Luiseno (Native Americans of California)

Luiseno is a name derived from the Mission San Luis Rey. Luiseno Indians associated with a nearby mission, San Juan Capistrano, were often referred to as Juaneno Indians. Both of these peoples are included among the groups of so-called Mission Indians.

Location The traditional (eighteenth-century) location of the Luiseno was a region of great environmental diversity, along the coast and inland along streams, south of present-day Los Angeles but north of the Tipai-Ipai. Today most Luiseno live on reservations in San Diego and Riverside Counties.

Population Roughly 10,000 in the late eighteenth century, the 1990 Luiseno population on their reservations stood at 1,795.

Language Luiseno and Juaneno belong to the Cupan group of the Takic division of the Uto-Aztecan language family.

Historical Information

History The Luiseno constituted a distinct culture from at least 1400 or so. They first encountered non-natives in 1796, with the Gaspar de Portola expedition and the founding of Mission San Diego. Shortly thereafter, the Spanish built Missions San Luis Rey and San Juan Capistrano. Many Luisenos were missionized, and many died during this and succeeding Mexican and U.S. periods of hardship, disease, and murder.

After Mexican secularization of the missions in 1834, many Indians revolted against their continued exploitation by Mexican rancheros. In general, Luiseno villages maintained their traditional subsistence activities, with the addition of wheat and corn agriculture, irrigation, orchards, and animal husbandry. The United States created several Luiseno reservations in 1875; people either lived there or scattered. The 1891 Act for the Relief of Mission Indians led to the placement of federal administrative personnel on the reservations, including police, schools, and courts. The idea was to undermine the traditional power structure and move the people toward assimilation into mainstream U.S. culture.

Throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, Luisenos fought to retain their land and their traditions. For instance, their resistance to government schools culminated in 1895 when a Luiseno burned the school and assassinated the teacher at Pachanga. Luisenos rejected the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 because it provided for too little home rule. They were finally forced to abandon once-prosperous farms and orchards after precious water supplies were taken by non-Indians living upstream.

Still, federal control of the reservations increased, as did pressure to assimilate. The 1950s brought a partial termination of federal services, which stimulated a resurgence of local self-government and self-determination. This trend accelerated in the 1960s with the arrival of various federal economic programs. Today, Luisenos are prominent in state and regional Indian groups.

Religion Ritual drama and sacred oral literature controlled their environment and confirmed Luisenos’ place in the world. Ritual offices included chief, assistant chief, shamans, councilors, and members of the Chinigchinich society (most of the men in the village). A large number of ceremonies revolved around hunting, life-cycle, weather control, and war and peace. Some ceremonies involved questing for visions with the help of a drink prepared from jimsonweed (datura). Religious knowledge/power was carefully guarded.

Sandpaintings were part of the secret Chinigchinich cult initiation (the cult may have been in part a response to the Spanish presence): The cosmos, sacred beings, and human spiritual phases were all represented. Sandpaintings never lasted beyond the ceremony. Ritual equipment included stone grinding bowls, clay figurines, sacred wands, head scratchers, and eagle-feather headdresses. Most participants in rituals were paid.

Government The Luiseno were organized into roughly 50 patrilineal clan tribelets, each with an autonomous, semipermanent village led by a hereditary chief. Each village group also had its own food resource area; other resources (raw materials, sacred sites as well as food) could be owned individually or collectively. Trespass was by express permission only.

The chief supervised hunting, gathering, and war activities. He was aided by an assistant, shamans, and a council of advisers (all positions were hereditary). Band specialists managed natural resources using techniques such as controlled burning and water and erosion management. They also led various activities such as rabbit hunts and deer and antelope drives. In the eighteenth century, Spanish-style political offices (such as generales and capitanes) existed parallel to the traditional religious ones.

Customs In addition to food and other resource areas, private property might include capital and ritual equipment, eagle nests, and songs. Social status was important and defined by many criteria. Aside from hunting (male) and gathering (female), sexual divisions of labor were ill defined. Aged women taught children crafts, whereas older men were generally more active in ceremonial affairs, including making hunting and ceremonial paraphernalia, and in instructing initiates. Games included dice, the split stick gambling game, the ball and stick game, and cat’s cradle.

The Luiseno observed various life-cycle taboos, restrictions, and ritual requirements. Puberty rituals stressed correct conduct, such as dances, ordeals, learning songs and rituals (boys), and rock painting and behavior in married life (girls). Girls married an arranged partner shortly after puberty. Divorce was possible but not easy to obtain. Death ceremonies proliferated. At different times, burning an image of the deceased, purification of the relatives, feasting and gift-giving were all practiced. A person’s possessions were generally destroyed when she or he died.

