THE ESSELEN PEOPLE OF
BASES FOR REINTERPRETATIONS
I. Concerning unacknowledged status
As the United States expanded territorially, it incorporated the land-bases of the numerous and divergent native societies through a variety of means that shaped distinctive historical consequences for the native societies concerned.1 Many native societies concluded treaties with the United States, which when ratified by acts of Congress committed the federal government, at least theoretically, to "the permanent provision of a range of services to Indian populations (i.e. the citizens of the Indian nations with which the treaty agreements were reached) which would assist them in adjusting their economies and ways of life to their newly constricted territories." (Jaimes 1992: 124) The conquered native societies reconfigured by these treaties have subsequently come to be known as the recognized tribes — some 554 in all (BIA-BAR 1995). Their organizational structure, the size of their land-base, their relationship to the federal government, and the means by which individuals are included in or excluded from membership in the recognized tribes has changed substantially in the last century, molded by major acts of federal legislation such as the General Allotment Act of 1887, the Indian Reform Act of 1934, and the termination and relocation programs initiated by acts of Congress in 1953. Thus both collective "Indianness" and individual Indian selfhoods among the recognized tribes have been transformed considerably.
Responding to the growing movement among the unacknowledged peoples
for a means to review their status, and perhaps in recognition that the
publicity generated by these cases revealed histories of egregious injustice,
the Department of the Interior created the Federal Acknowledgment Program in
1978. This program, managed by
the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) a part of the Bureau of Indian
Affairs (BIA) revised its regulations in 1982 and in 1994, but has worked at an
extremely laborious pace, and throughout maintained the policy that once a
tribe has been denied recognition it can never apply again.2 The BAR regulations that decide the fate of
unacknowledged groups mesh with the overall framework of historical BIA
regulations structuring the recognized tribes, as well as adding burdens of
historical proof and substantiation with which even many recognized tribes
might not be able to comply. The web of
conjunctures and disjunctures between federal
policies toward recognized and unacknowledged groups forms the background
against which we will discuss the specific case of the Esselen Nation, an
unacknowledged native group from the
This web of federal regulation shaping the case for the Esselen and other unacknowledged peoples, also plays out upon the backdrop of cultural anthropology and its theoretical armature with respect to several key concepts that loom large in the histories of native peoples and their relationships with the federal government. These concepts —tribe, sociocultural evolution, race, blood, and territory — as well as the ways in which anthropologists' authority to speak and write about the status of native peoples have proven useful to the BAR, local, state, and federal courts, and various other bureaucracies. Such bureaucracies use concepts and their authority to legitimate (i.e. officially recognize) Indian identity, and any unacknowledged tribe attempting to struggle for recognition must measure itself against the formulae of legitimation, which present divergent sorts of challenges for each unacknowledged groups. In general, we can say that such challenges derive from the nature of each native group's historical transformation during European and Euro-American colonialisms, and the ways that the contemporary manifestations of those transformations have been codified as official knowledge about each native people in the hands of anthropologists and other authorities. Moreover, what sorts of authoritative knowledge about each unacknowledged (and recognized) people are used by the federal, state, and local bureaucracies towards what ends varies considerably. Unacknowledged people must frequently confront the BAR's standards of proof in the form of the expertise of anthropologists, but only the views of particular anthropologists and only certain of their words. In the case of the Esselen, in his 1925 classic, Handbook of the California Indians, Alfred Kroeber wrote:
"Long reckoned as an independent stock, the Esselen were one of the least populous groups in California, exceedingly restricted in territory, the first to become entirely extinct, and in consequence are now as good as unknown . . . a name rather than a people of whom anything can be said. (1925: 544)
In the 1950s, Kroeber retracted this "extinction sentence," recognizing the persistence of many of the coastal native groups both as individuals and collectivities.
