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Religious Practices of the Diegueño Indians, by T.T. Waterman, [1910], at


The boys’ puberty or toloache ceremony among the Diegueño is similar to the corresponding ceremony 52a performed by the Luiseño. The songs are partly sung in the Luiseño language. The accounts of the Diegueño ceremony obtained by the present writer differ from each other in a number of minor details. They also differ somewhat from the published accounts of the Luiseño rite. In the matter of the so-called ground-painting or sand picture made for the instruction of the initiates, the Diegueño and Luiseño usages seem especially to differ.

With the Diegueño, as with the Luiseño, the ceremony is essentially an initiation. It begins with the administration of an intoxicating extract of the jimson-weed, Datura meteloides, Spanish toloache, Diegueño kusī. The boys and men who have drunk this decoction may take part subsequently in certain ceremonies. These practices are never participated in by outsiders. Besides this actual privilege, the initiates theoretically obtain at the time certain magic or shamanistic powers. There exist a number of tricks, such as dancing on the fire or killing an eagle by witchcraft, which are passed along to all the initiates. Those who have undergone the ceremony may almost be said to be bound into a fraternity by the possession of these secrets.

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[paragraph continues] Although these tricks are usually quite transparent to the outside observer, they form real capital among the medicine-men even at the present day.

The toloache ceremony is undergone but once by each individual. The recurrent rites which are performed at varying periods by all who have undergone the toloache initiation, include those described in the following pages as the War dance or horloi, the awik mourning ceremonies (not to be confused with the Keruk mourning ceremony, which is thought to be the older), and the Eagle dance.

The administration of the jimson-weed extract or kusī is superintended by officials called the kaponail, corresponding to the Luiseño paha. Their number is given variously as four, and as a good many—five or six. These men go at night to the house, kwusitcnyawa, where the ceremonial objects are kept. A quantity of jimson-weed root has already been gathered and dried for use in this rite. They break some of this root up, and put it in a small ceremonial mortar, kalmo (pl. 21, fig. 2), which is kept for the purpose. This kalmo is said to have been freshly painted each time in vertical red and black stripes. The red used was the iron rust, or oxide of iron, precipitated by the iron springs of the region. The black seems from the description to have been graphite. This substance is found in places on the desert east of the Diegueño country proper. One man takes the mortar and prepares to pound. Another puts his closed fist to his mouth, tubelike, and makes a long-drawn sound like "u-u-u-u-i-i-i-i." As long as this sound continues, the first man pounds the root in the mortar. As he strikes, the others chant:

tcoki-a! tcoki-a!

pound! pound! 53


When the long-drawn sound ceases the pounding stops, and the mortar is passed to one of the other men. Then the first man repeats the sound and the pounding goes on. When the root gets broken up into small pieces they chant:

yoki-a! yoki-a!

fine! fine!

When it is almost fine enough for use they chant:

wesi-a wesi-a

ready ready

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Several accounts are given of the way in which the drug was administered. In the vicinity of Mesa Grande they seem to have poured hot water on the powder in the mortar itself. They allowed it to stand for awhile to steep. Then the young boys were brought in and allowed to drink directly from the mortar. One of the kaponail slipped his hand under each boy's forehead and pulled his head up when he seemed to have taken enough. One informant at Santa Ysabel 54 told the writer that they boiled the powder in a small jar of pottery, and strained the juice into basketry cups. As cups they used the close-woven basketry caps, npurl. In the southern part of the Diegueño region they put the powder on a flat basket, sūngūlk, and poured hot water over it, catching the resulting liquid in a large deep basket, xapitul. They then dipped small cups of pottery into the large basket and gave the boys each a drink.

In the meantime a large fire has been built in the dance-circle, himak, and all the people have assembled there. When the boys have each drunk the liquid, the kaponail lead them in a group to the dance-circle. When the people see them coming they begin to sing:

kwisi maimoni
maino xaikovera nita

As the boys enter the dance-circle a number of the old men of the village go up and each take charge of a boy. These men are thereafter "sponsors", nyuxut, for such boys. They guide them through the entire ceremony and teach them how to dance.

