As I've researched information about the founding of the California missions, I've paid some attention to the natives of the area but have written very little. In Book Four, I've included an Esselen Indian as the friend of my Main Character, James Beadle. But, I've never truly gone deeply into their cultures or beliefs.
I think it's time to correct that. First, here is a list of the California Indian Tribes and Organizations from http://500nations.com/California_Tribes.asp with a number of links to those tribes who have websites.
In visiting the various sites, I've come across a common theme – according to them, the natives lived an ideal life until the coming of the Spaniards and their soldiers. From then on, they lost their sparkling cultures and wonderful way of life.
I don't mean to be cruel or belittling, but these themes appear to be to gain more concerns and sympathy than to deal with reality.
[The above depiction is false in that male Indians wore nothing but body pain and tattoos.]
Indeed, the weather of coastal California was such that the natives seldom needed clothing or even substantial structures. They protected themselves, when necessary, with structures woven together from branches and sticks. And, if the weather became cold, they donned furs or capes made from seal hides. As for food, their weak stone-tipped arrows managed to bring down small animals so they spent their entire lives foraging for food. Anything went into the small woven family pot, the liquid heated with stones from the cooking fire dropped into it, to include, mice, moles, gophers, rabbits, birds caught in rude nets, and an occasional other animal found wounded or dead. During periods of bad weather such as droughts, they starved and many of their children died. And they had plenty of illnesses that caused death long before the arrival of the Spaniards. For instance, many suffered from syphilis due to their lifestyle of seeking sexual partners whenever and wherever possible – they did not have formal marriages in the European sense.
An aside. Like most Native Americans, the women were those who selected their mates. Californians saw the animals around them and understood the Laws of Natural Selection, the females seeking the best males to provide for them and their offspring.
An ideal lifestyle?
The Chumash were seafarers. They built some truly beautiful boats using tar found on the beaches to make them seaworthy. They regularly rowed to the California Channel Islands to hunt for eggs and trap seabirds living there. But, they had no knowledge of sails and had no defense against bad weather. Their nets were made of kelp, very heavy and quite difficult to use to gather in fish.
Very few natives traveled more than one day's distance from where they were born. That is why members of the same tribe but different clans had difficulty speaking with one another.
And all lived in fear! Unlike other American Indians, they had no adequate defense against the most fearsome predator in California – the Grizzly Bear. These creatures roamed at will and readily hunted and took young children for a meal. Adults could do little about it as their poorly made bows could not send stone-tipped arrows with enough force to do anything but annoy the bears.
And, they had absolutely no knowledge of farming the fertile soil so their diets lacked many of the nutrients proved by vegetables and fruits. And, while the land abounded with healthful herbs, the local medicine men or healers had little knowledge of how to use them.
California, being a geographical area of instability, had lots of natural hot springs with healing properties. The natives had some knowledge of their benefits but did not use them to the fullest. Many tribes however did use sweat lodges for healing ceremonies.
I'll discuss more about California Indians in my next post.