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The Worldview of the Chumash People

Chumash Cosmology

adapted from the telling of Thomas Blackburn from the notes of JP Harrington

There are three worlds: one above, one below and this one. We live in the center, on the biggest island. There are two snakes below, who, when they move cause of earthquakes. There is a being above, the Eagle of the Sky, that stretches its wings. This causes the phases of the moon. The water of the springs and streams of the middle world is the urine of frogs that live in them.

In the world above, the sun, the Eagle of the Sky, the Morning Star and Coyote of the Sky play peon. Moon is the referee and they stay up all night until dawn playing all year round. On Christmas Eve they count to six to see who has won. When Coyote of the Sky wins it will be a rainy year. There is a lot to eat. The sun stakes all the food plants and Coyote of the Sky, when he wins, opens the door so that all the good things fall to earth. When the sun wins he takes his winnings in human lives. Coyote of the sky wants to pay with the lives of old people but sometimes the sun takes a young person’s life.

The moon is an unmarried woman who lives near the sun. They have their jobs to do to light the sky. The morning star’s job is to light the dawn. The Sky Coyote is our father and the sun our uncle. None of them grow older. The sun lights the sky with a brand made of the inner bark of a sky tree that is like a cottonwood. The Sky Eagle creature stays in the same spot but when he gets tired he spreads his wings causing the phases of the moon and eclipses of the moon.

The sun is an old man and a widower who lives alone with his pets. His two daughters live with him too. The sun carries away people of this world and he and his daughters eat them at the end of the day. There are devil like creatures in the shape of men who come out when night falls. La Llorona, the weeping woman, cries in the trees. When you hear her someone is going to die. The swordfish creatures live in the sea and can throw a whale out of the water.

There once was a great flood and Spotted Woodpecker, the sun’s nephew, was the only survivor. He alighted at the top of the tallest tree and cried for his uncle to help him. The sun lowered his torch and the waters went down. Then he tossed some acorns to the woodpecker who ate them. To this day he eats acorns.

After the flood sky Coyote, Sun, Moon, the Morning Star and the great Sky Eagle decided to create man. Sky Coyote wanted their hands to be like his. Silently lizard listened and waited. They all gathered around a rock and just as Sky Coyote was going to stamp his hand down Lizard put his down. Sky Coyote wanted to kill Lizard but he scurried into a crack in the rock. the Sky Eagle and Sun approved of the lizard’s handprint and that is how we got the hands we have.

Sky Coyote wanted to toss men into a lake to make them young again but Matavenado said the earth would be too full of people so Coyote lost that argument as well. The sun was adored by the Indians and they also adored the elements earth, air, and water. Some say that the rainbow is a shadow of three elements – wind, rain and fire. The elements give the rainbow its colors. The sun had the morning and evening stars as his wives.

The souls of the dead stayed around for five days but someone who has been cremated has his soul go to the West and it doesn’t stay around. His soul goes to the west, as does the souls of babies. After 12 years the soul is reincarnated. It has been said that white people have been reincarnated with a different color and with different languages.

As the sun reemerges, the souls resurrect. The old people said that there were three lands to the west which were like purgatory, hell and heaven. There are two rocks that crashed together. Any living person who tried to pass them would be crushed but the souls of the dead passed on through. The souls of poisoners and evil people turn to stone from the neck on down and remain immobile, unable to progress. They are only able to watch as the other souls progress. Two monsters try to frighten the souls as they cross a pole. Those that fall off are those who have not drunk hallucinogenic toloache or who do not know about the old religion. They fall into the water and turn into a frog, a turtle, a snake or a fish. There are many such beings in the water.

Children were named for the month they were born in. The 12 different months all have names reflecting qualities they have. Men have qualities of the month they are born in.

Cabrillo’s Voyage

Relation of the voyage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo 1542 – 1543

In: Spanish Exploration in the Southwest 1542 – 1706, edited by Herbert Eugene Bolton, Scribner’s Sons New York 1916

On the following Thursday they went about six leagues along the coast running north northwest, and discovered a port, closed and very good, which they named San Miguel. It is in thirty four and one third degrees. Having cast anchor in it, they went ashore where there were people. Three of them waited, but all the rest fled. To these three they gave some presents and they said by signs that in the interior men like the Spaniards had passed. They gave signs of great fear. On the night of this day they went ashore from the ships to fish with a net, and it appears that here there were some Indians, and they began to shoot at them with arrows and wounded three men.

