies in anthropology, medicine, and other fields. These images often reinforced widely held views that the Ainu were Japan’s “vanishing race” or “noble savage.

Visible Ainu cultural practices such as tattooing and body adornment, as well as Ainu physiognomy, such as eye shape and body hair, were repeatedly photographed and discussed in tourist and scientific literature as evidence of the “primitive” state of the Ainu people and culture. Photographs in this section are examples of the kind of photography produced by and for scientists.

p. 18

The Ainu people are not a handsome nation, though, as individuals, the race is strong, thick-set, squarely built and full-chested. The chief thing that strikes one on meeting an Ainu for the first time is his fine beard, moppy hair, and sparkling eyes; next, his dirty appearance, poor clothing, and, should he be near at hand, his odour. The Ainu certainly do not, upon first acquaintance, produce a very favourable im pression; in fact, to many people they quickly become repulsive, especially on account of their filth.

After more than eight years' experience amongst this people, and after having lived with them in their own huts and mixed with them both in their daily tasks and amusements—after having listened to their troubles, been by their side in sickness and in health, seen them at their religious exercises, and been present when the hand of death has been upon them—the present writer is prepared to affirm that a more kind, gentle, and sym pathetic people would be very difficult to find. The Ainu only need sympathy and kind treatment to bring out their real character.

• In some of the cases marked, the subsistence percentages have been changed from those published in the Ethnographic Atlas. The categories have been redefined so that shell fishing is included under "Gathering," and pursuit of sea-mammals under "Hunting." In the Atlas, both are ;ncluded under "Fishing."

Importance of Animal Products

Historic Ainu people were hunter-gatherers who practiced limited agriculture. Their diets were rich in venison, bear, millet, beans, peas, salmon, trout, rabbit, shellfish, fowl, and foraged plants.[1][2] The Ainu lived as a sustainable part of their ecosystems for hundreds of years. On Hokkaido, a single household caught as many as 1400 salmon and 300 deer per year.[3] On Sakhalin Island, dogs were raised as both transportation and food animals.[1]

Ainu men supplied most of the red meat and fish for their families.

The Ainu people are most malodorous at times; but it should be borne in mind that the men and women sometimes walk ten or fifteen miles a day in a broiling sun with a heavy load of unsalted, sun-dried fish upon their backs. Such fish have by no means a pleasant smell, and, when once the odour gets well into their clothes, it most tenaciously remains there, and only requires a little perspiring dampness to bring it out in its strength. Not only so, but it is sometimes quite pain ful to sit in a hut with an Ainu who has lately been eating some kinds of dried fish, particularly the skate. It makes the breath peculiarly strong and noxious.

But there is nothing an Ainu loves so much as hunting, excepting, perhaps, getting intoxicated.

A few generations ago there was a very great famine in Yezo, so that thousands upon thousands of animals— deer, bears, foxes, wolves, and rats—died. The Ainu would not have minded the famine so much but for this. The death of the animals was far worse than the failure of the crops; for the staple food was flesh. A great number of the Ainu died, starved to death. The people who lived towards the south of Yezo saved themselves by fleeing to Mororan, in Volcano Bay, where they were kept alive by eating shell-fish—the Haliotis tuberculata, or ‘sea-ear.’ These fish are very plentiful about Chiripet and Mororan. I believe the story of this ancient famine is quite true; for near the sea shore, about two miles from Mororan, there are some very large lumps of sea-ear shells to be seen, covered with nearly a foot of black earth.

In the winter time, particularly during the latter part of November and the early part of December, the women assist the men to net or spear the large salmon which are found in the rivers about this time.

the Ainu do not know how to cook. They are remarkably fond of stew, strongly flavoured with badly dried fish, and almost every article of food is cast into the stewpot, and is there completely spoiled. However, their food is not always cooked in this manner, for fish is sometimes roasted before the fire, and potatoes are baked in the ashes upon the hearth. A hungry man can make a good and enjoyable meal off sueh things. They are very fond of salmon, salmon trout, young sharks, swordfish, and whale; and, in the way of flesh, bear's fat and marrow-bones, the haunch of venison, and any part of a horse or bullock.

while grouse, wild geese, and cranes serve for game.

Salmon-fishing is a very favourite pursuit of the Ainu, and many of the people take great delight in it. Some of them are very clever at spearing salmon, for they commence to learn to use the fish-spear very early. I knew a lad only twelve years of age, who would some times start off to the river at daybreak, and return by eight o'clock with six or eight fine fish.

Importance of Plants

Women, meanwhile, gathered wild plants and grew grains and vegetables. They picked leeks and lilies in the forest, as well as wild grapes and berries. In early spring, they tapped trees for sap and collected fresh shoots of mugwort. Over time, as natural resources on Hokkaido dwindled, Ainu people relied more on Japanese rice for survival.[2][4]

In the spring time the women, both old and young, crawl out of their sleeping places in the small hours of the morning, eat a hasty meal of cold vegetable stew, with perhaps a morsel of uncooked dried fish by way of relish, shoulder their tools, and proceed to the patches of land they call their gardens, to dig up the soil and sow the seeds, returning to their huts at sunset only to take another meal like that of the morning, and again lie down to sleep.

The Ainu mode of reaping is a long process, for it consists of walking through the gardens and pinching off the millet and barley heads with sharp shells. The straw is left standing; the Ainu have no use for that. Then, a little later on, just before the snow begins to fall, the women and children go away into the forests to pick up chestnuts, which are used as an article of food among them. About the same time they dig up the roots of the dog-tooth violet. These they wash, boil, and mash up into a pulp, then make into cakes and dry in the sun for winter food. 

The Ainu gardens consist merely of small patches of land, generally upon the banks of rivers or in a valley. They cultivate one piece of land for two or three years running, then let that go to waste and take a fresh plot. This is quite necessary, for they use no manure. The Ainu understand nothing about agriculture; they have no idea as to how to cultivate the land. So long as a woman can procure sufficient food for her family to last through the winter, that is all she cares about. When ever the gardens fail, the Ainu live by hunting in the mountains, by what they can catch in the sea, or by such things as grow naturally.

