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   Chapter 3 No.3

Picture and Text / 1893 By Henry James Characters: 8348

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Who Were the Ancestors of the Palas?

* * *

The study of the ancestors of our present-day Amerind has occupied the time and attention of many scholars with small results. Only when the ethnologist and antiquarian began to take due cognizance of language, tradition, and the physical configuration of skull and body did he begin to make due progress.

Dr. A. L. Kroeber, of the University of California, affirms that the Palas belong to what is now generally called the Uto-Aztecan stock. Distant relatives of theirs are the Shoshones, of Idaho and Wyoming; so the general name "Shoshonean" was long since applied to them. But more recent investigations have shown that the great group of Shoshonean tribes are only a part of a still larger family, all related among each other, as shown by their speech. In this grand assemblage belong the Utes of Utah, the famous snake-dancing Hopi, and the pastoral Pimas, of Arizona, the Yaki of Sonora, and, most important of all, the Aztecs of Mexico. The name Uto-Aztecan, therefore, is rapidly coming into use as the most appropriate for this family, which was and still is numerically the largest and historically the most important on the American continent. Whether the Aztecs are an offshoot from the less civilized tribes in the United States, or the reverse, is not yet determined.

Interior of Pala Chapel Before the Restoration, Showing the Old Indian Mural Decorations.

An Old San Luis Rey Mission Indian.

Statue of San Luis Rey Which Stands at the Right of the Altar in Pala Chapel.

The most conspicuous of the Uto-Aztecan tribes in San Diego County are the Indians formerly connected with the Mission of San Luis Rey, and who are called, therefore Luise?os. They know nothing of their kinship with the Aztecs but believe that they originated in Southern California. They tell a migration legend, however, of how their ancestors, led by the Eagle and their great hero, Uuyot, sometimes spelled Wiyot, journeyed by slow stages from near Mt. San Bernardino to their present homes. Uuyot was subsequently poisoned by the witchcraft of his enemies and passed away, but not until he had ordained the law and customs which the older Indians used to follow.

Old Pedro Lucero, at Saboba, years before his death told me of the earlier history of his people, and of their coming to this land. I transcribe it here exactly as I wrote it at his dictation:

Before my people came here they lived far, far away in the land that is in the heart of the setting sun. But Siwash, our great god, told Uuyot, the warrior captain of my people, that we must come away from this land and sail away and away in a direction that he would give us. Under Uuyot's orders my people built big boats and then, with Siwash himself leading them, and with Uuyot as captain, they launched them into the ocean and rowed away from the shore. There was no light on the ocean. Everything was covered with a dark fog and it was only by singing, as they rowed, that the boats were enabled to keep together.

It was still dark and foggy when the boats landed on the shores of this land, and my ancestors groped about in the darkness, wondering why they had been brought hither. Then, suddenly, the heavens opened, and lightnings flashed and thunders roared and the rains fell, and a great earthquake shook all the earth. Indeed, all the elements of earth, ocean and heaven seemed to be mixed up together, and with terror in their hearts, and silence on their tongues my people stood still awaiting what would happen further. Though no one had spoken they knew something was going to happen, and they were breathless in their anxiety to know what it was. Then they turned to Uuyot and asked him what the raging of the elements meant. Gently he calmed their fear and bade them be silent and wait. As they waited, a terrible clap of thunder rent the very heavens and the vivid lightning revealed the frightened people huddling together as a pack of sheep. But Uuyot stood alone, brave and fearless, and daring the anger of 'Those Above.' With a loud voice he cried out: 'Wit-i-a-ko!' which signified 'Who's there;' 'What do you want?' There wa

s no response. The heavens were silent! The earth was silent! The ocean was silent! All nature was silent! Then with a voice full of tremulous sadness and loving yearning for his people Uuyot said: 'My children, my own sons and daughters, something is wanted of us by Those Above. What it is I do not know. Let us gather together and bring pivat, and with it make the big smoke and then dance and dance until we are told what is required of us.'

So the people brought pivat-a native tobacco that grows in Southern California-and Uuyot brought the big ceremonial pipe which he had made out of rock, and he soon made the big smoke and blew the smoke up into the heavens while he urged the people to dance. They danced hour after hour, until they grew tired, and Uuyot smoked all the time, but still he urged them to dance.

Then he called out again to 'Those Above:' 'Witiako!' but could obtain no response. This made him sad and disconsolate, and when the people saw Uuyot sad and disconsolate they became panic-stricken, ceased to dance and clung around him for comfort and protection. But poor Uuyot had none to give. He himself was the saddest and most forsaken of all, and he got up and bade the people leave him alone, as he wished to walk to and fro by himself. Then he made the people smoke and dance, and when they rested they knelt in a circle and prayed. But he walked away by himself, feeling keenly the refusal of 'Those Above' to speak to him. His heart was deeply wounded.

But, as the people prayed and danced and sang, a gentle light came stealing into the sky from the far, far east. Little by little the darkness was driven away. First the light was grey, then yellow, then white, and at last the glittering brilliancy of the sun filled all the land and covered the sky with glory. The sun had arisen for the first time, and in its light and warmth my people knew they had the favor of 'Those Above,' and they were contented and happy.

But when Siwash, the god of earth, looked around and saw everything revealed by the sun, he was discontented, for the earth was bare and level and monotonous and there was nothing to cheer the sight. So he took some of the people and of them he made high mountains, and of some smaller mountains. Of some he made rivers and creeks and lakes and waterfalls, and of others, coyotes, foxes, deer, antelope, bear, squirrel, porcupines and all the other animals. Then he made out of other people all the different kinds of snakes and reptiles and insects and birds and fishes. Then he wanted trees and plants and flowers, and he turned some of the people into these things. Of every man or woman that he seized he made something according to its value. When he had done he had used up so many people he was scared. So he set to work and made a new lot of people, some to live here and some to live everywhere. And he gave to each family its own language and tongue and its own place to live, and he told them where to live and the sad distress that would come upon them if they mixed up their tongues by intermarriage. Each family was to live in its own place and while all the different families were to be friends and live as brothers, tied together by kinship, amity and concord, there was to be no mixing of bloods.

Thus were settled the original inhabitants on the coast of Southern California by Siwash, the god of the earth, and under the captaincy of Uuyot.

The language of the Palas is simple, easy to pronounce, regular in its grammar, and much richer in the number of its words than is usually believed of Indian idioms. It comprises nearly 5,000 different words, or more than the ordinary vocabulary of the average educated white man or newspaper writer. The gathering of these words was done by the late P. S. Spariman, for years Indian trader and storekeeper, at Rincon, who was an indefatigable student of both words and grammar. His manuscript is now in the keeping of Professor Kroeber, and will shortly be published by the University of California. Dr. Kroeber claims that it is one of the most important records ever compiled of the thought and mental life of the native races of California.

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