Syukhtun Editions

(published in Acta Americana, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2000, Uppsala University, Sweden)


Links to Native California sources | Anthropology Answerable| Turtle Island Commentary
Montauk, the Eastern Gate | Update January 4, 2004 (answer to Johnson and Haley) | Chumash rock art
Genocides of California

Chumash traditions vs. the space race

The coastline of southern California between San Diego and Los Angeles lies generally in a north/south direction, but as it proceeds northward, it slowly curves toward the west until at Santa Barbara, the coastline lies in an east/west direction. At the extremity of this westward curve lies Point Conception. The Chumash call it Humqaq, ”The Raven Comes”, and regard it as one of the most sacred sites not only in Chumash territory, but in all of North America, the ”western gate” of the continent.

At this writing, Humqaq lies at the center of a bitter controversy in which the spiritual traditions of Native America clash with one of the most exalted technological projects of the United States government. The area around Point Conception is one of strategic importance to both cultures. For the Chumash it is spiritually strategic as the spot where the souls of the dead depart for Shimilaqsha, Chumash realm of the dead. For the Americans, nearby Vandenburg Airforce Base is perhaps the most militarily strategic location on the Pacific coast, from where inter-continental ballistic missiles are launched out into the ocean, and rockets into space. Plans are under way to enlarge the facilities at Vandenburg and construct a huge spaceport that will be the Cape Canaveral of the Pacific.

The American space industry will ironically develope this site – used for thousands of years as a departure point into the Milky Way by the Chumash souls of the dead – as a technological departure point into space. The immense profits to be made in such projects as finding water on the Moon and providing regular commercial freight and passenger service into space have stimulated a space race between the US and Russia, China, Europe and Japan, and in view of this fact, American contractors have little tolerance for local resistance to these plans. (See also Atmospheric Anxiety)

John Anderson, who has published several books on the Chumash, wrote recently: ”Events are moving so rapidly that the public may only learn about these power struggles after the fact.”1 Government contractors involved with the spaceport have hired anthropologists and archaeologists to ”prove” that Humqaq has only local significance, and that many who claim Chumash descent are in fact not Chumash. Much academic knowledge and pseudo-knowledge is being used to help pave the way for the commercialization of southern California’s last untouched natural beauty by sabotaging legitimate aboriginal claims in the legal process.

In December of 1997 an article entitled ”Anthropology and the Making of Chumash Tradition” appeared in the journal Current Anthropology, written jointly by Brian Haley and Larry Wilcoxon. This article stirred up considerable controversy, upset many local Chumash and non-Chumash residents alike, and served to exacerbate the deep mistrust the Chumash have today of white academics and government officials. Anderson writes, "Haley and Wilcoxon acknowledged that their research on the Chumash Indians and their relations to Point Conception was partially paid for by the aerospace industry which was building the California Spaceport nearby on the Vandenberg Air Force Base." Haley and Wilcoxon produced arguments that would serve to remove the sacred status of Humqaq in the legal connotation, thus facilitating the desecration of sacred Chumash domains. They wrote that ”Chumash traditionalists lack the kinds of biological and cultural linkages with the region’s aboriginal past that they claim – few are descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants they consider their ancestors.”

[Note: In an Acta Americana article responding to the present article, Brian Haley writes that "it is difficult to find any accurate information in Radic's essay," and concludes that it can be dismissed as "gossip and propaganda". My response: An Answer to Brian Haley]

Humqaq is regarded by the Chumash as the Western Gate of the continent, with the Chumash as its traditional keepers. Haley and Wilcoxon state that this notion in fact is an invention of anthropologists who read December’s Child, Thomas Blackburn’s much-quoted book of Chumash mythology, history and folklore collected by John Peabody Harrington. They argue that before Harrington recorded the story of the ”gate” at Humqaq at the beginning of the century (as told to him by María Solares), no notion of the ”western gate” existed in Chumash lore.

The two scholars have baffled many of their readers as to exactly how they know this. Many scholars agree with them and conclude that the Western Gate is a myth. Ironically, that is exactly what it is. Myth. For many people, ”myth” means a falsehood. But the inner truths of many cultures throughout the world are contained in myths. The fact of a western ”gate” in Chumash mythology mentioned by a very knowledgable Chumash person at the beginning of the century (María Solares) none of these skeptics can deny. Nor have any of these scholars any knowledge concerning the traditional source from which María learned of the ”gate” and the age of this source. Although there is no ethnographic data clarifying María’s source, there is very obviously a source, and whether it is centuries or millennia old, it is not information to which anthropologists are privy. [Since writing the above sentence I have learned that María's source for the story of the "gate" was Ygnacio Telenahuit (1789-1865). His source was possibly María's paternal grandfather Estevan Colocutayuit (1775-1846.) The source for the latter, and the age of the story, no one knows.]

