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Cahuilla Burial Customs

As soon as a Cahuilla dies, he is washed, dressed, and taken to the ceremonial house, kishumnawat. The members of his clan gather round the body and sing all night. If the deceased was a man, the Creation story is sung, if it was a woman, a song about the Moon is sung, for the Moon was the teacher and best friend of the women. If death has occurred to either man or woman by accident, the Battle song is always sung. They sing for a while and then stop and cry and blow upwards three times. This is all done to send the spirit to a peaceful abiding place. Up to the time of contact with the Mission Fathers, cremation was universally practiced. After that, they began to bury their dead. One old Indian in explaining this to me said, “We used to burn our dead, but the white people told us that was wrong. Now the white people do as we used to and burn their dead, but we bury ours as they taught us to.” After they have sung all night over the body, it is put in a rude coffin and carried to the Indian graveyard. Cloth, food, and often bedding also are put in the coffin. The Indians claim it will be useful for the spirit, if it can not find a resting-place elsewhere right away. If the dead person was a woman, every woman present picks up a handful of dirt, and drops it upon the coffin in passing. If the corpse was a man, the same thing is done by the men...

Cahuilla Creation Story

With all their geographical proximity to the Yuma and Mohave, the Desert Cahuilla partake essentially of the native civilization of the Shoshonean coastal tribes of southern California. Birth of Mukat and Tamaioit1 In the beginning, there was no earth or sky or anything or anybody only a dense darkness in space. This darkness seemed alive. Something like lightnings seemed to pass through it and meet each other once in a while. Two substances which looked like the white of an egg came from these lightnings. They lay side by side in the stomach of the darkness, which resembled a spider web. These substances disappeared. They were then produced again, and again they disappeared. This was called the mis carriage of the darkness. The third time they appeared, they remained, hanging there in this web in the darkness. The substances began to grow and soon were two very large eggs. When they began to hatch, they broke at the top first. Two heads came out, then shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, toes then the shell was all gone. Two boys had emerged Mukat and Tamaioit. They were grown men from the first, and could talk right away. As they lay there, both at the same time heard a noise like a bee buzzing. It was the song of their mother Darkness. Attempt to create light. Mukat said he was the first to hear the song, but Tamaioit declared that he was. They argued about this, because the first one to hear it would be considered the older, and each desired this honor. As they lay there, they seemed to be old...

Cahuilla Indians Food

The native belief is that all food was once human and could talk just as we can. Mukat designated certain people in the beginning who were to become plants and be converted into food for our use. The mesquite tree is the main reliance of the Desert Cahuilla for food. It is their staple. The mesquite tree grows to a height of from thirty to forty feet. The wood is very hard, and all of it, even the roots, is used as fuel. The leaves are small and abundant and the branches very spiny. On the desert, in the Coachella valley, these trees grow in clumps, their roots reaching down to the subsoil water. The mesquite beans, which ripen in the late summer, and of which there are several varieties, are gathered in great quantities, dried, and packed away in basket granaries. These are not husked but are pounded in a stone mortar with a pestle. Many of the beans are worm-eaten in spots, but regardless of this they are all pounded together. A very fine meal is obtained in this way. It is then placed in an earthen dish and soaked. Then it is ready to be eaten and is very sweet and palatable. I was told by several old men that the reason the Indians are dying so fast is that they are eating white man s food, canned goods and the like. They formerly used to eat their dogs when necessary, certain kinds of snakes, turtles, insects, in fact anything they happened to have around. They assert that from eating such food as this, the medicine...

Cahuilla Girls Adolescence

Until within a few years ago, girls puberty ceremonies were observed among the Cahuilla. These were called Hemelonewin1 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...

Cahuilla Tales And Beliefs

Future Life Mukat created a place in the east as a residence for the spirits of the dead. This was called Telmikish (compare telewel, spirit). At the entrance to Telmikish were two constantly moving mountains or large hills. They would come together and separate, come together and separate this movement never ceased. Montakwet was made guardian of this entrance, and he will never die. When the spirits of the dead find their way to him, he questions them. One of the tests he puts to them is the making of many figures in the game we know as “cat s cradle.” After they pass the tests he gives them, they try to enter Telmikish. If they have lived good lives, been generous at all times, thoughtful and respectful to the old people, and have obeyed all of Mukat s orders, they pass through the entrance without any trouble. If they have not done these things, the mountains come together as they pass through and they are crushed. When this happens, the spirits become bats, butterflies, rocks, or trees near the entrance. The spirits know each other in Telmikish. Often they gather and decide that they want a certain person with them. This decision causes that person to die soon after, and he goes to his friends in Telmekish. Sometimes a man dies undesignedly and the spirits in Telmikish have not been prepared for his arrival. If they do not want him there, he is sent back. This is evidenced by the fact that often a person who has apparently died, in a minute begins to breathe again. When this...

Cahuilla Calendar

Several informants stated that there were only three seasons Taspa budding of trees Talpa hot days Tamitva cold days August Lomas of the Martinez reservation, my most reliable informant, named eight seasons, each one based upon the development of the mesquite bean, which used to be the main food. They were Taspa budding of trees Sevwa blossoming of trees Heva-wiva commencing to form beans Menukis-kwasva ripening time of beans Merukis-chaveva falling of beans Talpa midsummer Uche-wiva cool days Tamiva cold days The old men used to study the stars very carefully and in this way could tell when each season began. They would meet in the ceremonial house and argue about the time certain stars would appear, and would often gamble about it. This was a very important matter, for upon the appearance of certain stars depended the season of the crops. After several nights of careful watching, when a certain star finally appeared, the old men would rush out, cry and shout, and often dance. In the spring, this gayety was especially pronounced, for it meant that they could now find certain plants in the mountains. This was a cause for great rejoicing, for food was often very scarce in those days. They never went to the mountains until they saw a certain star, for they knew they would not find food there previously. The Cahuilla counted time by moons. Several times I was told that there were thirteen moons, but at no time was I able to get the names of more than six.1 These were To menyil. Tawe menyil. Seya menyil. Sa menyil. Menyil naa. Menyil....