Next day in the morning they went with the boat farther into the port, which is large, and brought two boys, who understood nothing by signs. They gave them both shirts and sent them away immediately.

Next day in the morning three adult Indians came to the ships and said by signs that in the interior men like us were traveling about, bearded, clothed, and armed like those of the ships. They made signs that they carried crossbows and swords; and they made gestures with the right arm as if they were throwing lances, and ran around as if they were on horseback. They made signs that they were killing many native Indians, and for this reason they were afraid. These people are comely and large. They go about covered with the skins of animals.

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At daybreak on Saturday, the seventh month of October, they were at the islands which they named San Salvador and La Victoria. They anchored at one of them and went ashore with the boat to see if there were people; and when the boat came near, a great number of Indians emerged from the bushes and grass, shouting, dancing, and making signs that they should land. As they saw that the women were fleeing, from the boats they made signs that they should not be afraid. Immediately they were reassured, and laid their bows and arrows on the ground and launched into the water a good canoe which held eight or 10 Indians, and came to the ships. They gave them beads and other articles, with which they were pleased, and then they returned. Afterward the Spaniards went ashore, and they, the Indian women, and all felt very secure. Here an old Indian made signs to them that men like the Spaniards, clothed and bearded, were going about on the mainland. They remained on this island until midday.

On the following Sunday, the eighth of said month, they drew near to the mainland in a large bay which they called the Bay of Los Fumos, (Bay of the Smokes), because of the many smokes which they saw on it. Here they held a colloquy with some Indians whom they captured in a canoe, and who made signs that toward the north there were Spaniards like them. This bay is in 35° and is a good port, and the country is good, with many valleys, plains, and groves.

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… We saw on the land a pueblo of Indians close to the sea, the houses being large like those of New Spain. They anchored in front of a very large valley on the coast. Here there came to the ships many very good canoes, each of which held 12 or 13 Indians; they told them of Christians who were going about in the interior. The coast runs from Northwest to Southeast. Here they gave them presents, with which they were greatly pleased. They indicated by signs that in seven days they would go to where the Spaniards were, and Juan Rodriguez decided to send two Spaniards into the interior. They also indicated that there was a great river. With these Indians they sent a letter at a venture to the Christians. They named this town the Pueblo of Los Canoas. The Indians dress in skins of animals; they are fishermen and eat raw fish; they were eating maguey also….

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… All this coast which they have passed is very thickly settled. The Indians brought for them many sardines, fresh and very good. They say that in the interior there are many pueblos and abundant food. They ate no maize. They were dressed in skins, and wore their hair very long and tied up with long strings interwoven with the hair, there being attached to the strings many gew gaws of flint, bone, and wood. The country appears to be very fine.

Serrano Creation Story

The Serrano (Spanish for mountain people) ranged over the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California–Their relatives the Vanyume are little known because they were devastated by the European conquest–They ranged out over the Mojave Desert–Here is part of the Serrano creation story–It has elements found in most Southern California Creation stories–The dying god–twin gods–the cremation with Coyote eating Creator’s heart

Serrano Creation Story – – Adapted from the Telling of Ruth Benedict

In the beginning, in the darkness, the two creator god’s, Pakrokitatc and Kukitatc made the nonhuman persons, the animals. Kukitatc stayed with his people and he said that when they died they would come back.

The people decided to kill Kukitatc because the world would become overpopulated. They got a shaman to do the job. The shaman saw that Kukitatc went out every night and defecated in the ocean. He sent Frog to eat his excrement.

When Kukitatc went to the ocean he did not hear his excrement splash in the water. He knew that Frog was below and that he was going to die. He told the people to cremate him but to send Coyote to the north to gather wood. Coyote set out and the people lit the pyre. The people stood around the fire so Coyote could not get through before the body was burned.

Coyote circled the ring and until he found his opportunity: he slipped between Badger’s bowed legs and snatched Kukitatc’s heart. He ran off and ate it.

