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Who are the Agua Caliente Indians?
The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is one of nine bands of Cahuilla Indians living in southern California. They are a federally recognized indian tribe. The Cahuilla tribe of Native Americans have inhabited California for more than 2,000 years.
Photo courtesy of Toohool via Wikimedia Commons
Official Tribal Name: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation
Address: 5401 Dinah Shore Drive Palm Springs, CA 92264
Phone: (760) 699-6800
Official Website: http://www.aguacaliente.org/
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Kah-we-ah
Common Name: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla
Meaning of Common Name:
Agua is Spanish for “Boiling Water”
Cahuilla has been interpreted to mean “the master,” “the powerful one,” or “the one who rules.”
Alternate spellings / Mispellings:
Name in other languages:
State(s) Today: California
As long as can be remembered the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla (Kah-we-ah) lived and flourished in the area called “Se-Khi” or “boiling water.” Anthropologists place them in this area for at least 5,000 years. Se-Khi was the ancestral name bestowed upon this tribe by the Spanish, due to the restorative, mystical hot-bubbling waters that rose up from the earth. Their lands encompassed some 2,000 square miles of homeland and included the most sacred hot mineral springs located in the Palm, Murray, Andreas, Tahquitz, and Chino Canyons along with areas of the Coachella Valley, Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains.
Reservations: Agua Caliente Indian Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land
The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is the largest landowner in Palm Springs, California, because 6,700 acres (27 km2) of the reservation are within the Palm Springs city limits. The tribe owns Indian Canyons, located southwest of Palm Springs. These canyons are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.They also own land in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.
The Agua Caliente Indian Reservation is a checkerboard of parcels encompassing major areas of Palm Springs, and portions of Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, and unincorporated Riverside County. This is because the federal government gave the railroad all the odd numbered parcels along a ten mile stretch of the railroad for a right-of-way, which were carved out of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation.
Land Area: 31,610 acres (127.9 km2)
Tribal Headquarters: Palm Springs, California
Time Zone: Pacific
Name of Governing Body:
Number of Council members:
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers:
Population at Contact:
Prior to European contact, when they occupied the better part of Riverside County and the northern portion of San Diego County, the collective Cahuilla bands numbered from 6,000 to 10,000 people.
Registered Population Today:
The Tribe today consists of approximately 432 enrolled Agua Caliente Tribal Members.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
Language Classification: Uto-Aztecan -> Northern Uto-Aztecan -> Takic -> Cupan -> Cahuilla–Cupeno -> Cahuilla
Anthropological and archeological evidence suggests that the ancestral homeland of the Uto-Aztecan peoples was in the present day state of Nevada. Like all of the desert Tribes, the Agua Caliente share a common ancestry to the Uto-Aztecan family, Cahuilla linguistic group.
Cahuilla is a member of the Takic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Within Takic, it is most closely related to Cupeño, Juaneño, and Luiseño, and more distantly to Gabrielino, Kitanemuk, Serrano, and Tataviam. The other Uto-Aztecan languages of California are Tubatulabal and the Numic languages (Chemehuevi-Southern Paiute-Ute, Comanche, Kawaiisu, Mono, Northern Paiute, Panamint, and Shoshone).
Three Cahuilla dialects are known to have existed, referred to as Desert Cahuilla, Mountain Cahuilla, and Pass Cahuilla. The Agua Caliente Band spoke the Pass Cahuilla dialect.
Number of fluent Speakers:
A 1990 census revealed 35 speakers, collectively, in a Cahuilla ethnic population of 800. Cahuilla is nearly extinct, since most speakers are middle-aged or older.
The Cahuilla language was traditionally spoken in the San Gorgonio Pass (around Banning), to the east in the Coachella Valley to the vicinity of the Salton Sea, and to the south on the western slopes of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains. In pre-contact times, there were around 2500 speakers of Cahuilla (Kroeber 1925). Today, there are half a dozen first-language speakers of Desert and Mountain Cahuilla (Golla 2011). The last native speaker of Pass Cahuilla died in 2008.
Agua Caliente is one of three reservations where speakers of the “Pass” dialect of the Cahuilla were located, the other two being the Morongo Indian Reservation and Augustine Indian Reservation. Pass Cahuilla is a dialect of Cahuilla found within the Cupan branch of Takic languages, part of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Though revitalization efforts are underway, all dialects of Cahuilla are technically considered to be extinct as they are no longer spoken at home, and children are no longer learning them as a primary language.
Bands, Gens, and Clans
The Cahuilla can be generally divided into three groups based on the geographical region in which they lived: Desert Cahuilla, Mountain Cahuilla and Western (San Gorgonio Pass) Cahuilla. All three spoke the Cahuilla language, had similar lifestyles and practiced the same traditions. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians are Desert Cahuilla, and are one of a total of nine Cahuilla Indian nations living on ten indian reservations.
All Cahuilla people belonged to one of two social groups — the wild cat, Istam, or the coyote, Tuktum. These moieties were subdivided into a large number of clans. Membership into a clan was through the father; members of Istam were expected to marry into the Tuktum clan and vice versa.
- Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians
- Cabazon Band of Mission Indians
- Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians
- Morongo Band of Mission Indians
- Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians
- Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians
- Santa Rosa Band of Mission Indians
- Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla Indians.
There are also some Los Coyotes in the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians.
Ceremonies / Dances:
Bird Singing began in the time of the nu-ka-tem, the first beings. The songs tell the creation and migration stories of the Cahuilla Indian people and are a vital part of their living culture. They are an oral history of Cahuilla life and reaffirm who they are and where they come from.