[In December] Then millet must be pounded, the beans and peas shelled, and a thousand and one other little things attended to. Thus is the woman the slave of the man.

Seaweed and various herbs, the roots of some kinds of lilies, and many water plants, as well as leeks and onions, are used as vegetables;


Aleutian Islands, Alaska, USA

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About the Tribe

Qaqamiiĝuˆx qalgadam ukulganaa ngiin ugutaasakun (Eastern dialect, Unangam tunuu). Qaqamiiĝuˆx qalgadaˆx anĝaĝiˆx ngiin aˆxtanaa akuˆx (Western dialect Unangam tunuu). 

The Aleutian and Pribilof islands are home to an abundance of foods from the sea and land. Traditional Unanga-n/s foods, harvested from the land and sea, are an essential part of Unanga-n/s culture and livelihood and have been for thousands of years. Unanga-n/s have survived off of these foods for centuries and continue to harvest and prepare many of these foods today. The Unanga-n/s traditional diet historically depended on foods from the sea; seal, sea lion, whale, fish and tidal foods provided the majority of nutrients in the diet. Birds, plants, caribou, and later reindeer in some communities, were also important sources of food. All of these foods continue to be used today and are supplemented with store-bought foods. The recipes have changed dramatically over the years with the increased availability of store foods and the influence of different cultures.

Importance of Animal Products

Authentic Aleut Recipes that show their dependence upon animal foods:

Braided Seal Intestine

The intestine of seal is referred to as an’giˆx or chidgiˆx/ an’giˆx in Unangam tunuu. Seal intestine was one of the resources used in the past for making the hooded parka, or chigdaˆx (E). As a food item, the intestines of the seal can be used to prepare «braided seal gut» or An’gim chikuĝigan kiichkaĝii (E), an’gim amaĝii (A). Seal gut is usually braided by women, however few people know how to do it today. The gut from a small young seal, one to one and a half years old, is best to use for braiding because it is easier to handle and clean and it’s not as stringy as an older seal. It can be braided and stuffed with any parts of the seal, such as the heart, lungs, or kidney, but is typically braided with the fat [Atka]. Once the braided gut has been prepared, it is boiled, cooled, and then eaten with mustard. Lucy Kenezuroff learned how to braid seal gut from her dad, John Nevzuroff. Lucy was born in 1930 in King Cove to Annie Galishoff, and then moved to Belkofski. She came from a family of 13 kids. «I used to watch my dad braid seal gut. One time I was sitting out on the porch, my dad had strings all lined up to tie, to use for foxes and stuff. I took some of them strings, sit down and was putting them around my finger. That’s how I taught myself to braid seal gut. Using a rope». Lucy’s braided seal gut recipe has two ingredients: a cleaned gut of seal and seal fat, cut into strips. The end of the seal gut must be split open and scraped out until it is clean. This takes a lot of work. After it has been scraped, Lucy soaks the gut in salt water and continues to stir it and clean it further. Her parents used to get water out of the bay to soak the gut. The gut gets soaked in salt water for a day or two. Lucy cuts the fat into strips and stuffs it in the gut while she is braiding it. The fat helps keep the gut soft. After she is done braiding, she cuts the braided intestine into three pieces, each about a foot long, to cook it. It is then cooked in boiling water for about an hour, or until it is tender. She likes to eat it right after it is done cooking with some plain rice: «I don’t wait till it gets cold. I always dive in when it’s hot… it’s a real tender meat…it almost tastes like corned beef in a way.» While Lucy prefers to eat seal gut warm, some others prefer eating it cold with mustard.

Jellied Meat - Stuudinax:

Considered a delicacy by the Unanga-n/s, sea lion flippers can be cooked, fermented, or boiled and made into a dish called stuudinax. Stuudinax is a variation of head cheese, or meat jelly, that uses the natural gelatin found in the bones and cartilage of the flippers to gel. In the past, flippers were sometimes cooked until they came apart. When cooled they were sliced and eaten with potatoes, onions, other vegetables, bread, salt, pepper, and mustard. Some people ferment the flipper in a paper bag for up to ten days until the skin gets loose. Then, it is eaten right away or preserved in salt or frozen.

Importance of Plants

  • Wild blueberries

  • Salmonberries

  • Mossberries

  • Lowbush cranberries

  • Chocolatie lily bulbs

  • Cow Parsnip, peeled stalks lists native plants, not surprisingly, the only supposed nutrition benefits are fiber and antioxidants, which are both myths.


Virginia, USA

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About the Tribe

Algonquian - Virginia

I am now grown old, and must soon die; and the succession must descend, in order, to my brothers, Opitchapan, Opekankanough, and Catataugh, and then to my two sisters, and their two daughters. I wish their experience was equal to mine; and that your love to us might not be less than ours to you. Why should you take by force that from us which you can have by love? Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions, and fly into the woods; and then you must consequently famish by wronging your friends. What is the cause of your jealousy? You see us unarmed, and willing to supply your wants, if you will come in a friendly manner, and not with swords and guns, as to invade an enemy. I am not so simple, as not to know it is better to eat good meat, lie well, and sleep quietly with my women and children; to laugh and be merry with the English; and, being their friend, to have copper, hatchets, and whatever else I want, than to fly from all, to lie cold in the woods, feed upon acorns, roots, and such trash, and to be so hunted, that I cannot rest, eat, or sleep. In such circumstances, my men must watch, and if a twig should but break, all would cry out, "Here comes Capt. Smith;" and so, in this miserable manner, to end my miserable life; and, Capt. Smith, this might be soon your fate too, through your rashness and unadvisedness. I, therefore, exhort you to peaceable councils; and, above all, I insist that the guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy and uneasiness, be removed and sent away.

