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


Several variations in this ground-painting have come to light in the Diegueño country, but all such are of one general type. All alike are quite different from anything reported among the Luiseño. 62 The painting (pl. 24, 25), which is some fifteen or eighteen feet in diameter, is a map or diagram of the world as known to the Diegueño. It is said to have been made inside of the kwusitcnyawa, or house where the ceremonial

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objects were preserved. In form it is a circle, representing the visible limits of the earth—in other words, the horizon. This circle marks the place where the sky, amai, touches, or seems to touch, the ground. The circle is, therefore, itself called amai. It is made in white powdered soapstone. The name and meaning of this circle are identical wherever the Diegueño were questioned. 63

Across the circle stretches a broad white line from east to west, also made in white powder. This represents the Milky Way, called amai xatatkurl, sky-its-backbone. This feature is also constant wherever the painting was described to the writer.

Figure 2.—Ceremonial wand from Mesa Grande. Length 23 inches. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, No. 4-66454.
Click to enlarge

Figure 2.—Ceremonial wand from Mesa Grande. Length 23 inches. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, No. 4-66454.

The other heavenly bodies are indicated here and there within the circle, since they are all situated centrally to the visible horizon. The sun, inyau, and the full moon, xalya, are represented as disks. They are made in the red oxide of iron from the mineral springs. The sun is considered to "make" the large circle, amai, and is therefore drawn near the circumference. Its precise location with reference to other objects in the circle seems to have varied among different villages. The full moon was placed in the center, near the Milky Way. The new moon, xalya-xai, is drawn in the northern half of the great circle, near the eastern end of the Milky Way. The last quarter, xalya-inyo, is drawn in the southern half of the circle, on the other side of the Milky Way and opposite to the first quarter. The first and last quarters are represented as crescents, one of them reversed. Like the sun, the moons and all the other heavenly bodies are made in red oxide of iron.

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All the constellations recognized by the Diegueño were represented in the painting. Those mentioned to the writer were xatca, the Pleiades; amu, Mountain Sheep; 64 sair, Buzzard; 65 and watun, Shooting. 66 Each star of these constellations was represented as a small disk of iron rust. The following scheme was followed in the orientation of these constellations in the painting: Xatca and amu, the Pleiades and Mountain Sheep, are said to accompany each other in the heavens. 67 The Pleiades are drawn, as they appear in the heavens, in the southern half of the great circle, near the eastern end of the Milky Way. Amu is drawn just east of xatca. Similarly, watun (Scorpio?) points always directly at sair (Altair?). These two constellations are drawn together in the northern half of the painting, opposite xatca and amu.

The principal mountains on earth are also represented in the painting. The painting is all in one plane by necessity. These mountains therefore appear scattered in among the stars as the sacred diagram is actually made on the ground. The identity of these mountains seems to vary for the different villages which at various times have made the painting. That is, the local topography around each village was reflected in the painting. At Santa Ysabel they drew Mount San Jacinto, the islands of Santa Catalina and San Clemente, which are considered to be mountains out on the ocean, and a mountain called nyapuxaua, 68 whose location is vaguely indicated as southward on the desert. Santa Catalina they must have learned about from the Luiseño

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at Agua Caliente, who lived almost in the same valley as themselves, and with whom intercourse was easy. The people at Mesa Grande also drew four mountains. These were San Bernardino, represented in the northern part of the circle, and the three Cuyamaca peaks in the southern part. San Bernardino is easily identified, since it is called "white-top." It is the only mountain in southern California with a snow cap. The Cuyamacas are plainly visible to the south from the vicinity of Mesa Grande. At Los Conejos rancheria the people seem to have represented six mountains, 69 which could not be identified by the present writer in terms of the modern geography of the region. One of them, however, called moon-rock mountain, wixalya, because of a crescent-shaped crag near its summit, was pointed out at a distance of twelve or fourteen miles from the reservation. No rivers or lakes were represented in the ground-painting, since there are none in the Diegueño country.

All the creatures associated with the awik cult are represented in the painting. These correspond to the "Chungichnish animals" of the Luiseño. They are Coyote, Wolf, Bear, Black Spider (Tarantula), and Raven. Such animals as the skunk, wildcat, and raccoon, and such birds as the crane and owl were never drawn. The awik creatures are represented each by a conventional symbol consisting of a line bent at a right angle. In addition to these creatures, several species of snake are drawn. The most important in significance are the two varieties of rattlesnake, the light-colored and the dark-colored, awi nil, and awi axwat. Mention is also made, in the description of the painting, of the gopher-snake, awiyuk, grass-snake or blue garter, xawitai, and red racer, xilkair. These snakes were drawn as sinuous lines, made in different colored seeds. The rattlesnake is considered to be beyond all others the medium through which falls punishment for ceremonial offenses. The two rattlesnakes, said to correspond to two actual varieties found in the region, are accordingly drawn with particular attention to detail. They are very large, said by some to reach clear across the painting. The "diamond-back" pattern is put in with the

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utmost care. The eyes are represented by pieces of haliotis shell.

The toloache mortars, kalmo, which each village possesses are set inside of the painting in a row near the eastern edge. Each mortar has its pestle, xanokai, inside it. The rattlesnakes are so arranged that their heads just touch the mortars. The boys are instructed that mankind is typified by these mortars. The great snakes are drawn with the heads just touching them to indicate that when people are careless, the snake is always waiting to destroy them.

According to some accounts, a small excavation three or four inches in diameter, is made in the sand-painting. The boys are made to stand over this hole, one by one, and spit into it. If they miss, it is a sign that they will not live long. In some villages lumps of sage-seed and salt are placed in the boys’ mouths, in order to induce a flow of saliva. When the significance of the different figures has been explained, and after the spitting is done, in case that feature is present, the dirt is shoved in over the painting, obliterating it, so that no one else may see it.


300:62 DuBois, op. cit., pp. 87, 179.

301:63 At Mesa Grande, Santa Ysabel, Capitan Grande, Los Conejos, Inyaxa, and Campo.

302:64 In Mojave, amo, mountain sheep, is the three stars of Orion.

302:65 Cf. Luiseño: Yungavish, buzzard, the star Altair. DuBois, p. 162.

302:66 Cf. ibid., 165, note 304: "It is said that with the Diegueños Scorpio is a boy with bow and arrows." "Orion is called Mu in Manzanita Diegueño, Emu at Mesa Grande." The present writer's information among the Diegueño seemed to make watun the three large stars of Orion, but the Mohave and Luiseño parallels and Miss DuBois’ statements make it appear probable that amu is Orion and watun Scorpio.

302:67 Ibid., 163: "Hulaish is Orion and Chehaiyam the Pleiades. These two are always named together."

302:68 This mountain is said to be half dark-colored earth and half light-colored. It is related that when mankind were first created, the Mexicans, pinyai, were made of earth from the light-colored side, the Indians from that of the dark-colored side.

303:69 Called awai, hulkokwis, xamatai, hipokwiskwi, wixalya, and wiki´naūn.

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