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The Religion of the Luiseño Indians of Southern California, by Constance Goddard DuBois, [1908], at

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By Constance Goddard DuBois.

The Diegueños had many gambling games which were simply contests of skill. One was played by throwing a stick at a rolling hoop. Men and women had different but somewhat similar games, played by throwing sticks marked with certain figures, and counting so many for the throw, which are quite complicated and not easily understood unless illustrated. The men's game called "quince" is named from the Spanish, but is probably much older than that would suggest.

The most important game is "peon," which has almost the value of a religious ceremonial. It is played at midnight on the occasion of an Indian fiesta. A shaman should lead each side, and all his power must be exerted for the success of his village, the challengers being visitors from a distance.

Sides are chosen and money in considerable quantity is staked on the result. Wooden counters are used as in all the games to mark the score. White and black "sticks" made of bone fastened by a string are tied securely to the fingers of the players, so there can be no cheating, but all depends on skill or quickness of observation.

The players of one side, kneeling in a row upon the ground, are covered to the waist with a blanket which hides all motion as they arrange the pieces of bone upon the finger. While doing this, the better to confuse the observation of the opponents, they sway from side to side emitting the most unearthly series of repeated sounds in measured time to the accompaniment of the women's songs.

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When they are ready the blanket is dropped, and the other side must guess the location of the small disk of bone concealed in the hand of the player, whose name is called while the hands are clapped and pointed with lightning rapidity first to one and then to another in the row. The points are counted and awards made by the leader or "umpire" in the game.

Gambling with the Indians satisfied that instinct for recreation and excitement which in civilized man finds expression in the countless amusements good and bad which he devises for his leisure hours. Peon is thrilling even to a bystander; but all is managed with the precision and self-restraint which is inherited from primitive days, when every act was in some sense a religious ceremonial.

As is the case in all primitive tribes, basketry and pottery rank first in importance among the industrial arts of the Diegueños and Luiseños.

The former used pottery not only for domestic purposes, but in the form of burial vessels, ollas, for the preservation of the ashes of the dead. After the body was burned, the ashes and bones were collected and deposited in the pottery receptacle or olla, and carefully buried in some secret place. The whereabouts of some of the burial ollas are still known to the initiated. Others have been discovered by chance by tourists and collectors. With the Indians, to betray the secret would be to profane the most sacred things of their religion. Fortunately two fine specimens of these rare objects have lately been secured. 305 They were found buried among fallen granite rocks in a distant cañon of the mountains near a deserted Indian village. They contained bits of burned bones, charcoal, arrow-heads, etc.

Next in importance were the large storage pots or ollas for the seed supply of the family. The seeds, carefully harvested, were deposited in these receptacles, which were hidden among heaps of rocks in canons or on almost inaccessible mountain sides, discouraging discovery, but allowing the members of the household to resort to this granary in time of need.

One fine specimen collected for the American Museum of Natural History was made by the grandfather of the man of

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sixty-five who sold it; and he remembers going as a little boy at night with his grandfather to this secret storehouse. This vessel was photographed, and also the inaccessible rocky hillside, near the top of which it had been hidden among the rocks.

In the Ballena district, eight miles or so from Mesa Grande, there is an exceedingly interesting painted rock which marks the site of a prehistoric village. The flat rocks near by show the round holes left by the departed grinders of seeds, grains, and acorns. But the most remarkable feature of the place consists in the circles of stones grouped on top of the hillock as if huddled together for protection against the foe.

Upon first examination it seemed that these circles had been the foundations of Indian houses, though of what material the superstructure had been made it was impossible to conjecture. They were formed of loose boulders rolled into place, and showed no trace of other building material. They were singularly small in circumference if houses were to be erected upon them.

Later the probable explanation of these circles was found in Venegas. Venegas writes: "The people near Cape San Lucas make huts of the branches of trees. In other parts of the country, their houses are only a little space inclosed with stones laid one upon another, half a yard high, one yard square, and without any covering but the heavens; dwellings indeed so scanty and mean that an European tomb would here be reckoned a palace. For within this small precinct they have not room to lie at full length; so that they sleep in a sitting posture."

This exactly describes the stone circles at Spring Hill. It would be interesting to know from what locality Venegas's description was derived, and to trace the connection between the tribes making the stone circles in Lower and Southern California.

It is evident that the site in question was abandoned in very early times, possibly before the Diegueño occupation of the country, for no tradition remains to explain these monuments.

They are described in this connection to account for a rare specimen of pottery collected for the American Museum of Natural History, an ancient vessel with a base, found on this village site. The shape is quite unlike those made by the Diegueños, who so far as known never made ollas with bases.

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Venegas mentions very little pottery among the Indians of the peninsula, crediting only one tribe with the making of pottery cups. It was at one time imagined that pottery was not native to the California Indians. But it is certain that it existed in some localities from early times. Tiny pottery vessels were used in the Image ceremony among the southernmost Diegueños and allied Indians, hung in a net about the neck of the image, to supply food and drink to the spirit of the departed. Domestic utensils of every shape were made, cups, bowls, jars, and pots. A rude decoration was lately made at Manzanita, and some good specimens of small decorated pieces have been collected.

Basketry existed in great perfection in the old days.

The sacred ceremonial baskets of the Luiseños have already been described. The great granary baskets of the Diegueños are alluded to in the myths. The bestowing of baskets upon the visiting guests who assisted in performing the various ceremonials has already been mentioned. Beautiful baskets were burned with the other possessions of the dead.

