Sacred Texts  Native American  California  Index  Previous  Next 

Ethnography of the Cahuilla Indians, by A. L. Kroeber, [1908], at


As has already been intimated, the strong differences between the environments of the various divisions of the Cahuilla and other Mission Indians of Southern California are reflected in considerable differences of culture. At the same time there is an underlying general uniformity of civilization. This is clear from the fact that in all matters not under the direct influence of physical environment, such as social and religious life, the differences between the tribes and dialectic groups are very much smaller. As might be expected in a case where the diversifying influence is physical nature, the cultural differences are more marked on the material than on the immaterial side of native life. The implements of the Cahuilla, as they would

p. 40

be represented in a museum collection, are therefore particularly favorable for illustrating such cultural differences as exist. But even among these there are entire classes of objects which for some reason or other are not dependent upon variations of physical environment within the comparatively narrow limits of Southern California, and are therefore practically identical throughout the region. Preeminent among such objects is basketry. Food and mode of subsistence were of course most directly dependent on environment, and the implements for their gathering and preparation varied accordingly. Thus the Cahuilla of the desert use chiefly a deep wooden mortar with a long pestle. The people at San Gorgonio pass have shallow mortars with basketry rims. The southern Luiseño and Diegueño use stone mortars without the basketry rim but of greater depth. Pottery is perhaps the class of objects in regard to which there is greatest tribal divergence that cannot be connected with natural surroundings. Pottery was made by all the Luiseño-Cahuilla as well as by the Yuman Diegueño farther south; it was not made by the Gabrielino; while the position of the Serrano is doubtful.

As one comes among the Cahuilla of the desert after some acquaintance with such tribes on the coast side of the San Jacinto range as the Luiseño, and with the agricultural Yuman tribes on the Colorado,—in other words, the western and the eastern neighbors of the Cahuilla,—one cannot but be struck by the numerous similarities which they present to the latter, of whom the Mohave may be taken as typical. In both cases there is a similar habitat, a wide semi-desert plain, with mountains in the distance. There are houses of similar brush, more or less covered with sand. The pottery is identical in material and shape and even in ornamentation. Among both tribes the staple food furnished by nature is mesquite, which is pounded in similar mortars with stone pestles. The mesquite is stored in the same large rudely constructed granary baskets. Grain and seeds are ground on the nearly flat metate. The whole appearance of a desert Cahuilla house and its contents at the present day are very similar to that of a Mohave house.

But here also we are dealing only with a partial impression.

p. 41

[paragraph continues] After all the differences between the Cahuilla and the Mohave or Yuma are greater than the correspondences. The Mohave are farmers and fishermen. The Cahuilla follow neither pursuit. The Mohave are practically without basketry, except for such few pieces as they may trade from their Shoshonean neighbors. The Cahuilla use baskets as abundantly as all their Shoshonean kinsmen. The Mohave employed a carrying frame of sticks and twine, the Cahuilla a carrying net which held a basket. The Mohave were warlike and had a developed tribal sense. The Cahuilla resembled the other Indians of California in lacking these qualities. They appear also to have been without the totemic clan system of the Mohave. What is known of their ceremonies, and of the character of the shaman among them, further points to practically complete identity with the other Mission Indians. In other words, they are typical Mission Indians, somewhat specialized by their desert habitat, and possibly influenced in some respects by contact with the Yuman tribes of the Colorado.


39:8 Present series, II, 143. Salt is añor in Gabrielino, eñla in Luiseño. The locative ending -bit or -pit is Serrano.

39:9 "Because of a large river there." Cahuilla wanic, Serrano wanut∙, stream.

39:10 As cited, transcribed, in the present series, II, 142.

Next: Basketry