Ancient World

Sveta Hunas – White Huns

Sveta Hunas are said to be the Hephthalites. Believed to be Eastern Iranian in origin, they had attacked India during the period of the Gupta Empire.

Words: Priya Narayan


The White Huns or Sveta Hunas, as they were known in India, are believed to be the Hephthalites with a possibility of having an alliance with the Xionites. By the first half of the 6th century, they controlled territories in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India and China. It is said that they were the only Huns with fair complexions, hence deriving the name Sveta Hunas.

The name Hephthalites originates from ancient Green sources and they were also known as Ephthalite, Abdel or Avdel. In India though, they were known as Sveta Hunas. The Chinese called them Yada. Older Chinese sources called them Hua or Hudun and describe them as a tribe beyond the Great Wall. Some historians disagree with the idea that the Hephthalites were the Sveta Hunas.

East Iranian Origin
While historians had at one time suggested that the Hephthalites were Turkish descendants, later beliefs state that they were from East Iran. The Hephthalites’ spoken language is said to be an East Iranian language which was different from the Bactrian language written in the Greek alphabet. This was the official language minted on coins. The names of the Hephthalites too were Iranian. After the Hephthalites lost their supremacy, it was the turn of the Central Asian nomads who spoke Turkic languages, which could have led to the belief of their Turkish descent.

It is said that they were not connected to the European Huns and may have called themselves Huns to scare their enemies. These White Huns occupied regions that were far from the European Huns, nor were they nomads.

They were settlers. Unlike the tribes of the European Huns, the White Huns were ruled by a king, they had a constitution and observed justice in their dealings within themselves and with their neighbours.

Nobles were buried rather than cremated. The White Huns also used a Turkic language and royal titles which shows the influence of the Turkic people. They did not recognise Buddhism and often destroyed Buddhist monasteries.

Chinese chronicles though state a theory that they could be the descendants of the tribes who remained behind after people fled from the Xiongnu. The Xiongnu were tribes north of the Great Wall who attacked China frequently. They are believed by some historians to be connected to the European Huns.

History of White Huns
After defeating the Scythians by 425 AD, the White Huns invaded Persian regions. By 485, Persia had become their subject with the defeat of the Sassanid king, Peroz-I. During the wars between 503 and 513, they had to leave Persia and were fully defeated in 557 by Khosrau-I.

During the first half of the 5th century, they were established in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kunduz in Afghanistan, earlier known as Badian, was their capital. Later, their emperor Mihirakula made his capital in Sialkot of Pakistan, then known as Sakala.

They entered India through the Khyber Pass and Skandagupta, son of Kumaragupta-I defeated the White Huns, in 455 AD.

Attacks by the White Hun kings Toramana and his successor Mihirakula drained the Gupta empire and the dynasty went into decline after Skandagupta’s death in 467 AD.
In 480 AD, the White Huns attacked once again from the northwest and overran most of the Gupta Empire by 500 AD, penetrating north and central India.

Although weakened, the Guptas resisted the Huns and Toramana was defeated by Bhanugupta in 510. A coalition by Narasimhagupta and the Malwa king Yashodharman drove the Huns out of India in 528 AD.

While the Huns were horse-mounted archers, leading to speed of attack, the Gupta armies were disciplined and were believed to have deployed a combination of tactics, using elephants, armoured cavalry and foot archers.

Yudhishthira, the Hun king ruled until 670 when he was replaced by the Kabul Shahi dynasty.

