Imagine 95% of everybody you know dying

When Europeans came to the Americas they brought with them diseases that are endemic in their societies. These diseases largely came from domestic animals they lived in close association with. Some 10 diseases, including small pox and measles, were illnesses Native Americans had no resistance to, not having had exposure to them before. It is estimated that there was a mortality rate of 95% in some places, largely from the diseases, but also augmented by the maltreatment the conquerors inflicted. Imagine 95% of everybody you know dying.

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.

In the early 1600s Sebastian Vizcaino visited the California coast–He named San Diego Bay and met the Chumash people with their plank canoes–Excerpts of his diary here:

Diary of Sebastian Vizcaino 1602-1603

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

On the 12th of the said month, which was the day of the glorious San Diego, the general, Admiral, religious, captains, ensigns, and almost all the man went on shore. A hut was built and mass was said in celebration of the feast of Señor San Diego. When it was over the general called a council to consider what was to be done in this port, in order to get through quickly. It was decided that the Admiral, with the chief pilot, the pilots, the masters, caulkers, and seamen should scour the ships, giving them a good cleaning, which they greatly needed, and that Capt. Peguero, Ensign Alarcon, and Ensign Martin de Aguilar should each attend to getting water for the ship, while ensigns San Juan Francisco, and Sgt. Miguel de Lagar, with the carpenters, should provide wood.

When this had all been agreed upon, 100 Indians appeared on a hill with bows and arrows and with many feathers on their heads, yelling noisily at us. The general ordered Ensign Juan Francisco to go to them with four arquebusiers, father Fray Antonio following him in order to win their friendship. The Ensign was instructed that if the Indians fled he should let them go, but if they waited he should regale them. The Indians waited, albeit with some fear. The Ensign and soldiers returned, and the general, his son, and the Adm. went toward the Indians. The Indians seeing this, two men and two women came down from a hill. They having reached the general, and the Indian women weeping, he cajoled them and embraced them, giving them some things. Reassuring the others by signs, they descended peacefully, whereupon they were given presence. The net was cast and fish were given them. Whereupon the Indians became more confident and went to the rancherias and we to our ships to attend to our affairs.

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In this bay the general, with his man, went ashore. After they had gone more than three leagues along it a number of Indians appeared with their bows and arrows, and although signs of peace were made to them, they did not dare approach, excepting a very old Indian woman who appeared to be more than 150 years old and who approached weeping. The general cajoled her and gave her some beads and something to eat. This Indian woman, from extreme age, had wrinkles on her belly which looked like a blacksmith’s bellows, and the navel protruded bigger than a gourd. Seeing this kind of treatment the Indian came peacefully and took us to their rancherias, where they were gathering their crops and where they had made paresos of seeds like flax. They had pots in which they cooked their food, and the women were dressed in skins of animals. The general would not allow any soldier to enter their rancherias; and, it being already late, he returned to the frigate, many Indians accompanying him to the beach. Saturday night he reached the captain’s ship, which was ready; wood, water, and fish were brought on board, and on Wednesday, the 20th of the said month, we set sail. I do not state, lest I should be tiresome, how many times the Indians came to our camps with skins of martens and other things. Until the next day when we set sail, they remained on the beach shouting. This port was given the name of San Diego.

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On the 27th of the month, and before casting anchor in a very good cove which was found, a multitude of Indians came out in canoes of cedar and pine, native planks very well joined and caulked, each with eight oars and with 14 or 15 Indians, who looked like galley slaves. They came alongside without the least fear and came on board our ships, mooring their own. They showed great pleasure at seeing us, telling us by signs that we must land, and guiding us like pilots to the anchorage. The general received them kindly and gave them some presents, especially to the boys. We anchored, and the Admiral, Ensign Alarcon, father Fray Antonio, and Capt. Peguero, with some soldiers went ashore. Many Indians were on the beach, and the women treated us to roasted sardines and a small fruit like sweet potatoes.

