The Luiseno Creation Story

The Luiseño Creation Story

In the beginning there was darkness and earth, brother and sister. Darkness was also called unoccupied, there is no one, and whitish gray (a term that referred to the Milky Way). Earth was also called empty, there is nothing there, and changing in form descending. The brother came unto the sister and they brought forth the sun, sand, flat rocks and stones, trees and shrubs, medicinal herbs and grasses, meat animals, and Wuyóot (also spelled Wiyot and Ouiot).

Wuyóot looked upon Red Legged Frog covetously. She could tell what was on his mind. When he saw that her behind was skinny and bony he lost interest. Red Legged Frog became angry and bewitched him.

He became sick and before he died said that all people will follow him in death. This is how death came to the world. However, he said he would return as the moon.

He died and was cremated; Blowfly rubbed her fire sticks together to light the pyre. They sent Coyote away to get fire from the sun. He ran back and jumped over the shortest ones guarding the body of Wuyóot. In various tellings this is either Big Cone Spruce and Incense Cedar or Badger. Brush Rabbit sang at Wuyóot’s funeral, being the first to ever sing.

A spirit, Chinigchinich, appeared and created humans. He said that those who do not obey him will be punished with “bears to bite, snakes to sting, misfortunes, infirmities and death.” Because of the similarity to the biblical God some believe that this was influenced by the missions, forming what anthropologists call syncretism or the fusing of native and external beliefs. Raven is Chinigchinich’s animal as was bear, cougar, various species of rattlesnake, stingrays, tarantula hawk (pepsis wasp), black widow, tarantula and other spiders, ticks, scorpion and centipede. Rock crystals and tourmaline are also Chinigchinich’s and can be used to kill.

Instruction in proper behavior was given during the boys and girls initiation ceremonies. The boys took toloache to have vision of animals. The girls took an infusion of tobacco. A ground painting showing the world and Chinigchinich’s animals was used.

Constance Goddard DuBois, who was a novelist and amateur ethnologist, wrote about the Luiseño and Diegueño creation stories, notably in “The Religion of the Luiseño Indians.” Despite not having academic training she was encouraged by Alfred Kroeber, the Dean of Native California anthropology.

Kroeber wrote the massive “Handbook of the Indians of California”. John Peabody Harrington, the mystery man of California anthropology, emerges again with his extensively annotated publication of Chinigchinich, written in 1825 by the Franciscan, Father Geronimo Boscana. Harrington did extensive fieldwork to flesh out Boscana’s account. It was issued by Malki Museum press.

Harrington worked extensively in California, recording over 1 million pages of field notes on California Indian languages and lore. His favorite peoples to work with were the folks who lived near his house in Santa Ana and those in the Santa Barbara area. He was on a desperate mission to record as much as he could as it disappeared with the passing of the elders who retained the languages and knowledge of the old ways.

He is a person who elicits widely varying responses from people. They either tend to idolize him or have a negative view of him, largely based on his ex-wife’s memoir. “Encounter With An Angry God” is a biased view of Harrington but it is probably the best record we have of him. Whatever he was like as a person, his achievement was massive and Native Peoples in California are grateful because they can revive their languages and cultures using his notes.

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