". . . there is a widespread belief that many Indian groups, especially the smaller ones, have now become extinct . . . Anthropologists sometimes have gone a step farther, and when they can no longer learn from living informants the speech and modes of life of the ancestors of these informants, they talk of that tribe or group as being extinct — when they mean merely that knowledge of the aboriginal language and culture has become extinct among the survivors. The survivors are there; they may even be full-bloods; racially or biologically the stock is not extinct; but they can no longer help the anthropologist acquire the knowledge about the group that he [sic] would like to preserve." (Kroeber and Heizer 1970:2-3)
During this same period, Kroeber also critiqued the concept of tribe, perhaps the essential concept by which the federal government has limited the access unacknowledged groups have to recognition, as well as a concept used to effect further transformations upon already recognized groups. To that theme, Kroeber wrote:
"The more we review aboriginal America, the less certain does any consistently recurring phenomenon become that matches with our usual conventional concept of tribe; the more largely does this concept appear to be a White man's creation of convenience for talking about Indians, negotiating with them, administering them -- an finally impressed upon their own thinking by our sheer weight. It cannot yet be fairly affirmed that the current concept of tribe is wholly that. But it certainly is that in great part, and the time may come to examine whether it is not overwhelmingly such a construct"
(quoted in Campisi 1991: 42).
Ironically, Kroeber's earlier use
of the term tribe and his extinction sentences for particular peoples are still
treated iconographically in contemporary
essay will discuss the history of the ancestors of the Esselen Nation, which
traces its ancestry to the eight large population districts in the
Monterey-Carmel area, in light of a critical analysis of the concept of tribe
and concepts which are central to the definition of tribes: evolution, blood,
race, and ethno-linguistic territory.
Our analysis extends to both anthropological and bureaucratic
discourses, recognizing , as Campisi
(1991) did in his study of the case for federal recognition made by the Mashpee
Wampanoag, that these two discourses do not always coincide, while at the same
time they both bear upon an unacknowledged tribe's petition for
recognition. Proving to the BAR that the
Esselen Nation is the contemporary manifestation of a native people whose
historical presence in the Monterey region is continuous, a multi-lingual
people who self-identified as "coming from the Rock (Ex'seien),"
also hinges upon examining archival materials that describe the Esselen in
several historical eras, and correlating them with the words of individual
native informants recorded both in the contemporary era and historically. The notes of John P. Harrington, an
ethnographer whose heretofore unpublished accounts of native people in the
"Collective identity is an interactive and shared definition produced by several individuals an concerned with the orientations of action and the fields of opportunities and constraints in which the action takes place: by 'interactive and shared' I mean a definition that must be conceived as a process, because it is constructed and negotiated through a repeated activation of the relationships that link individuals. The process of identity construction, adaptation and maintenance always has two aspects: the internal complexity of an actor (the plurality of orientations which characterizes him), and the actor's relationship with the environment (other actors, opportunities and constraints). (quoted in Escobar, in Escobar and Alvarez eds. 1992: 72)
First we will briefly review the
specific circumstances around the unacknowledged status of the Esselen Nation,
and then in an extended second section, develop a general critique of the
concepts which are the foundations for unacknowledged status in scholarly and
bureaucratic discourses. In the third
section, we will briefly explore some of the most salient ethnohistoric
and ethnographic information that substantiates the continuous presence of the
Esselen people in the
II. The unacknowledged status of the Esselen Nation: an historical summary
transformed did Spanish colonization render the native societies of coastal
California, that our information about these societies informs us more about
the resistance and accommodation of native people in response to colonization
than about their pre-colonial social and cultural systems. In his analysis of colonization's effects
upon native peoples of what is now the southeastern
"Each town was connected to an array of other towns through ties of common clan membership, marriage relations, trade, religious customs, shared language. . . through ties to common ceremonial centers called 'mother' towns, military alliances, and in a variety of other ways. The most important point about these ties is that starting from any one town the map of its ties to other towns, for any one of its connections, would not be likely to have boundaries similar to the boundaries of its other kinds of connections.(my emphasis). Clanship, for example, would tie together one cluster of towns, military alliances a different cluster, shared language dialect still another cluster, and so forth. What European domination did was to reorganize many of these ties in the direction of one coordinated package, transforming the fundamental basis of regional native social organization — these non-overlapping ties—by welding together, in the heat and pressure of domination, much more sharply demarcated groups. . ."