María Solares

Concerning Haley and Wilcoxon’s arguments denying Chumash legal rights to Humqaq, John Anderson wrote: ”There is a certain amount of racism implicit in the legal argument that ethnicity must be dependent on European and Catholic [missionionary] rules of verification.”3 A similar accusation was directed at Harrington by his ex-wife Carobeth Laird, herself an anthropologist: ”[Harrington] was at heart a racist, a great believer in the doctrine of ’racial purity.’”4 Even a man as sympathetic as Kroeber was racist in his view of the ”petty nations” he studied. Despite their friendship with Ishi, Kroeber and his colleagues regarded the last Yahi as a member of a lower class. [...]

The creator of the Shalawa Medicine Circle explains that the European prejudice of ”racial purity” cannot be applied to determining who is and who is not Chumash. Intermarriage was a part of life for all tribes of North America. Crazy Horse was known as Oglala, but he was also very much Minneconjou and Cheyenne on the side of his mother, and perhaps even had a white ancestor, judging from the reports of his lighter hair and skin. Quanah Parker was very much Comanche, although half white. The Cherokee nation today recognizes 1/2048th Cherokee ancestry as enough for membership in the tribe. In this light, and the fact that the father’s name in illegitimate births was seldom known or recorded, the mission genealogies are revealed as unreliable documents.

Haley and Wilcoxon maintain that much of Chumash tradition was ”made” after the perusing of Harrington’s voluminous notes on the Chumash. While it is true that modern Chumash have greatly benefited from Harrington’s notes (which they used, for example, to build replicas of the plank canoe called tomol), it of course cannot be assumed that their traditions exist only as anthropological notations. Documentation in paper archives and hard disks constitutes only a tiny fraction of the data that exists concerning Chumash reality today.

Humility dictates that neither I nor any other non-Chumash person will ever to be able to know. It is obvious that in an oral culture over eight thousand years old, most ”data” remains in the private sphere of individuals and families who equally as obviously have no wish to reveal it to the "dominant society" which has always been hostile to them. One angry Chumash man at the museum meeting in Santa Barbara in 1992 asked, "Why do we have to prove to you [scientists] who we are?"

Mission Santa Barbara
"Forced labor, starvation, disease, rape, slavery, incarceration,
torture, execution - these were commonplaces of Mission life."
- Herbert W. Luthin
Surviving Through the Days
University of California Press, 2002

John Peabody Harrington and the Chumash

The most thorough research on Chumash culture was carried out by John Peabody Harrington, who was born in Massachusetts in 1884 and died in California in 1961. (An account of this extraordinary and quirky man can be read in Encounter with an Angry God, written by his ex-wife and colleague, Carobeth Laird.) Today scholars are still sorting through tons of information he recorded concerning many Californian tribes: crude field notes, typed extracts, carbon copies, pages, cards, slips, files, photographs, maps, charts, diagrams, drawings, secondary data and correspondence.

Unlike Alfred Kroeber, with whom he had numerous conflicts, Harrington was unable or unwilling to organize and publish his voluminous notes which are now stored at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. (Modern researchers sorting through these dusty crates of notes have encountered not only papers, but a half-eaten sandwich and a mummified bird. No one has yet been able to reorganize all his notes just on the Chumash, let alone all the other tribes.) Employed by the Smithsonian Institution, his special interest was to preserve the rapidly disappearing languages of Native California. Harrington began working with the Chumash in 1912 and interviewed Chumash consultants on many topics, but seldom asked them direct questions. He asked general questions to get his consultant talking, and then copied down everything in minute detail.

John Peabody Harrrington in the field, 1927

One who delved deeply into Harrington’s notes on the Chumash was the late Travis Hudson, curator of anthropology at Santa Barbara’s museum of natural history at his untimely death. Hudson is the author of several books on the Chumash. In a posthumous work, co-written by Phillip L. Walker, we learn that ”the result of Harrington’s research, sometimes pursued during 18-hour working days, seven days a week, was a massive unsorted collection of very important data – which , however, have many limitations.” Harrington’s erratic research methods posed problems for these authors, who wrote that Harrington had three goals in mind: ”(1) to collect every possible scrap of information, no matter how trivial, especially if it related to language; (2) to recopy and refile these data under a variety of topics so they not only could be retrieved easily, but also could be associated with similar sources of information; and (3) to keep confidential this body of data and the consultants who contributed to it.”5

Harrington is notorious for his secrecy and his unwillingness to cooperate with other anthropologists and linguists. At this time, Alfred Louis Kroeber was a unifying force in Californian ethnography, which was studying one of the most complex and varied cultural areas in North America. Kroeber and his colleagues, among whom was Harrington, were among the very few ”white” friends of the Native Californians, then suffering cruel persecutions at the hands of American society. (They had not even been granted citizenship in their own homeland!)

Harrington had done considerable research among the Ohlone of the San Francisco Bay Area, which was Kroeber’s home and workplace, but was unwilling to share his findings with Kroeber. Kroeber’s successor, Robert Heizer, wrote of the ”antipathy” Harrington felt for Kroeber, and Kroeber’s reluctance to send ethnographers to the Santa Barbara coast to interview Chumash informants ”because Harrington had long preempted them as ’his’”. Kroeber was at this time compiling his classic work The Handbook of the Indians of California based on the field work of many ethnographers all over California, and needed material on the Chumash for this work.

