Sacred Texts  Native American  California  Index  Previous  Next 

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


The girls’ ceremony, Wukunish, 36 was the initiatory ceremony made for the girl upon her entrance into womanhood.

The father of the girl would have to inform the people of her condition and call them together, naming the girl; and he would ask the chief of another "party" (clan), or of another village, to conduct the ceremony, putting it entirely into his hands and doing nothing himself except to provide the food and presents for the assembled people and invited guests. Baskets, strings of shell-beads, and sivut paviut, the sacred stick with flint in the end, had to be given away in every ceremony to those coming from a distance to assist. These were the same as money and were used in this way before they had any other sort of money.

The chief would call out three times in invocation and mention the name of the girl.

p. 94

The girl, or girls, if several, would be seated upon the ground, and in front of her would be placed a big basket three feet or so in diameter, containing feather head-dresses, feather skirts, the sacred stones wiala, large quartz crystals, and possibly others. 37 The chief, taking some tobacco in his hand, would powder it in his fingers, at the same time rolling it into a ball; and kneeling in front of the candidate would make the indescribable sound of invocation with curious forward motions of arm and body three times repeated, the third time placing the ball of tobacco in the girl's mouth. Warm water was then administered in a basket, chilkwit. 38 If she should vomit, it was taken as a sign that she had not been virtuous; but if she were good she would not vomit. This was a severe test.

The tobacco induced drowsiness, and in this state the girl was placed in a large hole that had been previously dug in the ground and heated by a fire and when sufficiently warm lined with green boughs and covered with brush. Two sacred plants were used for this purpose, nenaxel pachayel (double name), sumac and a kind of sedge. 39 The names of these two plants are always given together in a double term in the list of the First People.

The girl is placed there for three days. Only her mother or the wife of the chief can see her and attend her. A basket, chakwit, the sort men carry on a staff over the shoulder, is put over her face to keep the flies off; and a new tightly woven basket cup, chilkwit, is used to give her water to drink. She can drink only warm water.

As she must not touch any part of her body with her hands, two small sticks are allowed her with which to scratch herself.

In very ancient times, instead of these sticks small oblong pieces of stone or abalone shell, pierced with a hole at the larger end, were fastened by a string around her wrist loosely enough for convenience in handling; and with these she might scratch her head or body.

She must lie perfectly still, and in the day time she may rise slightly from a recumbent position while the attending woman

p. 95

arranges her hair, then lie back in the same place and keep motionless.

At night the men dance around the place where the girl is, singing the ashish songs to the accompaniment of the ringing stones. In the day time the women dance and sing songs different from those of the men. This will be kept up constantly for three days, a second village coming and continuing the ceremony, and so on. A men's ashish song is preserved on phonograph record 397 of the University of California. It begins: "No ash-wo, I am menstruating." 40 One man sings this while all the men dance. The song mentions the mountains that were First People: San Bernardino (Gray-head), the older brother; and San Jacinto, the younger brother; and all the other places, the hot springs, and the mountain ridge where the first ceremonies were held after the death of Ouiot. The mountains were placed all around to keep watch, and spy out things, ceremonial sins.

A women's ashish song, University of California record number 395, mentions a series of places ending at Elsinore. It was here that Kauko and Chihemel first had menses. When the first ceremony of this sort was over, they felt happy and composed this song. This is the last song of the ceremony. It mentions the travels of the First People from Katuktu to Kalaupa and then to Elsinore.

Another ashish song, sung by Martasal Tabac, is on University of California record number 414. This mentions the man who leads the hunt. There are a great many of these songs which properly belong to the girls’ ceremony, but they are also sung in the Image ceremony.

A second song on this record was given by the same man in illustration, though it is a women's ashish song. The songs of the men and the women are different, and the men never sing the women's songs. This song mentions a hill to which the girl runs at the conclusion of the ceremony, when a rock is painted.

Another song of this ceremony is on record number 410 University of California, also sung by Martasal. This mentions the deer when he tried to escape from death. He sent his spirit north, south, east, and west, but death was everywhere. He could

p. 96

not escape. Blue-fly and Buzzard followed him and killed him. This is in reality a song of the ant-ordeal, but they sing it in the girls’ ceremony, though it is different from the regular ashish songs.

The kwinamish songs of the spirit are sung in the girls’ ceremony as the second series in that ritual.

After three days of constant singing and dancing day and night by men and women, the girl is taken out and the wife of the chief paints her face. Hair bracelets and anklets are placed upon her hands and feet; and she is decorated with a necklace of pieces of mica.

She must not eat meat or salt for a month; and must drink no cold water for a year. She may voluntarily continue the fast for two or three years. At the conclusion of the month of fasting, the sand-painting is made upon the ground by the chief, and instruction given as in the case of the boys.

A lump of ground sage-seed and salt is made, arid with this the chief touches the girl's head, shoulders, arms, breast, knees, and feet, placing it at last in her mouth. He must do this facing the north and after walking three times around the sand-painting and making invocation to the north. She then kneels in front of the sand-painting, and with a hand on each side of it bends and spits the lump into the central hole, which is then covered by several men who sit around and push the sand with their hands from the circumference to the center, obliterating the painting and covering the hole at the same time.

A race is then made by the women and girls, and this ends the ceremony. They run to the appointed hill, where the wife of the chief paints the girls’ faces red, black and white, and scraping some of the paint from their faces uses it to paint the rock in certain designs (Pl. 4). The face of the girl is painted each month in a different design, and corresponding marks are made upon the rock. This is done for four months, after which she may paint her face as she chooses. The hair bracelets and anklets which she has worn are taken off and deposited upon the rock at the time when it is first painted.


93:36 Luiseño, ashish, menses. Mr. Sparkman gives wekenish, girls’ puberty ceremony; ashish, song at this ceremony; ash-k, undergo first menstruation. The Diegueño call the ceremony A-kil.

94:37 See H. N. Rust, Amer. Anthrop., n.s., VIII, 28, 1906.

94:38 Chilkwut, basket hat, also used as cup.—S.

94:39 Nenexyal (x German ch), tussock-grass; pachayat or pachayal, a coarse grass or sedge.—S.

95:40 Non ashk, or non ashka, I am menstruating the first time.—S.

Next: Sacred Chungichnish Objects