Mono (Native Americans of California)

Monotmp10-1_thumb, or Monache, is a Yokuts term of uncertain meaning. Also known as the Western Mono, they are Nimi, or "People," in their own language.

Location Traditionally, the Mono lived in central California along the Sierra Nevada, higher in elevation (mainly 3,000 to 7,000 feet) then the Foothill Yokuts. Today most Mono live on Big Sandy and Cold Springs Rancherias, with other Indians on the Tule River Reservation, and in several northern California communities.

Population Mono population stood at roughly 2,500 in the late eighteenth century. In 1990, 38 lived on the Big Sandy Rancheria; 159 lived on the Cold Springs Rancheria; and probably several hundred are included with the 745 mixed Indians on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in communities in northern California.

Language Mono is a language of the western group of the Numic family of the Uto-Aztecan language stock.

Historical Information

History In the eighteenth century, the Mono included six independent tribal groups (Northfork Mono, Wobonuch, Entimbich, Michahay, Waksachi, Patwisha). They were in general culturally similar to the neighboring Foothill Yokuts. Since they lived in a region not highly desired by miners or non-native settlers, they enjoyed relatively higher survival rates in the nineteenth century than did most other California Indian peoples.

As "homeless Indians," the Mono received three rancherias from the federal government in the 1910s. Some individuals also acquired parcels of land. Many people retained their traditional subsistence gathering patterns while working as loggers, ranch hands, miners, and domestic help. As was the case with many other Indians, a large number of Mono moved to the cities after World War II.

Religion The Mono believed that spirits contained supernatural powers that might be employed by people with the proper knowledge. Supernatural powers were obtained through a connection with nature or by taking datura, a drug, as part of a ritual. Although shamans were especially skilled in these techniques, most people thought it a good idea to possess some powers for general success in life.

Shamans used their powers for curing. However, they could also hurt or kill, and various evil activities were often ascribed to them.

Ceremonies included bear dances (by members of the Bear lineage) and the annual mourning ceremony. The Mono brought the Ghost Dance of 1870 west of the Sierra Nevada. This phenomenon ended by 1875, largely because it failed to bring back the dead as promised; the 1890 Ghost Dance revival had no impact on the Mono.

Government Each Mono group was composed of villages or hamlets of between one and eight huts, each led by a (usually hereditary male) chief. Patrilineal lineages, such as Eagle, Dove, Roadrunner, and Bear, were social organizations. The chief (from the Eagle lineage) arranged ceremonies, saw to the needy, and sanctioned the killing of evil shamans or others. He led by suggestion rather than by command. A messenger (Roadrunner lineage) assisted the chief and settled quarrels. They both had a symbol of office, an eight-foot-long cane with red-painted bands and string on top. Only the Northfork Mono had formal intradivision groups (Eagle and Dove), each with its own chief.

Customs After death, the soul was said to travel west for two days to the land of the dead. The dead were cremated and their remains buried. Mourning took place at the time of death and also at an annual ceremony. The Mono maintained close relations with their neighbors for activities such as trade, intermarriage, ceremonies, visiting, and resource exploitation. They observed no particular hunting or puberty rituals. Most men had only one wife (some wealthy men had more). Marriages were planned by the man’s parents; the principals usually agreed. Divorce was possible for cause. Mono married each other as well as Yokuts Indians.

Dwellings The Mono built three types of houses: conical with an excavated floor, oval with a ridgepole, and conical with a center pole covered by thatch or cedar bark. Houses were arranged in a semicircle around the village. Most villages also contained a sweat house (male only), an acorn storehouse, and an open area used for dances and ceremonies.

Diet Acorns were the staple food of these hunter-gatherers. They also ate roots, pine nuts, seeds, and berries (and drank cider from manzanita berries). They hunted and trapped deer, bear, rabbits, and squirrels. Good hunters shared their meat. Bears were often killed by blocking egress from their caves and then shooting them. Fish were caught with traps, weirs, nets, and spears.

Key Technology Items included a variety of fish nets and hunting traps; pottery and soapstone cookware; baskets; juniper and laurel bows; obsidian knives, scrapers, and arrow points; and various tools of stone and wood.

Trade Trade occurred mainly with the Owens Valley Paiute on the eastern side of the mountains. Most items were natural products, including acorns, obsidian, pine nuts, and rabbit skins. Mono also traded with the Yokuts.

Notable Arts Traditional arts included basket making and beadwork.

Transportation People floated babies and other valuables across rivers in basket boats. They used log rafts with brush or mat decking for crossing streams.

Dress Men and women wore deerskin or fiber aprons or breechclouts. Some groups wore moccasins. Both sexes pierced their ears and noses and tattooed their faces. Face and bodies were painted for ceremonies only. Woven rabbit-skin blankets were used in cold weather.

War and Weapons The usual cause of war was trespass or injuries to individuals (from shamans). Its intent was individual revenge; actual intertribal warfare was rare. People fought with bows and special, occasionally poisoned, arrows. The Monache generally did not take captives. Peacemaking included gifts of presents that were not considered reparations.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations The Mono Tribal Council is located in Dunlap, California. Formal communities include the Tule River Reservation (Tulare County, shared, with a tribal council); the Posgisa community (about 200 people) at Big Sandy Rancheria (Fresno County); the Num (about 600 people), located around the town of North Fork; the Wobonuch community at Dunlap (about 80 people); and the Holkoma community at Cold Springs Rancheria (Fresno County; 275 people; 155 acres). Populations are as of the early 1990s.

Economy The Tule River Reservation contains hydroelectric resources.

Legal Status The Tule River Indian Tribe of the Tule River Indian Reservation, the Big Sandy Rancheria of Mono Indians, the Northfork Rancheria of Mono Indians (Num community), and the Cold Springs Rancheria of Mono Indians are all federally recognized tribal entities.

As of 1997, the Dunlap Band of Mono Indians (Wobonuch community) and the Mono Lake Indian community had not attained federal recognition.

Daily Life There is a regional health center at North Fork, as well as a seniors’ lunch program and a Head Start program. The Sierra Mono Museum is located at North Fork. It features displays, collections, and classes in traditional arts and language. Indian Days are held in August. The community at Big Sandy uses federal grant money for programs to preserve language and traditional culture.

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