Importance of Animal Products

Importance of Plants


Athabasca, AB, Canada

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About the Tribe

The Athabaskan peoples, residing in Arctic and sub-Arctic Alaska, U.S.A., and the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories of Canada have traditionally occupied a vast geographic area of approximately 3 million square kilometers. This enormous region has been continuously occupied by Athabaskan peoples for at least 10,000 years and includes three of North America’s largest river systems (Mackenzie, Yukon and Churchill Rivers). It also includes large areas of both tundra (barren lands) and taiga (boreal forest) as well as North America’s highest mountains (Mount McKinley and Mount Logan) and the world’s largest non-polar ice field (St. Elias Mountains). The southeastern boundary of the Arctic Athabaskan peoples’ traditional territories includes portions of provincial northern Canada. The ancestors of contemporary Athabaskan peoples were semi-nomadic hunters. The staples of Athabaskan life are caribou, moose, beaver, rabbits and fish. Athabaskan peoples today continue to enjoy their traditional practices and diet. Except for south-central Alaska (Tanana and Eyak) and the Hudson Bay (Chipweyan), Athabaskan peoples are predominately inland taiga and tundra dwellers. Collectively, the Arctic Athabaskan peoples share 23 distinct language and live in communities as far flung as Tanana, Alaska and Tadoule Lake, northern Manitoba, nearly 5400 kilometers apart. Shӓkat is the Southern Tutchone name for summer, harvesting season. This was an annual activity I did with my Grandparents, gathering a vast list of traditional food from the land for the long winter ahead. Starting in mid July through to September we fished for salmon, picked berries, and hunted for moose, which we call Kanday. This was a major food supply for the Dӓn, the people. Before my time all the food was gathered, and this was about survival for your family as there were no grocery stores in the days of my great-grandparents. Most times it would just be me and my grandfather together out hunting.

The homeland of Tanana Athabaskans is the Dfc climate type subarctic boreal forest of Nearctic ecozone, called Interior Alaska-Yukon lowland taiga. Their lands are located in different two ecoregions:[44]

  1. The south of Tanana River, called Tanana-Kuskokwim Lowlands and this ecoregion forms an arch north of the Alaska Range and Lime Hills. Native people of the lowlands are mainly Koyukon, Tanana, and Kuskokwim Athabaskans. Main communities are Fairbanks, North Pole, Tok, and Delta Junction.

  2. The north of Tanana River, called Yukon-Tanana Uplands and this ecoregion forms are rounded mountains and hills located between the Yukon and Tanana Rivers and spanning the Alaska-Yukon Territory border. Native people of the uplands are Tanacross, Tanana, and Hän Athabaskans. Main communities are Fox, Ester, and Eagle.

Tanana Athabaskans were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers who moved seasonally throughout the year within a reasonably well-defined territory to harvest fish, bird, mammal, berry and other renewable resources.[6][7] The Tanana territories generally is a mosaic of open and closed spruce forests covering the low gradient outwash slope between the Alaska Range and the flats and ridges north of the Tanana River.[7]

The economy of Tanana Athabaskans is a mixed cash-subsistence system, like other modern foraging economies in Alaska. The subsistence economy is main non-monetary economy system. Cash is often a rare commodity in foraging economies, because of lack of employment opportunities or perceived conflicts in the demands of wage employment and subsistence harvesting activities.[7] The primary use of wild resources is domestic. Wild resource use in many Athabaskan villages is overwhelmingly for domestic consumption, since commercial fishing in Alaska is absent.[7] Commercial fishing and trapping patterns are controlled primarily by external factors. The state's limited entry system, operational by 1974 (after ANCSA), limits the number of available fishing permits for commercial salmon (esp. the Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus species for salmon cannery) fishing. In Nenana, about one-third of households have a permit. Most (70%) sample households with a permit used. Those with a permit that did not fish commercially, did fish for subsistence.[7]

Importance of Animal Products

Skinning and cutting 1000 pounds of moose meat was a lot of work for just the two of us. He always had stories that had important lessons for me. He talked highly of his father and how they would be traveling a long way on foot in the cold weather, and to warm up they would drink moose blood soup. Taking several hours to skin and pack up we were usually home at night and grandma would be worried about us. After hanging the meat for a full day it was time to process and make cuts and dried meat. I always asked my grandma to retell me the story of when her family went through a hard time. Her father had been gone one week following moose tracks and her mom and four other siblings had been harvesting squirrels for food. They were very lucky that the moose had circled around close back to the cabin. Moose blood soup and Dry Meat soup were always my favored meal growing up and I cook them often in return for my grandparents.

Hunting was associated with seasonal movements along trails and frozen rivers, particularly as bands moved between rivers and uplands. The primarily hunting animals for Tanana Athabaskans are big animals (caribou, moose, and wild sheep). Most valuable hunting animal is the caribou (subspecies Rangifer tarandus granti, Lower Tanana bedzeyh Tanacross wudzih Upper Tanana udzih). The caribou was the most important food animal in the Upper Tanana before the coming of the non-natives and resultant disintegration of the original nomadic patterns.[46] The economic life of the Upper Tanana centers around the caribou. Not only does the animal constitute the source of food for the natives and their dogs, but also it supplies the material for their clothing, shelters, and boats as well as netting for their snowshoes and babiche and sinew for their snares, cords, and lashings.[15][47] The caribou hunt occurred in the early summer and mid-summer. Caribou hunting during the fall migration involved the use of fence, corral, and snare complexes and was a seasonal activity critical to the survival of the Tanana people.[6] Today, most caribou meat is typically used fresh, or is frozen for later use.[15] The moose (subspecies Alces alces gigas, Lower Tanana denigi Tanacross dendîig Upper Tanana diniign) was other most important food animal for Tanana Athabaskans. Moose hunting is the most common resource harvesting activity among Lower Tanana Athabaskan bands.[7] Moose hunting is always a popular activity in modern Athabaskan communities because of the meat's economic value and a food preference for large game.[7] Moose hunting in the fall was either an individual pursuit or group activity. Moose meat was eaten fresh or preserved.[6] The Mansfeld-Kechumstuk band of Tanacross employed several methods to hunt Dall sheep (in Alaskan English simply sheep, Lower Tanana deba Tanacross demee Upper Tanana dibee) in late summer and early fall in local mountainous areas or as far south as the Mentasta Mountains. Dall sheep were a desired source of food and material for clothing and tools.[6]

