intriguing woman with a beautifully woven basket upon her head and
an abalone shell around her neck greets me warmly with Howka,
mamuyuth miñay? Although Karen Vigneault is speaking
in a language I dont understand, I realize shes welcoming
me with a common salutation that means, Hello, how are you
is part of the native Kumeyaay tribe, which extends from San Diego
County out to Arizona all the way to the ocean, and down to Baja,
California towards Ensenada, Mexico. I was lucky enough to experience
some of the Kumeyaay tradition and history through Vigneaults
to the settlement of the Spanish and European settlers, the Kumeyaay
thrived as independent hunter-gatherers. They cherished the land
that supported them as sacred.
like many native tribes that remain in what is now California, the
Kumeyaay have adapted to their displacement, deriving the funds
they need to sustain themselves from the casino industry.
nearly 40 years, Vigneault has been collecting articles, photographs
and various artifacts on the Kumeyaay. Now, as the founder of the
non-profit Kumeyaay Historical Society, she hopes to utilize these
historical treasures to create insight and awareness on the Kumeyaay
tribe. Through a collaboration with the San Diego Womens History
Museum, she hopes to make these items available for research and
cultural presentations, as well as to preserve them for her tribe.
is clear that addressing the challenge to honor the Kumeyaay heritage
and traditions within a changing world is important to Vigneault.
Certain customs may have faded over the tribes long history,
but today, they are being brought back to life.
traditions, such as funeral ceremonies, which are about liberating
the Spirit from Earth, are now a mix of Catholic and Kumeyaay rituals.
However, customs like basketry, language, and pottery continue to
thrive and are being taught to young tribal members in hopes of
strengthening the foundation of fading practices.
points out, The past is what we learn from. Our past is our
future. The Creator gave our elders these gifts that have become
our traditions. They kept these traditions alive because they are
a part of who we are.
the month of December, the Kumeyaay celebrate Winter Solstice, known
as Hilyati, along with other natural cycles throughout the year.
The tribes traditional calendar remains extremely flexible
with the shifting of celestial events and the changing conditions
of each year. Astronomy has served as a valuable guide for various
customs in relation to the seasons, such as indicating when plants
could be harvested.
products for everyday life are made with materials abundant in nature.
Baskets are woven from grass or willows and can be waterproofed
for the handling of water or the use as hats. Bark or reeds from
willow can also be used to make traditional skirts for women, which
Vigneault wears when she participates in tribal dances.
custom that Vigneault shares is her tattoo, which consists of three
vertical lines along her chin. The chin tattoo is specifically performed
on adolescent Kumeyaay women as a rite of passage. Today, few women
share this once common attribute.
shares her inspiration to receive her tattoo: Our rite of
passage ceremonies were wiped out due to the oppressors and religion.
I was inspired by Anna Sandoval, who was the first female Kumeyaay
leader of our local reservation. She is the only other person from
our tribe that I knew who had it. When I was younger, I was always
in awe about how she preserved one of the old ways of women. I always
wanted to do the same but thought deeply about when and how. So
on my 50th birthday I had the ceremony. I invited many women from
my reservation that are close to me. We did it the traditional way,
using an agave needle.
customs feed into the strong philosophy that everything comes from
nature. The spiritual connection with the environment rests in the
tribes conscious use of the gifts of the Creator, or Amayaha.
This is illustrated through the Kumeyaays many allegorical
bird songs, which serve as an alternative from written language
to enforce collective teachings within the tribe such as morals,
geography, food, and history.
can also be sung about anything you see and hearlike plants,
the sky, and the mountains, to name a few. The metaphorical reference
to animals substantiates the concept of being united with the natural
environment. Today, these ancestral bird songs are used as a unifying
element for commemorative ceremonies and rituals.
customs of the Kumeyaay are being preserved for the sake of tribal
identity and spiritual expression. They are the essence of
us as Kumeyaay people, Vigneault explains. It is through
our language, songs, dances, and ceremonies that the Creator hears
Kumeyaay present a way of life that focuses on honoring tradition
and strengthening culture. Through their wisdom, we can reflect
on our own lives and find inspiration to honor our own customs as
our journeys continue to evolve. Isnt that what life is all
more information on Karen Vigneault and the Kumeyaay Historical
Society, visit kumeyaayhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com.
out more about the Womens History Museum at whmec.org.
Goodman is a graphic designer and writer with a passion for art
and culture and an interest in the connection they share. Contact
her at danigood23@ aol.com.