(plagerized from various internet sources)

Migrating from the Great Basin, they had made the Tehachapi area their home for two to three thousand years. They were a peaceful, gentle people with a great respect for their surroundings, living and working in small family units. Being hunter-gatherers, the Kawaiisu roamed their territory in search of food. They traveled from the valley into the mountains and even the desert to gather supplies for everyday use and to prepare stores for the winter. Young girls learned to gather and prepare food early in life, and the young boys started hunting for the family at about 9 years of age. The very young would play games to sharpen their hunting skills. Dolls were made from clay or small rodent skins with the head attached and stuffed with grass. A game of hide and seek was also very popular.

The Kawaiisu are noted for their very finely woven baskets of intricate and colorful design. Girls would learn the complex task of gathering and preparing materials for the beautiful baskets they would make. Boys learned the art of making cordage and creating rabbit skin blankets.

Tomo-Kahni Village

A tomo kahni was a winter home, as called by the Kawaiisu Indians. In this particular instance Tomo-Kahni is the winter village of the Kawaiisu. Evidence indicates the village was well populated and inhabited for a very long time. Communal grinding stones, sharpening stones (for awls used in basket-making) and ceremonial caves line the village area. Stone rings for sweathouses near streams, shelters as well as Juniper trees growing out of old campfire sites also dot the landscape. Tomo-Kahni is built in a broad, rocky meadow high in the southern-most portion of the Sequoia. The location provides protection from the winds, and low ridges so observations may be made of those approaching in the wide sandy canyon below.

Rock Art

Kawaiisu rock art consists of pictographs (painted drawings). Pecked petroglyphs are found in several spots within the Kawaiisu core area, however evidence indicates that they pre-date Kawaiisu presence in the Tehachapis.

The Kawaiisu see constant changes in pictographs, which are attributed to “Rock Baby.” (It is Rock Baby, after all, who makes the pictographs, not the Kawaiisu.) While we can identify resemblances between the pictographs and known objects or beings, we can only speculate about what they mean.

Stories and Myths

“Coyote heard Rattlesnake and Hummingbird fighting. Hummingbird was so fast that he could pull out one of Rattlesnake’s teeth in a flash. Hummingbird had only four more teeth to pull and Rattlesnake would have been toothless. Coyote was also fast and thought that he would help Hummingbird. But he wasn’t fast enough and Rattlesnake got away. That is why Rattlesnake still has four teeth.”

Stories were, and still are, told usually by an elder in the family. Many explained natural phenomena, while others teach children important lessons to be used throughout their lives. The stories teach respect for each other, the land, and plants and animals. The stories also emphasize the relationships between all living things.

As with all Great Basin and California Native Americans, the Kawaiisu beliefs are Animistic. Every facet of the earth and its inhabitants are alive – animated. The rocks, trees and all the earth’s creatures play an important part.

Winter was, and is, the time for telling stories because Rattlesnake sleeps in winter. If stories are told at other times of the year, Raven, being the gossip that he is, will repeat the stories to Rattlesnake. This will cause Rattlesnake to visit the Kawaiisu, possibly bringing the hazards of rain and snow, as well as the danger of his bite.

Mountain Lion and Coyote were important figures in the world of the Kawaiisu, as were Bear and Rattlesnake, who protected caves.

Anthropologists refer to the stories and myths of the Kawaiisu as the “Coyote Cycle.” Coyote is an enigmatic character in these stories and the reader can judge whether he is the bungler, trickster, hero or possibly the quintessential human metaphor. In many Native American stories and myths, Coyote is portrayed as the trickster-hero, however throughout the Coyote Cycle he is the most human of all the animals. He seems to be saying “without me, who will do your thinking for you?” Yet his ideas are often ineffective. Mountain Lion, on the other hand, thinks things through and makes the right choices. The Kawaiisu say that Mountain Lion taught them the right way, but they chose to follow Coyote.

Creation Myth

“In a time before time, there was no earth. There was only water. Coyote told the animals and birds living in the sky to dive down and bring up dirt so there would be land. They all tried, but failed. Coyote himself almost died trying. So he asked Earth Diver (Coot) to dive down and bring up some dirt. Coot stayed down all day and finally brought up some dirt. Then there was land and all the animals and birds came down out of the sky.”

