Customary observances are as strongly developed as farther north along the Pacific slope. This entire western coast region thus forms a unit that differs from the interior and eastern parts of the continent, in which such observances are usually a less conspicuous feature than public and tribal ceremonies. By far
the most important of the customary observances in California are those relating to death. Next come those connected with birth and sexual functions. Beliefs and practices centering about the individual's name are of importance particularly in so far as they ire connected with the customs relating to death. There are restrictions and superstitions as to food, but these are not more numerous than seems generally to have been the case among the North American Indians, and certainly, of much less importance than in the Pacific island world and Australia.
Death was considered to cause defilement and almost everywhere brought after it purification ceremonies. In the Northwestern region these were particularly important, and among such tribes as the Hupa and Yurok the observance of religious purification from contact with the dead, the most essential part of which was the recitation of a certain formula, was the most stringently exacted religious custom. The method of disposing of the dead varied locally between burial and cremation, cremation being practiced over at least half of the state. Air burial and sea burial were nowhere found. Mourning, which consisted primarily of singing and wailing, began immediately upon death and continued for about a day, sometimes longer by the immediate relatives of the deceased. Among some tribes this mourning commenced with full vigor some time before impending death, often during the full consciousness of the patient and with his approval. Mutilations on the part of the mourners were not practiced to any great degree, except that the hair was almost universally cut more or less, especially by the women. Among many tribes the widow, but she only, cut or burned off all her hair. Mourning observances were almost always carried further by the women than men. Among some tribes of the Sierra Nevada the widow did not speak from the time of her husband's death until the following annual tribal mourning ceremony, except to one attendant, or, in cases of actual necessity, to women only. In the Sierra Nevada was found also the custom of the widow smearing her face and breast with pitch, which was not washed or removed until this annual ceremony. Except in the case of the Northwestern tribes, who possessed more elaborately constructed houses of wood, the house in which a death had occurred
was not used again, but was burned. Objects that had been in personal contact or associated with the deceased were similarly shunned and destroyed. The name of the dead was not spoken. Even the word which constituted his name was not used in ordinary discourse, a, circumlocution or newly coined word being employed. It is certain that this stringently observed custom has been a factor in the marked dialectic differentiation of the languages of California. The mention of the name of the dead, whether intentionally or accidentally, in some cases aroused feelings of fear connected with his spirit, but more generally was objected to as causing grief, which appears to have been actually and often intensely felt on such occasions. In Northwestern California the naming of the dead could be compensated for only by the payment of a considerable sum. Practically the only form of curse or malediction known, other than an occasional indirect allusion to the object of the malediction as being in the condition of a corpse, was a reference to his dead relatives. Some property, but more rarely food, was buried with the dead. The idea that such articles were for his use in the world of the dead was not so strong a motive for such acts as, on the one hand, the feeling that the objects had been defiled by association with him, and on the other, the desire to give expression to the sincerity of the mourning by the destruction of valuables. On the whole, however, the immediate observances of death paled in importance before the annual communal mourning ceremony, which was everywhere, except in the Northwestern region, one of the most deeply rooted and spectacular acts of worship.
Observances connected with sexual functions, including birth, are next in importance after those relating to death. The menstruating woman was everywhere regarded as unclean, and excluded especially from acts of worship. Not infrequent was the conception that she contaminated food, especially meat; in other words those varieties of food which were at once more highly prized and at the same time, through being obtained with less regularity and only through special and skilled exertions, regarded as most directly under the control and influence of supernatural powers. Among many tribes, as elsewhere in America and other continents, she was excluded from the living-house as
well as from the ceremonial chamber, and confined to the menstrual hut. As elsewhere in North America, the custom in this regard however varied from tribe to tribe, the menstrual hut not having been used in some localities even in purely aboriginal times. Not only was seclusion, as a means of preventing contact and association, frequently required of the woman for the protection of others, but her refraining from all but the most necessary activity was sometimes deemed essential for her own good.