Migratory waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) and upland game birds (ptarmigans and grouse) were a valued source of fresh meat. Grouse (spruce grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, ruffed grouse Lower Tanana deyh Tanacross deyh, ch'ehtêeg, tsą́ą' ts'uug Upper Tanana daih, ch'ahtagn, tsąą'ts'uu) and ptarmigan (willow ptarmigan and rock ptarmigan Lower Tanana k'orrh'eba, ddhełk'ola Tanacross k'étmah, ddheł k'aal Upper Tanana k'atbah) were taken opportunistically throughout the year with bow and arrows or with snares and fence-snare arrangements. Ducks and geese were easily captured when molting. Men in birchbark canoes quietly approached waterfowl in bays and coves and shot them with bow and arrows. Women and children then caught the birds and collected eggs from their nests.[6]

Fishing (creek and river) was done near the village sites, and the fish were stored in large subsurface caches and is domestic and most common. The main economical fish (Tanacross łuug Upper Tanana łuugn, łuuk) species are mostly whitefish (humpback whitefish, round whitefish Tanacross xełtįį' ) and Pacific salmon (king (chinook) Upper Tanana gath Tanacross łuug chox, red (sockeye) Upper Tanana łuugn delt'al Tanacross łuug delt'el). Other fish species are pike (Upper Tanana ch'ulju̱u̱dn Tanacross uljaaddh), grayling (Lower Tanana srajela Upper Tanana seejiil Tanacross seejel), lingcod (Upper Tanana and Tanacross ts'aan) and sucker (Upper Tanana taats'adn Tanacross tats'aht'ôl). Fishing at Mansfield Lake and Fish Creek for whitefish, pike, and grayling began in the late spring and continued until mid-July and was a major harvest activity; whitifish was an especially important and perennially reliable food source. All band members except the very young children assisted in harvesting and processing the catch. The spring fish harvest provided a welcome dietary change after a long winter of eating mostly dried fish and meat. Fish not eaten fresh were processed and dried on drying racks for later consumption. Both fresh and dried fish were cooked in boiling water, produced by placing heated stones into a birch bark basket.[6]

Importance of Plants

The white spruce (Picea glauca) and black spruce (Picea mariana) are the dominant tree, with its maximum tree line being held at around 4,000 feet. Above this limit only stunted willows and alders are found. In the lowlands, several ferns such as the ostrich, wood, beech and oak fern are found.[11] Beginning in late spring and continuing throughout the summer and early fall months, both adults and children gathered a variety of plants and vegetative materials. Fruit and berries (Lower Tanana jega, deneyh, nekotl Tanacross jêg, ntl'ét, nit-sįį', ... Upper Tanana jjign, nt'lat, niitsil, ...), edible roots (esp. Indian potato or wild carrot Hedysarum alpinum Lower Tanana troth[48]), and assorted plants (esp. wild rhubarb Polygonum alaskanum) were eaten fresh, preserved for later consumption, or used for medicinal purposes. Birch bark of paper birch (Lower Tanana k'iyh Tanacross and Upper Tanana k'įį) and spruce roots (Tanacross xeyh) were needed to make baskets, cooking vessels, tools, cradleboards, and canoes.[6] The Upper Tanana use Vaccinium vitis-idaea as a food source. They boil the berries with sugar and flour to thicken, eat the raw berries, either plain or mixing them with sugar, grease or the combination of the two, fry them in grease with sugar or dried fish eggs, and make them into pies, jam, and jelly. They also preserve the berries alone or in grease and stored them in a birchbark basket in an underground cache, or freeze them.[49] They also use it in their traditional medicine, eating the berries or using the juice of the berries for colds, coughs, and sore throats.[49]

Bella Coola

Bella Coola, BC V0T, Canada

First Contact:

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About the Tribe

The reason for the deficiency in figures on subsistence is not hard to find. The purely aboriginal way of life had been greatly altered in most parts of the Northwest coast by the end of the last century and quantitative data are, as Kroeber pointed out ( 1939, p. 3 ) , not ordinarily recoverable by the method of ethno­ graphic reconstruction we must use in western North America. The reasons for the scant attention often paid to subsistence techniques are also easy to find. Some of the techniques had disappeared by the beginning of this century or had survived in forms altered by the introduction of European goods. But, also, the very complexity of social forms and richness of art and ceremony that draw attention to the area are likely to draw attention away from mere subsistence. Thus when McIlwraith ( 1948) had the opportunity to play a part himself in the Bella Coola winter ceremonies, he did so and the results form a good part of his two-volume work on that people. I find this quite understandable, but still wish we had more on Bella Coola salmon fishing than the pluses and minuses in Drucker's ( 1950) element list. Another reason for the neglect of subsistence probably lies in the assumption that the habitat was so rich that subsistence simply was not a problem.

Importance of Animal Products

Importance of Plants

Borana Oromo

Oromiya, Ethiopia

First Contact:

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About the Tribe

Livestock and Trade
Borana keep livestock for various uses. Donkeys are kept as beasts of burden by each section, though mainly by the Boran-gutu who do not keep camels. Cattle, sheep, goats and camels all provide milk (and milk products), meat, hides and skins. In addition, camels provide transport. The Borana also use them for exchange: a cow may be bartered for a donkey, fifteen sheep for a cow, and two cows for thirty sheep for a camel. A pair of elephant tusks used to fetch thirty cows when taken across the Ethiopian border.
People used to set on a long trading journey which took many months. Many people still tell tales of how these traders walked as far south as Nyeri in central Kenya and even reached Mombasa. Sometimes, if they could not sell their stock quickly, they had to stay in one place for a long time.

For this reason they called Nyeri ‘Teto’ (settlement). The journeys were long, tiresome and dangerous. Some of the tribes through whose country the traders had to pass were very hostile. Animals and their products were directly exchanged for tea, sugar and clothing. There was also the exchange of stock for food crops and handicrafts going on between the Borana and the neighboring Burji and Konso.
Apart from their use in trade transactions, cattle and camels occupy a very important ritual place in the lives of the Boran-gutu and the Gabbra. They are used to pay bride, religious sacrifices and to pay fines in the courts of law.

The wealth and, to a certain extent, the social status of a person is determined by the number of livestock he possesses. The average number of heads of cattle owned by a family used to be at least three hundred. One thousand was not unusual and anybody with less than twenty heads of cattle was a very poor man who required a loan in the form of cattle from his close clansmen. This kind of loan entitled the borrower to use the animal’s milk and its offspring while it was in his manyatta.

