Yana Indians

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In the early nineteenth century, the Yana lived in the upper Sacramento River Valley and the adjacent eastern foothills. The elevation of their territory ranged between 300 and 10,000 feet. The Yana Indians were originally considered an independent linguistic stock but are now placed in the larger Hokan family. Its four divisions were Northern, Central, Southern, and Yahi.

Yana means “person” in their own language. Also called:
Kom’-bo, Maidu name.
Nó-si or Nó-zi, a name given by Powers (1877).
Tisaiqdji, Ilmawi name.

Location: Including the Yahi, the Yana extended from Pit River to Rock Creek, and from the edge of the upper Sacramento Valley to the headwaters of the eastern tributaries of Sacramento River.

Yana Subdivisions

Aside from the Yahi, they embraced three dialectic subdivisions, a northern (on the drainage of Montgomery Creek into Pit River and that of Cedar Creek, an affluent of Little Crow Creek), a central (the entire Cow Creek drainage and Bear Creek), and a southern (on Battle, Payne, and Antelope Creeks and one or two smaller streams).

Yana Villages

Northern Division:

Djewintaurik’u, south of Montgomery.
Djitpamauwid’u, on Cedar Creek.
K’asip’u, south of Round Mountain.
Central Division:
Badjiyu, on Clover Creek.
Ban’ha, inland between the two forks of Cow Creek.
Djichitpemauna, on Bear Creek.
Hamedamen, at Millville.
Haudulimauna, near the South Fork of Cow Creek.
Hodjinimauna, on the North Fork of Bear Creek.
Luwaiha, on Old Cow Creek.
Pawi, on Clover Creek.
Pulsu’aina, near the North Fork of Cow Creek.
Ship’a, between Little Cow Creek and Oak Run.
Unchunaha, between the North Fork of Cow Creek and Clover Creek.
Wamarawi, west of Shingletown.
Wichuman’na, on the South Fork of Cow Creek.

Southern Division:

K’uwiha, on Battle Creek.

Population: The aboriginal population of Yana probably numbered fewer than 2,000. Few, if any, Yana remain alive today.

History: Members of an 1821 Mexican expedition may have been the first non-natives to encounter the Yana. Hudson’s Bay Company trappers almost certainly interacted with the Yana from about 1828 on, and some Mexicans received land grants in Yana territory during that time. The first permanent Anglo settlement in the area came in 1845.

By the late 1840s, Anglo trails crossed Yana territory. With Anglo encroachment came increased conflict: Attacks by U.S. soldiers (John C. Fremont in 1846, for example) led to retaliations, and as food became scarcer the Yana began raiding cabins. In the 1860s, Anglos set out to exterminate the Yana. Though massacres, disease, and starvation, their population was reduced by 95 percent in about 20 years.

In 1911, a Yana man named Ishi walked out of the foothills of Mt. Lassen to a nearby town, where two anthropologists were able to communicate with him. Ishi eventually communicated his story, which began at the time when Anglo invaders and murderers began to destroy the Yahi.

Only about a dozen or so Yahis remained alive after a massacre in 1868, six years after Ishi’s birth. These people remained in the wilderness until 1908, when only four were left.

Three died shortly thereafter, leaving Ishi as the only remaining Yahi in 1911. After leaving the woods, he lived and worked at the University of California Museum of Anthropology (San Francisco), demonstrating traditional crafts, providing a wealth of information about his culture, and learning some English. Ishi died of tuberculosis in 1916.

Religion: Little is known about Yana ceremonial life. They may have practiced the Kuksu cult. The few surviving Yana danced the Ghost Dance in 1871.

Government: Yana tribelets consisted of a main village with several smaller satellite villages. Each village probably had a hereditary chief or headman, who lived in the main village. Chiefs were wealthy and often had two wives. They led the dances, orated from the roof of the assembly house on proper behavior, and were the only ones permitted to keep vultures as pets. The villagers provided food for chiefs and their families.

Customs: Shamans, mostly male, received their power by fasting in remote places or swimming in certain pools. Trained by older shamans, they cured by singing, dancing, or sucking. Unsuccessful shamans might be accused of sorcery and killed. Various roots and teas were also used as medicines.

Girls had a more significant puberty ritual and greater restrictions around puberty than did boys.

Parents arranged most marriages. The Yana observed a strong mother-in-law taboo. Yahi dead were usually cremated; the other groups buried their dead after four days, wrapped in deerskin, along with personal items, and burned their house and other possessions.

Land was privately owned. Men played double-ball shinny (usually a woman’s game). Other games included ring and pin, cat’s cradle, stick throwing at a stake, and the grass or hand game.

Dwellings :Northern and Central groups lived in earth-covered multifamily houses. The Southern and Yahi groups preferred smaller, conical bark-covered houses. An assembly house was located in a tribelet’s main village. All groups lived in temporary brush shelters or caves while hunting.

Diet: Acorns, fish, and venison were the staples. Men climbed trees to shake acorns down while women gathered, shelled, and dried them. After leaching the acorn flour, it was used for mush, bread, and a soup with meat, berries, and other foods. Women also gathered roots, tubers, bulbs, berries, pine nuts, and grasshoppers. Men stalked deer using a deer-head decoy and bow and arrow. Salmon was broiled on heated rocks, roasted over an open fire, or dried and stored. Rabbits were hunted in community drives. The Yana also took other game.

Key Technology: Yanas hunted with bow (preferably of yew wood) and arrow, as well as snares. They used spears, nets, and traps to catch fish.

Other technological items included stone grinding tools; baskets of hazel, willow, pine roots, and sedge; milkweed fiber, peeled bark, and hemp ropes; mahogany and oak digging sticks; and buckeye fire drills.

Musical instruments included rattles and elderwood flutes.

Trade: Typical exports included deer hides, salt, baskets, and buckeye fire-making drills. Imports included obsidian (Achumawi and Shasta); arrows, wildcat-skin quivers, and woodpecker scalps (Atsugewi); clam disk beads and magnesite cylinders (Maidu or Wintun); dentalium shells (Wintu); and barbed obsidian arrow points from the north.

Notable Arts: Yana women made fine baskets.

Transportation: People used rafts to cross streams and floated children or supplies in large baskets. Regional Indians also used dugout and tule (rush) canoes for water transportation.

Dress Women wore shredded bark or tule aprons or skirts. Wealthy women wore braids of human hair and skirts with leather and grass tassels. Men who could afford them wore buckskin leggings in winter; others made do with a simple apron. Men also wore eelskin hats and deerskin moccasins. Adornments included necklaces, feather headbands, woodpecker-scalp belts, and body paint. Hide robes provided warmth in winter. Men plucked facial hair with a split piece of wood. Both sexes pierced their ears.

War and Weapons: The Yana often fought their neighbors. Poaching and avenging the abduction of women were common reasons for war.