Tipai-Ipai Tribe (Kumeyaay)


Last Updated: 7 years

Diegueno is a member language of the Yuman division of the Hokan language family. Tipai-Ipai is the common name since the 1950s of two linguistically related groups formerly known as Kamia (Kumeyaay) and Diegueno. Today, they once again prefer the term Kumeyaay.

Both terms mean “People.” “Diegueno” comes from the Spanish mission San Diego de Alcala. “Kamia” may have meant “those from the cliffs.” The Tipai-Ipai are sometimes referred to as Diegueno Mission Indians.

Location: As of the late eighteenth century, the Tipai-Ipai lived in southern California and Baja California, along the coast and inland almost to the Colorado River. Today, many live on 13 reservations in San Diego County, California.

Population: The late-eighteenth-century Tipai-Ipai population stood between 3,000 and 9,000. In 1990, roughly 1,200 Tipai-Ipais lived on the reservations and perhaps 2,000 more lived off-reservation.

History People have been living in traditional Tipai-Ipai territory for roughly 20,000 years. A proto-Tipai-Ipai culture had been established by about 5000 B.C.E., and the historic Tipai-Ipai were in place about 1,000 years ago.

In 1769, the Spanish built the presidio and mission of San Diego de Alcala and began rounding up local Indians, especially those to the north and on the coast. The latter revolted regularly. In 1775, about 800 people from some 70 villages united to burn the mission.

It was later rebuilt, however, and the missionization process continued. After the Mexicans secularized the missions in 1834, they treated the resident Tipai-Ipai as trespassers or rebels and continued many of the same oppressive practices that characterized mission life.

In 1852, shortly after the United States gained control of California, the Senate ratified a treaty with “the nation of Diegueno Indians,” under which the latter lost their best lands.

Overgrazing and water diversions soon destroyed their remaining grassland and woodland.

By the late 1870s, the Tipai-Ipai were settled on about 12 small, poor reservations, although many were at least located on the site of native villages.

Coastal Ipais also lived in San Diego slums or camped in nearby hills.

At the turn of the century, many Tipai-Ipais could be found working for low wages on ranches and in mines and towns or starving on the inadequate reservations.

Traditional government was disrupted by Indian agents who required the Indians to select a “captain.”

Bitter political factions had emerged by the 1930s with the formation of the rival Mission Indian Federation and the Southern Mission Indians. Frequent cross-border visits and ceremonies became difficult after 1950 and impossible after the 1970s, owing to U.S. immigration policies.

In recent times, the bands have been reviving the traditional governing structure.

Religion: Shamans were the religious leaders. They performed ceremonies, interpreted dreams, controlled weather, and cured the sick. Evil shamans might also produce disease.

Named song cycles were associated with certain ceremonial dances. Ground paintings, a feature illustrating the connection with southwestern cultures, featured symbols of colors and their associated directions.

Burial: Their most important religious ceremony was kaurk. This clan-based mourning ceremony lasted from four to eight days. It included gift giving, dancing with images of the dead, and feasting and culminated with the burning of effigies of the dead.

Toloache, a hallucinogenic root, was used by adolescent boys and adult men for spiritual strengthening.

The dead were cremated along with their possessions. Souls were said to inhabit a region somewhere in the south.

Wailing, speech making, the singing of song cycles, and gift exchange might accompany a cremation. Mourners cut their hair, blackened their faces, and never mentioned the deceased’s name again.

Government: The Tipai-Ipai consisted of over 30 autonomous bands or tribelets, usually made up of a single patrilineal clan and headed by a clan chief and an assistant. Neither the tribe nor the band had a formal name.

Positions of authority were sometimes inherited by eldest sons, brothers, and, rarely, widows.

Two tribal chiefs directed ceremonies, advised about proper behavior, and appointed war or gathering leaders. Band leaders and councils saw to resource management.

In historic times, some chiefs ordered assistants to beat nonconformists. The Imperial Valley Tipai had a tribal chief but no clan chief.

Customs: The Tipai-Ipai observed numerous life-cycle rituals, obligations, and taboos.

Reaching puberty was a public affair. Girls underwent special rites; boys often had their nasal septa pierced.

Most marriages, arranged by parents when children reached puberty, were monogamous. Divorce was relatively easy to effect. Twins were considered a blessing and supernaturally gifted.

All tribal members shared certain lands. In addition, each band claimed specific communal land, some of which was apportioned to individual families, as well as the right to kill thieves and trespassers.

Certain rights were also preserved for the needy.

Mockingbirds and roadrunners were caged as pets.

Before hunting, a man studied his dreams, fasted, and avoided women and corpses. He usually gave away his first deer.

Dwellings: Dwellings varied with season and environment. In winter, people built dome-shaped houses with a pole framework, covered with bark, thatch, or pine slabs. Openings faced east. The people also lived in mountain caves. Brush shelters and pole and palm-leaf thatch houses served in the summer.