(Sider 1993: 231-32)
III. Concerning the concept of tribe
In discussing how the concept of tribe, and ancillary concepts such as blood/race, territory, etc., function as tools for reproducing the unacknowledged status of native peoples such as the Esselen, we have been influenced by recent theories of power in the social sciences. Scholars using the ideas of Michel Foucault (cf. 1980), in particular, recognize that the power that resides in modern states and related administrative apparati is much less the power to simply prohibit and constrain the behaviors of individuals and social groups, and much more the power to creatively shape the way people think about reality, both individually and collectively. One of the most important ways in which this kind of power manifests is in systems of knowledge, in both common sensical and scholarly forms. Thus, as we have noted, common knowledge in central California, shaped by grade and high school curricula, popular media, and the experience of the built environment of city and suburb4 informs individuals in subtle and overt ways that native Californians are either entirely absent or so marginalized as to be insignificant. Moreover, the very struggle to achieve federal acknowledgment by the Esselen, other native Californians, and native peoples elsewhere in the United States is predicated upon the internalization of the tribe concept by native individuals and collectivities and the naturalization of tribe as an identity category.5 On the scholarly level, the great volume of archaeological excavation ongoing in the greater San Francisco Bay area spurred on by the accelerated pace of residential and commercial construction has produced a minor literature of interpretive reports which also treat the contemporary native peoples of the region as absent or nearly so (cf. Pastron and Walsh 1988; Cartier 1990; Basin Research 1984, 1985, 1990; Munoz 1983 for germane examples).
The Esselen petition for acknowledgment must respond to both types of knowledge, which we attempt to do below in the following critique of the concept of tribe.
A. Tribe as an anthropological concept in
As in the Pacific
Northwest, in California anthropologists have for a long time confronted a
puzzling conundrum: sedentary, materially wealthy, complex societies living in biotically rich habitats, which did not rely upon
cultivation of domesticated plants or the herding of domesticated animals, but
which utilized adaptive subsistence strategies anthropologists have
historically labeled "hunting and gathering" or
"foraging." For the most part,
anthropologists past and present have ethnographically described foraging
peoples who lived in habitats that are markedly resource-marginal, and whose social, economic, and cultural characteristics
differed sharply from what early anthropologists found in
Kroeber adapted the concept to the circumstance of foraging people living in a biotically resplendent habitat. In
"A tribe . . . was a small body, evidently on the average not much more than 100 persons. It did not possess distinctive speech, a number of such tribes being normally included in the range of a single dialect. Each was obviously in substance a 'village community,' although the term 'village' in this connection must be understood as implying a tract of land rather than a settlement as such. In most cases the population of the little tribe was divided between several settlements, each presumably consisting of a few households more or less connected by blood or marriage; but there was also a site which was regarded as the principal one inhabited. Subsidiary settlements were frequently abandoned, reoccupied, or newly founded. The principal village was maintained more permanently. The limits of the territory of the group were well defined, comprising in most cases a natural drainage area. A chief was recognized for the tribe. There is some indication that his elevation was normally subject to popular approval, although hereditary privileges are likely to have limited selection to particular lineages. The minor settlements or groups had each their lesser chief or headman. There was usually no name for the tribe as such. It was designated either by the name of its principal settlement or by that of its chief." (1925: 830-831)
this excerpt, Kroeber made clear that a tribe in this part of
"By the word 'tribe' we mean a
group of people that has a name, speaks one language (and dialects of it) and
occupies a definite territory. Large
tribes holding extensive areas and feeling a political unity were rare in
The key aspects of the tribe/tribelet concept as elaborated by Kroeber and Heizer having to do with the relationships between social units identified as tribes and the character of tribes with respect to language, territory and leadership/hierarchy became well ensconced in the anthropological literature about native California, both historical and contemporary. This is true both in the interpretive literature concerned with archaeological excavations in the San Francisco Bay Area, to which we previously alluded, and in more strictly anthropological and historical work some of which is quite sympathetic to the fate of native peoples in the state. For example, Jackson and Castillo's searing treatment of the missions as exploitative, oppressive, and ultimately genocidal nevertheless repeats the standard depiction of the pre-colonial societies as "divided into small tribelets" (1995:9). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Milliken's (1995) partial vindication of the missions utilizes an entirely conventional description of tribe/tribelet organization. By not defining these terms, Milliken assumes that readers know and unreflectively accept their conventional meaning and historical significance. While he does not rely on a the tribelet concept to characterize the coastal natives, Weber's (1992) treatment nonetheless tells readers more about what native societies lacked ( centralized authority, the ability to wage sustained warfare) than what such societies actually possessed. Rawls (1984) provides the most sophisticated portrayal of pre-colonial native society derived from the work of Bean, which we discuss in more detail below.
