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Religious Practices of the Diegueño Indians, by T.T. Waterman, [1910], at

p. 272


The people known as Diegueño, called by themselves Kawakipai 1 or southern people, 2 occupy the extreme southern part of California. The region which they inhabit coincides approximately with the boundaries of San Diego county. Linguistically they are divided into at least two dialectic groups. One dialect is spoken at the villages or rancherias of Mesa Grande, Santa Ysabel, Capitan Grande, Los Conejos, Sycuan, and Inyaxa. These villages are located on reservations in the northern part of the county. The people now residing at Campo, Manzanita, La Laguna, Cuayapipe, and La Posta reservations, in the southern part of the county, speak a slightly different dialect. During the Spanish occupation of California, the people speaking these dialects were associated in a general way with Mission San Diego. Hence both divisions acquired the designation "Diegueño." The southern dialect is spoken also by the Indians of Yuman family in Lower California immediately across the Mexican border. This latter people may be considered ethnographically identical with the people occupying the southern group of reservations mentioned above. The extent of the territory in the peninsula of Lower California in which this dialect is spoken has

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not been determined. The Diegueño, together with these neighboring people of Lower California, are part of the great Yuman linguistic stock to which the Yuma, Mohave, Maricopa, Walapai, Havasupai, Yevepai, Cocopa, and the Cochimi and other practically unknown tribes of the greater half of Lower California also belong.

In culture, the Diegueño show a marked similarity to their neighbors, the Luiseño on the north, and the Cahuilla on the northeast. In basket-making these people use almost exclusively the coiled weave. The basket designs of the Diegueño are rather simpler than those of the Luiseño and Cahuilla, and run largely to the horizontal band type. Like their neighbors they manufacture fairly good pottery of a brittle, porous variety. In place of the large conical burden-basket usual in California, the Diegueño use a large burden-net with a packstrap to go across the forehead. Twines made of milkweed, mescal or maguey, and nettle fibres, are employed by them in the manufacture of a large variety of textile objects, such as bags, ceremonial dresses, and the carrying nets just mentioned. From maguey fibre they make excellent sandals, of a type not found in California outside of this southern region. The Diegueño, as well as the Luiseño and Cahuilla, build houses of tule or California bulrush, which are fairly weather-proof and permanent. Although big game is naturally scarce in their habitat, they make a powerful bow of willow, its length and size compensating for the lack of sinew reinforcement. Altogether, in the matter of material culture, the Diegueño seem fully equal to the other people of the State. Alone, among all the tribes of the State, they together with their neighbors the Luiseño, Cahuilla, and Mohave, have achieved the manufacture of pottery and the use of cloth-like textiles.

In religious matters the Diegueño seem to stand almost alone. They have little in common, for instance, with the Mohave, who are their nearest blood-kin in California. Certain of their external ceremonies they share with the Luiseño, their neighbors on the north. The religious systems of the two peoples are not, however, by any means the same. The Luiseño have several rites which are not performed at all by the Diegueño. In regard

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to many details, furthermore, even where ceremonies are somewhat similar, the Diegueño occupy an independent position. 2a In general religious outlook, as in mythology, the two peoples are totally dissimilar.

Most of the rites which the Diegueño have in common with the Luiseño belong to a definite cultus. This cultus is what has been described among the Luiseño as the "Chungichnish worship." Among the Diegueño it is known as awik or Western system. As described elsewhere in the present paper, and in another paper of this series by a different author, 3 this cultus centers around an initiatory rite, which consists in drinking ceremonially a decoction of toloache or jimsonweed, Datura meteloides3a In studying the religious practices of the Diegueño a distinction is therefore always to be kept in mind between the rites which belong on the one hand to the cultus and on the other to the ordinary ceremonies, since the latter exhibit a totally different animus, and have no definite relation either to the cultus or to each other.