Modern Day
The White Huns are believed to be one of the ancestors of Pashtuns, particularly the Abdali Pashtun tribe. The Pashtun name Abdali or Durrani is said to have descended from the White Huns. It is also believed that they were the ancestors of the Abdal tribe of the Turkmens and the Kazakhs. Although disputed, it is believed that the Rajputs are a mix of the White Huns and the Gurjars.
Hunas in Literature
Kalidasa describes the prowess of Chandragupta Vikramaditya-II as a ruler who had conquered 21 kingdoms. Having conquered the eastern and western regions of India, Vikramaditya went northwards and won over the Parasikas, Hunas and the Kambojas. He then went across the Himalayas and won over the Kinnaras and Kiratas.Kshemendra’s Brihatkathamanjari describes Vikramaditya as having annihilated Mlecchas like the Sakas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Tusharas, Parasikas and the Hunas.The Mahabharata narrates the incident of Viswamitra attacking sage Vasishta’s cow. Tribes allied to Vasishta attacked Viswamitra’s armies and these include the Hunas along with the Sakas, Yavanas, Savaras, Paundras and Kiratas. There was also mention of Khasas, Chivukas, Pulindas, Chinas and other Mlechchas. This list differs from that of the Valmiki Ramayana though in which the Kambojas, Pahlavas, Haritas were mentioned too.On the second day of the Pandava-Kaurava war in Kurukshetra, it is mentioned that with Yudhishthira stood the Parachcharas, Hunas, Pauravakas, Nishadas, Pisachas, Kundavishas, Mandakas, Ladakas, Tanganas, Uddras, Saravas, Tumbhumas, Vatsas, Nakulas. They stood in the Krauncharuma position decided by Dhrishtadyumna, the Pandava general.
The Xionites, also known as Chionites, Huna, Hunni and by other names, are said to be people who spoke Iranian. They arrived from Central Asia to Iran and were influenced by the Kushans and the Bactrians. They posed a threat to the northeastern part of the Sassanid Empire. It is believed that they differed from the Hephthalites. Conjectures are made that the Hephthalites themselves may have been an important tribe of the Xionites. The Xionites followed a form of Buddhism and Shaivism while attributing a living soul to all natural phenomena including plants and inanimate objects.


A wild and fantastic history of the nomads of Mongolia, united by a single ruler who made his mark in countries around the world.

Words: Priya Narayan


Vast stretches of grassland interspersed with hills, plains with horses running wild, the arid soil of the Gobi desert and of course, Genghis Khan, are all characteristic of Mongolia. Mongol Empire was the biggest land empire in history extending from Yellow Sea in eastern Asia to the borders of eastern Europe. At various times it included China, Korea, Mongolia, Persia (now Iran), Turkestan, and Armenia. It also included parts of Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, and Russia. The history of this country is seeped in antiquity as much as it is rich and beautiful.

While most stories go back to the first settlers, Mongolian history dates back 65 million years. The first set of scientifically confirmed dinosaur eggs were found by archaeologists of the American Museum of National History in Mongolia in 1923. Some of these eggs and fossils are up for display at the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs even today.

Stone tools south of the Gobi desert suggest Homo erectus probably lived here 8,00,000 years ago. There are Paleolithic cave drawings in prominent prehistoric sites, Neolithic farming settlements and encampments of nomadic hunters and fishermen suggest a linear evolution of life in Mongolia.

7th and 8th century Deer Stones, ancient megaliths with carved symbols are found all over central and eastern Eurasia, specifically in Siberia and Mongolia.

Most deer stones stand behind ancient graves; it is believed that stones are the guardians of the dead. There are around 700 deer stones in Mongolia of a total 900 deer stones found in Central Asia and South Siberia.

While Mongols primarily lived as farmers, there were hunters too.

cart01Chinese described Mongols as ‘one who follow trails of their horses according to the growth of the grass and its withering.’ This suggests Mongols though practiced farming never settled around agricultural land or water bodies like people of most other civilizations did. This is perhaps of their nomadic culture. It was not until the 3rd century BCE that most of these nomadic tribes joined to form clans and forge alliances.


“There came into the world a blue-grey wolf whose destiny was Heaven’s will. His wife was a fallow deer. They travelled across the inland sea and when they were camped near the source of the Onon River in sight of Burkhan Khaldun, their first son was born, named Batachikan,” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

One of many important tales of the world, this was perhaps beginning of Mongolian history generations after Temujin was born who came to be known eventually as Genghis Khan, the ruler of the world’s largest empire that encompassed every country that extended in the vast stretch from Korea to Hungary. Known for his ruthlessness and his military strategies, which are still studied by armed forces around the world, Genghis Khan became the infamous conqueror in the history of Mongolia.

