My original research into the natives living in current Upper and Lower California came when writing my three historical novels in Father Serra's Legacy. At that time, I posted several threads about the various groups.
As part of researching for my latest work in process, I am further that information. The novella will be called, Josésito's Mission, A nine-year-old's view of Mission San Gabriel Archangel.
As Father Serra's sainthood approached, I had a number of rather interesting debates of progressive views of the reverend father's mission where many claimed he enslaved the natives and took away their idyllic way of life.
The first thing that stood out were claimed of “tribal members” defending their ancestors. As I repeatedly pointed out, there were no major “tribes” before the arrival of the Spanish. In fact, the identifications in the above graphic are nothing more than natives who had an almost similar language. With the exception of coastal Chumash who sailed their tomols to the Channel Islands, most natives never traveled more than one day away from the spot where they were born.
The next problem is finding an accurate source for information about the peoples of California. Most accounts weren't written until either the very late 1800s or early 1900s. There were only about three of four people still living who were interested in sharing their information with American researchers, Just as Hubert H Bancroft presented a biased history of the Spanish, so did these authors present biased information about the natives.
The most accurate information about the California natives is buried in archives in Mexico City and Rome – diaries, journals, and letters written by the friars who were there at the time. Probably the most extensive writings on the natives of California are contained in the diaries of Father Juan Crespí who had come from Majorca with Father Serra. He was the diarist for the Portolá Expedition and continued to maintain those journals until his death.
So, what he have left is second-hand stories and reconstructions such as the one below – which is filled with errors.
They built no permanent structures. They simply moved to where acorns and grasses were more plentiful, always near a creek or stream
They never tilled the earth and were totally dependent upon Nature. This picture shows them building a tomol but those were only the coastal Chumash and not the Tongva – they were cousins. The women were outstanding basket makers, producing water-tights, This picture is also in error as they did not make clay pots and their reed containers would burn over a fire. Instead, they heated rocks and dropped them into the water-filled baskets.
(Another example of political correctness to teach children how advanced they were when they weren't.) It also shows the men clad in loincloths which is wrong as the most they might wear was a small hide over their private parts. The women only wore grass skirts and bared their breasts.
It also children playing. Life was too hard for such a waste of time. Children learned by watching and doing so they would be helping their elders.
But, all the natives of California did play. They were inveterate gamblers with games like today's Craps. When they had inter-clan gatherings, their gambling might go on, only breaking for food or sleep.
The basic structure was a small clan made up of three or four families. Each selected a leader based upon skills and knowledge. Both men and women were selected. Five or six clans then found a central location at which to conduct certain religious rites and allow for intercourse to keep genetic pools from become stale. They had no conception of a monogamous marriage. If a woman did not like the man she lived with, she would simply move onto another.
For those living in the area, you might note some familiar names that came from the native inhabitants.
Pacoima was Rushing Waters
Topanga was Place Above
Tujunga was Old Woman's Place
Cahuenga was Place of the Hill
Azusa was a Tongva settlement called Azucsagna
Cucamonga was a Tongva settlement
Another thing I've learned is that they had a basic set of beliefs in gods of a sort. Their main diety was Quaaoar whose name they seldom said out loud. There was Yyoharivgnain the Giver-of-Lifr who had orgnized the universe and laid it out on the shoulders of seven giants. They had a first man, Tobohar, and first woman, Pabvit. Quaaoar lived in a heaven to receive the souls of all who died.
And, of course, to keep those beliefs alive, there were two types of medicine men. The Ahhoovaredoot interpreted dreams, did astrology, made magic potions herbal medicines for cures. (The friars soon discovered that they knew and used only a very small number of plants and herbs available in the area.) The Yovaarekam were ceremonialists who composed sacred songs and dances, told the stories of the tribe, and created poetry in honor of great events of people.
In all cases they extorted the people by demanding things from them designed to keep them in their power. This is the distinct opposite of Mexican curanderas who asked nothing in return for their far more effect herbs and medicines.
Some historians believe that when the padres opened the banner of The Virgin Mary when faced by hostile Tongva, they dropped their weapons and heaped gifts at its base as they believed it was a rendering of their own female spirit, Chukit, who impregnated by lighting, bore a male child they believed was “The Son of God.” or Chukit.