Memoirs of California from the 1820s by a Russian Visitor

Memoirs of California

KT Khlebnikov and Anatole G Mazour

Pacific Historical Review, volume 9, number 3 September 1940 pages 307 – 336

Memoirs of California by KT Khlebnikov, translated by G Mazour:

At the missions there are from 500 to 3000 Indians of both sexes. In former days under Spanish rule the governors partly equipped the military commands with Indians to whom were known the hiding places of their kinfolk; and these detachments sometimes counted nearly 100 men, who suddenly attacked the dwellings of the natives, captured and brought them to the missions for settlement. It happened more than once that these Indians would defend themselves desperately, and both sides would leave at the place of encounter several dead and injured. I have seen Indian soldiers in whose bodies were found lances of Indian bows that caused the premature death of the victims.

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Formerly the care of the Indians was very poor, but with the secession from Spain the form of administration was bound to change. They received daily provisions, though not at every mission, which consist of frijol, corn, barley, and dry meat, and on Sundays fresh meat, wheat, lard, and fruit. Indians who are married and have families live in houses or grass huts built at missions, but adults who are single live in the common headquarters, men’s separate from women. Each evening the room or the dwelling of the girls is locked, and in the morning it is opened. Seizure of free Indians has now stopped; and even the older residents are allowed to go free, though the latter, not having led a nomadic life, rarely return to their native places. The plan of the government to make citizens of them and settle them throughout California will probably fail entirely and will not materialize for a very long time. Those freed by the missions, now being by the order of the governor, under no compulsion to labor, completely refuse to work and seek a livelihood by theft. The missionaries make musicians out of them; and if there are no excellent virtuosos among them, there are at least all possible instruments in use. In the better missions various shops are organized; and though not perfect, then at least satisfactorily supply all domestic demands.

According to all officials the best mission in all California is San Luis Rey. To the missionary of San Luis Rey, as the most enlightened and active of all his brethren, are ascribed many complementary qualities. It must be noted that since the missions gain no more Indians, the population on account of sickness is notably decreasing, and the women give birth from 8 to 10 children, the majority of them die during infancy. Many women it is asserted, deliberately killed their children in the womb and have abortions. Venereal diseases are spread to a large degree through the whole of California. Padre Felipe Arroyo asserted that this disease is being transmitted to the native Indians who live in the interior of the continent.

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Many travelers have compared the Albion and California Indians with chattel because of their marked stupidity. It seems to me that circumstances do not necessitate their being intelligent: first composed of numerous tribes with entirely different dialects, they do not lead a social life, and their intelligence and form of expression are stunted by sheer lack of exercise. In the second place, climate and environment produce enough means for a livelihood. The oak produces acorns, which comprise the chief provision; in many places wild rye grows, the grain of which is gathered by the Indians. In the ground they find many hamsters, Siberian marmots, mice, frogs, etc., which make up their diet. Those living near the coast gather lobsters, shrimps, shells, and various sea animals. They can skillfully catch geese and other birds, also mountain sheep, goats, and deer. In the third place, they have no homes, no settled places, but find refuge in the hollows of big trees, in mountain clefts or in tents made of twigs, which are not difficult to abandon when the time comes to change places. Fire is usually obtained by rubbing dry wood, the pieces of which are saved during the moving. In the fourth place, the climate does not compel them to dress in skins or textile fabrics. Men and women go around nude; on rare occasions women wear a piece of some animal skin fasten to a grass belt which covers the groin. Then, fifth, neither barter nor trade of any kind is practiced among them. Sixth, many tribes are not warlike people at all. All their weapons consist of bows and arrows made quite skillfully, but even these are used for the most part against birds and beasts.

Since the native in his primitive condition readily finds his chief needs, food and shelter, everywhere, there is consequently no reason for exerting his intellectual capacities in improving his state; he thinks that of all that inhabitants of the entire world, those of neighboring territories or territories rumored of, he is the happiest. Perhaps it is this mode of life that is responsible for his deep ignorance. However, one cannot deny a certain degree of intelligence in the Indians: their bows tied with deer thongs are made quite ingeniously. In their arrows they place lances made of obsidian, Jasper or flint, skillfully set in; the baskets made of roots are neatly and firmly woven, decorated with red and azure feathers and blue shells. Their head decorations of feathers are also beautifully done. The Indians who live on the islands across from Santa Barbara have boats made of wood. These were probably introduced by the Spanish, for among the Indians who lived near the sea, in San Francisco, for instance, or along the bays of Great and Little Bodega, these boats are not seen. There, when the natives sail across, they use cane woven together in the form of a skiff or canvas, in which they speedily move during stormy weather, while in San Francisco soldiers are frequently transported in them to the missions. The Indians who live in the missions comprise artists and craftsmen of all kinds, even though not skilled ones; but that is, perhaps, because they have had neither systematic training nor the chance to observe. Many of them understand the Spanish language and learn to read and write.