Despite Harrington’s antipathy, Kroeber had the upper hand, as Heizer wrote: ”According to Kroeber, he simply informed Harrington that if he refused the invitation to provide the Central California Coast elements list, people would be sent to secure these. And Harrington [finally] agreed and did provide the filled-in questionnaire list. This must have been something of a pill for Harrington to swallow, not only because he felt such antipathy toward Kroeber, but also because he was forced to disgorge some of the treasured facts of Costanoan [Ohlone] and Chumash ethnography which he had secured. I would guess that the whole affair was as galling to Harrington as it was satisfactory to Kroeber.”6

Kitsepawit (Fernando Librado)
portrait by Campbell Grant

Secrecy was also a trait of the Chumash spiritual brotherhood called ’antap. Hudson and Underhay wrote that none of Harrington’s many Chumash consultants were ’antap officials. This is perhaps explained by a code of secrecy intrinsic to the brotherhood which prevented any collaboration with white academics. His main consultant, Kitsepawit (Fernando Librado) had participated in the funeral rites of Rafael Solares (”of the sun”), one of the last known ’antap. Kitsepawit (1839?-1915) was raised at the Mission La Purísima, outside present-day Lompoc on the California central coast. One of Harrington’s notes reveals that Fernando himself was not allowed to touch the sacred charmstones, because he was ”too friendly with the enemy [white people].”

Rafael Solares

Harrington goes on to write that though Martina (apparently a woman of knowledge) was a good friend to Fernando, she ”never told him anything.” This perhaps irked the curious anthropologist who wanted to know everything, but it is also a sign of a complex ritual system from which white society was completely denied access. (This is relevent today in the controversy over Point Conception in that anthropologists never were told everything, and therefore do not know everything concerning the ”western gate”.)

Rafael’s daughter-in-law, Qililkutayiwit (María Solares), was another of Harrington’s important consultants, and told him the story of Humqaq and the ”gate” over the Pacific Ocean which opened and crashed shut with a sound like a canon shot as a dead soul entered Shimilaqsha. For the same reasons that Fernando was not allowed close contact with the ’antap society, María as well was denied access into a secret society. At the village of Tinliw (Tejon), located at the pass where California's Sierra Nevadas meet the coastal range, there was a powerful wizard named Shapakay who had refused conversion to Christianity. The Tinliw people were known for their magical crafts practiced by powerful rainmakers, rattlesnake doctors and healers like Shapakay. When his sister Brigida, a sorceress, died, Shapakay asked the other sorceresses if they would accept her daughter, María, who was brought up among the Christians, as a replacement for her mother. They said no. Fernando Librado told Harrington what followed:

When the women made this decision, Shapakay said that since he found himself alone in his wish that María take her mother's place he would retire from the magic practices which he had followed so long, out of respect for his sister's death. And he said that in proof of that he would burn all his magic baskets there before them all, and he did so.7

This deed evokes the European medicine man Prospero breaking his ”enchanted staff” and abandoning his ”rough magic” in the Tempest. In the wake of persecution that reached near-genocidal proportions by the end of the 19th century, the Chumash medicine men in the ’antap society continued these ancient traditions in utter secrecy. Hudson and Underhay wrote: ”For the most part this body of esoteric knowledge and ritual was already privately held by the privileged few, but now mission policies directed at them made secrecy more imperative. Rituals of the highest and most sacred order were still performed, but now within the confines of the siliyuk enclosure and away from public view. The secret language of the siliyuk spoken by the ’antap elite would also continue, but was not to be heard by other than the informed.”8

Chumash pictograph from Kern County
(photo: Campbell Grant)

Siliyuk is the Whole World in Chumash mythology. This word also signified governing body and the secret language spoken in the ’antap brotherhood. The mission system stripped these genuine spiritual guides of their legitimacy, but not of their power. Despite many converts to Christianity, the traditional ritual practices continued in secrecy. Travis and Underhay continued: ”Leading these important ceremonies and supervising the ’antap body was the sun priest or master astronomer.” They were vigilant of the sun, stars and planets year round, and were keenly in tune with the solstices, as witnessed by the numerous examples of rock art aligned with them. Kula’a, an ’antap astrologer, had told Fernando

...if a man observed the virtues that belonged to the rays of the sun, he would be like a ray in the world. He would have noble feelings to help his neighbors.8

The Chumash word for sacred is chwashtiwu’l, and it was most often connected with secrecy in colonial times. This is why Haley and Wilcoxon cannot possibly speak with authority on the sacred knowledge of the Chumash. Most of the data has been kept secret.

This is illustrated by a story Kitsepawit (Fernando Librado) told Harrington: The priest José María Rosales, who managed mission San Buenaventura from 1843 to 1848, accidentally came upon a Chumash shrine while on a trip. It consisted of a feathered pole surrounded by piles of beads, seeds, feathers and other objects, possibly reminiscent of the medicine pole standing on Shalawa Meadow today. ”When he arrived back at the mission he brought the pole along, and asked an old Indian named Carlos what it all meant. Carlos replied only that ’it is the goods of deceased folks, placed there by children or relatives.’ Fr. Rosales had Carlos punished for disobedience, but the old man never told him the complete meaning behind what was found, for such things ’were considered chwashtiwu’l, or sacred.’”8 The priest had the sacred pole burned.