This cultus seems for several reasons to be a late development among the Diegueño. They possess, in the first place, many ceremonies which are supposed by them to be older than the cultus. A tradition exists that this cultus was first acquired by the mainland peoples only three or four generations ago, from the islands off the coast of southern California, particularly from Santa Catalina and San Clemente. This is very likely the origin of the term awik, "from the west," applied to the ceremonies to-day by the Diegueño. Among the Luiseño and northern Diegueño exist supplementary traditions concerning the spread of this system of rites. The Luiseño say that they taught the practices to the Diegueño, and the Diegueño that they learned

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the practices from the Luiseño. This evidence is of a traditionary nature only. In the southern Diegueño region, however, the cultus began to be celebrated only within the memory of men now living. 4 The same might be said of the remote Cahuilla villages. The writer found old men at both places who remembered when the practices were first introduced from the north. The rituals themselves offer internal evidence of a late adoption by the Diegueño. Of seventy-four songs concerned with these ceremonies obtained by the writer, sixty are in a language said to be Luiseño. 4a The religious myths of the Diegueño never mention this cult, or any of the practices connected with it. 5 This fact would by itself be almost enough to indicate that this jimsonweed or "awik" cultus is not primarily Diegueño.

We may conclude therefore that there are two component factors in the external religion of the Diegueño, as we find it today. They have certain practices, in the first place, concerning the historical origin of which we have no evidence of any kind. As far as our present purpose is concerned, these may be considered inherently Diegueño. They employ in the second place a large series of practices which, whatever their original source, seem to have come to them through the agency of the Luiseño.

As soon as we leave the matter of general outline, we find among the Diegueño, even in the matter of "awik" practices, evidences of a religious outlook totally different from that of the Luiseño. The Luiseño, for instance, believe in a superhuman being, Chungichnish, 6 practically a divinity. He sends certain

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animals, like the rattlesnake, bear, panther, or wolf, to punish ceremonial offenses or omissions. 7 The Diegueño, while they believe that certain misfortunes, among them snake-bites, follow when these identical ceremonies are neglected, look on the whole matter as being impersonal. They have a definite feeling that certain aches in the bones are connected with the non-observance of the awik ceremonies. These aches are called awik wutim or "sickness from the West." The only way to prevent the experience of these evils, including snake-bites, is to hold the ritualistic dances. So clear is the association of the two ideas among the Diegueño, that when several people have been bitten by rattlesnakes within a short period, the leader, kwaipai, of the ceremonies is regarded as responsible because he does not order the ceremonies oftener. While confident of the expected effect, however, the Diegueño can give no definite explanation of the cause. There is not the slightest evidence that they believe in a personal god, who sends the punishments.

The Diegueño do conceive, however, that certain extra-human powers or beings exist. These powers are associated with striking natural phenomena. The electric fire-ball or "ball lightning," Chaup, is one such supernatural being. He is thought to have lived once on earth in the form of a man. Diegueño mythology is largely made up of stories about his marvellous acts. He takes in part the place of a "culture hero," since his actions frequently left permanent effects on the world and on mankind. 8 It was he who struck all the animals and plants in the world with a stick, leaving marks of all sorts on them. 9 That is the way the red

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wattle came on the roadrunner's cheek, for instance, and the stripe on the coyote's back. Many of the ceremonies performed by this people are also founded on supposed actions of this hero. This is particularly true of a mourning ceremony, known as the Keruk, southern dialect Wukeruk, 10 in which the people dance holding images. Many such incidents make him out clearly as a "Transformer." Certain of the geographical features of the region inhabited by the Diegueño are explained by reference to another mythical being. A great ridge of white rock near Cuayapipe marks the trail made by Ocean Monster, when he came across the land. 11 The Diegueño know also of a "creator," Tochaipa (also called Chaipakomat), who first gave the world its form and substance. Like the other great beings, however, Tochaipa is no longer considered immanent in the world. There is a curious lack of evidence that either he or any of the other of these powers are ever approached through prayer or ceremonial practices.

The religious practices of the Diegueño will be found, rather curiously, to spring from other sources than their belief in the existence of such supernatural beings. Their important ceremonies are founded on one or the other of two conceptions. One of these is that in early infancy, and again at the period of adolescence, persons of both sexes enter into a peculiar condition of receptivity. They are so firmly convinced of this, that whatever the child or person does or undergoes in these two periods is supposed by them to leave a permanent effect upon body and mind. Numerous religious practices and prohibitions are therefore grouped around these two periods. The inward purpose seems to be about equally to prevent evil and to establish good. Young girls, to illustrate, were carefully prevented during the period of budding womanhood from looking at men. If they should look at men they would certainly smile, and so wrinkle up their faces. If their faces were wrinkled during this receptive or formative period, they would stay wrinkled and ugly through

