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The Culture of the Luiseño Indians, by Philip Stedman Sparkman, [1908], at


The best fiber is made from dogbane or Indian hemp, Apocynum cannabinum, a perennial plant with annual stems. The inner bark furnishes the fiber. Sometimes the outer covering is scraped off and the inner bark then removed from the stalk; or the bark is pulled off entire, and soaked in boiling water, after which the outer covering easily separates from the fiber. In either case the fiber is rolled into a ball, and made into twine by rolling it between the palm of the hand and the bare thigh.

A milkweed, Asclepias eriocarpa, furnishes a light-colored fiber, but it is not so durable as that obtained from dogbane. The fiber is separated from the pulp by soaking the stems in boiling water; or, late in the season, when the pulp has decayed, it may be separated by merely basting the stems. It is then made into a ball., which is afterwards made into twine in the same manner as dogbane fiber.

The common nettle, Urtica holosericea, also furnishes a fiber, but it is little esteemed.

The twine made from the plants mentioned is usually two-ply,

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but three-ply and four-ply twine is also made. 2a Bowstrings are made from such twine, generally of dogbane.

A large-meshed net for carrying bulky or heavy articles, ikut, is also made from twine. This carrying-net has a cord attached that passes across the forehead, which bears part of the weight of the contents. A net-work sack for carrying acorns, kawish, was formerly made, the mesh being sufficiently small to prevent the acorns from falling through. The mouth of this sack might be tied and the sack itself placed in the large-meshed carrying net, or it could be used alone, as it had a cord attached to it in the same manner as the carrying net. One we have seen would probably hold about a. bushel. Other net-work sacks with a still finer mesh are said to have been made at one time. In these small seeds were carried.

A long net, yulapish, for use at rabbit drives, was occasionally made. These were considered very valuable, much time being consumed in their manufacture. A draw-net for catching rabbits and jackrabbits was also made. This was placed in their runs, or stretched between bushes where they would be likely to pass. An endeavor was then made to drive them towards the nets. A small fine-meshed dip-net was made for catching a very small fish found in streams. A large dip-net was made for sea fishing.

The front apron worn by women was also formerly made from this cordage, sometimes of net-work and sometimes of loose strings suspended to a cord tied around the waist.

Slings, pivanlish, were also made from twine, and it was used for many other purposes. The fiber of Yucca Mohavensis, so much used by the Cahuillas, is seldom employed by the Luiseños, though a fish line was formerly made from it. The leaves are soaked in water until the pulpy part decays, when they are basted to separate the fiber.

From the fibers covering the bulb of the soap-root, Chlorogalum pomeridianum, a small brush, alukut, is made. This is used, in pounding acorns, to sweep up the scattered meal, and to brush it from the mortar.

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Basket making is an art in which the Luiseños are quite adept. Their usual basketry is a coiled ware, the foundation of the coil being composed of a long grass, Epicampes rigens Californica. The splints with which the coil is wrapped are usually from the aromatic sumac, Rhus trilobata, but when it is wished to give a brown color the lower part of a rush is used.

Several different forms of these coiled baskets are made, each having a different name, and being used for a different purpose. One conical shaped basket did duty as a hat, chilkwut, and was also used as a drinking vessel, also at times to eat out of. A large basket, peyevla, was used for storage purposes, various kinds of food being kept in it. A nearly flat basket, tukmal, was used for winnowing and cleaning seeds, and for other purposes. To winnow, the article was placed in the basket, lifted in the air, and allowed to fall slowly so that the wind would carry away the rubbish. The most common basket, pa’kwut, is basin-shaped. This form varies in size. Fourteen inches in diameter and four deep would be a medium size. Another kind, called peyevmal, usually has the sides bulging slightly, with the mouth drawn in; these are the smallest of all.

Baskets are always patterned with black, and sometimes also with brown, on the light ground of the sumac, and rarely a basket is made entirely black or brown. No model is ever used, except possibly of late years occasionally; and no two baskets are ever exactly alike. Basket-making is a very slow and tedious process, there being from ten to eighteen wraps of the coil to an inch in an ordinary basket, and in rare cases even more. Quite a small basket, if well made, will require ten thousand stitches or wraps of the coil. Sometimes a pattern is made to represent a bird, animal, or leaf, but most of them represent the momentary fancy of the maker. Much has been written to prove that Indian basket patterns have some hidden symbolic or religious significance, but in the case of the Luiseños they have none whatever. On this point we speak positively.

Besides, the coiled baskets, woven or twined ones are made from a rush, Juncus Mertensianus. These are of open-work, and

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are quite roughly made. One kind is used as a sifter, another to leach acorn-meal in, others of different sizes are used for every-day purposes, such as gathering acorns and cactus. It is known that some of the Indians of Southern California made baskets of rushes, coated with asphaltum to render them waterproof, but the Luiseños say that they never made this class of baskets.


203:2a The twine made by the California Indians was almost invariably two-ply. Perhaps the Luiseño three-ply and four-ply string is due to European influence.

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