All these observances were greatly intensified at the time of a girl's first menstruation, a condition for which most of the languages of California possess a distinctive and often unanalyzed word. The girl at this period was thought to be possessed of a particular degree of supernatural power, and this was not always regarded as entirely defiling or malevolent. Often, however, there was a strong feeling of the power of evil inherent in her condition. Not only was she secluded from her family and the community, but an attempt was made to seclude the world from her. One of the injunctions most strongly laid upon her was not to look about her. She kept her head bowed and was forbidden to see the world and the sun. Some tribes covered her with a blanket. Many of the customs in this connection resembled those of the North Pacific Coast most strongly, such as the prohibition to the girl to touch or scratch her head with her hand, a special implement being furnished her for the purpose. Sometimes she could eat only when fed and in other cases fasted altogether. Some form of public ceremony, often accompanied by a dance and sometimes by a form of ordeal for the girl, was practiced nearly everywhere. Such ceremonies were well developed in Southern California, where a number of actions symbolical of the girl's maturity and subsequent life were performed. Certain tribes, however, including at least one in the Northwestern area and certain of those in the Sierra region, did not practice public ceremonies of this type.
Religious customs connected with birth consisted in part of observances before the birth of the child, in part of observances relating to it after birth, and especially of restrictions imposed on one or both of its parents after birth. Practices affecting the child itself, or the mother before its birth, related in great part
to food. In the Northwest the newly born child was fed for a number of days only on a soup of vegetable substance resembling milk. The newly born child was washed, often repeatedly, among many tribes. The mother after a birth was regarded as more or less defiled, though this feeling usually did not approach in intensity those connected with either death or the woman's periodical functions. Either the mother or both father and mother were usually enjoined from activity for some time after a birth, the motive being not only protection of the child but of themselves. This idea is especially developed among the Yokuts of the southern San Joaquin valley. The couvade in its strict form, with restrictions and observances which are imposed entirely upon the father to the exclusion of the mother, does not seem to be found.
Observances regulating or restricting the use of food were in the main connected with the customs relating to death, sexual functions, and birth. That is to say it was primarily the persons affected by these occurrences, and next to these such as were engaged in acts of intense worship or shamanistic practices, who were prohibited from using certain or all foods. As already stated, animal food rather than vegetable, and meat rather than fish, and among meat that of the deer and elk, the largest of the game animals, were particularly subjected to restriction. In Northwestern California the idea was very deeply rooted that the deer when killed and eaten are not destroyed, but come to life again and report to their fellows their treatment in the hands of the hunter. Any violation of the numerous stringent observances regarding deer meat are therefore known to all the deer, who, as their capture is always a voluntary act on their part, are in position to utterly destroy his luck in the chase if not placated by certain spoken formulae. In Southern California young people, or in some cases the hunter himself, must not eat his game. Fasting is less frequently and less rigorously practiced by the California tribes, than by those of most other parts of North America. This is in keeping with the generally lower pitch of intensity of their religious feeling. Many public ceremonies are not accompanied by any requirement of abstention from food. In the Northwestern region it is only the principal priest, in whom the
most sacred part of the ceremony is vested, who fasts. On the other hand there is a general feeling in this region that not only acts of a religious nature but ordinary work cannot be well performed after eating. Among the men of Northwestern California breakfast was therefore habitually slight or entirely omitted. Perhaps the greatest development of the practice of fasting in North America occurs in connection with the acquisition of shamanistic power. Shamanism is fully as important among the California Indians as elsewhere, but differs in that it is more frequently regarded as an obsession, something that of its own accord comes upon a man rather than something that it is sought to acquire by actions. Much of the incentive for fasting among other Indians is therefore lacking, and when the practice is observed it is usually less rigorous. In Northwestern California, for instance, a person engaged in almost any supernatural or religious practice abstains from drinking water; but as to practical effect this provision is done away with through his being allowed to drink thin acorn soup at will.
In Northwestern California there is a special development of spoken formulae, whose content is little else than a myth and which constitute not only the basis and essential element of public ceremonies but are connected with almost all customary observances. To such an extent have these formulae, locally called "medicines," grown into the mind of these Indians as being what is most sacred and most efficacious in all aspects of religion, that they partly supplant shamanism, which is a less important feature of religious life here than elsewhere in the state, where the characteristic features of this peculiar ritual by formula are almost absent. Not only purification from death and other defilement, but luck in hunting and fishing, in gambling, escape from danger, success in felling trees and making baskets, in the acquisition of wealth, in short the proper achievement of every human wish, were thought to be accompanied by the proper knowledge and recitation of these traditional myth-formulae, usually accompanied by only the smallest amount of ritualistic action.