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after life. When boys were "initiated" at the age of puberty, their heads were carefully freed of lice, under the conviction that if they entered manhood without any parasites in their hair, they would never be troubled in the future. Every newly born infant among the Diegueño was in former times wrapped tightly in soft, nettle-fibre bandages, his being tied down. This was done in order that he might grow up straight and strong. If as an infant he were permitted to twist himself and throw his limbs about, he would grow up to be ungainly, loose-jointed and "rickety." Elaborate ceremonies, especially as regards the period of adolescence in boys and girls, have been built up around such beliefs.

The second motive underlying the Diegueño ceremonies is the belief that the souls of people have a continued existence after the death of the body. This belief is at the bottom of the celebration of complicated mourning rites. Their various beliefs concerning human "spirits" are quite contradictory, but not for that reason any less typical perhaps of primitive thought. The spirits of the dead are in the first place thought to go "to the east." They say that if you go to a certain valley over in the desert (they believe that this valley is the place where mankind first came into existence) and put your ear to the ground, you will hear grunting, footfalls, and the humming of old songs. These sounds are made by spirits of the dead holding the ancient dances. The spirit of each individual is on the other hand supposed to linger about the localities and objects with which he was associated during life. For this reason the Diegueño are afraid to handle or disturb ancient relics, or to invade places where people have formerly lived. They use a certain "medicine song" or charm if engaged with objects associated with dead people, to preclude the possibility of confronting a spirit, or "diablo" as they have been taught to call such beings. 12

The fear of the disembodied human soul seems to lie at the base of their mourning ceremonies. The principal feature of the mourning practices is the incineration of all a dead man's

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clothes and belongings. A large fire is made at the proper time and after appropriate ceremonies; and the deceased person's property, which has been carefully segregated, is thrown on the fire. The purpose of the incineration is to send the property "east" to its owner. While the smoke and sparks of the burning material drift upward, the assembled people sing:

wa katomi aminy awa
wa katomi aminy awa

is-going essence to-your home
is-going essence to-your home

[paragraph continues] The animus of the practice seems to be a wish to send the property "to the east" in order that the dead man may have no reason to return for it. 13 A ceremony of similar import was performed over each dead person, to free his spirit from all desire to linger about the corpse. The old men gather about the body, and press it time and again with their hands in unison. The motion is performed in time to a chant:

wesi wesi kiyi kiyi
papyau wesi kiyi kiyi

finished finished ... .. .
... finished ... .. 14

[paragraph continues] At the end of this song, the entire company motion upward with their hands into the air, expelling the breath strongly. The song, as well as the gesture and the "blowing" action, is repeated three times. Then the entire company stamp one foot with a deep grunting sound. This sound was uniformly heard by the present writer as "mwau," 15 and occurs very often in nearly all Diegueño ceremonies. Following that the entire company quickly expel the breath three times, motioning upward on each occasion. It is thought that after this ceremony the body can be safely handled and prepared for the mortuary rites.

Though disease is often explained in primitive thought as a "possession" by spirits, 16 it is worth while to note that the Diegueño differ from many primitive peoples in this regard. They

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conceive rather that the symptoms of disease are caused by certain actual deleterious substances in the body. It is the business of "doctors" or medicine men to remove these substances. "Sucking" is one method employed. The doctor before beginning operations conceals some small object, such as a seed or a wad of hair, in his mouth. He then sucks the part of the patient affected, and produces this foreign matter as having been sucked directly from the seat of pain or disease. The Diegueño believe that such material objects can be caused to enter any person's body through a practice which partakes something of the nature of sympathetic magic. This practice was particularly effective if a lock of the victim's hair, or something which had been intimately associated with him, could be obtained. For this reason the Diegueño carefully destroy all of their hair when it is cut off as a mark of mourning.

