Friar Geronimo Boscana
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Pages (PDF): 72
Publication Date: This translation by Alfred Robinson, 1846
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Chinigchinich is an ethnographic account of the culture and religious beliefs of the native Californians in the vicinity of the famous mission San Juan Capistrano. Boscana was a bigot and a racist (he describes the Indians as being like monkeys). However, he lived among them for decades and obviously had an inquisitive mind and a talent for observation. While he condemns the practices and beliefs of the indigenous people, he describes them in great detail. Barring a time machine, this is the only first-hand account of mission-era Juaneños we will ever have. This translation of Boscana was the first book ever published by an American about California; it is extremely rare.
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To commence this relation, it may be proper, in the first place, to search after the origin, or lineage of these Indians of New California. But it is impossible to find any account of where they originated; as those of this mission, (St. Juan Capistrano) and indeed those of all the missions in the province, have no tradition, and are entirely ignorant of their descent. Without examining into the opinion of others, as to their being descendants of the Jews, Carthagenians or Phœnicians, I shall confine myself to the class that came to populate the Mexican Territory, and from these have doubtless descended the natives of California.
The tribes that populated the Mexican Territory at different epochs, according to the writings of Father Torquemada in his "Monarquia Indiana," were four; and as follows: "Tulticas," "Chichimecas," "Aculnas," and "Mexicanos." Of these distinct tribes, my opinion is, that the race of California proceeded from the Chichimecas, because, from the Tulticas they could not have originated, as is manifest from their characters, and inclinations; for "Tultica" signifies Art, and these Indians do not manifest the least industry or ingenuity. They are, in every respect, like the Chichimecas, according to the description given of them by Father Torquemada. "Near the northern boundary of Mexico there was a province, the principal city of which was called Amaqueme; its inhabitants, Chichimecas, were people entirely naked, fierce in appearance, and great warriors. Their arms the bow and arrows; their ordinary sustenance game and wild fruits, and their habitations were caves, or huts made of straw. As it was their manner of life habitually to roam about among the mountains, in search of game, they paid but little or no attention to the art of building." This is the picture given by Father Torquemada of the Chichimecas, and comparing them with the natives of California, they are found the same in every respect.
Although the habitations of the said Chichimecas formed a kind of village, still they had no police, nor acknowledged any higher power than that of "Capitan" or chief, and toward him was observed but little respect; indeed, hardly sufficient to designate him from the rest. They did not live permanently in one place, but roamed about, from spot to spot, as the scarcity of game compelled them. Of medicine they had no knowledge; consequently, no means of curing the sick, and the bodies of their dead were immediately burnt. Idolatry prevailed among them, but not a belief in a plurality of gods; neither did they sacrifice, as was the custom among the Mexican Indians.
Having thus described the Chichimecas, we see precisely the character of the Californians, with the exception, that the last mentioned lived in villages, and were governed by a chief, whom they entitled "Not," signifying lord, or master; he possessed but little influence over his subjects, and they in return entertained no respect for his authority, as we shall see hereafter. The name, Chichimeca, signifies a "sucker." Their principal sustenance was the flesh of animals taken in hunting excursions, and which was generally consumed in a raw state, after sucking all the blood; and from this, arose the term Chichimeca.
The Californian, often made his repast from the uncooked animal, and at the present day, flesh, very slightly cooked, is quite common among them. They also extract the blood in like manner, and I have seen many instances of their taking a rabbit, and sucking its blood with eagerness, previous to consuming the flesh in a crude state. The diversities of language, and other pecularities, render it extremely difficult to ascertain to a certainty, if all the inhabitants of Alta California descended from the Chichimecas. Those between Monterey and the extreme northern boundary of the Mexican domain, shave their heads close; while those to the south, between Santa Barbara and towards St. Lucas, wear their hair long, and take pride in cultivating its length as a mark of beauty. Those between Santa Barbara and Monterey, differ considerably from these, as regards their habits; being much more industrious, and appear an entirely distinct race.
They formed, from shells, a kind of money, which passed current among them, and they constructed, out of logs, very swift and excellent canoes for fishing. Their dead, they interred in places appropriated to that purpose. The diversity of language is so great, in California, that almost every 15 or 20 leagues, you find a distinct dialect; so different, that in no way does one resemble the other. It is natural to suppose, that the Chichimeca nation, would have had but one language, notwithstanding, it might have varied a little, from one place to another, as is seen in other parts of the world, where are to be met with certain provincialisms, which are not to be found in the original tongue. But here, it is not so; for the natives of St. Diego cannot understand a word of the language used in this mission, and in like manner, those in the neighborhood of St. Barbara, and farther north. If it should be suggested, that people thus separated, could have corrupted the original language, in all its phraseology, and manner of pronunciation, I would reply, that such might be the case; but still, there would be some connection, or similarity, so that they could understand each other. This has placed me somewhat in perplexity; and I am without means of discovering the cause of such dissimilarity in a spot, confined like California; and I shall leave the subject to some of my brother missionaries, or to those who may peruse these writings, to explain.
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