Cahuilla Dogs

Dogs can not talk, but they understand everything that is said. They have a soul just as we have. When the people left Mukat s house and came to this valley, there was one dog with them; his name was Hakliswákwish. The people on the Martinez reservation still name their dogs after that first dog. From the very beginning, dogs were given certain names, either because of their looks or their individual actions. Sometimes people named their dogs after certain spots in the mountains which they considered their own. Following is a list of dog names which are said to have originated in the beginning. These were given to me by Ramon Garcia of Morongo reservation Tukwusauel (Ramon’s dog), male. Tukwas is sky. Honwet-mihanwish, male. “Fights bear.” Honwet-mikish, female. “Fights bear.” Nishkish. “Ashes.” Dogs were appointed from the beginning by Mukat, to sleep outside and act as watchmen. People used to throw their ashes outdoors in a certain place. The dog would sleep on that spot because it was warm. After doing this, one dog became gray and looked like ashes. After that he was called Nishkish, as all such appearing dogs still are. Yoyetheki. “Spotted white.” Once, in the beginning, when a dog was sleeping outdoors, it snowed and made the little dog spotted with white. Isil. “Coyote.” Brown like a coyote. Isila, female. Brown like a coyote. Iste-mihanwish, male. Fights coyote. Iste-mimikish, female. “Fights coyote.” Lauelvanutkiwishve. “Cottonwood tree.” A name given to a large black and white spotted dog. Pauwetama. “Sore, small eyes.” Pulakalet. “White spots on head and neck.” Tamelkisol, female. “Small dog.” Yirhemhemke. “Small male...

Cahuilla Industries and Knowledge

For a long time, the Cahuilla say, they did not wear any clothes at all. The first they had were breech clouts of deer skins and mountain sheep skins. In cold weather they used skins thrown over their shoulders. Mesquite bark was rubbed and pounded and pulled until it became soft. It was then used as diapers for babies and skirts for women. Warm blankets of rabbit skin strips were woven. Cahuilla Earth-Covered Homes The sweathouse or hoyachet was quite extensively used among the Cahuilla in days past. There is one which is still used on Morongo reservation. This is the one which Dr. Kroeber has described,1 and is an unusually small one, I was told. There appears to have been no standard size. All agree that the use of the hoyachet was confined to curative purposes, through sweating. Old Ramon Garcia said that people gathered in this house and were retained in the intense heat for perhaps half an hour or more, or until they were sweating profusely. They then ran out and jumped into cold water and then back to the fire again. This procedure continued all night, as a rule. Women too were allowed the use of the sweathouse. Children could not stand such treatment, so they were seldom allowed to enter. The Cahuilla had another kind of earth-covered house called a tomekish. I first heard of it from old Ramon at Morongo. He stated that it was neither used for sweating nor ceremonial purposes, but as a clubhouse in which the old men gathered to talk over important matters. He stated that its construction was...

War and the Cahuilla People

The Cahuilla, like most of the California Indians, have been a very peaceful people. Their main troubles were between villages, and were caused by boundary disputes. Each village had definite boundaries, within which the inhabitants lived, hunted, and gathered mesquite and other food products. Food was very scarce in the old days and any infringement of one group on the land of the adjacent group was considered grounds for enmity and often subsequent war. Poisoned arrows were used when it was considered necessary. A small strip of flesh which is connected with the lungs of animals was dried and softened in water. It was then soaked in a concoction made of poisonous herbs, ants, and tarantulas. A tiny particle of this was then placed on the tip of the flint arrowhead. I shall now relate a few tales which were told me of war with foreign groups. Whether they are authentic or mythical I could not determine. Long ago, there was a clan or village called Simotakiktem about six miles south of Agua Caliente. There was one man in the clan who caused a great deal of trouble for the surrounding groups. So these got together and decided to make war on the entire group. When the Simotakiktem saw the other Cahuilla coming, they hid in a big round rock which was just like a room and had a stone door. The Cahuilla surrounded them, forced the door, and threw firebrands inside, and then closed the door. They were all suffocated. There was a village by the name of Sewekiktem. The people there were very wicked. Once, while they...

Cahuilla Social Life

The Cahuilla are organized in exogamous moieties, the Wildcat moiety (Tuktum), and the Coyote moiety (Istam). Descent is reckoned upon the paternal side. These two moieties are divided into numerous clans, most of which appear to be localized. The majority of the clans are supposed to have received their names from the place in which the people of the clan first lived. Other clan names became attached to a family because of some special characteristic of its members. The women remain in -the same clan before and after marriage. Mukat belonged to the Tuktum moiety for he was a Tukut. Tamaioit belonged in the Istam moiety for he was an Isil. Moon was an Isil for she was created by Tamaioit. Naming Of Children1 A special ceremony for the naming of children used to be held during fiesta week. The last one held among the Cahuilla was sixteen or seventeen years ago. One name was given a child while in infancy another at the age of ten or twelve years. The grandparents chose the name that was to be given first and told the Net (ceremonial chief) what it was to be. Then at the fiesta, just before the Effigy dance, the child was named. All the friends and relatives had been invited from far and near. The Net took the child in his arms and pronounced its name and then he and the other old men sang and danced. If the child was a girl, a song about certain plants was sung if it was a boy, the song was about animals. I was not able to get...
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