Certain of their practices nevertheless reflect vaguely a belief that disease may be charmed away. When a man for example was taken ill, they stretched him out on the ground and gathered around him. Then they motioned upward three times with the hands, expelling the breath each time. They then danced around him from left to right, stepping sideways and singing:

kwinkui pumaski
winyum tcapax

... ...
... she-urinates

At the conclusion of this song, they sat about the patient in a circle. The oldest woman present, taking a small olla or pottery cup provided for the purpose, urinated in it. The patient was then sprinkled 17 with an eagle feather, the company chanting:

awisi awisi awisi

sprinkling sprinkling sprinkling. 18

The writer was told by one informant that the people at Mesa Grande were not accustomed to dancing as a cure for disease, but instead, blew tobacco-smoke over the sufferer. Dancing, according to this man, was practiced only by the people who lived in the south, "near the Mohave."

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The religious rites of the Diegueño do not to any great extent center in definite localities. Almost all may be executed in any convenient spot. One reason for this may be that the Diegueño country does not present many striking landmarks around which religious beliefs might center. Every village has a circular dance ground, kept always in readiness, where the dances take place. This is sprinkled and packed down hard to keep dust from rising. In former times these dance-circles, hīma´k, were surrounded with a wall of brush. This was placed upright in the ground and, being held in place by large rocks, served to keep the wind away. This brush enclosure seems to correspond roughly with the Luiseño wamkish or ceremonial enclosure. 19 It is not considered sacred, however, as the Luiseño wamkish is said to have been, nor is it guarded with any secrecy. 20 Among the Diegueño the ceremonial objects were kept in a house called kwusitcnyawa. 21 None but the men concerned in the ceremonies ever entered this house.

Like many primitive people the Diegueño ascribe great importance to religious dances. They always dance to the accompaniment of songs. These songs are set off in a number of series, each one appropriate to a particular ceremony. Such songs are always composed of words and have a definite meaning. They usually describe the manner of dancing or mention some fact connected with the performance of the ceremony. Thus:

kwutukwaik kwutukwaik

circle-in-the-other-direction 22


yaka alolo kewaiya timayaka
xalasi kewaiya kewaiya timayaka
timayaka otca kamaali
timayaka otca kabasiw

lies thistle-sage under she-lies
willow under under she-lies
she-lies that-which ...
she-lies that-which (is)green 23

In at least one case, a ceremony known as the Eagle Dance, 24 the songs seem to outline a myth or story. In this usage the

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[paragraph continues] Diegueño resemble the Mohave, among whom the songs regularly tell a story. 25 Each song among the Diegueño consists usually of two or three words, though the number is occasionally as high as seven or eight. These words are usually repeated over and over again. Sometimes the words are distorted in the singing until the meaning becomes somewhat obscure.

The air of the song covers usually only a slight range, though a singer will sometimes introduce variety by inserting a short passage in the octave of the regular pitch. On the whole, their vocal music is not devoid of melody. The singing is usually done by a whole company, one person leading and often beating an accompaniment on a rattle of turtleshell, axnal. Instrumental music outside of the sound of this rattle is practically unknown at the present time. There is in the Diegueño language a word for "flute," the object described being a plain wooden tube with four stops, of the type common in California. The writer has never seen an actual specimen of this instrument among the Diegueño. The whistle, tcaxhwiw, was also formerly known, but neither it nor the flute seem to have had any ceremonial significance. The rhombus or bull-roarer was used by the Diegueño until recent years. It consists of a smooth, narrow piece of greasewood about three feet long, fastened end on to a short twisted rope of milkweed fibre. When swung rapidly around the head of the performer it gives out a deep booming or roaring sound. This instrument was formerly sounded three times as the signal for an assembly for ceremonial purposes.

The religious dancing of the Diegueño does not exhibit much variety of movement. It consists, except in one or two cases, in marching around a central fire. The manner of marching or moving varies, however, for different occasions. In the mourning ceremonies for example, the movement is clockwise in single file. The dancers march face to the front with a sort of twisting movement. 26 In the girls’ puberty ceremony, the women who dance hold hands in a circle, while each individual moves sideways