The Borana take their cows in search of water every couple of days, and rotas are drawn up by the Aba Harega, who informs each person of the set time that they can visit the well. Clans are widely distributed among madda and are the primary mechanism for wealth redistribution. There are about 35 madda with an average area of 500 km². Each madda, on average, may contain several well clusters serving some 100 encampments, 4000 people and 10 000 cattle. Some 100 clan meetings are held each year in which the poor petition the wealthy for cattle. Political structure is related to the social structure.

Dress and Ornaments

The Borana traditional dress was made from goat and sheepskins. Three sheep were needed to make a complete garment for a woman. This dress was twisted round the body and held in place by a leather belt, and thong passed over the top of the shoulder held two corners of the garment together. Sandals were made from a single layer of hides.

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, consecutive natural calamities occurred in North Eastern Africa that collapsed pastoral economies and forced human adaptations. A rinderpest epizootic and devastating famine characterized the period. Using oral narrations of the Borana Oromo of Southern Ethiopia, this paper discusses the impact of the Great Rinderpest of the 1890s on cattle, as well as the subsequent famine, and the beginning of predation by carnivores on humans.

Importance of Animal Products

The Economy
The Borana are pastoralists, though a few also grow crops around Marsabit and Moyale, or in the southern Ethiopian highlands. There are also a few irrigation schemes in Isiolo District. The rest of the country has too harsh a climate for growing crowing crops and here the Borana are pastoralists. The Waat are hunters and gatherers and, because of their very small numbers, they have long attached themselves to other Boran clans, and in the process they have become completely dispersed.

A Borana is not allowed to eat certain kinds of food. He may not eat meat or drink milk from animals which do not have cloven hooves. That is to say animals belonging to the dog, cat, and horse families. He may also not eat fish, birds, reptiles or insects. Foods such as maize, millet and wheat are eaten by the Borana who lives in the higher and wetter areas, Marsabit and the southern Ethiopian highlands. For the majority of the members of the tribe, the staple diet is milk and meat. Because a man may own as many sheep, goats, cattle and camels as he can afford, there is sufficient milk from the many animals to feed his family, except during server droughts. They drink fresh or sour milk, and they use it to produce butter of ghee.

Meat is not a daily food, but forms a regular part of the diet. People are more apt to kill goat and sheep, but during a server drought a bullock or a cow may be killed for food. The meat is cut into strips and hung up until it dries. It is then fried and stored in animal fat. Sometimes the dried meat is pounded into fillets, fried and stored in fat. In both cases, the meat lasts for many months without going bad.

Blood may also be used for food. It is either drunk pure or mixed with milk. The blood comes from the jugular vein in the neck of a living cow or bull. The vein is made to stand out by tying a rope tightly round the cow’s neck. Then the vein is pierced with an arrow and the blood is caught in a gourd. Blood that has clotted is warmed and eaten. But no one bleeds the same cow day after day; one cow may give only a few pints of blood, and even then, maybe only once or twice a year.

To the north of Marsabit there are no permanent rivers, and most of the land is covered by sand and gravel, such as the Chalbi Desert, or by bare lava stones as are found in Dido Galgallu Desert. This is the homeland of the Gabbra, who herd camels. Camels can easily go without water for as long as three weeks. They feed on thorns and leaves and in this poor environment they produce more milk than cattle do. Other hardy stocks kept by the Gabbra are goats and sheep, both of which thrive in arid areas where frequent watering is not possible.

He announces three times that a son is born. Neighbours come with gifts of milk, animal fat and perfumes, while the father distributes some tobacco and makes a sacrifice of coffee berries. During the following four days, dances are held by the women to celebrate the arrival of the new born son.

Importance of Plants

Foods such as maize, millet and wheat are eaten by the Borana who lives in the higher and wetter areas, Marsabit and the southern Ethiopian highlands.

The study revealed a total of 49 medicinal plant species (belonging to 31 families and 46 genera) used to treat various human ailments, the majority of which 40 (81.6%) species were collected from wild while the rests from home garden. Herbs constituted the largest growth habit (18 species, 37%) followed by trees (16 species, 32%) and shrubs (15 species, 31%). Leaf `17 (35%) is the plant part widely used followed by root 13 (27%), leafy-stem 5 (10%), and seed 6 (12%). Oral administration was the dominant route (63%), followed by dermal route (22%) and nasal (11%). The highest number of plant species being used for infectious (48%) followed by two or more diseases and non-infectious disease. Of five and seven medicinal plants of preference ranking the highest ranks were given first for Croton macrostaychus used for malaria treatment and for Prunus africana as ‘’rare” for immediate collection and use in the traditional treatment. Significantly higher average number of medicinal plants (p < 0.05) were reported by informants of higher institution (14.3 ± 34) and adult age groups (11.6 ± 43).


St. Lucia, St Lucia

First Contact:

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About the Tribe

Who were the Carib? - Possibly a carnivore population.

Importance of Animal Products

The Carib Indians were primarily fishing people. They took to sea in their long canoes to catch fish, crabs, and other seafood. Hunters also shot birds and small game.

Importance of Plants

In some Carib communities, farming was an important food source, with cassava, beans, squash, and peppers being grown. Other Carib groups did little farming and acquired peppers and cassava through trade or raiding.


Kanchalan, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 689514

First Contact:

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About the Tribe

The Chukchi based their traditional economies on reindeer husbandry in the interior of the region and marine mammal hunting on the coast of what today is called the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. Numbering nearly 16,000, the majority live in small rural villages. Traditionally, marine mammal hunters (Chukchi and Yup’ik) and reindeer herders had close trading relationships, the center of which was food related – whale fat and seal skins for reindeer skins and meat. 

At one time, Chukotka was one of the world’s largest regions of reindeer husbandry, in terms of numbers. In the 1980’s there were over 500,000 reindeer. The collapse of the Soviet Union saw a more precipitous decline in herd size than anywhere else in Russia. The number of reindeer fell to around 90,000 in 2001. However, thanks to regional supports to hunters and herders, numbers have recovered and investments have been made in processing facilities and equipment. Here we present two traditional Chukchi dishes from the Nizhnekolymsky District of Sakha Republic (Yakutia): Reindeer blood soup and the First Four Ribs. These dishes are also prepared in other Chukchi areas.

