Sacred Texts  Native American  California 

Indian Wearing the Tobet [Public domain image, A. Robinson, 1846]


by Friar Geronimo Boscana

tr. by Alfred Robinson


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Chinigchinich is an ethnographic account of the culture and (notably) religious beliefs of the native Californians in the vicinity of the famous mission San Juan Capistrano. This is the mission where the swallows, legendarily, return every year. There is nothing, however, about the returning swallows in this book. Boscana was one of the few Spanish missionaries who, like Bishop Landa in the Yucatan, actually took an interest in the culture they were destroying.

Boscana was, typically, a bigot and a racist (he describes the Indians as being like monkeys). However, he lived among them for decades and obviously had an inquisitive mind and a talent for observation. While he condemns the practices and beliefs of the indigenous people, he describes them in great detail. Barring a time machine, this is the only first-hand account of mission-era Juaneños we will ever have.

The translator of this treatise, Alfred Robinson, was one of the first Yankees to settle in California. This translation was published originally as a large appendix to Robinson's travelog Life in California, or possibly his book was supposed to be an extended introduction to Boscana. In any case, this translation of Boscana was the first book ever published by an American about California; it is extremely rare. Boscana was also translated by J. P. Harrington in the 1940s. This etext was scanned from a beautiful (and limited) Biobooks edition of Robinson published in 1947. The pagination reflects that edition.

Title Page
Translator's Introduction
Chapter I. Of What Race of People Are These Indians?
Chapter II. On the Creation of the Universe
Chapter III. Of the Creation of the World According to Those Residing on the Sea-Coast
Chapter IV. Description of the Vanquech or Temple
Chapter V. Obedience and Subjection to Their Captain
Chapter VI. The Instructions Given to Their Children
Chapter VII. On Matrimony
Chapter VIII. On Their Mode of Life and Occupation
Chapter IX. On Their Principal Feasts and Dances
Chapter X. Of Many of Their Extravagances
Chapter XI. Their Calendar
Chapter XII. The Indian Wars
Chapter XIII. Their Funeral Ceremonies
Chapter XIV. The Immortality of the Soul
Chapter XV. Origin of the Population of the Mission of St. Juan Capistrano
Chapter XVI. The Character of the Indian
Characteristic Anecdotes