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in a contra-clockwise direction. In a ceremony known as the Fire dance, men and women join together and hold hands in a circle. Then the entire circle rotates first in a clockwise and then in a contra-clockwise direction. The individual members alternately run forward and side-step. The only dance which appears in a measure complicated is the so-called "War dance" which is danced by initiates into the awik cultus. The step consists of a jump forward, made with the feet together, followed by a short step with each foot. The general movement of the dance alternates between circling about in contra-clockwise direction, stamping the feet without moving in either direction, and jumping backwards in line. The changes from one manner of dancing to another are instantaneous and always executed in perfect unison. The dance is accompanied throughout by grunting and gesticulation and when in full swing exhibits no little animation. The most picturesque dance among the Diegueño is known as the whirligig, tapakwirp. 27 It is danced in the daytime while the great Mourning Ceremony, Keruk, southern dialect Wukeruk, is in progress. The single performer in this dance, attired in a ceremonial dress of eagle feathers, yipexai, moves rapidly in a clockwise direction around the periphery of a circle, at the same time whirling from left to right. The Diegueño have several other dances, but all of them are of the simple marching type.

Both men and women, as just indicated, have a share in the religious dances of the Diegueño. In some ceremonies both sexes take an active part, as in the early part of the Fire dance for instance. The adolescence ceremonies for girls are the peculiar prerogative of the matrons of each village. Women, however, and all those who have not drunk the kusī, are excluded from the corresponding ceremony for boys. Frequently, however, the sex which does not take active part in a ceremony sings the songs which accompany it. The men, for example, sing during the progress of the girls’ ceremony, while the women dance. The women on the other hand sing the songs of the men's "War

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dance." There is no indication that women ever take active part in those ceremonies which are supposed to concern magic powers. The final part of the Fire dance, in which the performers affect to dance on the hot coals, is danced by men alone. It is certain that women never became "doctors" or magicians. The mother of Chaup is said in the myths to be "just like a man, because she knew everything." 28

The Diegueño people have of course for some generations been under the Christianizing influence of the Roman Catholic Church. The teachings of Christianity have not, however, wholly eradicated their ancient religion. A good deal of importance is still attached, particularly by the old people, to the native observances. Many of these however have in actual practice fallen into disuse. At the present time only a few dances are regularly or normally practiced. The decadent observances have however been discontinued only within the past twenty-five years. Clear accounts of them are therefore in most cases obtainable. It seems almost certain that the main outline at least of their ceremonial usages remains intact to the present day.


272:1 Phonetically the Diegueño language is rather simple. The consonants b, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, are pronounced nearly as in English. The sounds represented by the English d, f, seem to be absent from the language. x in the present paper stands for the sound of German ch. Ordinary l represents a sonant l in which the tip of the tongue rests against the teeth. Small capital l stands for a sound corresponding closely to Welsh l, namely, a surd l. This sound is rather forcible in Diegueño. Of unfamiliar sounds, the following are present: a surd r, written as r; a trilled r, made with the tip of the tongue close to the front of the palate, written r; and a bilabial v, written v. Following the established usage, the sound of sh in shall is written as c; and correspondingly, the sound of ch in church (= tsh) as tc. A sound resembling the sh sound in shall, but made with the tip of the tongue further to the rear, is written c. Y stands always for a glide, never for a vowel sound. In Luiseño words g represents a velar spirant g or velar r.

The vowels are: a as in father, ē as a in fate, e as e in met, ī as ee in meet, i as in pin, ō as in so, o as a in fall, o as u in cup, ū as in rule, u as in put, ü as in the German über. The diphthongs are written oi, ai, and au. Oi represents the sound of oi in boil, ai of ai in aisle, au of au in the German word aus or ow in how.

272:2 Miss C. G. DuBois gives "Western Indians" as the name the Diegueño apply to themselves. Univ. Calif. Publ. Am. Arch. Ethn., VIII, 138 note. 192, 1908.

274:2a Am. Anthropologist, n.s. XI, 41-55, 1909.

274:3 Univ. Calif. Publ. Am. Arch. Ethn., VIII, 69-186, 1908, "The Religion of the Luiseño Indians of Southern California," by Constance Goddard DuBois. See, also, P. S. Sparkman, "The Culture of the Luiseño Indians," ibid., 187-234, 1908.

274:3a For a religious use of this drug among the Hualapai see John G. Bourke, "On the Border with Crook," p. 165, 1892. The White Mountain Apache also use it (A. Hrdlicka, Bur. Am. Ethn. Bull. 34, p. 25, 1908), mixing it with their mescal for its intoxicating effect. So far as known, its employment is characteristic of this southwestern area.