Importance of Animal Products

Authentic Chukchi Recipes:

Reindeer blood soup by Irina Krivoshapkina and Maria Yaglovskaya

Reindeer blood soup is the favorite national dish of the Chukchi. Traditionally, people used to cook it for children, as it contains the whole complex of vitamins, gives strength, improves blood circulation and provides a long-lasting ‘warm-up’ effect. Reindeer blood soup is used in traditional ceremonies and is also offered to guests. We have included the traditional and modern methods.

Traditional method Ingredients:

Reindeer intestines with inner organs (pitiyki)

Reindeer large intestine (nanuvge)

Reindeer blood (mulymul)

Visceral fat (the inner fat around the entrails) (eimyk)

Thoroughly wash and clean the intestines with inner organs, large guts, visceral fat and clean, chop finely, cover with cold water, and boil until thoroughly cooked. Pour the settled reindeer blood very slowly into the boiling broth, stirring steadily. The dish is ready when the broth thickens.

Modern method Ingredients:

Reindeer head

Reindeer blood



Make a broth by boiling the reindeer head (antlers removed) in water. Remove the froth and impurities from the surface periodically and add salt while cooking. When the head is ready, remove it from the pot and strain. Mix flour with cold water in a separate bowl, add with the settled reindeer blood slowly into the boiling broth, stirring well. Cook until the broth comes to the boil and becomes a chocolate color.

THE FIRST FOUR RIBS by Zhanna Kaurgina and Vlada Kaurgina The Chukchi menu is not that known for its variety. Boiled reindeer meat is a constant daily dish, the favored parts of the animal being the breast parts including brisket, ribs, and the breast section of the backbone. Once the reindeer is slaughtered and processed into smaller parts, the first four ribs are boiled as a delicacy and is the first dish offered to guests. In winter, these ribs are frozen, stored and eaten at a later date. Why are the first four ribs from a reindeer considered to be such a delicacy among Chukchi? Depending on the age and condition of the reindeer, the first four ribs have the following qualities: • Bulk and mass with streaks of fat deposits; • Juiciness which is related to their high oxygen saturation due to formation of the first four ribs in the chest cavity, and as the chest part of the body is stiff, there is an intense accumulation of bone oil in the cartilage and bone tissues, which provide taste and flavor. • The broth produced from its cooking is rich in all healthy substances, is very nourishing and provides long-lasting sensation of satiety. Ingredients: First four ribs of a reindeer Salt Cooking method: Wash the ribs thoroughly and place into a large pot and cover with water. Set over a fire and bring to the boil, removing the froth that rises to the surface. Add salt, and maintain the fire so that the ribs simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.

Importance of Plants


The east coast of Chukotka and on Wrangel Island is part of the traditional territory of the coastal Chukchi and Yup’ik. Their traditional activities include sealing, reindeer herding and hunting. They call themselves «yuk» – a man, «yuit», «yugyt» or «Yup’ik» – «real man». Their preferred food mainly consisted of the raw, sun-dried, frozen or sour meat of marine mammals. One such delicacy was a ma’ntak. Man’tak consists of two inseparable parts: whale skin and a top layer of fat and it needs long chewing. Other staples included cereals and roots, laminaria (a type kelp) and raw shellfish. Yup’ik and coastal Chukchi use around 60 species of terrestrial and marine plants for food. By way of illustration, there are no names for the whole plant in their various languages, but there are names for its edible parts – e.g. stem with leaves or the root. That which is not eaten is called «grass» or «flower». The gathering and preparation of plants for winter consumption is an important women’s activity, and is actually called «women’s hunting». Laminaria is considered obligatory part of the menu; even hunters pick it on their way home after sealing. Wild plants are necessary and important additives to meat and fish, which form the basis of the diet of Indigenous Peoples of Chukotka. Upa and other invertebrates – that is crabs, shrimps, sea urchins, starfishes, small octopuses, shellfishes (mussels, whelks), as well as seaweed (laminaria) – are all important components of the Chukchi and Yup’ik cuisine. Not only do wild plants add flavor, they also possess multiple health and medicinal benefits.

Sea squirt, or upa, is a saccate stationary animal: it remains firmly fixed to the substrate, such as stones and shells. Sea squirts are saccate round-shaped or cylindrical animals sized 0.5 to 10 cm. Their bodies are covered with smooth thick and often rather firm tunica. People eat sea squirt raw, boiled and frozen and they have long been used for medicinal purposes. Their tissues are rich in bioactive substances with unique pharmacologic properties. Moreover, sea squirts provide antineoplastic action. They have a detox effect, boost the immune system and activate blood formation processes. Also, sea squirts possess the unique ability to extract vanadium from the water and accumulate this rare element. Human organisms require vanadium to fight efficiently against infections. Moreover, in combination with other microelements, vanadium slows down the aging process and prevents atherosclerosis.

Since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples in Chukotka have eaten laminaria washed in by the tide on the coasts of the Bering and Chukchi Seas. People gathered and ate laminaria during the whole year. Even in winter, when the coastal area is covered with thick ice, laminaria was extracted using special spiral devices. Laminaria is seaweed, which absorbs elements from its surrounding aquatic environment. Its length may reach up to 13 m. Laminaria contains a unique microelement iodine, which is very important for human health. Moreover, it contains a full set of other useful elements: magnesium, ferrum, bromine and potassium. Chukchi and Yup’ik also eat willow leaves, meadow onion, sweet edible root and leaves of nunivak, cyuk’-lyak (edible roots), k’ugyln’ik (sorrel), and berries such as ak’avzik (cloudberry), syugak (blueberry) and pagung’ak (crowberry).

1. An’ukak’ (chapl.) – fireweed (Chamaenerion latifolium).   The leaves and stems of fireweed are used as seasoning for sour caviar, fresh whale or walrus fat and boiled meat, as well as being added to meat broth.   In the past fireweed was also used as a tea brew, instead of tealeaves.