The Indians who are settled at the missions, after being baptized and under strict surveillance of the missionaries, become accustomed to live commonly. There quartered in huts in each of which dwell two and more families. Artisans and servants of the priests are dressed in suits made of freize; but laborers ordinarily have woolen blankets with which they wrap themselves. Women wear shirts and skirts; on Sundays they all go to church and dress rather neatly. Men and women are freed of work on all holidays; they are given better food than that served on the other days. Then separate groups commonly come out to play. Men, adults, and children as well as women, form circles near or across the missions. The older ones sit around, while the frisky young men play ball. Many Indians who deserve confidence have their own cattle, hogs, and chickens, and cultivate gardens. It is strange to see how a thousand or two natives obey with profound submission a friar who is assisted by five or six soldiers who are hardly superior to the Indians. There were, however, examples of missionaries who became the victims of their own immoderate severity. One of them in Santa Cruz was hanged by the Indians on a fruit tree in the garden.

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The Colorado River flows into the Red Sea, or California Bay. The source is in the Sierra Verde and runs along the distance of about 200 leagues (600 miles); the shores of the river are settled by numerous independent Indian tribes and because of the near location of the San Diego harbor, frequently come there. In 1825 the governor dispatched an official to make a survey of the river in order to establish a post highway. Early in 1826 some Indians arrived in San Diego; their leader called himself a general and two of his subordinates captains. The whole distinguish suite came nude except for a strip of cloth hanging on the belt in front. The Commandant General of California welcomed them, treated them and presented them with clothes, hoping to establish a firm friendship. But at their departure they drove away with them all the horses from the suburbs of San Diego belonging to the inhabitants of that town. A detachment sent after them returned with no success. Those Indians were tall, well-built, and bodily strong. The general, or their leader, was distinguished by a long cane with the silver cane head. Both men and women were nude. They own many cattle, and ride horses without saddles easily. In the rainy season the Colorado River becomes deep but in the summer it can be forded. The governor has firm intentions of building a post road across the river to Mexico.

Helen Roberts and Frances Densmore were two people who, in the early 1900s, wrote about Native American music from Southern California. They were able to do so because music was not considered as important as something like social structure, which men worked on.

American ethnographer Frances Densmore (1867 – 1957) makes a phonographic recording of Blackfoot leader Mountain Chief at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, for the Bureau of American Ethnology, 16th February 1916. (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)

Travelers’ Tales

In the early days of European exploration and conquest travelers’ tales of fanciful types of humans found around the globe were disseminated–People who had mouths in their chests or had feet so large they could rest in their shade were current–How many people believed these tall tales it is hard to tell

1852 Remarks on Diegueno in San Diego’s Backcountry

San Diego Mission by Zephyrin Englehardt, The James H Berry Company, San Francisco California, 1920; copyright 2012 Forgotten Books

Remarks by Bartlett regarding the various Ranchos he found on his way to El Paso Texas in 1852:

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We pushed on to the village of San Felipe, near which we encamped. The distance traveled (from Santa Isabel) was 28 miles. Early in the morning (June 2) our tents were thronged with Indians, who appeared to belong to the Diegueño tribe. They were a filthy looking set, half clad and apparently half starved. During the day, we saw many men and women wading about the marsh gathering roots and seeds; of which two articles and acorns their principal food consists. The women appear to be the chief laborers, the men lounging about the camp most of the day. The improvidence of this people seems almost incomprehensible. A very little exertion would have repaid them with all the wheat, maize, and vegetables, required for their subsistence. To these they might add a few cattle, which, in this country, may be obtained for a mere trifle from the ranchos, whose increase in this fine valley would give them a plentiful supply of meat. As it is they have neither corn nor meat, and spend 10 times as much labor in collecting the roots, seeds, and other wretched food they live on, as would be necessary by cultivating the soil to produce bread, fruits, and meats in abundance. Their village consists of 23 miserable old huts or wigwams built of straw and rushes. Some were covered with rawhides of various colors. A few small patches of ground were cultivated, not exceeding altogether a couple of acres. This is not for want of land, as there were many hundred acres of good land around them, which by irrigation could be made very furtile. From appearances near the village, I was led to believe that there had long been a settlement here, there being not only traces of former buildings in every direction, but also of acequias or trenches for irrigating the lands.

