Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Puberty Rites


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The Instructions the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Gave to Their Children

One of the difficulties most perplexing to the Indians, was, the rearing and educating their children.

They were unacquainted with the arts, excepting those most necessary for their maintenance, and ignorant of all useful knowledge to keep them from idleness; so that their only education consisted in the construction of the bow and arrow, with their peculiar uses, in procuring game and defending themselves from their enemies.

Although, ignorant as they were of the knowledge of the true God, the moral instruction given by parents to their children, was contained in the precepts of Chinigchinich, which were strongly impressed upon their minds, that they might become good, and avoid the fate of the evil.

Puberty Rites for Boys

The perverse child, invariably, was destroyed, and the parents of such remained dishonored. At the age of six, or seven years, they gave them a kind of god, as protector; an animal, in whom they were to place entire confidence, who would defend them from all dangers, particularly those in war against their enemies. They, however, were not to consider this animal as the real God, for he was invisible, and inhabited the mountains and bowels of the earth; and if he did appear to them at any time, it was in the shape of an animal of the most terrific description.

This was not Chinigchinich, but another called Touch, signifying a Devil. That they might know the class of animal, which the God, Chinigchinich, had selected for their particular veneration, a kind of drink was administered to them, made from a plant called Pibat, which was reduced to a powder, and mixed with other intoxicating ingredients. Soon after taking this preparation, they became insensible, and for three days were deprived of any sustenance whatever.

During this period they were attended by some old men or women, who were continually exhorting them to be on the alert, not to sleep for fear the coyote, the bear, the crow, or the rattlesnake might come; to observe if it were furious or gentle, and to inquire of the first that should come, what were its desires. The poor Indian thus intoxicated, without food or drink, suffering under delirium, beheld all kinds of visions; and when he made known that he had seen any particular being who explained the observances required of him, then they gave him to eat and drink, and made a grand feast; at the same time advising him to be particular in obeying the commands of the mysterious apparition.

They did not all partake of the drink, and those who did not, were adorned with feathers, and were painted with a mixture of black and red. They were thus taken to the Vanquech in fantastical procession, and placed at the side of Chinigchinich. On the ground, and directly before them, the Puplem sketched a most uncouth and ridiculous figure, of an animal, and prohibited them from leaving the Vanquech during the time of penance, (generally three days) and in case of hunger or thirst, they were advised to suffer with patience.

Should they partake of any thing, the figure before them would inform to that effect, and Chinigchinich would chastise them severely, by sending them sickness that would take away their lives. These and many other ludicrous stories were told to them, and the poor Indians placed the most implicit confidence in them.

The following circumstance was related to me, which transpired during the time of their heathenism. A young man, who had been taken to the Vanquech to perform the accustomed penance of fasting, the second day feeling somewhat afflicted with hunger and thirst, secretly retired from the temple, and entered a house that was near by, whose inhabitants were absent; and having found food, he ate and drank sufficiently, and returned without any one having seen him.

After the accomplishment of the time, being one day in company with many of his friends, he related the circumstance, and gave out, as his opinion, that all that was told them by the Puplem, regarding the figure upon the ground, was a mere story,–for he had eaten, and drank, and even injured with his foot a portion of the figure, and no bad result had happened to him; therefore they ought not to believe the Puplem.

But his companions, instead of profiting by the information, immediately dispatched him with their arrows, so furious were they, on hearing of the sacrilege offered to their religious observances. He was the son of a captain, that is a prince, for only such could do penance in the Vanquech; others drank of the intoxicating mixture.

Having undergone the ceremonies described, they placed upon the poor Indians a brand, which was done in this manner. A kind of herb was pounded until it became sponge like; this, they placed, according to the figure required, upon the spot intended to be burnt, which was generally upon the right arm, and sometimes upon the thick part of the leg also.

They then set fire to it, and let it remain until all that was combustible, was consumed. Consequently, a large blister immediately formed, and although painful, they used no remedy to cure it, but left it to heal itself; and thus, a large and perpetual scar remained. The reason alleged for this ceremony, was, that it added greater strength to the nerves, and gave a better pulse for the management of the bow.

Besides, Chinigchinich required it of them, that they might be more formidable in war, and be enabled to conquer their enemies. Those who were not marked in this way, which was called “potense,” were ever unfortunate, easily conquered, and men of feeble capacities.

They also were obliged to undergo still greater martyrdom to be called men, and to be admitted among the already initiated; for, after the ceremony of the “potense,” they were whipped with nettles, and covered with ants, that they might become robust, and the infliction was always performed in summer, during the months of July and August, when the nettle was in its most fiery state.