Considering the land that Genghis Khan ruled over and the diversity that came with each country in terms of language and religion, it is important to note that Genghis Khan was not only tolerant towards different beliefs in the societies he conquered, but also went a step further and invited leaders of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism among other religions to sit in his court and exchange ideas with local shamans and healers.

Over the generations, the empire declined and by the 14th century the Manchu dynasty of Qing started ruling Mongolia. Two centuries later, we would see another descendent of Genghis Khan beginning his conquest in India, Akbar.

One of many important tales of the world, this was perhaps beginning of Mongolian history generations after Temujin was born who came to be known eventually as Genghis Khan, the ruler of the world’s largest empire that encompassed every country that extended in the vast stretch from Korea to Hungary.


1.Genghis Khan had a rough childhood. When he was only 9, the rival Tatars poisoned his father and his own tribe expelled his family, leaving his mother to raise him and his siblings. Each had to hunt for food and theories suggest that Genghis Khan might have killed his half-brother in a dispute over food.
2.Some of Genghis Khan’s most trusted generals were former enemies. In a battle with the Taijut tribe in 1201, Genghis Khan was nearly killed by an arrow. After the war, while addressing the soldiers of the defeated Taijut tribe, Genghis Khan asked which one of them had shot the arrow. One soldier stood up and confessed. Moved by his bravery, Genghis Khan made him an officer in his army. The soldier would eventually become one of the greatest field commanders of the Mongols.
3.While it is impossible to ascertain the figures, historians suggest that Genghis Khan killed as many as 40 million people during his rule. Chinese population dropped by tens of millions during Genghis Khan’s lifetime. Iran, too, lost almost three-fourths of its population. It is believed world population then dropped by 11 per cent during Genghis Khan’s rule.
4.The Mongols weren’t just known for their warfare and military strategies; they also put in place the first international postal systems which consisted of a number of post houses and way stations linked to each other across the empire. Riders often travelled up to 300 km a day to communicate information and transport goods.
5.Genghis Khan had the most mysterious death. While some narratives suggest he died in 1227 from injuries sustained when he fell from a horse, others state malaria as the cause of death. Some even suggest he was murdered while attempting to force himself on a Chinese princess. According to legend, Genghis Khan’s funeral procession slaughtered everyone that came in their way and rode their horses over his grave to conceal it, so secretive was his burial ground.

Priya is a writer and aspiring film maker. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul – Teens Talk Relationship. She can be reached at


The fascinating history of Hawaii is one of sea voyages on canoes guided by the stars and of the hula dance

Words: Priya Narayan



It was around 1,500 years ago that the Polynesians, expert sailors guided by the stars in the night sky, sailed in canoes, making their way to the islands of Hawaii. They brought with them their traditions and lifestyle that blended into their life on a new island. Settlers from Tahiti followed suit, bringing with them their culture and religion that would shape Hawaii over the next century. Tahitian chiefs and priests introduced, on the one hand, religious practices and social structures and taboos (kapu), and on the other, large public projects to benefit their people – taro terraces, irrigation systems, construction of temples, among others. Hawaii offered them the right environment to settle down and flourish, ending their need for long distance voyaging.

Based on the highly structured hierarchy, the mo‘i or the king held the highest rank and was responsible for the people, followed by his chief advisors, often the high priest or the kahuna nui and the chief minister, kalaimoku. There were multiple chiefs under the king whose position and rank were decided by their genealogy. Ali‘i were chiefs under the king holding various ranks and who often attended to him and even entertained him with stories and games. Commoners or the maka‘ainana formed the largest group in terms of population and a small group of outcasts, the kauwa, born to their positions, formed the bottom of the society.

