Saturday, November 22, 2008

(2) Pacific Pause

The main emphasis at the Cabrillo National Monument is cultural.
There's a small theatre and lecture hall with displays about the
discovery of San Diego Bay, about the early Spanish exploration
of this region. And there's festive days when volunteers dress in
old Spanish garb. Included, also, are representatives of the local
Kumeyaay Indian tribe in native garb performing their bird songs.

These songs are not necessarily about birds, but rather are a
rhythmic form of music that has long perpetuated the cultural
wisdom of the Kumeyaay Tribe. Today these birdsongs are oft
presented at funerals and special memorials.

Always interested in the connection of the American Indian with
a particular region where I was working, I took the opportunity to
attend several adult education courses presented at night at a
local university. Our class was lucky to have a a really committed
cultural anthropologist teaching us. He specialized in both what
is called the "Mission Period" (under Spain) and the "Rancho
Period" (under Mexico) when it came to the history of the
Kumeyaay Indians. And I read up on yet another period of their
history--the "American Period."

I must say that this was the first time that I had formally studied an
Indian tribe. The extension courses utterly shocked me when it
came to understanding the incredibly sad tragedy which the
Kumeyaay Indians endured over a long period of time.

In 1769 the Franciscan Junipero Serra established the first
mission in what is now the State of California--San Diego de
Alcala. And the Spanish military nearly simultaneously
established the Presidio, literally at the location of the Kumeyaay
village of Kwesaay (or Cosoy). The mission moved to another
location, essentially situating itself on Kumeyaay sacred ground
where they had held their own religious ceremonies. The move
was intentional; i.e., replacing one sacred space for another.

Shortly after the mission was established many of the Kumeyaay
tribe were gathered and placed within the mission compound,
where they labored to help construct the church, to learn European
methods when it came to agriculture, weaving clothes, making
European products, etc. At first glance, it seemed as if the Spanish
were trying to "advance" the Indians' abilities. However, there was
that old familiar presumption of "our way is the better way."

The Kumeyaay Indians did not take well to this attitude, nor to their
confinement at the mission compound. Some tried to escape, but
the Spanish soldiers assigned to the mission usually caught them,
brought them back, and oft beat them or punished them in other
ways. Sometimes the Spanish soldiers killed them.

Eventually there were uprisings, resulting in the killing of Padre
Jaime--a successor to Padre Serra, who had moved on to
establish other missions. (As an aside, as Franciscan missions
were established up the coast of California, the same method of
confinement was applied to other Indian tribes.)

After some 52 years the Spanish Mission Period was over.
Unfortunately, it left the Kumeyaay in disarray, their culture, even
their language was nearly lost. What happened? In 1821 Mexico
gained its independence from Spain--and San Diego and much
of present-day California fell under Mexican rule.

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