In a general sense, the continuing salience of the concept of tribe in the ethnography and historical anthropology of native Californians is doubtless related to its persistence within the discipline as a whole6, notwithstanding well-respected critiques of this concept from within the discipline. Typically, the evolutionist paradigm and its assumptions about foraging peoples, which are based upon studies of bands living in very marginal habitats, underlies how anthropology is taught in universities in the United States and elsewhere. In Scupin's Cultural Anthropology: A Global Perspective the evolutionist paradigm is well illustrated:
"Tribal societies differ from foraging societies in that tribal peoples produce most of their subsistence items through small-scale cultivation and the domestication of animals. The evolution of food-producing subsistence corresponds to the development of new forms of social organization . . . New and diverse forms of social organization have enabled tribal societies to adjust to the new conditions of food production. Unlike foragers, who sometimes have to remain separate from one another in small, flexibly organized bands, food producers have had to develop social relationships that are more fixed." (1995: 173)
In Ember and Ember's Cultural Anthropology, they are quite explicit about the limitations of tribal organization and how a tribe does and does not cohere as a sociopolitical organization of the evolutionist ladder:
"When local communities mostly act autonomously but there are kinship groups (such as clans) or associations (such as age-sets) that can potentially integrate several local groups into a larger unit (tribe) we say that the society has tribal organization. . . a tribal type of political system does not usually permit the entire society to act as a unit; all the communities in a tribal society may be linked only occasionally for some political (usually military) purpose. Thus, what distinguished tribal from band political organization is the presence in the former of some multilocal (but not usually societywide) integration. The multilocal integration, however, is not permanent, and it is informal in the sense that it is not headed by political officials . . . in contrast to band societies, societies with tribal organization generally are food producers. And because cultivation and animal husbandry are generally more productive than hunting and gathering, the population density of tribal societies is generally higher, local groups are larger, and the way of life is more sedentary than in hunter-gatherer bands" [my emphasis] (1996:433).
That such textbook discussions remain routine into the mid-1990s could be construed as surprising given long-standing critiques of both evolutionism and of the tribe concept in anthropology. The use of the concept of tribe by scholars of Native California does not depart from the evolutionist paradigm, but rather allows that California Indian societies require a special dispensation in the stage theory of history.
Critiques of the concept of tribe generally tackle the overall evolutionist paradigm as well. Bodley (1997) , for example, has written a text which at least acknowledges the critique of evolutionist frameworks and of the tribe concept:
"While the band is a clearly defined unit in aboriginal society, the existence of the tribe is not so obvious, even though the term tribe was used by generations of anthropologists. Many authorities now question the utility of tribe as an analytic concept . . . The problem is that small-scale societies do not typically have tribal political units and no permanent leadership above the band or village, although 'tribes' have been artificially created by colonial governments for administrative purposes." (1997:30)
Bodley's critique owes much to an incisive critique elaborated by Morton Fried in The Evolution of Political Society (1967) and Maurice Godelier's in his even more effective demolition of the tribe concept and the evolutionist framework in the late 1970s. Godelier (1977) observed that in the works of such eminent anthropological theorists as Lewis Henry Morgan, Marshall Sahlins, and Elman Service, the tribe performed two inseparable roles in anthropological literature: as "a type of society and as a stage of evolution." (1977: 70) Yet on both accounts, Godelier argued, ethnographic literature has undermined the legitimacy of the concept.