The kind of life that people lived in Hawaii depended on their position in the social hierarchy. The pleasant climate allowed Hawaiians to live most of their lives outdoors and houses that they built were simple grass or hale houses meant for protection against harsh weather. The size of the house along with the land that a family owned also depended on their social standing. Their clothing was made of plant fibres and consisted of a loincloth (malo) for men, a skirt (pa‘u) for women and a shawl (kihei) for both. They created fishponds, practiced farming, constructed temples and were great healers. Their surroundings provided them with all the food they could possibly need, allowing them free time in which they developed games, art forms and dances.



In 1778, British explorer James Cook arrived in Hawaii and brought with him European technology and weapons for warfare. In the 1780s and 1790s, the chiefs of the land often fought for power, and it was with the help of European technology that King Kamehameha ended the battles and became the sole ruler of Hawaii. His dynasty ruled the land for another century. Cook, however, was killed after he abducted the King of Hawaii, Kalani‘opu‘u and held him as ransom for one of his boats that the Hawaiians had stolen because of the temple idols and the fencing that Cook had taken with him.

After Cook, a number of Eurasians came to Hawaii and brought with them diseases such as influenza, small pox and measles that wiped out more than half the Hawaiian population. Protestant missionaries who came also converted a significant section of the population and western influence continued to grow. Hawaii’s sugar and pineapple plantations fuelled its economy inviting Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Portuguese immigrants. It wasn’t until 1959 that Hawaii became a state of the US, the last to join the country and the only one that is a string of tropical islands located in Oceania.


Hawaii’s vast ocean floors are just as blue as the skies above, if not bluer. With a grand canyon in the ocean, sea mountains extending to the sky – perfect spots for watching the sun set or for stargazing, a blanket of lush greenery covering the hills, valleys and clear shores of the beaches, and fragrant flowers blooming in every corner of the island, not to forget one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Hawaii is nothing less than an exotic dreamland for travellers.



Hula is the most popular dance of Hawaii known to all around the world whether or not they have visited Hawaii. It is performed for social enjoyment but the chants that accompany the dance communicated epic tales, myths, history and the philosophy of the Hawaiians. Hula’s origins date back to goddess Pele. It is believed that her sister Hi‘iaka performed the dance for her and that the chants in the dance describe the story of Hi‘iaka and Pele.


The Polynesian navigators were highly knowledgeable when it came to seafaring and could sail through the Pacific without any written notes, instruments or charts. They could find their way through the sea based on observation and memory. They studied stars, their rising and setting points, the sequences of star maps and knowledge of star paths based on which they were able to navigate through the waters even if there were only one or two stars in the sky. They acquired the power of priests and could conduct rituals before undertaking any major voyage.
One of the most famous, according to Hawaiian legends, was Mo‘ikeha and all navigators trace their lineage back to him.


Priya is a writer and aspiring film maker. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul – Teens Talk Relationship. She can be reached at


The history of Tiwanaku is the story of the rise in agriculture, animal domestication and of religion and rituals

Words: Priya Narayan

Bolivia Tiwanaku, oude tempelresten

The ancient city of Tiwanaku or Tiahuanaco was a pre-Inca civilisation established in Bolivia close to Lake Titicaca, with the Andes surrounding it. It is believed that the area around Tiwanaku might have been inhabited even as early as 1500 BC as an agricultural village.

Between 500 AD and 1000 AD, the city was at its peak, with the construction of cult buildings, creation of pottery and unique sculptures.

So far, only a small section of the site has been excavated, providing all the information that we currently have about Tiwanaku.

But stepping into it is stepping into an ancient ruin with massive and unique structures – stone-faced earthen mounds and sunken courts with cut-stone masonry, among others.

The people of Tiwanaku were primarily nomads who settled down around Lake Titicaca some 4,000 years ago. They began to cultivate land and even raised fields that involved artificially raising planting mounds. Llamas, alpacas and camelids were domesticated and over the years, the cities grew to populations of 10,000.

Residential complexes were relatively organised and had multiple domestic structures – kitchens, sleeping quarters and rooms for storage. Some even had large outdoor plazas for community events. Other than the residential units, the city had a number of other religious structures. The Sunken Temple is an example, a small building with a staircase that leads to a room containing numerous stone monoliths, representing mythical ancestors. Moreover, temple walls had images of impassive deities with elaborate head dresses.

