Sacred Texts  Native American  California  Index  Previous  Next 

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


Before the dancer appeared, on the occasions when the dance was witnessed, one of the old men made an energetic speech, saying that the ceremony was ancient, and must be done exactly according to usage. The dancer remained out of sight in a brush house or "ramada" until this lecture was completed. When all was in readiness and the crowd waiting, an assistant who was with the dancer raised a long cry, sounding like "kūūūwanh!" All the old men around the himak or dance-circle grunted and stamped with the right foot. The assistant then repeated his cry, and all stamped again. On a third repetition of the cry, all grunted and stamped three times. Then the assistant, exclaiming "a-ha-ha-ha a-ha-ha-ha," ran out of the house, and entering the dance-ground from the north side, 81 ran half way around its circumference. Then he halted and dropped on one knee, facing the sun. He carried a stick in each hand. These he held up toward the sun as if to protect himself from a blow (pl. 27, fig. 1). After a momentary pause

p. 309

the dancer also appeared on a run, entered the dance-ground from the north, encircled it once in a clockwise direction, and halted at the point of entry. He also carried two short, smooth sticks (pl. 26, fig. 3). When he halted he touched these two sticks to the ground and leaned upon them (pl. 27, fig. 2). The costume as shown in this figure consisted of a skirt or kilt of long eagle-feathers, yipexai, mounted on milkweed-fibre network. 82 In connection with this was worn a head-band of split owl-feathers, tsekwirp (pl. 22, fig. 4), mounted on a circlet of mescal or other fibre. His body was painted (pl. 26, fig. 3, pl. 27, fig. 3) in broad stripes of white paint. This is made of powdered soapstone mixed with water. This costume seems to be the ancient ceremonial dress of the Diegueño and their neighbors, the Luiseño, since Boscana, writing in the early years of Spanish influence, describes practically the same dress. 82a

An old man with a rattle took his stand close by the dancer, and the two conversed in a very low tone. This was always done whenever the dance was observed, though the words were in so low a tone that they could not be distinguished. They are thought by the younger people to have ceremonial significance, though the present writer was never able to discover precisely what is said at the time.

After a moment the old man began to shake his rattle and sing. The dancer trotted around the circle once or twice, and then began to whirl as he went. The song was as follows:

niyaukam penowo
pawaiyom temetpon

I-handle ... 83
feather-skirt sun

The dancer signalled for faster music by rapidly striking together the two sticks he carried. After some time he struck these sticks together once, and as the song ended he made a short leap, landing on both feet. Then to this accompaniment of a deep grunt from the old men looking on, he bent his knees slightly, pointing the stick in his right hand toward the ground.

p. 310

[paragraph continues] Then he trotted silently around the circle to its northern edge, and leaning over rested on his two sticks.

The next song was as follows:

neyonga nitceyo

my-head my-...

The dancer trotted around the circle as at first, but soon began to skip instead. Finally he began to turn as he skipped, hopping or skipping on one foot between every half-turn. At times he changed his step in the midst of a song from the plain turn to the skipping turn. He also paused for an instant at frequent intervals to squat three times (pl. 27, fig. 4), facing in a different direction each time. Three or four songs always completed the dance, and the performer then ran back whence he came.

Other Tatahuila or Tapakwirp songs are the following. They are sung with no apparent regard to order.

itca yumitci itca yumitci 84
yumpeni yumno yumpeni yumptero
aweni maitero
wainipai rorowi nani
neyongi aweni mainipa
rorowi neyongi
itca, etc.

norowi mumpeno
keruwi mumpeno
kemipa mumpeno
kepai novita
keruwi, etc.

pohyom nipa pohyom nipa 85
nipampowow nipampo rorowi
witcaxa wipneyau
tsegora tsaxawi
penomo apa
rorowi mohitna
penema rorowi, etc.

sahavi penov86
xehora mokikai
penovi meyoivi


308:81 East is the ceremonial direction among the Diegueño. This detail may indicate a Luiseño origin for this rite.

309:82 For this type of skirt, see DuBois, op. cit., plate 18.

309:82a Boscana, "Chinigchinich," in Robinson's "Life in California," New York, Wiley and Putnam, 1846.

309:83 The words of this and the following song are Shoshonean.

310:84 This and the two following are said to be in the Cahuilla language.

310:85 University of California phonograph record 689(4).

310:86 Ibid., 689(2).

Next: Conclusion of the Feather Ceremony