275:4 DuBois, op. cit. 74.

275:4a This is probably an incorrect statement so far as the Luiseño dialect is specifically concerned, but is true if Luiseño is understood to mean any Shoshonean language. Most of the Luiseño toloache cult songs are said by themselves to be in the Gabrielino language of the north. See in this connection footnote 55. The fifty Horloi songs transcribed below contain the sound l only once or twice, but r abundantly. In Luiseño r is rare, but l very frequent. In the San Gabriel dialect Luiseño l regularly changes to r. The original source of these songs is therefore scarcely doubtful. The Diegueño however unquestionably received the songs from the Luiseño.

275:5 For the mythology of the Diegueño see Journal of American Folk-Lore, XIV, 181, 1901; XVII, 217, 1904; and XIX, 147, 1906, by Constance Goddard DuBois. Also Amer. Anthropologist, n.s. VII, 627, 1905. Also "Analysis of the Mission Indian Creation Story," by the present writer, Am. Anthropologist, n.s. XI, 41, 1909. To this must be added the "Creation Myth" obtained by the writer of the present paper and given below.

275:6 Journ. Am. Folk-Lore, XIX, 53, 54, 1906.

276:7 DuBois, op. cit., present series, pp. 89, 97, et al. Also Sparkman, op. cit., 222, 223.

276:8 Journ. Am. Folk-Lore, XIX, 163, 1906: "When the little boy (Chaup) pulled his uncle's body out of the ground, they cried and talked together. His uncle said, 'You ought not to have done this. . When you put me back, (do not) let a breath of wind arise from the place where I am buried'. The little boy tried to do as he was directed . . . but in spite of all his trouble, a breath of air puffed up from the grave; and this is the cause of all the sickness in the world."

276:9 Ibid., 161: "When he came to his grandmother's house, he found it full of people of all sorts, such as are now all the animals and plants and everything that lives in the world. . . . The boy took his spear and stood in front of the door and began hitting all these people with his spear. The roadrunner was hit as he ran by and escaped, and the red may still be seen on the side of his head where it was grazed by the spear. The mock-orange came rolling out and it was hit many times by the spear. You can still see the marks in white lines upon it."

277:10 Ibid., 153: "So the old woman took the shape into her hands and danced with it. (Song of the Image Dance) This was the first time they made a dance for the dead. . . . This is the reason they make the dance of the Images, wukaruk."

277:11 See the Creation Myth given below.

278:12 DuBois, op. cit., p. 124, record 1093: "Two brothers were going along when one was bitten by a rattlesnake and died of the bite. The other was afraid of his spirit. It was following him and terrifying him."

279:13 This seems to be the fear of a dead man's return common among primitive peoples.

279:14 University of California, Department of Anthropology, phonograph record 710(2).

279:15 This is the action described by Miss DuBois among the Luiseño as "a breathing groaning invocation". Dr. A. L. Kroeber heard the same as "wiau." Op. cit., p. 182. No meaning for it has ever been discovered.

279:16 This belief is reflected, of course, in the New Testament; and was accepted until modern times by the Christian church.

280:17 The juice of the jimsonweed or toloache was also used in this way.

280:18 The purpose may have been to impart the old woman's tenacity of life to the sick person. A similar idea perhaps is that found in Poland, where a barren woman wears the dress of some neighbor who has a large family.

281:19 See Boscana, quoted in DuBois, op. cit., p. 77.

281:20 Ibid., p. 183.

281:21 kwusitc, meaning unknown; -ny, grammatical; awa, house.

281:22 A song of the girls’ adolescence ceremony, sung while the women danced. See below.

281:23 A song of the same ceremony, describing the position of the girls who undergo it. See below.

281:24 See the account of the Eagle Ceremony below.

282:25 See present series, IV, 340, 344; also VIII, 181.

282:26 The women formerly wore in this dance skirts or short petticoats made of strips of elder bark (paxal). This movement is intended to make these skirts swish back and forth.

283:27 This is the dance described variously by Miss DuBois, A. L. Kroeber, and P. S. Sparkman as the Morahash, Tatahuila, and Dance with the Eagle Feather Skirt (present series, VIII, 101, 183).

284:28 Journ. Am. Folk-Lore, XVII, 229, 1904.

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