Many stories tell of how the natives were enslaved by the friars. This is as far from the truth as possible. The friars first learned the language of the surrounding native and tried to entice them with small gifts like beads and shiny metal plates like mirrors – magically showing each native what he or she looked like. One of the favorite gifts were small metal blades that made life far easier than pieces of obsidian flaked to produce sharp edges.
There was, however, one very major problem presented at the time. Soldiers were assigned to each mission to protect it from the savages. They reported to their captain who reported to the governor. The friars had no control over them. Father Serra received countless complaints of the soldiers being idle, insolent, and out of control. The first danger came when some soldiers rode out and lassoed some native girls, followed by violating them.
The natives seldom fought against one another and their two major prohibitions was idleness and assaulting and/or forcing a female against her will. One of the girls was the daughter of a chief. He shot an arrow at the offending soldier that simply bounced off this thick hide jacket, or cuera. The soldier pulled out his musket and shot the chief did.
All of the natives around Mission San Gabriel who had gathered to hear the friars and help them build the mission fled and it was some time before any returned. Actually, it was the daughter of the slain chieftain who was the first to be baptized, she and her family coming under the protection of the friars.
To the soldiers, any native who was not baptized and became a convert, wearing a wooden cross, was a savage, no better than an animal and available for their amusement.
Only the married soldiers treated them differently, most having married natives themselves. It was one of the reasons the friars did everything possible to only have married soldiers assigned to their escoltas.
The Live Oak, the main food before the arrival of the Spanish
So, here is a question I am often asked. What brought the natives to the missions? Why give up a life of freedom to accept the strict routines and physical labor of the missions?
An easier life with the promise of something inviting beyond death. In spite of their beliefs in a Creator spirit, death was an end to their existence, Struggling from birth until the time to die left them no hope and just the struggle to survive. It also gave them more protection to the winds and rains and droughts. The strict adherence to a daily routine gave their lives structure.
They did not spend endless hours of toil at the missions. In fact, their day was far easier than before. They arose with the sun like always, but then attended and participated in a magical rite. That was followed with amounts of food not available before. They then worked at a wide variety of tasks until the noon hour where any rite was performed, followed by more plentiful food. The afternoon was left for them to do what any personal things they wished. As the sun lowered, they were called to another religious gathering after which any feast was supplied. And, before seeking their beds, there was a period when the friars told them stories from the bible. Some Spanish soldiers had and played musical instruments and some natives had natural skills, especially beautiful voices. And the friars provided them with regular fiestas where the unconverted were invited to participate in a feast and games. Usually, a steer was slaughtered with great amounts of meat cooked on a spit over a fire.
And, as minor as it might seem, being able to live off the fruits of gardens and orchards was rich beyond all their previous experiences. No more tasteless acorn mush but porridge made of corn meal and fruits or meats. And a large supply of tortillas. Apples, pears, oranges, and others beyond their dreams.
Yes, the friars were strict about them not leaving the mission after baptism – but only on their own without permission. They were freely allowed to return to their homes for special gatherings and celebrations. How was that slavery?
Here's a brief summary of all this. Before the arrival of the Spanish, there was no organized native “nation” or major tribe. Present day names were assigned by the friars to those who spoke a somewhat common language – with huge differences in dialects from one area to another. The people in the first graphic were thought to have come from the Sonora Desert and Great Basin. Those further north came either from present day Washington and Oregon or over the difficult passes of the Sierra Nevada and spoke language entirely different from those in the south.
It is not amusing but makes one wonder when present-day natives refer to themselves by the Spanish names of the missions where they lived. As an example, the Gabrieliño-Tongva Tribe of Los Angeles includes many of Tongva/Spanish blood who lived at Mission San Gabriel Archangel. And, as they struggle to “regain their heritage” they often have no original resource to refer to as there is no written record of them before the Spanish.
All in all, this has been an interesting learning experience. Finding out how much “history” is actually stuff written by biased and uniformed “experts” who try to put their facade on the truth.
There will be more as I continue to delve into the founding and building of Josésito's Mission, Mission San Gabriel Archangel.