Have the Chumash gone extinct?

Campbell Grant wrote the chapter on the Chumash in the Smithsonian Institution’s (as yet uncompleted) Handbook of the North American Indians (volume 8) in which he states, ”All the Chumash languages have been extinct since the death of Mary Yee, the last native speaker of Barbareño, in 1965.”

Unfortunately, a common belief among some anthropologists and archaeologists is that the Chumash as well have gone extinct. The secrecy intrinsic to the ’antap society stated above, and that of Chumash society in general, was a reaction to persecution so extreme that it almost resulted in a total genocide, as was the misfortune of other Californian tribes. Secrecy became a matter of survival. This in turn made much of their culture invisible to investigators. What was not visibly manifest to investigators was easy to proclaim non-existent, as in this scornful archaeologist’s letter to the editor published in the Santa Barbara News Press:

There is not a single full-blooded Santa Barbara Chumash Indian in the United Chumash Council or at the Santa Inez Indian Reservation. In fact, I do not think that either group boasts even one member who is as much as half Santa Barbara Chumash Indian.[...] The News Press published a similar assertion from me several years ago and I note that no real Chumash Indians came forth.[...]

There haven’t been any Chumash Indians in Santa Barbara for most of this century and the Chumash culture was largely extinct prior to 1850. The so-called Chumash Indians suddenly appeared after 1970 and began harassing every construction project in the county. The absurd hypocrisy which has been spawned by Santa Barbara’s ”contemporary Indian” activists leaves me in a perpetual state of disbelief.

-David M. Van Horn, Ph.D. , Director
Archaeological Associates Sun City
Santa Barbara News Press 29.III.87

Who is harassing whom? That no ”real Chumash” came forth at this man’s beck and call can also mean that the Chumash simply cannot take such banter seriously. But such mean-spirited claims from the academic community make life difficult for the Chumash who are now engaged in preserving sacred domains like Humqaq, and sabotage their attempts to be officially recognized by the United States government.

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the Chumash (who originally called themselves something else entirely) were one of the largest native groups in the western United States. Today, 200 descendants of the Tsmala Chumash inhabit the 99-ace Santa Inez reservation, the only federally recognized Chumash group in the country. The rest of the 3,000 or so Chumash descendants live outside the reservation and lack both land and federal recognition. The ”harassing” of local construction projects by the Chumash which so bothered the above-quoted archaeologist is a valiant effort on their part to preserve their remaining land and integrity. They have battled railroad companies, oil companies, construction companies and now the federal government’s plans for the spaceport at Vandenburg Airforce base.

Trained scholars have become what Haley and Wilcoxon refer to as ”delineators of identity” for native peoples of the continent, who often have no say in the matter, even when crucial issues of their cultural survival are at stake. The two scholars quote national guidelines empowering anthropologists to to serve as ”judges of genuineness and authenticity of tradition” when these crucial issues appear.

Dr. John Anderson, who maintains a website dealing with these issues, wrote that the result of such academic presumption can be seen in the fact that ”the field of Chumash studies is currently in a state of turmoil.” He adds: ”The problem is that Haley and Wilcoxon (like the rest of us) are simply speculating, without hard evidence, because no systematic survey of all living Chumash has ever been conducted.”12 Acting as ”judges of genuineness and authenticity of tradition,” such scholars have helped to exclude all the Chumash groups living outside of the Santa Inez reservation from the benefits of federal recognition. These groups include the following (from a list compiled by John Anderson):

§ The Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, Lompoc.
(Includes Carpinteria and Santa Barbara).

§ The Tejon Chumash, Bakersfield.
(Many Chumash were driven from coastal lands during revolts against the mission system. A vital geographic location in these revolts was the mountain pass called Tejon – ”badger” in Spanish.)

§ The San Luis Obispo Chumash.
(The Northern Bear clan of the Chumash have the area around San Luis Obispo as their traditional homeland.)

§ The Ventura Chumash, Ventura
(Traditional Chumash domain of the Owl clan.)

§ The Cuyama Chumash.
(This group has been dispersed from the Cuyama valley to other bands.)

§ The Malibu Chumash, Malibu. (Traditional Chumash domain.)

§ The Island Chumash.
(The Channel Islands are no longer inhabited by the Chumash, who are now active in regaining these undeveloped islands to protect them from future development. The islanders at the time of Cabrillo’s visit in 1542 [see below] played a very big role in the culture and provided many of the important myths. They were forcibly removed to the mainland by the Spanish and Mexicans.)

§ The Chumash/Yokuts, Porterville.
(The Yokuts are the eastern neighbors of the Chumash, a large group from the Central Valley.)

§ The San Fernando Valley Chumash.
(Some Chumash were slave laborers at the San Fernando mission and intermarried with Tongva and other tribes at the mission.)

§ The Los Angeles Chumash.
(Small numbers of Chumash from various clans intermarried with the Tongva in the Los Angeles area.)

