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Indian Culture
(Owens Valley Paiute, Tubatulabal, Western Mono, Yokuts)


In the matter of ceremonialism, a great difference exists between the tribes on opposite sides of the Sierra. The Yokuts fall into that region of California proper which nourished the development of strong religious cults. These, however, are of the southern California type. The Owens Valley Paiute fall into the Great Basin region which entirely lacked this kind of thing. None of these tribes possessed ceremonies devoted to communal ends, such as the rain making and fertility ceremonies of the Southwestern agricultural tribes. Rather, they serve individual purposes though sometime jointly performed.

One of the most characteristic of southern California rituals is the Jimsonweed ceremony, in which they strongly intoxicating Datura meteloides is used to initiate boys into the status of manhood. This was strongly represented among most Yokuts. (Kroeber, 1925:502-4.) It is generally true in California that as one goes into the isolated mountain regions, which supported smaller populations which had less contact with their neighbors, that the complexity of culture rapidly drops away. Thus, leaving the San Joaquin valley and foothills, we find that the Jimsonweed ceremony weakens, perhaps entirely disappears, among the Tubatulabal. Instead, one finds there the older type of ceremonialism, namely, greater emphasis upon crisis ritesóbirth, puberty, death. The girl's puberty ceremony, involving roasting the girl in a pit, therefore becomes correspondingly more important. (Kroeber, 1925: 609-610.) The same is true of the primitive Shoshoneans to the east, where the girl is roasted end put through various complex rites. Among taboos she must observe, one of the most interesting is the use of a special stick to scratch her head, a widespread western custom. (Steward, 1933:293.)

Another Yokuts ceremony is that of the rattlesnake in which all future bites to members of the community are healed by the Shaman. (Kroeber, 1925:504-506.) It is not certain hew far this southern California ceremony penetrated the mountains, but it is clear that it did not cross the Sierra to the Great Basin tribes.

A Yokuts ceremony which amounts to a contest of supernatural power between shamans, and another involving sleight-of-hand (Kroeber, 1925:506-7), also failed to cross the Sierra. Again, the interesting addition of the ceremonial buffoon, whose duty it was to desecrate and burlesque the sacred rites was limited to the tribes on the western side of the Sierra.

One ceremony of great importance in southern California which is strongly developed among the Yokuts and occurs rather conspicuously among the Tubatulabal and Owens Valley Paiute is the annual mourning ceremony, involving burning of property and destruction of the image of the deceased. This, however, was somewhat weakened in Owens Valley, the last feature, for instance, being lacking and the general complex some what less important than among the other tribes. (See Kroeber, 1925:499-501;609; Steward, 1933: 296-299.)

A type of dance typical of the Great Basin peoples is the circle dance, a social affair held at the annual fall gatherings, in which men and women alternate in a huge circle. Another dance may be held at the same time in which four men dressed in feathers, as described below, perform. (For an illustration of this, see Steward, plate 8-c, e, f.)

Dance regalia exhibits certain differences indicating a cultural cleavage between opposite sides of the Sierra and certain similarities indicating diffusion. The headband of yellow-hammer feathers, a general California trait, occurs among the Yokuts (Kroeber, 1925:508) but is scarcely known to the Owens Valley people. However, the skirt of strings of eagle down, or sometimes of another bird among the Yokuts, is on both sides of the Sierras, and it is not unlikely that it originated in the vicinity of Owens Valley. For illustrations of this skirt see Kroeber, 1925:plate 42 and Steward, 1933, plate 7 and plate 8-c, e, f. The headdress of magpie and crow feathers is used in a variety of dances by the Yokuts (see Kroeber, 1925:508 and fig. 44 on p. 508). A very similar head dress was used by the Owens Valley Paiute, but this included hawk feathers. (See illustration, Steward, 1933: plate 7.)

The Yokuts also used a bunch of feathers held in the hand and a belt of human hair cut from mourners. The hair net was used to hold head ornaments. (Kroeber, 1925:508-9.) This is general in California. For an illustration of a Paiute man wearing a head net, see Steward, 1933: plate 5-f.

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