They gathered small bunches, which they fastened together, and the poor deluded Indian was chastised, by inflicting blows with them upon his naked limbs, until unable to walk; and then he was carried to the nest of the nearest, and most furious species of ants, and laid down among them, while some of his friends, with sticks, kept annoying the insects to make them still more violent. What torments did they not undergo! what pain! what hellish inflictions! yet, their faith gave them power to endure all without a murmur, and they remained as if dead. Having undergone these dreadful ordeals, they were considered as invulnerable, and believed that the arrows of their enemies could no longer harm them.

The young were not allowed to approach the fire to warm themselves, that they might learn to suffer, and become naturalized with the changes of temperature–a severe deprivation, indeed, to the Indian! whose greatest luxury was to lie basking in the sun, or to enjoy the comforts of a blazing fire.

They were forbidden also to eat certain kinds of seeds, and meats, until arrived at the age of manhood, and were even parents of two or three children. Should they eat of such, clandestinely, “El Touch” would know it, and chastise them in various ways; and Chinigchinich, also, would be very angry. Their faith and belief in these instructions were such, and the fear and terror produced therefrom, so infused among them, that, rather than violate them, they would suffer death.

Puberty Rites for Girls

Thus far, I have explained the education given to the boys. Now I will proceed to that instilled into the minds of the females.

Besides the general instructions given to the males, to observe the commandments of Chinigchinich, the girls were taught to remain at home, and not to roam about in idleness; to be always employed in some domestic duty, so that, when they were older, they might know how to work, and attend to their household duties; such as procuring seeds, and cleaning them,–making “atole” and “pinole,” which are kinds of gruel, and their daily food.

When quite young, they have a small, shallow basket, called, by the natives, “tucmel,” with which they learn the way to clean the seeds, and they are also instructed in grinding, and preparing the same, for consumption.

Those who are industrious in their youth, are flattered with promises of many admirers when they grow up to be women–that they will be generally beloved, and receive many presents.

In this neighborhood, and as I have been informed, as far south as Cape St. Lucas, the girls were tattooed in their infancy, from their eyebrows, down to their breasts; and some from the chin only-covering the arms entirely, in both cases–but, the execution of this was not generally complied with, until they reached their tenth year; and varied in the application and style.

The usual method of effecting the same, was by pricking the parts with the thorn of the cactus plant, until they bled, and then they were rubbed with a kind of charcoal produced from mescal, so that a permanent blue color remained.

The particular reason for thus tattooing their females, was, that it added to their beauty, and when well executed, would insure them many admirers–but I think, besides this motive, it signified something more, and was a necessary kind of distinction.

As the devil invented the branding of the males, so he may have ordered the painting of the females, and Chinigchinich required its performance; so that both might have their particular mark. Who was the inventor of the singular ceremony, I could not ascertain, but presume it must have been the famous Ouimot, who instituted the burning, or branding of the males.

A very novel, and rare custom, that these Indians had, was one that the parents invariably advised them to adhere to, after arriving at the state of womanhood, and it is this.

In their excursions for the collecting of seeds, or for other purposes, should they unfortunately meet with one of the sorcerers, or eaters of human flesh, they were to comply with any desire which he might express, without manifesting the least reluctance on their part; not even if in company with their mothers, or if married, and attended by their husbands, should they command their protection. Both mothers and husbands were obliged to submit to his requests, through fear of the many inflictions, which they believed would be the result of their refusal; so, that whenever they discovered any of this detested race, if possible, they concealed themselves, so as not to be seen by them.

On arriving at the state of womanhood, a grand feast was made, and conducted with much ceremony and witchcraft. They made a large hole in the ground, in shape resembling a grave, about two feet deep: this they filled with stones and burning coals, and when sufficiently heated, the latter were taken out, and upon the former they laid branches of the “estafiarte” (a kind of perennial plant), so as to form a bed, which the natives called “Pacsil.”

Upon this, they placed the young girl, and for two or three days she was permitted to eat but very little; thus continuing until the accustomed term for purification had expired. In the meantime the outside of the hole was adorned with feathers of different birds, beads, and many other baubles. Several old women with their faces painted like devils, were employed in singing songs in a tone so disagreeable, that one could hardly tell whether they were crying or laughing; and the young women danced around her, at intervals, every day.

Chinigchinich, religious God of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians
Description of the Vanquech or Temple
Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Puberty Rites
Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Marriage Customs
Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Principal Feasts and Dances
Superstitions of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians
Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Funeral Customs