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


This ceremony never occurs by itself, but always follows some other dance. When observed by the writer it occurred late at night after a Horloi or War dance. It also occurs as part of the kusī or toloache ceremony and the Clothes Burning. After the close of whatever rite preceded it, some one of the old men always made a very emphatic speech, saying that the Fire dance had descended from long before, and was very ancient. 117a

Men and women then gathered about the fire in a large circle. The man in the company who usually leads the dances then began to sound his rattle. The people moved about the fire in a "sidestep" to the accompaniment of this rattling, without singing. Two circles were gradually formed, one of them inside of the

p. 326

other, moving in opposite directions. At frequent signals from the leader the direction of the movement was reversed. Shouts of laughter greeted the sudden change. After some time the effort seemed to become tiresome to the younger people, who one by one dropped out. This left only the old men and women in the dance. The movement now became more sedate. The dancers gradually formed a single line, which circled about the fire from right to left. All the dancers moved forward with a twisting movement, which as already explained, is intended to swish back and forth the skirts of elderbark formerly worn by the women.

Suddenly all raised their arms, holding them out from their sides for the space of three or four steps. Then they faced inward, toward the fire, joining hands all around. While they held hands they stepped sideways to the left. After several steps in this position, they loosed their hands and struck downwards with their arms. Then they stamped three times with the right foot, accompanying each stamp with a grunt. This was followed by a ceremonial rest.

The dance was resumed to the accompaniment of a song:

apampe penovi
hai-i yo-ona

[paragraph continues] At the end of the second line the entire company squatted suddenly down and rose together. The character of the dancing step was also changed. Each dancer jumped sideways to the left twice, and followed this by a short step to the left. After some time the men suddenly squatted or crouched three times, pointing at the fire first with the left hand, then with the right, and then with the left again. This action was followed by a rest. The same step was shortly resumed, to a different chant, of which the following were the words:

waiyoti waiyoti 118
neyonga meteya
nekiwe nitceyo
tcama avi nitceyo

Throughout the above song the men stamped violently. At each step they swung their fists "underhand" at the fire. Mean-

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while they moved about in a circle, of which the center was the fire, in short jumps, each one followed by a single step. At the end of the singing, the leader shook his rattle, and all grunted and struck downward toward the ground. Then he rattled again, and all motioned away into the air and expelled the breath.

When the dancing began again, the step consisted of two jumps followed by a short step. The women had by this time all dropped out, and only about a dozen old men were actually taking part in the rite. The song was as follows:

watani watani
waiyai mani

[paragraph continues] At the close the leader rattled two loud strokes and then a long roll, calling as he did so, "mwau." All stamped their feet once and grunted. He repeated the rattling and the exclamation, and all expelled the breath and motioned into the air.

The words of the next song were:

pako weknam
pako dikile (incomplete)

When the fifth song began, the men ran sideways around the fire quite rapidly. The singing was also very fast and loud. The rattling took on the character of a steady, beating cadence. The entire performance assumed an excited appearance. The words of the song were:

agorowi take
tcaposon take

[paragraph continues] The old men gave a loud yell in the midst of the song, and dropping on their haunches close to the fire, began pushing the blazing wood in a pile with their feet. Leaping up after a moment they continued to dance, but soon returned to the fire again. They danced in on the coals as much as they could, and each man before he was driven back by the heat would throw himself on his haunches, kick at the fire, and surreptitiously pile in a little dirt with his hands. In this way the fire was gradually extinguished. The women throughout kept up a shrill and rapid chant. The effect of the whole was rather good. The leaping figures of the dancers were outlined in inky black against the

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ruddy light of the bonfire, and their swirling feather headplumes lent an air of wildness. Even the whites who looked on were visibly impressed toward the close, while the young Indians seemed completely awed. When nothing was left but blackened coals and a dim pile of glowing embers, the dancers left the circle and the ceremony was over.

This ceremony was formerly accompanied by the exhibition of many magic tricks. A quantity of liquid, said to be a decoction of willow bark, was drunk by the performers before coming to the dance. At the proper time they took slender curved wands twelve or fourteen inches long, called "swallowing-sticks," kotat, 119 and inserted almost the whole length in their throats. The violent vomiting which ensued was held to make the fire mysteriously "cool." It is likely that in the old days when no shoes were worn, the toughness of the soles of the dancers' feet enabled them to dance actually on the coals without much discomfort. Even at the present day their method of dancing would severely burn a bare-footed white man.


325:117a The occurrence of these emphatic ceremonial speeches or addresses is, as will be observed, a feature of all Diegueño rites.

326:118 The words of this song, as of the preceding, have the appearance of being Luiseño.

328:119 DuBois, op. cit., plate 16.

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