Subsistance: The food staple was flour made from six varieties of acorn as well as from mesquite beans and seeds of sage, pigweed, peppergrass, flax, and buckwheat. Flour was cooked into mush and cakes and stewed with meat and vegetables.

Other wild foods included cactus, agave, clover, cherries, plums, elderberries, watercress, manzanita berries, pinon nuts, and prickly pear.

People fished where fish were available. Animal foods, which were generally roasted on coals or in ashes, included rodents and an occasional deer. The people also ate lizards, some snakes, insects, insect larvae, and birds.

The Tipai-Ipai also cultivated tobacco, which only men smoked. Imperial Valley Ipais planted maize, beans, and teparies, but they placed greater emphasis on gathering wild foods.

Key Technology: Men hunted with a bow and arrow and throwing sticks. A variety of basketry and pottery items served food-related functions. Other tools were made of stone, bone, and wood.

Trade: The Tipai-Ipai traded most frequently among themselves, but since major trails crossed their territory, they also interacted with others as far inland as Zuni.

Coastal people traded salt, dried seaweed, dried greens, and abalone shells for acorns, agave, mesquite beans, and gourds.

Other items traded included granite for pestles, steatite for arrow straighteners, red and black minerals for paint, and eagle feathers.

Notable Arts: Tipai petroglyphs, which were produced perhaps as early as 1000 B.C.E., depicted big game hunting. The Ipai produced theirs from roughly 500 B.C.E. to A.D. 1000.

Pictographs, which featured geometric designs, were used as part of the girls’ puberty ceremony as early as circa 1400.

Transportation: Most fishing boats were either balsa rafts or dugout canoes.

Clothing: Dress was minimal. Children and men often went naked. Women wore an apron. Both sexes wore caps to protect against the sun and against head-carried items. Shoes were sandals woven of agave leaves.

Bedding and robes were of rabbit skin, willow bark, or buckskin.

Men plucked whiskers with their fingers. Women tattooed their chins and painted their bodies.

War and Weapons: Clans generally feuded over women, trespass, murder, and sorcery. Tactics included ambush or simply chasing away an enemy.

Weapons included the bow and arrow, poniard ( a long, lightweight thrusting knife with a continuously tapering, acutely pointed blade and crossguard), and war club. Forced to resist the missions and the Mexicans, the people became more aggressive during the early nineteenth century.

Government/Reservations Today: The following were Tipai-Ipai (Diegueno) reservations in 1990: Barona (1875; 5,902 acres; 450 members), Campo (1893; 15,480 acres; 213 enrolled members), Capitan Grande (1875; 15,753 acres), Cuyapaipe (1893; 4,103 acres; 16 enrolled members), Inaja and Cosmit (1875; 852 acres; 16 enrolled members), Jamul (1975; 6 acres; 120 enrolled members), LaPosta (1893; 4,500 acres; 13 enrolled members), Manzanita (1893; 3,579 acres; 52 enrolled members), Mesa Grande (1875; 1,000 acres; roughly 300 enrolled members), San Pasqual (1910; 1,379.58 acres; roughly 200 enrolled members), Santa Ysabel (1893; 15,527 acres; 950 enrolled members), Sycuan (1875; 640 acres; 120 enrolled members), and Viejas (1875; 1,609 acres; 180 members).

All are located in San Diego County. Membership figures may exclude children. Most reservations are governed by elected councils and chairs. Bands are attempting to revive a tribal-level organization. Populations are as of 1990.

Economy Sycuan Reservation operates restaurants, a casino, a bingo parlor, and an off-track betting establishment. Other reservations are planning development along these lines.

Legal Status: The Barona Group of Capitan Grande Band, the Campo Band, the Capitan Grande Band, the Cuyapaipe Community, the Inaja Band, the LaPosta Band, the Manzanita Band, the Mesa Grande Band, the Santa Ysabel Band, the Sycuan Band, and the Viejas Group of Capitan Grande Band of Diegueno Mission Indians are all federally recognized tribal entities. The Jamul Indian Village of California is a federally recognized tribal entity. The San Pasqual General Council is a federally recognized tribal entity.

Daily Life Today: Major contemporary issues include sovereignty, the status of tribal land, water rights, and economic independence. Tipai-Ipai Indians are also interested in issues concerning education, housing, health care, traditional culture, and the environment.

Most Tipai-Ipai Indians are Catholic or observe a combination of Catholic and native religious traditions. Most religious ceremonies are closed to the public.

Major feasts, such as the Fiesta de Las Cruces on November 14, celebrate the fusion of Indian, Spanish, Mexican, frontier, and contemporary American customs and beliefs.

Many dialects of Diegueno are still spoken. The traditional art of basket making has been revived.

Most reservations have tribal halls, programs for seniors, and various cultural programs. Some have libraries, preschools, and police and fire departments and provide scholarship assistance to students.