Excerpt from the Repuesta to the Interragatorio from the Spanish Government–San Diego Mission

San Diego Mission by Zephyrin Englehardt, The James H Barry Company, 1920, San Francisco California, copyright 2012 Forgotten Books

Repuesta or response to the 1812 Spanish government interrogatorio:

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To this mission come every year from paganism those who desire to be Christians, and a large proportion are old people. It is difficult for them to learn to speak the Castilian tongue. The most suitable method to induce them to speak is the one we follow, that is, to exhort and admonish them and to threaten punishment; to the young people punishment is sometimes applied. The causes which have hindered them in using the Castilian language we do not know.

The virtues of compassion, charity, and generosity are noticed, especially in the women.

They are very fond of participating in the feast of the bird called gavilan (hawk) which consists of searching with much anxiety for that bird. They invite one another to hunt for it. This is owing to the fact that there are at this mission certain neophytes are very smart, though very poor at the work of collecting the seeds. Hence, when they want food, they take up the plan of searching for that bird. They deceive the more simpleminded and tell them that the bird is a real person who can liberate them from their enemies and who grants them whatever they ask. Under this supposition, though false, the simpletons believe with such obstinacy, that they take as much care of the bird as the most affectionate mother would show for her child. For as soon as they have caught the bird, they treat it to whatever they hunt or chase, and of the seeds gathered they always give it the best. After they have raised it, they kill it; then they burn it and while it’s consuming on the pyre, they offer it the collected seeds, beads, and whatever they prize. In the following year, they search for another hawk and treat it in the same manner. The method used to break them of this foolishness is to appoint a few good Indians to watch over this particular affair; and all who are caught practicing it are severely punished in public.

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They have no other curative methods than those which the missionaries or some other white person may apply to the Indians. For, although this country is favored with many medicinal herbs, the Indians do not use them, nor have they used them at any time. There are certain shrewd neophytes who call themselves guisiyag which means wizard. The method they employ in curing diseases is that as soon as an Indian is found to be sick, the relatives approach or summon the gusiyag. This fellow comes with a stone or stick or some hair concealed in his mouth, which he applies to the suffering part. He commences to extract or suck from the said part and on withdrawing shows what he had concealed in his mouth and persuades the patient that this was that ailed him. At this they are all quiet and content, since it appears to them that the patient is already freed from his malady. From this it may be inferred that their greatest infirmity and ailment is melancholy and apprehension. However, the most widespread malady is the morbo venereo. For the last four years, in this part of the territory, guests have exceeded baptisms. In the last year of 1814, the deaths were 118, while the baptisms were only 75. In this number are included the gentile adults who have been baptized.

The seasons of the year are known by the leaves on the trees, by the plants in the fields, and by the harvest of the various grains. The Indians have not and never had a calendar. They are guided merely by the sun and the moon.

Desert Fan Palm

The Desert Fan Palm–Washingtonia filifera is found throughout the Colorado Desert–It is found in practically every oasis and watering hole–Recently DNA studies have shown very little genetic diversity in those populations–It is thought that Native Americans brought them to those spots–One of the few places that W. filifera occurs on the coast side of the mountains is at Indian Canyon near Hemet–It is thought they were brought there by the Indians–The fruit is edible and the leaves can be used for thatching–The rib of the leaf was used for the board of the fire drill

Baskets In California

Four types of basket: the hopper, the seed beater, the burden basket, and the sifter constituted the core of the baskets found in most parts of California (and nearby areas). The hopper is placed on a mortar to keep the material being milled from scattering.  The sifter was used to winnow seeds or meal.  The burden basket was conical and was carried on the back using a tump line.

Maria Luisa preparing acorns