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The next day the general and the Father Commissary went ashore, a hut was built, and mass was said. More than 150 Indian men and women were present, and they marveled not a little at seeing the altar and the image of our Lord Jesus crucified, and listened attentively to the saying of mass, asking by signs what it was about. They were told that it was about heaven, whereat they marveled more. When the divine service was ended the general went to their houses, where the women took him by the hand and led him inside, giving him some of the food which they had given before. He brought to the ship six Indian girls from 8 to 10 years old, whom their mothers willingly gave him, and he clothed them with chemises, petticoats, and necklaces, and sent them ashore. The rest of the women, saying this, came with their daughters in canoes, asking for gifts. The result was that no one returned empty-handed. The people go dressed in seal skins, the women especially covering their loins, and their faces show them to be modest; but the men are thieves, for anything they saw unguarded they took. They are people given to trade and traffic and are fond of barter, for in return for old clothes they would give the soldiers skins, shells, nets, thread, and very well twisted ropes, these in great quantities and resembling linen. They have dogs like those in Castile.

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… On the beach there was a Pueblo and more than 300 Indians, men, women and children. The general and Ensign Alarcon went ashore and inspected it. The next day the general and many of the rest of us went ashore. The Indian men and women embraced him and took him to their houses. These women have good features. The general gave them beads and regaled them, and they gave him prickly pears and a grain like the gofio of the Canary Islands, and in some willow baskets very well made, and water in vessels resembling flasks, which were like rattan inside and very thickly varnished outside. They had acorns and some very large skins, apparently of bears, with heavy fur, which they use for blankets.

The general went inland to see the opposite coast. He found on the way a level prairie, very well cleared, where the Indians were assembled to worship an idol which was there. It resembled a demon, having two horns, no head, the dog at his feet, and many children painted all around it. The Indians told the general not to go near it, but he approached it and saw the whole thing, and made a cross, and placed the name of Jesus on the head of the demon, telling the Indians that that was good, and from heaven, but that the idol was the devil. At this the Indians marveled, and they will readily renounce it and receive our holy faith, for apparently they have good intellects and are friendly and desirous of our friendship. The general returned to the Pueblo, and an Indian woman brought him to pieces of figured China silk, in fragments, telling him that they had got them from people like ourselves, who had negroes; that they had come on the ship which is driven by a strong wind to the coast and wrecked, and that it was farther on. The general endeavored to take two or three Indians with him, that they might tell him where the ship had been lost, promising to give them clothes.

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So we went on skirting the coast and on Monday, the second of the said month, we sighted two other large islands. Passing between the first and the mainland, a canoe came out to us with two Indian fishermen, who had a great quantity of fish, growing so swiftly that they seem to fly. They came alongside without saying a word to us and went twice around us at so great speed that it seemed impossible; this finished, they came aft, bowing their heads in the way of courtesy. The general ordered that they be given a cloth, with bread. They received it, and gave in return the fish they had, without any pay, and this done they said by signs that they wished to go. After they had gone five Indians came in another canoe, so well constructed and built that since Noah’s Ark the finer and lighter vessel with timbers better made has not been seen. Four men rowed, with an old man in the center singing as in a mitote of the Indians of New Spain, and others responding to him. Before coming alongside the stopped and he saluted us three times, making many ceremonious gestures with his head and body, and ordering the Indians to row around. This was done so swiftly that in a moment they went around us twice and immediately came aft. Only the old man spoke, he saying by signs that we must go to his land, where they would give us much food and water, where there was a river. He gave us a flask of it which he had brought, and a willow basket of food, a sort of porridge made of acorn meal. This Indian made himself so well understood by signs that he lacked nothing but ability to speak our language. He came to say that as a pledge of the truth of what he said one of us should get into his canoe and go to his land, and that he would remain on board ship with us as a hostage. The general, in order to test the Indians good faith, ordered a soldier to get into the canoe, and at once the Indian came aboard our ship with great satisfaction, telling the others who were in the canoe to go ashore and prepare food for all of us.

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… The Ensign and the pilot said that they had gone into the interior of the said Island and that there was a Pueblo there with more than 200 large houses in each one of which led more than 40 Indians; and that in the midst of its two poles were nailed together, with one above, like a gallows. More than 20 canoes came alongside the frigate, and because they were all done they dared not stay there. In this place there are many numbers of Indians, and the mainland has signs of being thickly populated. It is fertile for it has pine groves and oaks, and a fine climate, for although it gets cold it is not so cold as to cause discomfort.