San Buenaventura by Zephyrin Englehardt
Mission Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California, 1930
During the term of Fr. Presidente José Señan’s rule, the interrogatorio or list of questions, proposed by the Spanish government, reached California. The Fathers at each mission answered the questions as far as their respective establishment was concerned, and then they forwarded the results to the Fr. Presidente.
1. At this mission live only Indians and a few whites.
2. The whites hail generally from Sonora, Sinaloa, and Nueva Viscaya. The Indians are natives of the neighboring rancherias, excepting those who were born of Indian parents at the mission. The Indians do not know their original habitat.
3. The Indians here speak their own idiom. Some converse in Spanish, but imperfectly.
4. In their pagan state, the Indians generally care little for their wives. They love their children but give them little or no education. It is different at the Mission, however, where, besides religion, industry and agriculture is taught them.
5. Europeans and Americans are not regarded as differing from other whites. To the Indians they are all without exception gente de razon.
6. Particular affection or aversion is not noticeable.
7. One or the other of the neophytes, more out of curiosity than utility, manifest some inclination to learn to read and write. With charcoal, some of the boys at times draw characters on the walls, as white boys will do. In paganism they have no idea of it. Only in the sand or on tree trunks will they draw figures of animals.
8. There is no way of getting the Indians to devote themselves more diligently to Spanish.
9. The most conspicuous virtues are patience in time of suffering, especially during illness. They are also hospitable.
10. The pagans, especially the old men, cling to many of their superstitions. For instance, a fisherman will not eat of the fish or of the venison, rabbits, hares, etc., which he caught, believing he will in that case catch no more. In order to win at a play of chance, he must fast for some days; and if he loses, he imagines that the winner fasted more. The husband may not touch his wife until the child can stand alone on its feet, otherwise he shall have no more children. When the wife is delivered of a child, the husband must abstain from meat for some time, lest the child die. Instruction is gradually making the recent converts disregard such foolish observances.
11. We have a catechism in the idiom of the Indians of the Mission and also a catechism in Castilian. Instructions are given in both languages alternately.
12. No inclination to idolatry is observed in our neophytes; nor can it be said that in savagery they practiced any formal idolatry. In the vicinity of their rancherias and on the mountain, they used to have some places which they kept very clean, swept, and adorned with beautiful plumage put on poles. To these places they would go as to their sacred places. Here they would assemble in time of need and conduct a sort of pilgrimage. One of their number, in the name of all the rest, who observed profound silence, would pray for rain, offering an abundance of acorns, seeds, and wild fruits which constitute their daily sustenance. They would catch fish or kill deer in order that no bear might catch them or the bite of a rattlesnake might not afflict them. They would pray also for health and other good things. At the end of the supplication, they would, in their simplicity and crude veneration, offer beads, acorns, and various seeds, in order that they might be regarded with favor by the invisible one whom they pictured to themselves according to their rude notions, as the author and giver of rains, seeds, fruits, and other good things. The first part of this petition was always uniform. It was preceded by a salutation which in our language means as much as “Grand Captain or Captain of Captains, behold us and hear what we say.”
Some old men, pretending to be doctors, but being only graduated from the school of their own ignorance, simplicity, and rudeness, tell a long series of ridiculous fables regarding the creation of the world and its government. The boys and young folk take great delight in them and will even pay an old fellow to get him to recite his stories. Nevertheless, some neophytes having good sense and possessing true Christian sentiments frequently told me that they knew the foolishness of these stories; and when they saw the boys in such circles, one or more would not be wanting to instruct them, reminding them of what is true and certain; namely, that there is One who created all things and gave all things. This much is sure, the pagan people of this vicinity are well disposed and they have listened to us with attention or pleasure when we spoke to them of God, the Creator of heaven and earth and all things.
13. A great change for the better is observed, due to the teachings of the Gospel. For one thing, there is now peace where formerly there was constant war.