§ The Monterey Chumash.
(A number of Chumash migrated to the Monterey area, as did many of the neighboring Tongva, to work on the cattle ranches.)

It seems that the terrible reality of epic crimes committed against Native Americans can be so invisible to profit-minded people that they see themselves as persecuted by Native Americans! As John Anderson has written, ”...ethnographic data captured only a fractured view of the full richness of native thought.”13 Important decisions affecting the lives of hundreds of families, forced on them by virtue of this ”fractured view” of their culture, can only have negative effects. What Anderson refers to as the ”California holocaust” presents a painful dilemma for all who choose to know their homeland in depth and confront it. For Native Californians, it is a subject of anger and ongoing suspicion of the American Dream.

For Euro-Americans it can only be an issue of shame. Most refuse to shoulder this shame, feeling the painful burden too much to endure. Gregg Castro, from the Salinian people near Salinas, has written that it is very difficult for most Americans to undergo what he calls a ”grief ritual”. For Euro-Americans, this involves a bitter confrontation with the atrocities and genocides of our history hiding behind the flattering lies and patriotic rhetoric that we were force-fed in public school.

This ritual is usually full of emotion and pain. It is obviously very disturbing to some people. I think the reason Native Americans do this is to see if there is any empathy. This is not usually a planned, conscious act. Through this ritual, Native Americans can measure the reverence and respect that others have for one’s heritage.”14

Among those Americans who find this ”grief ritual” difficult or impossible to undergo, are included even anthropologists and archaeologists who ”study” them. Certain scholars on or once on the payroll of government or private contractors have provided arguments helping to remove the sacred status from sacred Chumash domains for purposes of development.

But the resistance, both among Chumash and non-Chumash Californians, has become a sacred calling. At present, something is happening that Chumash writer Marcus Lopez calls a ”cultural coming out”. The modern Chumash differ in attire and life-style from those Cabrillo encountered 450 years ago. Lopez writes of the Chumash community’s wonderful collective understanding of itself today. ”Our religion, language, and attire have changed and adapted to our surroundings. But who we are has not changed.”15

Santa Barbara News Press December 26, 1997


The shrine at Humqaq, embarkation and reincarnation

Humqaq, the Western Gate
(photo by the author)

[...]In May 1980 excavations for a liquified natural gas terminal at Point Conception revealed rocks that had been worked by human hands which were deemed part of the sacred shrine by the Chumash. A university geology professor deemed the marks on the rocks as merely the result of erosion, although this site has been frequented by the Chumash for centuries and most likely millennia. The marked rocks are said to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old. Archaeologists were baffled by the find and initially made a statement that the rocks were placed there by human hands and are similar to others found in southern California.

The Chumash withheld comment in the beginning, but were ”allowed” to speak at an informal Public Utilities Commission meeting concerning the excavation. Chumash elder Victor ”Sky Eagle” Lopez said: ’We know what it is, but we can’t tell you because you either won’t believe us or else you’ll dig it up to prove us wrong.’ (Santa Barbara News Press July 3, 1980) The same article quoted another Chumash spokesman who said, ”No shrine has ever been found like this by scientists. We know it to be the remains of a spiritual ceremonial area near the burials of our ancestors.” Geology experts denied this and maintained that the formations were the result of erosion. Removing the sacred status of this site would obviously facilitate the industrialization of Humqaq and make even more profits for greedy men.

Montauk, the Eastern Gate

Humqaq is not only sacred to the Chumash, but to other Californian tribes, and even to tribes as far away as Montauk Point on Long Island, the Eastern Gate on the Atlantic coast. A few years ago the Chumash elder from the Owl clan mentioned above told me of his visit to Montauk Point as the guest of a Shinnecock elder. They call themselves the Eastern Gate-Keepers and are aware of Humqaq Point as the Western Gate.

(Certain coincidences are worthy of note: both the Chumash and the Shinnecock are ocean-faring peoples; both Montauk and Humqaq are notorious for shipwrecks; both anthropologists considered the experts on the two tribes share the name Harrington.) The Chumash elder and his Shinnecock host exchanged symbolic gifts, the former receiving a rare feather from a live condor, and the latter an abalone shell, glistening with subtle pastel reflections.

update March 2, 2004:

The lighthouse at Montauk Point

Montauk Point and its sturdy old lighthouse are the sources of much history and the scene of many marine disasters. The native name for Turtle Hill, upon which the lighthouse stands is "Womponamon," an Algonquian word meaning "to the east". The Montauk tribe gave their name to the region and ruled the surrounding tribes. Their chieftains called councils by lighting fires on Womponamon, and many of the tribesmen came to them in dugout canoes large enough to hold 18 paddlers.

