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

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In offering the results of several years research work among the Mission Indians, I have purposely avoided any attempt to give to the material collected either a technically scientific or a literary form; my object being to put into the hands of those who may care to use them the documents of the case, as it were, as nearly at first hand as possible.

The bare statement of a fact or rendering of a myth may be sufficient where all the premises are known; but the Mission Indians have been long unknown or misunderstood. Only fragments of the past remain, and in their elucidation the character of the narrator plays an important part. The personal form of narrative has therefore often been employed. This is purely a matter of convenience and should be accepted as such. The words of the interpreter are used whenever possible in literal form, his rendering being faithfully given.

The obscurity of the subject has made it difficult to obtain a complete understanding of matters which in the old days were held too sacred for communication; the veil of secrecy cast over the Chungichnish worship, as noted by Boscana, having persisted to the present day. That absolute correctness has been reached is not to be maintained; but no pains have been spared in attempting this; and it is hoped that if mistakes exist, they may be corrected by later investigation.

The two most important tribal remnants among the Mission Indians today are the Luiseños, whom I have studied chiefly at La Jolla and Potrero in the mountains, 1 and the Diegueños, at Mesa Grande, Campo, and Manzanita.

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Superficial observers, founding their opinion upon Baegert's unfriendly estimate of the Lower Californian Indians, and also upon the external conditions of the Mission Indians, the native simplicity and poverty of their life, have classed them extremely low in the ethnic scale. It has even been stated that they were the lowest type of humanity on the face of the earth.

Nothing could be more erroneous than these sweeping generalities based upon the vaguest premises. Acquaintance with Luiseño mythology reveals a loftiness of conception, a power of definition and of abstract thought, which must give these people claim to a place among the dominant minds of the primitive race. On the other hand the Diegueños show in their myths a certain consistency in the narrative, a power of sustained invention, a dramatic instinct, as it were, which makes them supreme as storytellers. The Cuyahomarr myth is an important survival of this type.

It would be difficult to account for the blending of these two distinct mythologies into one religious ritual if historical evidence did not assist in explaining the fact.

Fortunately it is possible to trace the origin and progress of an Indian propaganda unique in this, that it occurred comparatively late in time, and was carried on under the very eyes of the Spanish and Mexican priests by their Christian converts, whose zeal for their ancient religion may have been increased by the example of missionary effort shown on their behalf by the white men.

Lucario Cuevish, who will be referred to later on as one of the most important informants used, was born at San Luis Rey, and was still living there at the time of the Mexican-American war. He remembers that when the mountain people went down to the Mission from the Potrero and La Jolla region, being under the charge and surveillance of its priest, they were "given toloache," that is, initiated according to ancient rite, by the Indians there. 2 After the padres left, the mountain Indians stayed at the Mission for some time. Padre Antonio is the one he remembers as being in charge, and he allowed the Indians to keep up their religious dances. The padres never objected to this. The Indians

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who could not talk Spanish were allowed to pray in Indian in the church; but they kept up the old dances outside. 3

The Chungichnish belief, with its ceremonial and ritual, came originally from the north, say the Luiseños, and was brought from there to the islands of Santa Catalina and San Clemente. From these islands,—both to be seen on a clear day from the mountains of the mainland, it was brought to San Juan Capistrano; from Capistrano to San Luis Rey; and from there they brought the ceremonies and "gave toloache" in all the upland Luiseño places, such as Rincon, Potrero, Yapiche, and La Jolla, and carried the ritual to the Diegueños of Mesa Grande and Santa Ysabel. 4

The Luiseños say that the Diegueños of Mesa Grande originally had no songs of their own for certain rituals, but that they sing the Luiseño songs in such religious ceremonials as the eagle dance and the dance with the eagle feather skirt. These were taught to them as part of the Chungichnish ceremonial, together with the new style of dancing which came to the mountains from the coast. On the other side of the Mission of San Juan Capistrano there was a large Indian village, and from there the Chungichnish worship was brought to San Luis Rey. San Luis Rey taught Pala; Pala taught Pauma; Pauma taught Potrero; Potrero gave it to La Jolla with the songs and the present manner of dancing. This new manner is full of gestures and violent motions, while the old style of dancing, still to be seen among the Diegueños of Manzanita, was performed in a quiet and restrained manner, consisting simply in bending and swaying the body, and moving and stamping the feet in varied measure according to the rhythm of the songs.

This took place perhaps a hundred and twenty years ago. The grandfather of the informant Salvador told Salvador's father

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that when Potrero came to teach these ceremonies and to "give toloache" to La Jolla, the toloache bowl would hold a quart or more, and all who drank became crazy and nearly died; and the La Jolla people were frightened, fearing their sons were going to die, and they nearly had a fight with the Potrero people. The La Jolla people in turn went later to Warner's Ranch and taught the Indians there, the so-called Cupeños, 5 these ceremonies and dances and gave them toloache; and then went further and taught the Mesa Grande Indians and those of Santa Ysabel, both Diegueño.

All this, then, represents a genuine missionary movement in a primitive Indian religion. Its success was due to the fact that the religion of Chungichnish had every requisite of a conquering faith. It had a distinct and difficult rule of life requiring obedience, fasting, and self-sacrifice.

It had the sanction of fear. No alien faith has ever been imposed without this; but where Christian and Mohammedan invoked hell-fire, the worshipper of Chungichnish invoked the avengers of the hill, the stinging weeds, the rattlesnake and the bear, who injure by bodily harm those disobedient to the faith.

It had an imposing and picturesque ritual. And above all it had the seal of an inviolable secrecy, so alluring at all times to the human mind.

Boscana says of these Indians: "A veil is cast over all their religious observances, and the mystery with which they are performed seems to perpetuate respect for them, and to preserve an ascendancy over the people." How great were this respect and fear I know well from repeated experience. A century of allegiance to the Catholic faith barely suffices to give the old men courage to reveal the sacred mysteries of the ancient religion. 6

The most important of these Chungichnish rites was the toloache ceremony, as initiatory to the rest.


73:1 These places must not be confounded with La Jolla on the coast, and Potrero near the Mexican line.

74:2 See the account of the Toloache ceremony given below.

75:3 This tolerance of the Catholic church makes it preëminent in mission work; at the same time it is not likely that any of the fathers except Boscana fully realized the significance of the Indian dances.

75:4 Venegas's account of the Indians of Lower California contains much that might have been written about these Indians. Their religious ceremonials which are constantly misunderstood by the priests, the mode of living and manner of dress, the training of boys, the rules of the "hechiceros" (medicine-men), the sacred objects such as the feather band described below, the reverence paid to the raven, all this,—especially as relating to the most northern Indians of the peninsula and those of the southern Santa Barbara islands,—shows a close connection between Lower California and what is now Southern California.

76:5 The people of the village of Kupa or Gupa, speaking the Agua Caliente dialect, about equally distinct from Cahuilla and Luiseño.—Ed.

76:6 One of my story-tellers was about to sing with great reluctance some songs descended to him from his father, when an apparition of Chaup or Takwish, the electric fire-ball or meteor, in broad daylight, so terrified him as an omen that he refused to reveal anything further.

Next: The Toloache Ceremony