Tiwanaku had a number of artificial pyramids, the Akapana being the largest in the city. It might have been of political and religious importance to the capital. Archaeologists have found fractured skeletons of people, suggesting that they were attacked with heavy blades and were perhaps members of groups the Tiwanaku conquered. Lying with them were bones of llamas and ceramics.


Archaeologists have found fractured skeletons of people, suggesting that they were attacked with heavy blades and were perhaps members of groups the Tiwanaku conquered.


In terms of religion, what little information we have about the Tiwanaku comes from the myths they passed down to the Incas and the Spanish. Since they did not have a writing system, their myths were passed on orally. Some information can also be gathered by the paintings on temple walls. They believed in Viracocha, the god of action, who created people out of rock, gave them life and brought them down to Earth. They also believe he created giants to move the monoliths that comprised the Tiwanaku archaeology, but grew unhappy with them and destroyed them in a flood. There is a carving of Viracocha in the Gateway of the Sun, a giant monolithic arch, along with a carving of another celestial 12-faced high god.

Tiwanaku rituals were often similar to those of the Incas. Initially, people were mummified and buried in the ground but eventually, they started burying the social elite above the ground in burial chambers, chullpas. Their rituals also included human sacrifices where people were taken to the top of the Akipana and shortly after death were torn apart and laid out for all to see – a way of showing their dedication to the gods.

Around 1000 AD, the city started declining and was abandoned; collapsing around the same time as the Wari culture that was geographically close to the Tiwanaku. Scientists believe environmental changes in the Andes were a possible cause for this shift.


Tiwanaku art with its clearly depicted figures in curved lines and a natural style differed from the Wari art which used an abstract form with straight lines and a militaristic style. The Tiwanaku portraits depicted individual characteristics.
Column-like sculptures with large, square eyes that were flat in structure was typical of their sculptures. The figures hold ritual objects which can be seen from the Ponce Stela and the Bennett Monolith. It is likely that the Tiwanaku practiced ritual beheading. Evidence lies in the Akapana figure holding severed heads and the headless skeletons found near Akapana.
Ceramics were used by the Tiwanaku. As part of the rituals, a ceramic drinking cup, the giru, was smashed and was used in burials. Over the years, the ceramic style evolved from coarse polish and deep incisions to a soft, light brown ceramic style.
The Tiwanaku used tapestries and tunics in bright colours. These depicted trophy heads, effigies and sacrificial victims. Wood, bone and cloth were used to depict incense burners, carved hallucinogenic snuff tablets and more. As small portable objects, these held religious significance and their portable nature ensured the spread of the Tiwanaku religion and influence to the surrounding regions.


The Wari civilisation flourished from 500 to 1000 AD and is unrelated to the modern Wari group. The city of Wari extended across the coast and highlands of Peru.

The Wari ruins near Chiclayo and Cerro Baul as well as in Pikillaqta are well-known. The civilisation is believed to have expanded through conversion, conquest and the spread of agriculture. It deteriorated from around 800 AD and by 1000 AD, all that remained were a few groups of descendants.

In all likelihood, the Wari must have believed that they would return one day which is evident from the deliberately blocked government centres and doorways.


Tiwanaku continued to be a site of religious significance for the locals and was even incorporated in Inca mythology as the birthplace of mankind.

Priya is a writer and aspiring film maker. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul – Teens Talk Relationship. She can be reached at


Thousands of years before the European settlers reached its shores, Australia had been home to the aboriginals. They are said to have arrived in Australia more than 50,000 years ago

Words: Priya Narayan


Dreaming’ or the ‘dreamtime’ signifies the beginning of the world for the aboriginals of Australia who believe that their ancestors rose from the earth and formed various aspects of nature, be it animals, birds, trees, water bodies or even the sky. According to them, some of the ancestors metamorphosed into these elements of nature where they continue to live in spiritual form, suggesting the presence of life in everything around them.