The Montauk Point lighthouse, first built in 1792 by decree of George Washington, has traditionally been the first welcoming beacon to the New World for travelers sailing from Europe to New York. Because of its strategic location, it stood as the symbol of the New World for almost a century until 1886, when the Statue of Liberty was constructed in New York harbor. Thus, the original beacon fires used for untold generations by the Montauk and Shinnecock peoples reflect the importance Montauk later had for the Europeans as a site for a lighthouse vital to navigation on the Atlantic coast. This Eastern Gate, mutually strategic to both cultures, is a trans-continental twin of the Western Gate at Humqaq on the Pacific, also mutually strategic as the area of Vandenburg Airforce Base and the planned spaceport, and the Chumash gate for spirits of the dead passing into the Milky Way. The strategic nature of these two oceanic points of land is older than human habitation on this continent – it is geologic and planetary.

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The abalone shell has considerable meaning in the elaborate wanderings of the dead soul on its way to Shimilaqsha from the earthly embarkation point at Humqaq. This we learn in the famous story told to Harrington by Qilikutayiwit (María Solares), the original source of the ”gate” in Chumash ethnography:

The soul goes first to Point Conception, which is a wild and stormy place. It was called humqaq, and there was no village there. In ancient times no one ever went near humqaq. They only went there to make sacrifices at a great shawil [shrine]. There is a place at humqaq below the cliff that can only be reached by rope, and there is a pool of water there like a basin, into which fresh water continually drips. And there in the stone can be seen the footprints of women and children There the spirit of the dead bathes and paints itself. Then it sees a light to the westward and goes toward it through the air, and thus reaches the land of Shimilaqsha.

Sometimes in the evening people at La Quemada [Shushac-i-i] village would see a soul passing by on its way to Point Conception. Sometimes these were the souls of people who had died, but sometimes they were souls that had temporarily left the body. The people of La Quemada would motion with their hands at the soul and tell it to return, to go back east, and they would clap their hands. Sometimes the soul would respond and turn back, but other times it would simply swerve a little from its course and continue on to Shimilaqsha. when the people of La quemada saw the soul it shone like a light, and it left a blue trail behind it. [...]

A short time after the soul passed La Quemada the people there would here a report like a distant cannon shot, and know that that was the sound of the closing of the gate of Shimilaqsha as the soul entered. [Then the soul passes through three lands in the world to the west to encounter the trial of the clashing rocks.]

Once past the clashing rocks the soul comes to a place where there are two gigantic qaq [ravens] perched on each side of the trail, and who each peck out an eye as the soul goes by. But there are many [golden] poppies growing there in the ravine and the soul quickly picks two of these and inserts them in each eye-socket and so is able to see again immediately. When the soul finally gets to Shimilaqsha it is given eyes made of blue abalone.20

Golden poppies at the summit of Humqaq
(photo by the author)

Humqaq was not only a point of embarkation into the Milky Way for the spirits of the dead, but also a strategic maritime point of embarkation for the crews of the tomols crossing over the fierce currents on their way to and from the islands. This oceanic ”crossing over ” came to symbolize the mythological ”crossing over” of the spirit on its way to Shimilaqsha. John Anderson writes: ”The islanders typically did not navigate directly to the mainland from their home islands but instead navigated east or west until they could cross from either Tukan [San Miguel, the westernmost island] or Anacapa island [the easternmost island]. [...] I propose that in time, this customary use of Humqaq as an earthly point of embarkation to the islands was overlaid onto their spiritual beliefs.”21

The beach at Humqaq
(photo by the author)

In the summer of 1978 a nine-month occupation of Humqaq was begun by hundreds of Chumash and other tribal members protesting plans by Western Liquified Natural Gas to construct a gas terminal in this sensitive area. Among the protesters were people from the Lakota, Potawatomi and other tribes outside California. [...]Michael Khus-Zarate wrote how the caravan of cars passed the security checkpoint for entering Hollister Ranch, owner of Humqaq, and proceeded in wonderment past the multi-million-dollar homes of movie stars living in seclusion. (Some lucky surfers have the privilege of surfing in isolation on the fine waves at ”the ranch” when the rest of the surfing spots are overcrowded. But they need a permit, and most surfers are unable to obtain one.) That first night the protesters simply laid their sleeping bags on the ground and slept.

The next day they established their encampment on the sandy banks of a creek sheltered from the constant wind. They were acting in concordance with the Tejon treaty signed in 1851 after America’s war with the Yokuts and their allies, among whom were the Chumash. The size and limits of the treaty lands have always been in dispute, especially considering that the Yokuts unwisely trusted the Americans’ as honest translators of the proceedings from Spanish into English. Apparently what was agreed upon verbally in Spanish was quite different when written down in English.

[...] But the president of Western Liquefied Natural Gas stated that [...]Point Conception could never be included [in the treaty].

And so the occupation began. Michael Khus-Zarate, member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, described it as an historic event: ”It was life textured by the wild elements, closer to the earth, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity now cherished by those who were there. Time at the encampment, designat[ing] a spiritual gathering where drugs, alcohol, and guns were forbidden, was taken up with sunrise ceremonies, sweats twice a day, communal meals, camping chores, around-the-clock security, hunting and fishing expeditions, and singing and storytelling at night.