Traditionally, it takes as many as three or four nights to sing bird songs in their entire sequence from beginning to end. Complete song cycles began at sunset and continued through the night, ending with the sunrise. It has been said that the Cahuilla creation and migration stories influence the pattern of dance steps that imitate the movement of birds. The traditional way of performing bird songs and dance has been adapted to present-day cultural events.
The role of bird songs today is primarily social. Singers still maintain high standards of performance to ensure that songs are sung correctly, and the the dancing continues to exhibit a keen sense of timing and precision. Bird singing and dancing is an important part of Cahuilla gatherings and fiestas, and remains the centerpiece of most social and other tribal events.
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
Tahquitz Canyon, southwest of downtown Palm Springs is accessible for hiking and guided tours. The Indian Canyons (consisting of Palm Canyon, Murray Canyon, and Andreas Canyon) south of Palm Springs are also accessible for hiking, horesback riding, and tours.
Photo courtesy of Toohool via Wikimedia Commons
The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in Palm Springs was founded by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in 1991. It houses permanent collections and archives, a research library, and changing exhibits, as well as hosting an annual film festival. It is associated with the Smithsonian Museum.
Legends / Oral Stories:
Art & Crafts: Skilled at basket weaving.
The tribe owns two major casinos, the Spa Resort Casino located in downtown Palm Springs and the Agua Caliente Casino Rancho Mirage in Rancho Mirage, California. The tribe also maintains two golf courses in Indian Canyon which are open to the public.
Religion Today: Christianity, Traditional Religion
Traditional Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
The chief, or headman, of a Cahuilla tribe was called the Net. The Net ruled his domain from the round house, or Kishumnawut.
His Paxaa was an assistant who helped the headman with special duties. His responsibilities included keeping order and silence at all solemn ceremonies, collecting food from each family for the round house ceremonies, and overseeing ceremonial protocol. This respected office, like the Net, passed from father to first born son, unless the son was deemed unfit for the office. In that case, the role usually went to another brother or family member.
The medicine men were called Puvalem. The Pavuul exerted greater power than the Puul, the less-revered shamans. Pedro Chino was a Partlid noted for his extraordinary powers for predicting future events, making rain, stopping catastrophies, and other “miracles.” He supposedly could change into a crow, mountain lion, coyote, or other bird or animal.
Puvalem were highly respected clan members. It was thought that they could cure any ailment with their considerable knowledge of herbs and other medical procedures and neutralize the power of evil spirits with special songs and dances. They were an important part of all ceremonies and advised the Net of the most propitious time for all events. To demonstrate their power, they performed extraordinary feats such as eating hot coals at ceremonies.
Puvalem did not inherit their office but were born with their powers or taught by Puul who recognized a youth’s talent. Often, both the Net and the Paxaa were Puvalem. These ceremonial roles and duties were quite confusing to pioneers, who mistakenly assumed all the participants to be chiefs.
Other clan officers included the Takwa, who prepared and distributed the food at ceremonies, and the Haunik, who sang at all the functions. The Haunik was revered by the clan for his fine voice and his repertoire of poetic song cycles, some of which lasted as long as 12 hours. He taught the songs and tribal history to the young people and instructed them in proper adult behavior. Joe Patencio was the last person to hold this office.
Mukat (also spelled Mokat, Mukot or Mo-Cot)- The Cahuilla creator god. Unlike Native cultures in the rest of North America, the Cahuilla and other Sonoran tribes of southeast California and southwestern Arizona did not consider their Creator to be a benevolent spirit or a friend to humankind– he was capricious and dangerous, made the life of the ancients miserable, drove away their protector Moon, and was eventually slain by his own creations after teaching them warfare.
Temayawet (also spelled Tamaioit, Temmayawit or Tem-ma-ya-wit)- Mukat’s twin brother, ruler of the land of the dead.
Menily (also spelled Menil, Menilly, or Man-el)- The Cahuilla goddess of the moon, who taught the people the arts of civilization. She is often called the Moon Maiden in English.
Coyote (Isily, in the Cahuilla language)- Coyote is the trickster figure of the Cahuilla tribe. He is clever but reckless, and is constantly getting himself and the people around him into trouble with his irresponsible and socially inappropriate behavior. Coyote stories are often humorous in nature, but they can also be cautionary tales about the consequences of bad behavior and the dangers of interacting with reckless and immoral people.
Kutya’i – Spirit of wind, mischievous, nocturnal, steals clothing.
Muut – Psychopomp, often depicted as an owl.
Pemtemweha – Protector of animals, often seen as a white deer.
Sungrey – Medicine, founded the spring Agua Caliente (Hot Water) in the desert.
Taqwus – A trickster god, he comes out at night to steal souls and cause mischief.
Wedding Customs: The Cahuilla forbid marriage to anyone who was related within five generations.
In the News:
Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions – The varied perspectives of mission Indians, non-mission Indians, Spanish and Mexican Franciscans, soldiers, and settlers, and visitors from the outside world during the California Missions era.
Life in a California Mission: Monterey in 1786 – ”A remarkable essay on the nature and character of mission life in California.
Handbook of the Indians of California, with 419 Illustrations and 40 Maps (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin No. 78) – California has the most culturally diverse Indian ethnography of any U.S. state. Since California habitats range from coastal near- rainforest to dry desert, the Indians have developed a wide range of cultural and technological innovations to deal with it. The linguistic relations are also complex and diverse. Altogether, Kroeber spent 17 years compiling and writing this great work, and it shows.