2. Kuvykhsi (chapl.), k’ykh’jug’akh’k’at (nauk.) – knotweed (Polygonum tripterocarpum). Knotweed is one of the most well-known edible plants of Chukotka. This plant is widely used and the buds of young knotweed is the first spring delicacy for children. In summer people eat them with seal blood and fat. Knotweed roots (siren – kusymu) are dried and stored for winter. They are then soaked in water and used as seasoning for meat and fish.

3. Roseroot (Rhodiola atropurpurea (Turczaninov) Trautvetter Nunivak) Roseroot – «nunivak» is probably the most popular edible plant for Chukchi and Yup’ik, which is indicated by numerous words related to and built with «Nunivak» stem. Also, only this plant’s name is used to denote one of summer months – August – Nunivik – «month of roseroot gathering». This word is likely to originate from «nuna» stem, which means «earth». There is an interesting relation between words «nuna» (earth) – «nunivak» (tundra) – «nunivak» (roseroot).   Thanks to their excellent flavor, the sappy stems, leaves and roots of roseroot are all eaten to this day. People try to gather the leaves and stems of roseroot before seed maturity, while they are most sappy. The most traditional dish of roseroot is sour roseroot – nunivak.

4. Willow (various species) Salix sp. K,uk,un,at (leaves) There are three known species of this plant (Yup’ik have one name for all three species): Salix phlebophylla – Skeletonleaf willow, Salix arctica – Arctic willow, Salix pulchra – Diamondleaf willow. The young leaves of Arctic willow are stored for winter use. Then the leaves are soaked in cold water under a weight before use. In winter they are used frozen as seasoning for meat or fresh whale fat.

In summer the fat roots of Arctic willow are buried and in winter they are unearthed the bark is peeled off, which is then eaten as a seasoning with whale fat. «Summer gruel». Fresh leaves of knotweed are steamed, mashed, and added to the rendered fat and blood of walrus. Children eat this gruel with seal or walrus meat. «Spring gruel». Mash the young boiled leaves of knotweed and add rendered fat. When eating raw walrus meat dip the pieces in the gruel. «Winter gruel». Boil knotweed leaves until the broth becomes dark-green, then drain and put into various dishes for freezing or in a sealskin bag and store for the winter. In winter unfreeze the frozen mass and prepare the gruel. Add rendered fat and seal blood into the mash(the dish can also be eaten frozen). When boiling walrus, Ringed or Bearded seal meat, add fresh and boiled leaves of knotweed for taste and to add thickness to the broth. Grated knotweed leaves are eaten with fresh gray whale fat or white whale mantak (beluga whale skin). This broth is used as a preserving agent when preparing walrus meat for winter.

5. An’jina (chapl.), majug’lak’ (nauk.), lilugaja (siren.) – wild onion (Allium fistulosum). This wild perennial has an antiscorbutic effect, and grows in many places on the Chukchi coast and is widely used fresh as a seasoning for meat and fish dishes.

6. Pagung’ak’ (chapl.), akuvilk’ak’ (nauk.), pagnyk’ykh’ (siren.) – crowberry (Empertum nigrum s.l.). Crowberry is a watery berry with slightly sweet taste. It grows throughout Chukotka. It is normally consumed fresh and more recently as a jam. It is also used in several dishes.

7. Kitmik (chapl.), mysutak’ (nauk.) – lingonberry (Vaccinium vitisidaea var.minus). Lingonberries grow in small amounts and are eaten fresh and as a seasoning for various meat dishes. People also prepare lingonberry jam. Lingonberries have diuretic, binding, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects. The Yup’ik and coastal Chukchi have very rich knowledge about the value of plants in their food culture. To maintain both their health and their wellbeing, the food culture in the region necessitates a high biodiversity of edible plants.


Comanche, TX 76442, USA

First Contact:

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About the Tribe

The Comanche /kəˈmæntʃi/ (Comanche: Nʉmʉnʉʉ) are a Native-American nation from the Great Plains whose historic territory consisted of most of present-day northwestern Texas and adjacent areas in eastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma, and northern Chihuahua. Within the United States, the government federally recognizes the Comanche people as the Comanche Nation, headquartered in Lawton, Oklahoma.[1]

The Comanche became the dominant tribe on the southern Great Plains in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are often characterized as "Lords of the Plains" and they presided over a large area called Comancheria, which came to include large portions of present-day Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Comanche power depended on bison, horses, trading, and raiding. The Comanche hunted the bison of the Great Plains for food and skins; their adoption of the horse from Spanish colonists in New Mexico made them more mobile; they traded with the Spanish, French, Americans and neighboring Native-American peoples; and (most famously) they waged war on and raided European settlements as well as other Native Americans.[2] They took captives from weaker tribes during warfare, using them as slaves or selling them to the Spanish and (later) Mexican settlers. They also took thousands of captives from the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers and incorporated them into Comanche society.[3]

Decimated by European diseases, warfare, and encroachment by Americans on Comancheria, most Comanches were forced into life on the reservation; a few however sought refuge with the Mescalero Apaches in New Mexico, or with the Kickapoos in Mexico. A number of them returned in the 1890s and early 1900s. In the 21st century, the Comanche Nation has 17,000 members, around 7,000 of whom reside in tribal jurisdictional areas around Lawton, Fort Sill, and the surrounding areas of southwestern Oklahoma.[4] The Comanche Homecoming Annual Dance takes place annually in Walters, Oklahoma, in mid-July.[5]

The Comanche language is a Numic language of the Uto-Aztecan family, sometimes classified as a Shoshoni dialect.[6] Only about 1% of Comanches speak this language today.[6][7]

The name "Comanche" comes from the Ute name for the people: kɨmantsi (enemy),.[8] The name Padouca, which before about 1740 was applied[by whom?] to Plains Apaches, was sometimes applied to the Comanche by French writers from the east.