The ragtag, David-versus Goliath image of Indians standing against Big Business as reported by the media was belied by the organization and discipline established at the camp.”22 The occupation of Point Conception achieved its goal, and the project for a natural gas terminal, as one California energy official put it, went ”belly up”. Today, twenty years later, many of the same people are involved in protecting Point Conception from the frenzy of the spaceport, where, in the first seven years of the new century, 1,265 rocket launches are planned. Many fear that the environmental damage will be catastrophic.

The summit of Humqaq
(photo by the author)

Scholars like Haley and Wilcoxon who believe the concept of the ”western gate” to be a modern construction must assume that knowledge not contained in Harrington’s notes does not exist nor has it existed. We clearly see in Qilikutayiwit’s powerful image of the sacred shrine at Humqaq that this is not a construction. The arguments of such scholars are helping space scientists and spaceport contractors to commit an irreversible crime at this holy site.

[...] John Anderson writes: ”But what effect will the awesome sound of rocket liftoffs have on migrating whales, on the critical ocean flyway that links birds from California and Mexico to summer feeding grounds in the northern US and Canada, and on ocean mammals that rest and breed on nearby beaches and downrange islands? [...] If the commercial spaceport is fully developed, the Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Barbara Coast could face growth similar to that which turned the San Fernando Valley into a ’little Los Angeles’”.23

This is a terrifying prospect for all of us who love this coastline. The irony of the California Spaceport Authority calling itself ”the gateway to commercial space operations on the west coast” is apparent. This nomenclature was forcibly appropriated from Chumash culture as were their lands and traditions, to now be used in the advertising campaigns of the commercial aerospace industry’s goliath plans for a ”highway into space”. The serenity and beauty of Humqaq are now in a state of peril, and the keepers of the Western Gate are again at the forefront in saving it.

Tidepool at Humqaq
(photo by the author)

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The Western Gate (update January 4, 2004)

The following update is approved by Chumash spiritual leader Paul Pommier, descendant of chief Beato Temiacucat of Cuyamu and Mikiwi. He is a member of the Barbareño Council, which among other worthy projects works for the federal recognition of Chumash who are as yet not federally recognized.

My second Acta Americana article, an answer to Brian Haley’s attack in the same journal of the article presented on this webpage, has recently been published. Two additional articles by Haley and his colleague John Johnson have also been published in the same number of this journal, again attacking my credibility. I have no more time to spend on this debate. I steal time from my other projects nonetheless to inform my readers that Humqaq, also known as Point Conception, is a part of an oral Chumash tradition that is very likely thousands of years old. It is a vast symbol spanning millennia, like Avikwame on the Colorado river, the Mount Parnassus of the Aha Macav (Mohave) people.

The story of the Chumash Western Gate has the odor of extreme antiquity. BH persists in his losing battle to spread the lie that the Western Gate was recently “invented” by “neo-Chumash” who had problems with drugs, divorces and other human woes, and who, in their delirium, coined the term “western gate”. According to BH, these people live out their lives in self-delusion. Now he has seen his own problem. Only courage can help him to acknowledge it. His second attack on Dr. John Anderson, certain Chumash leaders, and myself, will prove to be his undoing. In my second article, he and JJ found errors I committed in the use of a Chumash name and incorrect dates for the native uprisings, and the rapes, floggings and tortures routinely committed on Native Californians at the missions and presidios. But as JJ concedes, these small errors do not effect my main point of contention with them: Humqaq is an extremely ancient phenomenon which has survived in an extremely ancient Chumash oral tradition. Neither BH nor JJ were able to deny this in their latest attack against me. However, JJ was able to mock my Slavic surname, Radic becoming Radic’al in the title of his article. Ho, ho, ho…

Now, to the crux of the matter: their theory that the Western Gate was invented in the 1970s by self-deluded misfits to whom they have given the name “neo-Chumash” will not be long-lived. JJ and BH both possess more factual knowledge about this culture than I. But they misuse their knowledge. BH again mocks me for having Humqaq as a sacred calling. He protests that a report written as a sacred calling is inappropriate for a scientific journal devoted to... yes, sacred callings in various aboriginal cultures throughout the Americas. This reasoning is hard to follow, and indeed appears utterly stupid. One of the journal’s main editors is Professor Emeritus Åke Hultkrantz, known throughout the world for his profound insights into the spiritual teachings of Native America. I was given full support by Prof. Hultkrantz in my second Acta Americana article. Apparently, BH believes he knows better than this firmly established patriarch of anthroplogy! J.P. Harrington’s astounding research among very many tribes throughout California can only be seen as a sacred calling for Harrington himself. Shall BH and JJ now mock Harrington for this “vice” as well?

Strangely, BH and JJ did not address the damning facts in Chumash spiritual leader Paul Pommier’s complaint in the appendix to my last article. “You must remember when a possum is cornered it becomes very vicious and has no where to go but to attack.” (Opening sentence of Paul Pommier’s complaint.) This complaint by a highly respected Chumash spiritual leader was not considered by BH and JJ because it would be very embarassing for them to do so. JJ would be obliged to explain why Paul Pommier, his former collaborator, chose to reevaluate his trust in JJ and revoke it. This respected spiritual leader is even acknowledged by the Doubting Thomas JJ as having impeccable genealogical proof of Chumash ancestry. He unequivocally denounces the use of the derogatory term “neo-Chumash” by these two anthropologists. Does not this clear-cut judgement of a widely respected Chumash spiritual leader register in your academic minds? Paul Pommier continues with his complaint: “Too often they have learned about our culture by scavenging from our ancestors’ graves.” JJ, curator at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, is well-aquainted with the boxes of human remains housed at the museum, as well as the rage this evokes in Chumash descendants today. “They have educated themselves by desecrating our burial lands.”