14. When our neophyte youths intend to marry, they offer to the bride and her parents some beads, an otter skin, a blanket, or some similar thing. Other tokens or service they do not offer. After they have presented themselves to the missionary and the examination, prescribed by the Council of Trent, proved that there is no impediment, the missionary marries them during a Nuptial Mass according to the Roman Ritual. Also in paganism they are wont to offer a present to the pretendita or to her parents, though not always. Some, naturally of a good and faithful disposition, will keep their matrimonial contract inviolate; but, generally speaking, it is almost incredible how readily they take and divorce wives, and how the wives themselves, in not a few cases, divorce their husbands, not regarding or understanding the marriage bond. Such is their rudeness and ignorance in this particular.
15. As far as possible, the missionaries see to it that in the Mission are not wanting the most ordinary medicines for their own necessities and those of the neophytes. The poor Indians do not understand curative powers. When one of them feels sick, he lies down near his beloved fire until he is almost roasted. Quacks administer some herbs, roots, and bark, but blindly without knowing their power or giving any reason. The quack’s father or some old man told him that such and such a grass or root was good, which suffices for their keeping many a secret and receiving beads. They say that some are cured with that herb and the sick person so believes, forgetting that the greater part of the infirmities are not grave and that nature herself provides the cure. They have a way of compensating themselves for bloodletting, inasmuch as they cut themselves with a sharp stone and then suck the blood. By the irritation it causes, this crude way of healing has some good effects, especially when applied to the delicate parts. They have various herbs to purge themselves; and as an emetic they would drink an abundance of water mixed with salt or sea water. For pains in the bones they apply the thermal waters, and use the same remedy against the itch and similar ailments. The most prevailing disease are the galico, consumption, and dysentery. These affllict them more forcibly in spring and autumn. The number of births does not correspond with that of deaths; for in some years there are three deaths to two births.
16. They recognize spring by the fresh growth of plants and by the sprouting of the grass. The season of the seeds tells them that summer is there. In the harvest of the acorns, their chief sustenance in paganism, they see the approach of autumn, while the rains and the cold weather are a sign that winter has come. In their dullness, they are ignorant of the calendar,. Though the language has distinct words for morning, noon, evening and night, the pagans, living to suit their fancy, do not understand anything about this as far as eating, working and resting is concerned. The neophytes are guided in everything by the Mission bell.
17. The Indians take no more than one meal a day, inasmuch as when they work they also eat, and at whatever hour of the night they might wake up and remember, they set to eating. At the Mission, there is morning prayer when the sun rises, at which time also holy mass is said. After sunrise they are given a ration of atole, and the same is given after the recital of the Doctrina in the evening. At noon, the meal consists of pozole made of wheat, corn, peas, and other vegetables. Every week they receive a ration of fresh beef, in sufficient amount, according to the means of the Mission. At this Mission, weekly, sixty, fifty, or at least forty five head of cattle are slaughtered. In seasons when the cattle are very fat, sixty head are slaughtered twice a week, in order to increase and sell the tallow and thereby procure the necessary goods. The large parts of the meat are taken in carts to the fields and burnt, since there is no one to collect them and there is plenty of fresh meat in the houses. In addition, they have in their homes supplies of acorns, chia, seeds, fruits, zacates, and other various wild eatables, all of which they do not overlook, being very fond of them. They eat also fish, mussels, ducks, geese, cranes, quail, hares, squirrels, rats, and other animals, which are to be had in abundance. On account of this hodgepodge of eatables, which they have in their homes and to their being like children who eat at all hours, it is hard to determine how much they eat every day.
18. They have not known fermented drinks and use only a concoction of wild tobacco, lime, and water, which, they assure us, brings them comfort; but if they drink it to excess, it intoxicates them and does them considerable harm.