Stories of this dreamtime are passed on through generations as are songs of their origin and other tales of the land they inhabited. Accompanying these stories are vibrant dances and visuals drawn into the sand that bring these narratives alive. And not just in sand; art, specifically in the Northern Territory includes paintings on tree barks and rocks, sculptures, basket-making and bead-work which some choose to sell to earn a living.

Since much of their history is passed on orally, language plays an important role in understanding their indigenous heritage. There were about 600 distinct clans with unique cultures, languages and dialects, spread across lush woodlands and even harsh deserts where these geographic locations served as a means of identifying these individual clans. Groups developed knowledge and skills based on their environment and passed it on to the next generation, forming a system of kinship not just among the people but also with elements of nature around them. Moreover, these kinships influenced marriage decisions and informed members about their obligations to the clan as part of the Aboriginal Law.

Ceremonies and performances were an important part of their cultural life. There are songs for every occasion and dances that accompany them, in addition to body decoration, sculpture and painting. Dances are passed down from one generation to the next and tell stories of ancestral heroes. Some dances are meant for entertaining the family and certain others are performed every day. Larger ceremonial gatherings also include trade of goods.

Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, which date back to about 40,000 years ago, are the earliest remains found in Australia. Experts estimate that the first indigenous Australians arrived more than 50,000 years ago. Some place it at up to 125,000. The aboriginals and the Torres Strait islander people form indigenous Australians, each with a distinct culture of their own.

European settlers

However, European influence in the late 1700s changed the scenario. By the 1880s, the Europeans had reached most parts of Australia, save the remote areas. This resulted in forced assimilation where the aboriginals joined the urban communities. They became economically marginalised and many lost lives to new diseases, resulting in massive depopulation and extinction for some of the tribes.


This started an important civil rights movement in the 1970s in which the aboriginals voiced their demand for equal rights, specifically for land for property that had been taken by the British settlers by force. As a result, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act was passed in 1976 along with later legislation that returned a great degree of autonomy, increased wages and offered welfare benefits to the Aboriginal people.

The Returning Boomerang

Boomerangs were common among the aboriginals who generally made these items out of wood. At times, they were used as a weapon for hunting, but considering how light they were, they served better as a toy for young boys than as a weapon.

The Didgeridoo

The Didgeridoo is a musical instrument, a wind pipe made of bamboo that can extend about five feet. The instrument produces a low vibrating hum and was used in formal ceremonies at events such as funerals, circumcisions or even sunsets.

Rainbow Serpent Mythology

The Australian aboriginals are known to have one of the longest continuing religions in the world. They consider the Rainbow serpent as their creator; the rainbow symbolises the change of seasons and the serpent is seen moving in and out of waterholes, a symbol for why their water never dried up despite droughts. Stories of the Rainbow serpent have been recorded in 7,000 year-old rock shelter paintings in the Kakadu National Park.

DNA samples have suggested that the Aboriginals split from the European and Asian population 65,000 to 75,000 years ago, migrating into south Asia and then into Australia. There are also findings that suggest the aboriginals moved from Africa to Australia 75,000 years ago. Studies have shown a link between the Indian archaic populations and the aboriginal people. In addition, based on DNA from a finger bone excavated in Siberia, there is evidence of the aboriginals being descendants of the Denisovans as well, a species of humans related to the Neanderthals. It is believed that they form the oldest continuous culture on the planet.


Priya is a writer and aspiring film maker. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul – Teens Talk Relationship. She can be reached at


Among the Native American tribes that lived in the Central and Western parts of North America were farmers as well as hunter-gatherers. Most of them died with the European arrival, the rest were moved to reservations.

Words: Priya Narayan

Nomadic tribes that moved to North America from Asia formed hundreds of Native American groups. Their descendants moved south, forming diverse cultural groups that despite their diversity had similar habits and characteristics. These groups rose to a population of 50 million – with 10 million in present-day USA – by the time the Europeans invaded their lands. Here are Native American tribes that lived in the central and western part of North America.



