Unearthing the Roots: Mapping the Tongva Villages of Los Angeles


Norine Holguin

8/8/20233 min read

When we think of Los Angeles today, we envision a sprawling metropolis with its iconic freeways and vibrant suburbs. But long before the city's development, Southern California was a land of natural beauty, characterized by lush grasslands, estuaries teeming with life, and oak-covered foothills. In this pre-urbanized landscape, the original inhabitants of Los Angeles, the Tongva people, thrived, shaping a world they referred to as Tovaangar.

Crafting the Map: A Scholarly Endeavor

The creation of this enlightening map was no small feat. It was meticulously crafted, drawing upon the scholarly works of Steven Hackel, Stephen O’Neil, Nat Zappia, and Jeanette Zerneke. The map is deeply indebted to the Early California Cultural Atlas, a spatial history project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Early California Population Project developed by the Huntington Library. These invaluable resources provided the essential data and historical context that breathed life into the representation of Tovaangar and the Tongva villages.

Amidst the web of freeways and sprawling suburbs, lies a story rooted in the ancient grasslands, estuaries, and oak-covered foothills of Southern California. This story belongs to the Tongva people, the original inhabitants of the region, whose vibrant history is brought to life through an interactive map titled "Mapping the Tongva Villages of L.A.'s Past," created by The Los Angeles Times.

Tovaangar: A Flourishing Realm

Tovaangar stretched from the captivating Palos Verdes coast to the majestic heights of Saddleback Mountain, encompassing the San Fernando Valley's fertile plains and the wilderness of San Bernardino. This enchanting land was home to approximately 5,000 individuals dwelling in nearly 100 distinct villages. Each village stood as a self-sustained community, yet they were intricately interconnected, weaving a vibrant cultural tapestry.

Sacred Enclaves: Povuu'nga and Shevaanga

Povuu'nga, nestled in the embrace of Long Beach's east, held deep spiritual significance for the Tongva. It was revered as the "place of emergence," where the Tongva believed their world and existence had their beginnings—a sacred site that endures to this day. Shevaanga, located north of Whittier Narrows and close to the second Mission San Gabriel site, marked the historic encounter between the Spanish and the Tongva, known as Gabrieliños to the Spanish.

Echoes of Yesteryears: Place Names

Although many villages were lost to history, the legacy of the Tongva people resonates through the place names of Los Angeles. Topanga, Cahuenga, and Azusa are just a few examples, bearing the imprints of Tongva words. Tujunga, Pacoima, Cucamonga, and Serrano reflect the enduring influence of indigenous cultures.

The map also serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative and often tumultuous times that befell Tovaangar with the arrival of the Spanish between 1769 and 1840. This period saw the ecological balance of the region upended by disease, the introduction of invasive species, livestock, and the forced resettlement of the Tongva people around the missions. Despite these challenges, the Tongva heritage resiliently echoes through the modern landscape of Los Angeles.

A Journey Through Time

"Mapping the Tongva Villages of L.A.'s Past" is more than just a map; it is a journey through time, unearthing the rich heritage and history of the Tongva people. It invites us to explore the ancient landscapes of Los Angeles, to learn about the sacred sites and vibrant villages, and reflect on the resilience and enduring legacy of the Tongva people in the face of change. As we traverse the city, let us remember the original footsteps that marked this land and celebrate the cultural tapestry that continues to shape Los Angeles.


“Early California Cultural Atlas .” The ECCA Project, 2015, ecai.org//ECCA/INDEX.HTML

Curwen, Thomas, and Sean Greene. “Mapping the Tongva Villages of L.A.’s Past.” Los Angeles Times, 9 May 2019, www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-tongva-map/

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