On this first night, each nyuxut stands behind his protege, as they all stand in a circle around the fire. The men hold the boys under the armpits. Then the kwaipai leads the company in a song, and they march or push the boys around the fire, swaying them from side to side. The song is as follows:

hayompa hayom 55
hayompa hayom

and is said to mean "look at your son, look at your son". The

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initiates soon begin to feel the effects of the drug, and to have difficulty in keeping their feet. The people vary this first chant by singing the songs of the war dance, horloi. When one informant took the drink, he recalls that they sang this song:

anoson ararowi
anomai wikmarowi

When the boys can no longer keep their feet and move about, they are led or carried outside of the dance circle and put somewhere to sleep off the effects. During this sleep or unconsciousness they are expected to have a vision or dream which is to be important for them in their future life. This vision often takes the form of a dream about some animal. For instance, an old man of Mesa Grande, when as a boy he took the drug, saw Grouse sitting on the ground. Grouse said:

enyak arsa
awik arsa

I am singing
eastern bird
western bird

After this experience, the man took this song for his own. The grouse was thereafter "his" bird to the extent that he would never kill one or injure one of the species. The feeling is so vague, however, that the words "totemism" or "fetishism" cannot properly be used in connection with it. 56 After all the initiates have "fallen about" helpless from the effects of the drug and been carried outside, the grown people continue to dance the War dance till daybreak.

The drug is given soon after dark, and the subjects do not regain full consciousness until late the next morning. The first precaution on their awakening is to give them large draughts of warm water to free their systems of the drug. Otherwise they "swell up" and are in danger of dying. Even grown men have died from the effects of the ceremony. 57 Each boy is then given a bath or a swim. They are then painted black from head to foot with straw charcoal. Some of the men thereupon chew

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white clay (soapstone?) and blow the powder over the boys, making them part white. 58 This painting is expected to make them live long, or, as another informant said, to keep the east wind from making them cold after the drugging. 59

For one day after the administration of the kusī they are allowed no food of any sort. At the close of that period a bowl of sage-seed mush, Spanish "atole," is offered each one. As he puts out his hand to take it, however, the kaponail yell, "awi! awi!" (rattlesnake! rattlesnake!) and jerk the bowl away. If the boy is quick enough he grabs a handful or two. Otherwise he gets nothing at all. For six days after the drugging they are given no meat, and but very little mush. 59a

To ease the pangs of actual starvation during this period, they are given belts, inyip, made of tule. These are about four inches wide and made to tie in front. They are tightened from time to time toward the close of the six-day fast.

The probability is that the boys are extremely ill on the first of these six days. No exertion is required of them, at any rate, until the afternoon of the second day. At that time the boys, together with the kaponail, walk to a second and smaller enclosure distant about one hundred yards from the dance-circle. From this enclosure they crawl back in a group to the dance-circle on their hands and knees. The kaponail walk beside them, each dragging a long pole. The whole company stop three times on the way for a short period. While in motion they keep up a continual grunting, which sounds like "a-ha-ha-ha, a-ha-ha-ha". This procession is made every day for three days.

At the end of that time the sponsors, nyuxut, take the boys in charge early every night, and teach them to dance. After dancing all night they are led away in the morning by the kaponail to a house chosen for the purpose, to be fed a little and

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put to sleep. As they leave the dance-circle they always sing the following chant:

kwisi maimoni 60
maino kaikovira
nizo kwaikora

When they have gone one hundred yards from the dance-circle they stop singing and walk to the chosen house in an irregular crowd.

After the first six days, visitors are expected from each of the neighboring villages to teach them other dances. Such visitors always come in groups, and halt when about one hundred yards from the dance-circle, until one of the kaponail goes out and "tells them that all is in readiness". Then they begin grunting "a-ha-ha-ha, a-ha-ha-ha", and approach the circle where the tribe waits in silence. Room is made in the center of the enclosure, and each stranger, taking a boy in charge, teaches him dances and songs until daylight. Each boy in this way learns a number of songs which are different from those sung in his home village. A sort of proprietorship was held and recognized over songs. Certain men know songs which they learned from their fathers, or which other men have "given" them. The people never sing such songs unless the "owner" is present to lead them. This giving away of songs may account for the fact that the Diegueño sing a great many Luiseño songs, since there has been, first and last, a good deal of intercourse between the two peoples.