Importance of Animal Products

Buffalo was the food the Comanches loved more than any other. They ate steaks cooked over open fires or boiled in copper kettles. They cut the meat thin, dried it, and stored it for the winter and took it on long trips. They ate the kidneys and the paunch. Children would rush up to a freshly killed animal, begging for its liver and gallbladder. They would then squirt the salty bile from the gallbladder onto the liver and eat it on the spot, warm and dripping blood. If a slain female was giving milk, Comanches would cut into the udder bag and drink the milk mixed with warm blood. One of the greatest delicacies was the warm curdled milk from the stomach of a suckling calf. If warriors were on the trail and short of water, they might drink the warm blood of the buffalo straight from its veins. Entrails were sometimes eaten, stripped of their contents by using two fingers. (If fleeing pursuers, a Comanche would ride his horse till it dropped, cut it open, removed its intestines, wrap them around his neck, and take off on a fresh horse, eating their contents later.) In the absence of buffalo, Comanches would eat whatever was at hand: dry-land terrapins, thrown live into the fire, eaten from the shell with a horned spoon; all manner of small game, even horses if they had to, though they did not, like the Apaches, prefer them. They did not eat fish or birds unless they were starving. They never ate the heart of the buffalo.

S. C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon, pg. 48 (2010)


The Comanche were initially hunter-gatherers. When they lived in the Rocky Mountains, during their migration to the Great Plains, both men and women shared the responsibility of gathering and providing food. When the Comanche reached the plains, hunting came to predominate. Hunting was considered a male activity and was a principal source of prestige. 

For meat, the Comanche hunted buffalo, elk, black bear, pronghorn, and deer. When game was scarce, the men hunted wild mustangs, sometimes eating their own ponies. In later years the Comanche raided Texas ranches and stole longhorn cattle. They did not eat fish or fowl, unless starving, when they would eat virtually any creature they could catch, including armadillos, skunks, rats, lizards, frogs, and grasshoppers. Buffalo meat and other game was prepared and cooked by the women. 

Most meats were roasted over a fire or boiled. To boil fresh or dried meat and vegetables, women dug a pit in the ground, which they lined with animal skins or buffalo stomach and filled with water to make a kind of cooking pot. They placed heated stones in the water until it boiled and had cooked their stew. After they came into contact with the Spanish, the Comanche traded for copper pots and iron kettles, which made cooking easier.

Women used berries and nuts, as well as honey and tallow, to flavor buffalo meat. They stored the tallow in intestine casings or rawhide pouches called oyóotû¿. They especially liked to make a sweet mush of buffalo marrow mixed with crushed mesquite beans.

The Comanches sometimes ate raw meat, especially raw liver flavored with gall. They also drank the milk from the slashed udders of buffalo, deer, and elk. Among their delicacies was the curdled milk from the stomachs of suckling buffalo calves. They also enjoyed buffalo tripe, or stomachs.

Comanche people generally had a light meal in the morning and a large evening meal. During the day they ate whenever they were hungry or when it was convenient. Like other Plains Indians, the Comanche were very hospitable people. They prepared meals whenever a visitor arrived in camp, which led to outsiders' belief that the Comanches ate at all hours of the day or night. Before calling a public event, the chief took a morsel of food, held it to the sky, and then buried it as a peace offering to the Great Spirit. Many families offered thanks as they sat down to eat their meals in their tipis.

Comanche children ate pemmican, but this was primarily a tasty, high-energy food reserved for war parties. Carried in a parfleche pouch, pemmican was eaten only when the men did not have time to hunt. Similarly, in camp, people ate pemmican only when other food was scarce. Traders ate pemmican sliced and dipped in honey, which they called Indian bread.

[The importance of fatty meat is shown in the following Comanche legend, rewritten for a modern audience)

Deer Medicine

from Texas Indian Myths and Legends

by Jane Archer

One time the People camped at the base of a mountain near a rushing stream. Over time a person disappeared, then another. The band grew troubled and took their worries to their medicine makers. After sweat lodge purification, after sage and sweet grass cleansing, the medicine makers held council.
"I do not trust those deer," Medicine Man said.
"I trust them less than you." Medicine Woman looked up at the mountain where the deer lived near a large cave.
"I suspect they are stealing our people."
"And keeping them in their cave."
"To eat," Medicine Man said.
"Our people depend on us to care for them."
"And we must do so.
Medicine Man and Medicine Woman walked up the mountain to the cave of the deer.
Guard Deer stood near four sticks at the dark hole of an entrance.
"Good morning," Medicine Woman said. "How are you?"
"You look plump and well," Medicine Man said.
"What food do you eat?" Medicine Woman asked.
"We eat good food," Guard Deer said. "Would you like to see?"
"Yes, we would."
Guard Deer picked up one of the sticks and knocked on the entrance. "One fat buffalo."
A buffalo trotted out.
"That is impressive," Medicine Woman said.
"Watch this." Guard Deer hit the entrance again. "One buffalo calf."
A buffalo calf walked out.
"I am really impressed," Medicine Man said.
"Now you know how we get our food," Guard Deer said. "You may see no more."
"Thank you," Medicine Woman said.
As the medicine makers walked away, they whispered to each other.
"I do not believe that is all in their cave," Medicine Man said.
"I agree. We must find out what else is in there."
They hid behind a large rock while they considered their problem.
"Maybe we could change the sticks when Guard Deer looks the other way," Medicine Man said.
"Guard Deer is too sharp."
"That is true."
"They must change guards soon and the entrance will be unguarded for a brief time," Medicine Woman said.
"We must strike then."
Without making a sound, they worked their way back to the entrance. Concealed behind rocks and plants, they watched and waited. Soon Guard Deer stepped away to consult the next Guard Deer.
They raced to the entrance.
Medicine Woman grabbed a stick and hit the cave. "Two people."
Two warriors walked out.
Medicine Man placed his hand on the stick, and they struck again. "More men."
Many men ran out of the cave. All of them carried bows with arrows in quivers on their backs.
Deer erupted from all directions, but the warriors fought together to drive them back. When the battle was won by the People, most of the deer lay dead. The medicine makers turned to the deer still alive.
"We are the strongest so hereafter we will eat you," Medicine Man said.
"Your skin and bones, all of your body, will be used to help the People," Medicine Woman added.

Guard Deer raised a head. "So be it."

Importance of Plants

The women also gathered wild fruits, seeds, nuts, berries, roots, and tubers — including plums, grapes, juniper berries, persimmons, mulberries, acorns, pecans, wild onions, radishes, and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. The Comanche also acquired maize, dried pumpkin, and tobacco through trade and raids.

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