As for the blunder of BH, Paul Pommier, acknowledged by both BH and JJ as a bonafide Chumash leader, states that the Chumash people owe him nothing: “We owe these scholars like Haley, who claim the exclusive federal role of ‘delineators of identity’, nothing.”

Whether an observer can maintain "scientific objectivity" while examining cosmology and culture is questionable. Chumash descendant Mike Khus has written of this in his article on "anthropological nihilism":

“This debate reflects the broader issue of whether anthropology as practiced today, is capable of scientific objectivity on the level of other disciplines such as theoretical physics (it clearly is not) or whether it is merely an ‘interpretive art’, and is therefore not reliable or authoritative for purposes of public policy. [...] Neither have they [anthropologists] flinched from making it their business to meddle in the internal affairs of the Chumash community, deliberately targeting those Chumash families & individuals who challenge these same anthropolgists when sacred religious sites are threatened by the latter's irresponsible actions.”
(Read the entire article on John Anderson's webpage, as well as Dr. Anderson's answer to Haley).


1. John Anderson, ”California’s Commercial Spaceport Rises on Native Land,” Earth Island Journal, Fall 1998.
2. see website for an detailed account of this meeting.
3. Anderson, ”California’s Commercial Spaceport Rises on Native Land.”
4. Mirror and Pattern: George Laird’s World of Chemehuevi Mythology, Carobeth Laird, Malki Museum Press, Banning, California, 1984.
5. Chumash Healing: Changing Health and Medical Practices in an American Indian Society, Phillip L. Walker and Travis Husdson, Malki Press, Banning, California, 1993.
6. The Ohlone Past and Present, compiled and edited by Lowell John Bean, Ballena Press, Menlo Park, California, 1994. From Bean’s introduction quoting Robert Heizer’s ”A Note on Harrington and Kroeber”, The Journal of California Anthropology, vol. 2 no. 2.
7. December's Child: A Book of Chumash Oral Narratives, collected by J.P. Harrington, edited by Thomas C. Blackburn, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1975.
8. Crystals in the Sky: An Intellectual Odyssey Involving Chumash Astronomy, Cosmology and Rock Art, Travis Hudson and Ernest Underhay, Ballena Press Papers No. 10, 1978.
9. CaliforniaIndian Shamanism, edited by Lowell John Bean, Ballena Press Anthropological Papers No. 39, Menlo Park, California, 1992. ”California Religious Systems and Folk Curing”, Lowell John Bean and Sylvia Brakke Vane. The authors’ use of the past tense, as in ”The Chumash had important ceremonials...” is not quite correct, for the Chumash currently have important ceremonies at the times of the solstices, equinoxes, child-naming, tomol launchings and the tobacco rituals. Ceremonial sites are in use all over Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties. I have previously written about one. See Shalawa Meadow.
10. The Rock Paintings of the Chumash, Campbell Grant, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara, 1993.
11. Article appearing in the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology’s bulletin for 1989.
12. John Anderson, ”Haley and Wilcoxon Article”.
13. Anderson, ”California’s Commercial Spaceport Rises on Native Land.”
14. Gregg Castro, ”Educating Ourselves About Archaeology”, News from Native California, Summer 1996.
15. Marcus Lopez, ”Inheritors of the Earth and Sea for the Next Generations,” News from Native California, Spring 1998.
16. Relation of the Voyage of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, 1542-1543, included in Original Narratives of Early American History: Spanish Exploration in the Southwest 1542-1706, edited by Herbert Eugene Bolton, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1916.
17. December’s Child.
18. The Diary of Sebastian Viscaíno, 1602-1603.
19. ”Our Ancestors’ Gift Across Time,” Roberta Reyes Cordero, News from Native California, Spring 1998.
20. December’s Child. ”The Soul’s Journey to Shimilaqsha”, p. 98.
21. Kuta Teachings , John Anderson, Amdes Publishing, Kootenai Idaho, 1998. Anderson defines kuta as meaning ”to rise up, or awaken, in Chumash, and I used it in the text to refer to the full body of beliefs about the death of a person, their burial, the soul’s awakening and separation from the body, its rising up from the grave to travel on the surface of the earth, its rising from the earth into the heavens, and its heavenly journey to a paradise where it is nurtured and prepared for its desecent back to the earth to be reincarnated.” (Introduction)
22. ”Humqaq”, Michael Khus-Zarate, News from Native California, Fall 1998.
23. Anderson, ”California’s Commercial Spaceport Rises on Native Land.”

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Relics of Humqaq (Point Conception),
Greece and Sweden

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