The Religions of the Natives of Baja California

The Missions of Baja California

The first Jesuit mission in Baja California was established in 1684. A string of missions were extended through the southern and central parts of the peninsula. The Jesuits were expelled in 1767 because the government considered them to have too much wealth and power. By that time the native populations which had been reduced (Spanish “reducir”) had been decimated. After the Jesuits left an agreement between the Franciscans and the Dominicans divided California between them. The Franciscans founded the missions in Alta California and Baja California was to go to the Dominicans. Missions were founded in the northern end of Baja California by the Dominicans where the Jesuits had failed to reach. This was called the Dominican frontier. The natives in all areas of Baja California except the northern end are now extinct. At the southern tip of the peninsula were found the Pericus. Just to their north were the Guaycaru. The to the north and east of the Guaycaru you were found the Monqui and in the vast central desert region were found the Cochimi. The knowledge we have of these peoples comes from archaeology and the few Spanish records that were made before they died out.

Cochimi religion from the telling of Luis Sales 1772 – 1790

A great captain made the sky, the earth and everything in them. He was named Menichipa. He made another like himself called Togomag and a man and a woman. They had a son called Emai Cuaño. Menichipa adopted him as his own son and gave him all the power and authority. Emai Cuaño was in charge of the care of the married persons and he arranged for the marriage of men and women. Menichipa left all the created things imperfect but his adopted son perfected them. He sweetened the bitter seeds and tamed the ferocious beasts. He also brought fire from the earth so the people would not be cold. When the people complained that the earth was too hot he spat over it, creating the seas, rivers, springs and lakes. The people were angered at seeing so much water and he began to cry, his tears becoming rain. He named all things. He had created the first batch of humans with his own hands but when he grew tired he taught them how to procreate. He commanded the dances and feasts be celebrated and told them to perform funeral ceremonies for those who had died a natural death. Those who died a violent death were to be burned. Those who died bravely would go to the north where the founding fathers are. They would feed on deer, rats, rabbits and hares. He commanded that women should be subject to men and that some should be believed without question. Menichipa was wounded by men and while dying raised again. The evildoers fled and it is not known where they are. Originally Menichipa was in the North and was sad because he had no companions. That is why he set out to create companions. He created arrogant and evil people and to keep the peace shut them up under the earth. He lets them out from time to time to deceive men. In some places the arrogant people are called Chilyahs, in others Tavigol and in others Chilay. They are equivalent with the devil. The devil appears at night clad in fire and terrorizes the people to do evil deeds. The Indians protect themselves with the rosary and by planting crosses in thickets and groves and by roads.

Baja creation stories from the telling of Miguel Venegas 1758

From The Pericues

There is a lord of great power in heaven called Niparaya. He has no body like we have. His wife is Anayicoyondi. They have three sons. One of them is called Quaayayp which means “man.” He taught the southern Indians and went into the earth and brought people forth. The Indians killed him. He remains dead but remains beautiful. Blood runs from him and he has an owl that speaks for him. In heaven there are many more inhabitants than on earth. Wac or Tuparan rose against Niparaya but he was defeated in battle. Niparaya deprived Wac of his power and his pitaya cactus fruit food. He confined him and his followers in a cave guarded by whales. Niparaya does not like people to fight and those who die of an arrow or spear wound do not go to heaven. Wac Tuparan wants people to fight. Those killed in battle go to his cave. Believers in Niparaya become Christians while believers in Wac Tuparan do not. The Pericues believe the stars are shining pieces of metal and the moon was created by Cucunumic while the stars were created by Purutabui.

From The People Around Loretto

They have no word for heaven but call it notu which means “high.” In the north part of heaven lies the spirit of spirits called Gumongo who send sickness. He sent another spirit called Guyiaguai who sowed the earth with pitaya cactus and made the creeks along the coast. Other inferior spirits brought him pitaya fruit to eat and fish from the creek. He made vestiments for his priests called dicuinochos. They used tablets. The sun, moon and the morning and evening stars were men and women who fell into the sea and swam out to the east. The stars are made by a visting spirit. They fall into the sea and must be relit by him.

From The Cochimi

They have a lord in heaven who is without a mate but had a son who has two names. One imparts perfection-the other means “swift.” There is another who makes lords. There is one lord who made heaven, earth, animals, trees, fruits and men and women. They also believe in devils who revolted against the great lord. They are his enemy and the enemy of humans. When humans die these devils bury him.

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