Dwellings Family houses were conical in shape, built partly underground, and covered with reeds, brush, or bark. Earth sweat houses were also semisubterranean. People used ramadas for ceremonies and domestic chores.

Diet Six species of acorns served as a dietary staple. Inland groups traveled seasonally to fish along the coast; coastal groups gathered acorns inland. Luisenos also ate a wide variety of seeds, nuts, berries, bulbs, roots, mushrooms, cactus pods, and fruits. Seeds were parched, ground, and cooked into mush. Other foods included small game, deer (stalked or run down), antelope, fowl, fish, sea mammals, crustaceans, and mollusks. Teas as well as tobacco and datura were used medicinally and ceremonially. Most predators as well as reptiles were avoided. Many foods were cooked in clay jars over a fire; game was roasted in coals.

Key Technology Luisenos practiced controlled burning of certain areas to increase the yield of seed-bearing plants. They hunted with bow and arrow, throwing sticks, snares, and traps. Men used deer-antler flakes to help flake stone points. They built canoes for ocean fishing. Other fishing equipment included seines, basketry traps, dip nets, bone or shell hooks, possibly harpoons, and poison. Utilitarian items included pottery, coiled and twined baskets, carrying pouches of net or skin, stone grinding tools, cooking and eating utensils of wood and stone, and musical instruments, including bone and cane whistles, cane flutes, split-stick clappers, and turtle shell, gourd, or hoof rattles.

Trade The Luiseno imported steatite bowls (from Santa Catalina Island), obsidian (from northern or eastern neighbors), and other items.

Notable Arts Fine arts included pottery; coiled baskets, decorated with tan, red, or black geometric designs; sandpaintings; petroglyphs, perhaps associated with hunting, from about 500 B.C.E. to 1000; and pictographs, which featured straight and wavy lines, angles, and people. The pictographs were used in girls’ puberty ceremonies after about 1400.

Transportation Dugout or balsa canoes were used for ocean fishing.

Dress Women wore cedar bark aprons. Men generally wore little or no clothing, although both sexes used deer, rabbit, or otter robes in colder weather. They also tattooed and painted their bodies and wore pendants of mica, bone, clay, abalone shell, and bear claws; human hair bracelets and anklets; and yucca-fiber and deerskin moccasins.

War and Weapons Trespass was a major cause for war. The Luiseno were also fairly imperialist, fighting (and marrying) to acquire territory. During war, the chief assumed commander duties along with an initiated warrior class. Weapons included the bow and arrow, small and large war clubs, lances, slings, and thrusting sticks.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations Luiseno reservations include Rincon (1875; 4,276 acres; 379 Indians in 1996; San Diego County), Pala (1875; 11,893 acres; San Diego County; shared with the Cupeno), Pauma and Yuima (1872; 5,877 acres; San Diego County), Soboba (1883; 5,916 acres; Riverside County), Pechanga (1882; 4,394 acres; Riverside County), La Jolla (1875; 8,541 acres; San Diego County), and Twentynine Palms (1895; 402 acres; San Bernardino County). The reservations feature elected chairs and councils, formal membership roles, and articles of association.

Economy A range of jobs may be found on or near the reservations. Many operate campgrounds, orchards, and stores. La Jolla has excellent recreation facilities that also bring in money. Pauma has hydroelectric resources. Planning for resource development is ongoing.

Legal Status The La Jolla Band, the Twentynine Palms Band, the Soboba Band, the Rincon Band, the Pechanga Band, the Pauma Band, and the Pala Band of Luiseno Mission Indians are federally recognized tribal entities. The Juaneno Band of Mission Indians had not attained federal recognition as of 1997.

Daily Life Many people still speak Luiseno, and language classes are popular among the young. Villiana Hyde has written a language text (1971). Traditional food, games, songs, and dances remain part of people’s lives, as do many ideas regarding property and other cultural references. Luisenos are relatively highly educated. Although most Luisenos are Catholics, some traditional ceremonies, such as the initiation for cult members, the installation of religious chiefs, and funerals, are still performed.

Reservations feature libraries as well as senior and cultural programs. Water rights remain an ongoing issue despite the tribe’s paper victory in a court case settled in 1985. In general, Luisenos have struck a balance between resisting government intrusion into their lives and becoming politically savvy enough to manipulate public and private organizations to their best benefit.

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