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Reincarnation theology of the Chumash
Indians of California

Part II

[Excerpts from the text called Kuta Teachings, by John Anderson, 1998]

"The Chumash Indians live in a large area of California, north of Los Angeles. Belief in reincarnation of the soul was a basic component of their theological teachings, and it profoundly impacted their ethical and mythological teachings.

If one is ignorant of Chumash beliefs about reincarnation, one is fundamentally incapable of understanding Chumash history" (Anderson, Sept 6, 1999) .

This web page provides additional information about a small book called Kuta Teachings. Click on the link called 'home' (below) for further discussion.

The Disappearance of the Body

"The Sun and Eagle played key roles in Chumash theology, as cleansers of the earth and as destroyers of human bodies. Their contribution to Chumash death and burial practices is discussed in The Chumash House of Fate where I describe them as "not demons but rather deities characterized by highly purified souls." The Sun's heat is especially significant to Chumash burial practices, because it forced the Chumash to quickly bury their dead during the hot months. By placing earth over the body, they shielded it from the heat of the sun's rays and thus slowed its decay.

Shup is an important cosmological concept associated with burial prescriptions of traditional Chumash. After creating the stars of the heavens the Creator began to manifest Itiasup, the physical realm called Earth, the Middle World, and the 'real world (by ignorant persons). This world was affectionately called Shup by the Chumash, referring to the female deity Europeans call Mother Earth. She was the protector of buried souls, and was particularly complex in her personal attributes. Although the highest concentration of physical matter in the cosmos was located in her massive body, she also had a soul just like the stars. She was a very influential goddess with the Chumash, as can be seen in the fact that Chumash patriots used her name as a rallying cry in their wars of liberation.

Traditional Chumash families buried their dead in Mother Earth, because in this act they were honoring the proper integration (decay) of the dead body into Mother Earth [Shup]. J.S. Naiyait of Ventura thus taught Kitsepawit about the importance of the concept Ple in Chumash theology. Ple means to disappear, to perish, to vanish.

Naiyait was an old mane when he spokes to Kistepawit and his niece one evening about ethical issues facing them as impoverished Chumash working for minimum wages in the American economy. Naiyait advised them not to despair at their poverty since spiritually knowledgeable Chumash did not place much importance on ownership of physical wealth, "for these things will someday disappear. You also are going to disappear, an so will it be with everything else and everybody else.

Naiyait as not making up idiosyncratic ethical teachings to console his niece and Kitsepawit. Naiyait was passing on traditional teachings about the eventual disappearance of all things both spiritual and physical in the eternally changing time/space continuum of history. Life for Naiyait and other Chumash traditionalists was a process, a circle of dynamic change that only a foolish person would try to grasp, to hold back, or define with final authority.

Soul Separation at Five Days

"The Chumash count for soul separation was apparently at four days. The soul left the body on the fourth day after death, but remained on the earth for a fifth day of 'recapitulation.' Kitsepawit confirmed this five day count when he reported that the Chumash "believed that the soul stayed around the old living place for five days after death: (Blackburn, December, 97).

A four to five day count (for the final separation of the soul) is widespread among native peoples of the Americas. It is my belief that this count is not based on physiological decay of a dead body or some other earthly phenomenon. It is based, if I am correct, on the four to five day (apparent) non-movement of the sun on the horizon during the solstices" (footnote 62).

Point Humqaq

Point Humqaq is "a Chumash name for a widely venerated 'portal' used by the souls of the Chumash dead to ascend into the heavens, located west of Santa Barbara.

This supernatural gateway was used by the souls of the Chumash dead, as their ascending place from which they left the earth, flew upward, and entered the Path of the Dead. The Spanish renamed it Point Conception... No specific Chumash explanation of the oriins of this place name has survived, yet the most convincing mythological data would suggest that this was the place where the soul prepares itself for its upcoming cleansing of physical body on the Path of the Dead" (glossary, page 51).

A Drowned Soul: Excerpt from a Related Text

Kwan Xustu was a Chumash mythologist who narrated an important folk tale about the fate of souls drowned in the ocean. Xustu was from the Santa Barbara area, and as a coastal Chumash was familiar with the unique fate of person's who drowned in the sea and were cut off from reincarnation. The following quote is taken from The Swordfish Race (Anderson, 1997).

"Each of these dramatic narrative celebrates the heroics of a native spiritual leader who dared to venture out onto the ocean to rescue a drowned soul. The story of Coyote's adventures among the Swordfish clearly fits into this genre. The humor which characterizes the opening scenes of Xustu's narrative thus blends almost imperceptibly into a more somber conclusion. When queried by his Santa Barbara relatives, the recovered drowning victim described his captivity at the bottom of the ocean as like sleeping. Hawk's soul had left his body as in other forms of death, but his tragedy was that his soul was condemned to remain in the ocean. The waters of the sea dampened the fire of Hawk's soul, rendering him incapable of rising up into the heavens to journey on the Path of the Dead" (The Swordfish Race, page 26).


The author
Point Conception
The Swordfish Race (book)