It is this burning of household belongings which makes the collecting of ancient specimens of the sort an almost impossible task. Only a few ceremonial objects remain. The things worn and used in daily life have been destroyed.

Weaving was practiced in a rude way in early and later times. All of these Indians had rabbit-skin blankets, worn in cold weather as a cloak. They were made by twisting the strips of the skin into a rope and weaving this as the warp, with strings of milkweed or yucca twine for the woof.

That more elaborate woven goods were manufactured like those alluded to by Venegas, girdles, fillets, and so on, is by no means impossible, since the burning of household effects would account for the non-existence of such at present.

One fine example of Diegueño weaving is the woven sack now in the National Museum, described and figured in Professor Mason's book on Aboriginal American Basketry (Pl. 203, p. 487). It is made of two varieties of milkweed fibre twine woven in alternate bands of the white and red. It is twenty-nine inches high and was made for the storage of seeds. It was discovered hidden in the brush walls of an Indian hut owned by two aged

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brothers. Its manufacture long antedated their memory of the past.

Women's skirts of peeled elder or willow bark were made in the simplest way, but a certain amount of weaving was necessary at the top to hold the dependent fringes in place about the waist. Little girls wore petticoats of reddish milkweed twine netted at the top and hanging in fringes.

Netting was universally practiced, the reddish twine being in favor in the mountains near Warner's ranch, where the red-bark milkweed grows; and the yucca fibres being used farther south and towards the desert.

Carrying nets, bags of various sorts, prickly pear cleaners (loose long pouches closed at each end, in which the fruit was gathered and shaken to rid it of its prickles), and so on, were manufactured in this way.

Two sorts of netting stitches are seen, to correspond with the two different regions mentioned above.

At Mesa Grande and Warner's ranch the common netting stitch called the "bowline on a bight" was and is used. In the southern mountains, the Manzanita region, the double loop or square knot is used. 306

The Luiseño netting stitch has not been investigated. Sandals made of yucca fibre very neatly arranged or woven are still worn at Manzanita.

A little brush for sweeping the metate stone is manufactured with great precision, the fibres bound with knotted and twisted twine.

Although coiled basketry is common among Luiseños and Diegueños, the twined weave was known and is still used to a certain extent. The chakwhit, 307 Luiseño ceremonial basket, also used by men on a staff hung over the shoulder, was twined, as

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are the Diegueño basket hats still worn in the Manzanita region. Sifting baskets are made in an openwork twined mesh. The cheyut, 308 Luiseño ceremonial basket used with the coiled tukmul, was twined in flat plaque shape, but is not now to be found in existence. A sacred basket in jar shape was probably twined.

The immense granary baskets made in circular form with a lid, and placed on high rocks or on a framework of poles to secure their contents from the depredations of rodents, are made in a rough twining or interlacing.

Small rudely twined baskets of the same sort were used about the house.

A rare and obsolete form of basket was made by piercing splints of symmetrical shape laid close together and stringing them on twine.

Stone arrow-heads were made within the memory of old people now living; but the sacred flints set on sticks, paviut, were not made, being born of the Earth-mother.

The common grinding mortars and metate stones were made. Very beautiful metates set on three legs, hewn of solid stone, were manufactured at the Missions; 309 but the sacred symmetrical toloache bowls were born of the Earth-mother as people, and were later transformed into their present shape.

Many rare and interesting objects were collected at the command of the early missionaries by their shaman converts and burned as a renunciation of heathenism. As many have probably perished by degrees during Spanish, Mexican, and American occupation in Southern California.

It is not safe to generalize in a negative way from any lack of existing specimens.

Some of the old shaman's sticks from near the desert show rude inlaid work in abalone fragments glued with mescal or other juice. Decorations of feathers, of powdered mica, of beads or disks of mica, and abalone were used. Hair was woven into bracelets and anklets. The eagle-feather skirt was manufactured with twined and netted milkweed fibre, sometimes colored red with the iron scum of springs burned into paint. At the end of

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every lowest loop an eagle feather was inserted, hung by the stiff end of the hollow quill bent upon itself. The ends of the strings were left long to fasten about the waist. Feather headdresses were sometimes made with a buckskin cap to which the bunches of feathers were sewn; more commonly of a headband into which the bunches, owl-feathers tied on sticks, were inserted. Painted boards of various sorts were used in ceremonies, now mostly lost. One bull-roarer still exists.

We are enumerating the merest fragments of a past that was undoubtedly rich in objects of native art and industry.


167:* The following notes on the culture of the Luiseño and Diegueño were incidentally obtained by Miss DuBois during her stay among them while she was engaged in the study of their religion.—Ed.

168:305 See Amer. Anthr. IX, pl. XXIX, 1907.

171:306 The bowline on a bight is made by bringing the shuttle over before the stick, up through the loop of the last row, behind both lines of the loop and down in front of both lines and through the loose loop of new thread on the stick.

The square knot is made by bringing the shuttle behind the stick, up through the loop of the last row, behind both lines of the loop and down between both lines of the loop, over the first and under the second line, pulling backwards and towards the left.

171:307 Cha’kwut, openwork rush basket for gathering acorns, cactus, etc.—S.

172:308 Cheyit, openwork rush basket for sifting.—S.

172:309 Probably under Mexican influence.—Ed.

Next: Appendix II. Notes On The Luiseños (A. L. Kroeber)