Sacred Texts  Native American  California  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 46

Chapter XI

Their Calendar

We cannot but believe that the calendar is one of the most important and the most necessary of inventions. But theirs, if we may call it such, differed but very little from the natural instinct of the brute creation, which possessed a knowledge of time, and the seasons for their sustenance and procreation. We see that many animals change their places, and even climates, at a time prefixed; either on account of the temperature or want of food; and at the proper time for their return they visit again the same locations. The Indians had the same custom, as regards the changing from place to place; for in the winter they resided in one place, and in summer in another. This was general amongst them, excepting with those located on the sea-coast, who seldom removed, because their maintenance was derived from the sea; unlike the others who subsisted entirely upon fruits and seeds of the fields. Their calendar contained merely the names of the months, directing the times or seasons for the collecting of their different seeds, and produce of the earth. Not all of them possessed this knowledge; it being confined to the Puplem who were the criers that informed them when to cultivate their fields, and observe other requisitions. In the first place, they were destitute of chronology, by which to calculate the period of time transpired; hence, the difficulty in giving any account of their antiquities, as they had neither figures nor signs to preserve them; and possessing no idea of the past, their thoughts were limited solely to

p. 47

the present. On this account their calendar was confined to the months of the year, but as they reckoned these by the number of moons, they differed from the "sun's reckoning," having almost every year a less number of days--for at the conclusion of the moon in December, that is, at the conjunction, they calculated the return of the sun from the Tropic of Capricorn; and another year commenced, the Indian saying "the sun has arrived at his home." When the new year begun, no thought was given to the past; and on this account, even amongst the most intelligent, they could not tell the number of years which had transpired, when desirous of giving an idea of any remote event.

They observed with greater attention and celebrated with more pomp, the sun's arrival at the tropic of Capricorn, than they did his reaching the tropic of Cancer, for the reason, that, as they were situated ten degrees from the latter, they were pleased at the sun's approach towards them; for it returned to ripen their fruits and seeds, to give warmth to the atmosphere, and enliven again the fields with beauty and increase.

The names of the months were as follows:--


December and January.










June and July.










In order to comprehend the manner in which they counted the months, it is necessary to know that their year commenced always on the 21st day of December, and upon the sun's arrival at the tropic--consequently, the days which transpired between the last conjunction and the 21st were not noticed--or, in their mode of explanation, "There was no day." The month "Aapcomil" always begun on the 21st, without any regard to the moon's age, and not only continued during the remainder

p. 48

of its term, but throughout the one following; thus including nearly two moons. Sometimes it so happened that the moon's conjunction occurred on the 21st or afterwards, in which case two entire moons were counted in the first month. Nearly the same occurrence took place in "Sintecar," with this difference only, that if the sun's arrival at the tropic of Cancer fell upon the day of the moon's full, then the month began; but the days previous to this were made use of, and annexed to the antecedent "Tocoboaich,"--that is, the month did not expire with the conjunction, but at the full; when the other began, and continued throughout the following moon. All the other months of the year commenced with the conjunction, therefore, they seldom agreed with ours.

Their calendar contained no more; and served, principally, to denote when to harvest the grain, celebrate their feasts, and commemorate the death of their friends. But of the number of days contained in their months, they had no knowledge whatever, and much less of those composing the year-so that the phases of the moon were their only guide, and these informed them when they were to observe their feastings, which never fell upon the same day in any other year. The way they ascertained when to celebrate them, was as follows. When the month arrived, one of the Puplem (to whom belonged the privilege of holding the feast) observed with attention the moon's aspect; and when its appearance denoted the time, he made known the fact to the public by sending a crier through the town.

In like manner, they proceeded, in regard to the anniversaries of the dead, although they were never celebrated on the same day in any other year, as that on which the person died. At the time of the decease of a captain, or of one of the Puplem, (for they paid no attention to others) a Pul observed the moon's aspect, also the month in which the death occurred; and in the following year, in the same month, when the moon's aspect was the same, they celebrated the anniversary.

Next: Chapter XII. The Indian Wars