19. The gentiles of this vicinity have not adored the sun nor the moon.
20. The Indians content themselves with the bow and arrow for self-defense and for the chase, and with the net for fishing. For the rest they think only of how to procure food. In consequence, all they know is how to fill the belly, dance, and play like children. It never strikes them in the least that there are in the world more people than those with whom they are acquainted in their rancherias. In like manner, they are not at all concerned as to who were their forefathers. Ignorance, stupidity, and supreme indifference in such matters are doubtless their heritage from a very early date.
21. In their pagan state, some were accustomed to bury their dead, while others would burn them on a huge pyre, accompanying the ceremony with loud wailing, relatives and friends stirring up the fire until the corpse was consumed. In burials, they would inter with the corpse some beads, skins of the otter or rabbit, or some other article that belonged to the deceased. Others would place a pole on the grave from which hung an oar, a net, a bowl, the head of a deer, or some other mark, to show in which exercise the deceased excelled. They manifest their grief by cutting their hair, covering themselves with ashes, and scratching and blackening the face, continuing their wailing for many days.
22,. They are quite faithful to their promises and in their bargains; but their words must be taken in a wider sense so far as relatives and friends are concerned; for it is well known that they are forgetful and do not at all, or at least very tardily, comply with their promises.
23. Their inclination to tell lies is great. This does not apply to our Indians, however. These know that it is wicked to lie; and even in their pagan state they knew that it is something to be shunned.
24.. Their most dominant vice is idleness with all that attends it – incontinence and thievery. The women are quite industrious; but one or the other class are neophytes. Now they are beginning to hear the names of the virtues and of Religion; and our efforts to instruct them in the maxims thereof meet with happy results. Yet there are also sullen and stiffnecked individuals among them.
25. Their money is in the shape of beads and seeds, which they readily lend, without asking security. This was true of them also in paganism.
26. From the products of the field, the missionaries provide for those living in the community; otherwise they would go to the mountains, like children. Some have their little private gardens, in which they raise pumpkins, watermelons, sugar melons, corn, and other vegetables and grains, the missionaries encouraging them in this. In paganism they knew nothing of agriculture, but lived on acorns, seeds, and wild fruits.
27. They are not naturally inclined to anger or to cruelties. They had frequent wars to defend their wives and their little patches or collection of acorns and seeds. With them murder is the greatest injury, and they would seek revenge by taking the life of the murderer.
28. They never offered human sacrifices to the gods.
29. Already answered in the preceding and under numbers 12 and 21.
30. In community, the Indians are all equal, one having as much as the other.
31. There is no distinction among them in the mission, excepting the alcaldes and regidores who are elected annually and who act as foremen and overseers. In paganism, each rancheria had one or more captains who led the others in wars and feasts.
32. No personal services are rendered to anyone. All labor for and serve the Mission in various capacities for the common good.
33. They are now quite eager to sing and to play on the instruments, string as well as wind, and they easily learn by ear or by sight. In paganism they use only a flute like thing made of elderwood, as also a bone whistle, with which the players produce a shriek and violent trill, at the same time making strange and ridiculous contortions of the body. Their songs are weird, more adapted to arouse sadness than gladness.
34. There are Indians here who in paganism had not even an idea of letters or characters. Hence to catalog illustrious men from among them is out of the question.
35. They have some faint idea of the immortality of the soul, though it is coupled with a thousand puerilities. They know something also of reward and punishment, but temporary, affecting only this life. They imagine that after death the souls are transferred to a place of delights, where they are well received and where there will be an abundance of fish, and where they have plenty to eat, and will pass the time in play, dances, and amusements. Thoughts of Last Judgement, Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell never entered their minds.
36. The dress of the male neophyte consists of a short overall, called cotón, of a breach cloth, in place of breeches, and of a blanket. The women wear the cotón with a petticoat and blanket. All this clothing is made at the mission. The pagans know nothing of dress, except that women wear the hide of a deer or fringes of grass to meet the demands of natural decency. – Mission San Buenaventura, August 11, 1815. – Fr José Señan.