Coyote and the Broken People

Coyote received a basket from Old Woman. He took the basket to the middle of the desert and opened it. The people ran out and went in all four directions to populate the earth. Coyote looked into the basket, and at the bottom were people who were crushed and broken — He put the lid back on the basket. Coyote then took the basket to the mountain, the home of brother Wolf. Wolf was wise and would know what to do. Wolf healed the people and made them strong. Wolf taught these people how to find food, water and all the other things they would need to know to survive. He gave the basket back to Coyote and told him to return to where it had first been opened. Coyote was to tell the people that this harsh land, that others had passed by, was theirs. That they were now smarter and stronger than the others and able to find what they needed here. They would find plenty in this land that appeared to have little. (Chemehuevi)

Coyote and the Animal People

Forever before there was time, Coyote found a basket near a spring. It was well made and seemed to have something in it. He opened the basket and quail jumped out and quickly ran away. Coyote had set free the first animal-people. (Kawaiisu)

Coyote and Sun

Along time ago, Coyote wanted to go to the sun. He asked Pokoh, Old Man, to show him the trail. Coyote went straight out on this trail and he travelled it all day. But Sun went round so that Coyote came back at night to the place from which he started in the morning.

The next morning, Coyote asked Pokoh to show him the trail. Pokoh showed him, and Coyote travelled all day and came back at night to the same place again.

But the third day, Coyote started early and went out on the trail to the edge of the world and sat down on the hole where the sun came up. While waiting for the sun he pointed with his bow and arrow at different places and pretended to shoot. He also pretended not to see the sun. When Sun came up, he told Coyote to get out of his way. Coyote told him to go around; that it was his trail. But Sun came up under him and he had to hitch forward a little. After Sun came up a little farther, it began to get hot on Coyote’s shoulder, so he spit on his paw and rubbed his shoulder. Then he wanted to ride up with the sun. Sun said, “Oh, no”; but Coyote insisted. So Coyote climbed up on Sun, and Sun started up the trail in the sky. The trail was marked off into steps like a ladder. As Sun went up he counted “one, two, three,” and so on. By and by Coyote became very thirsty, and he asked Sun for a drink of water. Sun gave him an acorn-cup full. Coyote asked him why he had no more. About noontime, Coyote became very impatient. It was very hot. Sun told him to shut his eyes. Coyote shut them, but opened them again. He kept opening and shutting them all the afternoon. At night, when Sun came down, Coyote took hold of a tree. Then he clambered off Sun and climbed down to the earth. (Tubatulabal)

Pokoh, the Old Man

Pokoh, Old Man, they say, created the world. Pokoh had many thoughts. He had many blankets in which he carried around gifts for men. He created every tribe out of the soil where they used to live. That is why an Indian wants to live and die in his native place. He was made of the same soil. Pokoh did not wish men to wander and travel, but to remain in their birthplace.

Long ago, Sun was a man, and was bad. Moon was good. Sun had a quiver full of arrows, and they are deadly. Sun wishes to kill all things.

Sun has two daughters (Venus and Mercury) and twenty men kill them; but after fifty days, they return to life again.

Rainbow is the sister of Pokoh, and her breast is covered with flowers.

Lightning strikes the ground and fills the flint with fire. That is the origin of fire. Some say the beaver brought fire from the east, hauling it on his broad, flat tail. That is why the beaver’s tail has no hair on it, even to this day. It was burned off.

There are many worlds. Some have passed and some are still to come. In one world the Indians all creep; in another they all walk; in another they all fly. Perhaps in a world to come, Indians may walk on four legs; or they may crawl like snakes; or they may swim in the water like fish. (Tubatulabal)

Song of the Ghost Dance

The snow lies there – ro-rani!
The snow lies there – ro-rani!
The snow lies there – ro-rani!
The snow lies there – ro-rani!
The Milky Way lies there.
The Milky Way lies there.

This is one of the favorite songs of the Paiute Ghost dance. . . . It must be remembered that the dance is held in the open air at night, with the stars shining down on the wide-extending plain walled in by the giant Sierras, fringed at the base with dark pines, and with their peaks white with eternal snows. Under such circumstances this song of the snow lying white upon the mountains, and the Milky Way stretching across the clear sky, brings up to the Paiute the same patriotic home love that comes from lyrics of singing birds and leafy trees and still waters to the people of more favored regions. . . . The Milky Way is the road of the dead to the spirit world. (Tubatulabal)

California Big Trees

The California big trees are sacred to the Monos, who call them “woh-woh-nau,” a word formed in imitation of the hoot of the owl. The owl is the guardian spirit and the god of the big trees. Bad luck comes to those who cut down the big trees, or shoot at an owl, or shoot in the presence of the owl.

In old days the Indians tried to persuade the white men not to cut down the big trees. When they see the trees cut down they call after the white men. They say the owl will bring them evil. (Tubatulabal)


Dec 21, 2012 big_g