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Cahuilla Girls Adolescence

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Until within a few years ago, girls puberty ceremonies were observed among the Cahuilla. These were called Hemelonewin[1] or sometimes Hemelushinum. They were held at the time of a girl’s first menses.

The father of the girl informed the people of her condition and called them together for the ceremony, which began the first night of her menstruation.

A hole was dug in the ground several feet deep and long enough for the girl to recline in. In this stones were placed and a fire built to heat them. “When the stones became hot they were taken out and the pit filled with brush, on top of which the girl was placed and covered over. Here she remained three nights, the pit being reheated occasionally. In the daytime she was kept in her house where it was warm.

At night, during the ceremonies, the old men and women sang and danced around this pit. The song they sang was one which Moon had taught the people when she was on earth. In this song she instructed the girls how to care for themselves during their menstrual periods.

The only food the girl was allowed to have during these three days was an herb tea prepared by the old women.

One informant stated that this same ceremony had to be repeated during the second menstruation. The same informant stated that at the conclusion of the second ceremony each girl’s chin was tattooed before she was removed from the pit. It was usually just a spot or a streak. For a few days after this operation she was not allowed to walk but was carried, so that the mark on her chin would not fade.

There are many restrictions placed on Indian girls during their menstrual periods, in regard to the food which they may eat. No meat, fruit, or salt can be eaten, nor anything that has even been seasoned with salt. They should drink only warm water. Not only are they forbidden to drink cold water but also to wash in it. They assert that salt dries up the blood and that cold water will stop the flow. Bread, mush, and coffee are about all the girls can eat at this time. By obeying these rules, they may avoid cramps.

During these periods, an Indian girl must not scratch her body with her fingers. This is especially true of the head. If one finds it necessary to scratch, she should use a piece of wood, thus avoiding dandruff and other skin diseases. At this time, a weak tobacco solution is often drunk to keep the body free from odor. A menstruating or pregnant woman was never allowed to witness a peon or any other gambling game. It might turn the luck at a critical time.

Before a girl s entrance into womanhood, her grandmother, usually her paternal grandmother, taught her these things and other facts of life. From early childhood, she was taught to use very little salt in her food, so that she might become accustomed to the lack of it by the age of twelve or fourteen years. Mukat and Moon gave these instructions to the people in the beginning, and at the same time taught them the use of many herbs. The people used to obey all of these directions very carefully and a great many of them still do. The young people, however, are not so particular about doing so as they used to be. For this reason, they are sick a great deal and many die.

Eagle Ceremony

The Desert and the Pass Cahuilla did not observe the Eagle ceremony but it used to have an important place in the lives of the Mountain Cahuilla. However, I was not able to get any authentic description of the Eagle dance as held there.

I was told by one informant that in the days when the birds were human, Eagle was chief among them. One time when the people were famishing for water, Eagle found some and drank it all himself. Later, he became very much ashamed of what he had done and went high up into the mountains, where he would never have to see his people again. There he is still living.

Footnotes

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  1. Present series, viii, 66, 1908 pem-iwolu-niwom.

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