After the first three days the boys are painted with broad stripes of white powdered soapstone. These stripes cross on the breast, pass over each shoulder, and meet on the back. Pl. 26, fig. 2, representing a man prepared for the Whirligig dance or Tapakwirp, shows the general appearance of this white paint. One side of the face in the case of the boys is painted white, the other red. The feet during about the first week are striped transversely in black and white; after the first week, in black and red. The food given is gradually increased in quantity from day

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to day after the first three days. It consists exclusively, however, of unsalted acorn or sage-seed mush. At the end of a mouth the initiates are taken to some creek about a mile away from the village. Here the head of each candidate is carefully freed of lice. 61 The tule hunger-belts are then removed, sunk in the creek, and weighted down with rocks. In the course of time a certain bush, ipewi, it is said, grows up out of these belts, in the water. Under ordinary circumstances this bush grows, it is thought, only on the tops of high mountains away from the water.

After the burying of the belts, all the party, men and boys, join in a footrace, mutpikwil, to the dance-circle. The first to arrive is held to be a "high-bred man", and if it chances to be a boy, his relatives throw baskets and the like in the air for other people to pick up. This does not often occur, however. Men hide in the bushes and grass along the race-course, and as the straining youths pass by in the race, these fresh men join in and easily beat them. They do this "for a joke". If a boy runs good and fast on this occasion, he will always be fleet of foot.

The first half of each night during the following month is spent in dancing. The boys are given all the acorn mush they can eat. The purpose of the fasting which precedes is to accustom them to get along in after life on little food. Toward the end of the period the boys are each given by his sponsor a plume of owl or crow feathers, and in addition to that a painted stick to carry in the dances. This stick is flat, pointed at one end, and sometimes inlaid with abalone shell. It is similar to the "hechicero" stick, kotat, Luiseño paviut, carried by the old dancers, but has no "medicine-stone" or flint fastened in the end. Figs. 1 and 2 show such hechicero sticks. This stick is sometimes decorated with yellowhammer feathers and eagle down. The following song is sung by the women when the boys are given the feather plumes and painted sticks:

nikwam mimaino
miyip notomyara

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At the close of this period a sacred painting of the world is made on the ground.

Figure 1.—Four ceremonial wands is possession of Mr. E. H. Davis. Nos. 1, 2, from a cave in the desert. Painted red. Inlay lost from No. 1. No. 3, Diegueño from Mesa Grande. No. 4, Luiseño from La Jolla.
Click to enlarge

Figure 1.—Four ceremonial wands is possession of Mr. E. H. Davis. Nos. 1, 2, from a cave in the desert. Painted red. Inlay lost from No. 1. No. 3, Diegueño from Mesa Grande. No. 4, Luiseño from La Jolla.


293:52a Ibid., pp. 77, 176; Sparkman, p. 221.

294:53 University of California phonograph record 739. Cf. DuBois, op. cit., p. 78, note 12.

295:54 Manuel Lachuso.

295:55 University of California phonograph record 740(1). Said by a Luiseño, when the record was played for him, to be in the language of the north, San Gabriel, like most his own people's songs connected with the toloache cult.

296:56 See below under the account of the Tapakwirp.

296:57 Grown men who had never taken the drug were sometimes initiated.

297:58 Similarly the Mohave medicine-men blow frothy saliva over their patients.

297:59 Manuel Lachuso at Santa Ysabel is the authority for the statement that the painting was done by young women especially chosen for the purpose. If true at Santa Ysabel, it seems not to have been the case elsewhere.

297:59a The corresponding ceremony among the Luiseño has been called mani. This root mani means to abstain.

298:60 University of California phonograph record 740(2). Compare the song given on page 295.

299:61 See above, in the Introduction.

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