A vast desert covered present-day Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, Utah, Texas and Mexico, which made up the Southwest. The Southwest was home to the Hopi, the Zuni, the Yuma and the Yaqui, settled farmer groups that grew beans, corn and squash. They lived in stone houses called pueblos, which had multiple storeys like apartment houses today. Along with the farmers lived nomads – Navajo and Apache tribes – that survived by hunting, gathering and raiding the farmers’ crops. They lived in temporary mud or mark houses called hogans. Most of the natives in the region had been exterminated by the time the Southwest became a part of the United States.


The Great Basin was a barren desert that lay in the centre of the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevadas, the Columbia Plateau and the Colorado Plateau.


The tribes that lived there spoke Shoshonean or Uto-Aztecan dialects and consisted of the Bannock, the Paiute and the Ute, nomads that foraged for roots, seeds and nuts and hunted small animals like snakes and lizards. They lived in houses that were easy to build, made out of saplings, leaves and brush. After the European invasions, some of the groups got horses and started hunting and raiding. Over the centuries, gold and silver was discovered in the region and in the process of extracting it, most of the natives lost their lives.


One of the most populated areas, the present-day California area was home to over 100 different tribes that spoke 200 dialects. It was considered to be one of the most complex linguistic landscapes. The region was temperate and hospitable. The tribes that lived there – the Miwok, the Salinas, the Serranos, the Kinatemuk, to name a few – did not practice agriculture, but formed small groups of hunter-gatherers known as tribelets. Some of the tribes had even moved from the Southwest after the Spanish colonisation. When the Spanish explorers invaded this region, they brought with them life-threatening diseases that claimed many lives.


The Northwest Coast lay along the Pacific Ocean and covered the area from British Columbia to Northern California.

The region was abundant in natural resources; the ocean and the rivers of the region were rich in fish (particularly salmon), whales, sea otters, shellfish and seals, which made it easier for tribes to settle down and build permanent villages.

The tribes that lived here included the Athapaskan Haida, the Penutian Chinook, the Wakashan Kwakiutl and the Nuu-chah-nulth, to name a few. They had established social structures where status was determined by the person’s closeness to the chief, and it was based on this status there gift-giving ceremonies were also organised.



The Plateau was located in the Columbia and Fraser river basins at the centre of the Northwest Coast, California, the Great Basin, the Plains and the Subarctic. The natives lived in small villages along the rivers and fished for food, in addition to hunting and gathering nuts, roots and wild berries. The languages of the tribes differed on the basis of their location where the Klikitats and the Modocs of the southern Plateau region spoke Penutian dialects, while the Skitswish and Salish who lived to the north of the Columbia River spoke Salishan dialects. In the 19th century, Lewis and Clark passed through the area and many European settlers followed them, spreading diseases across the plateau. The few natives of the Plateau that survived were forced to leave their lands and live in government reservations.

There were hundreds and thousands of tribes that made up Native America. While most of the tribes in the southern and western parts of America lived in settlements, growing crops and fishing, some tribes continued to live as nomads, hunting and gathering and raiding other tribes.

However, the European colonisers brought about a drastic decline in population, leaving only a few to live off government reservations.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson after the purchase of Louisiana in 1803. Also called the Corps of Discovery Expedition, it was led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark with a group of US army volunteers. Extending from May 1804 to September 1806, the expedition had three primary goals. One was to map the newly purchased territory. Another was to find a practical route across the western part of the North American continent. It was also crucial for them to establish American presence before Britain and other European powers claimed it.

The secondary goals were to study the region’s flora and fauna, the animals, geography and the resources, as well as to establish trade with the Native American tribes. The expedition was successful. It provided the first accurate maps of the region and brought an understanding of the geography. They found natural resources and plants which were known to the Native tribes but were a first to the Euro-Americans. More importantly for the nation, they made proclamations of sovereignty which they needed to claim title of the lands.


Priya is a writer and aspiring film maker. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul – Teens Talk Relationship. She can be reached at