For Godelier, the tribe concept did not illuminate the modes by which social groups adapt to given environments or produce subsistence. Nor does the concept help to explain why kinship acts as a social, economic and political organizing principle in certain kinds of societies. Godelier broadly distinguished societies in which kinship possesses such properties, which include all groups anthropologists have conventionally characterized as "band-level" and "tribal," from those societies organized by non-kinship political ideologies, such as those societies typically identified as "chiefdoms" and "states." Moreover, Godelier contended that the development of social forms, adaptations, and organizing principles does not move in a linear fashion. He cited several well-known cases in which social, economic, and political organization had either simplified in response to stresses or experienced sequences of increasing to decreasing complexity. Godelier concluded:
"there is no evolution without involution; no evolution in one direction without the possibility of it in another, or several directions. .. there is no evolution 'in general,' nor is there a 'general evolution' of mankind. (1977:90-91)
Godelier was also sensitive to the political aspects of the
tribe concept, and insisted that anthropologists stop ignoring their
implications. "We must continually
attack the political and ideological manipulation by which the concepts of
'tribe' and 'tribalism' are used as a tool by the Powers who dominate and
oppress the young nations of the Third World," he wrote; "we must not
fall into this trap and, in the name of anthropology, become accomplices of
such arrant nonsense" (Ibid.:96).
Certainly such sensitivities are relevant to anthropological work among
native peoples in the
Godelier decisively undermined the evolutionist
paradigm and the tribe concept on the level of theory, a volume of essays
edited by Bean and
"In northern and central
Similarly, Bean argued that a hierarchical structure typified Native Californian societies: "It is now evident," he wrote, "that in most tribes a rigid and authoritarian social structure prevailed, and that the differences in rank were usually inherited" (Ibid.: 111).
In this same volume, King described the economics of one central coastal group, the Chumash, about whom very little was known before the 1960s7, recording that:
"[t]he[ir] exchange system had these features: 1) Constant flow of goods in a market economy. 2) Manufacturing of goods in areas with less food resource availability. 3) Craft specialization. 4) Frequent use of money (beads). 5) Centralized control by village chiefs of some aspects of inter-group exchange. 6) Goods which were produced and exchanged were regularly destroyed, thereby stabilizing the system by limiting inflation" (King 1976:316-17).
While the socioeconomic
conditions for the Chumash should not simply be generalized to the entire
coastal region, this article adds weight to an overall critique of conventional
views of the tribe/tribelet world of native
Californians that the Bean and
B. Tribe, blood, race and territory in bureaucratic discourses
bureaucratic definition of tribe which specifies an Indian people as recognized
has developed in the last century and has been modified substantially at least
three times. Initially, treaties signed
between what were then known as Indian nations and the
second modification occurred as a result of the Indian Reform Act (IRA) of
1934, a law that actually derived from the pro-Indian sentiments of John
Collier, an activist reformer very much in step with the Rooseveltian
social engineering of his time. Berkhofer (1978) details how the IRA mandated the adoption of the
tribe as the official unit of Indian governance by
These three important moments in the creation of the recognized tribes in turn shaped the federal guidelines for unacknowledged peoples seeking recognition, when in 1978, the federal government again shifted gears and appeared to hold out the promise of rectifying injustice without of course reviewing the conceptual apparatus underlying those injustices. Thus while recognized tribes have tinkered with the form of tribal government, or in some case tried to do away with the blood quanta pedigree,8 BAR's regulations have frozen this dynamic and its ambiguities inscribing them into a handbook for documenting tribal Indian identity. In 25 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 83.7, BAR specifies: that the applicant must prove, using reliable external sources that it has been an Indian entity on a continuous basis since at least 1900; that, moreover, the applicant is an entity that has maintained a continuous and distinct community from "historical times" (i.e. European contact) to the present; that the presence of endogamous kinship, distinctive cultural practices (e.g. language, religion), and particular forms of social organization substantiate the existence of community identity for the applicant; that the applicant must be an entity that maintains political influence and authority over its membership; that the leadership of the entity has the power to control rights over land, internal disputes, economic strategies, and individual behavior amongst its members; that the applicant is organized as an entity with a governing document that specifies the criteria for membership; and, that the membership of the entity can document its ancestry as descendants of an historic tribe or tribes that functioned as a single autonomous political identity (BIA-BAR 1995).
As is apparent, these regulations compose an interwoven and reciprocally confirming set of concepts, rather than a real checklist of disparate criteria. These concepts codify anthropological conceptions of culture, kinship, leadership, and ancestry, in legitimating Indian entities or tribes, notwithstanding the considerable dissent among contemporary anthropologists concerning these concepts. That dissent was sharply underscored when the case for federal recognition presented by the Mashpee Wampanoag went to trial instead of being adjudicated directly by the BAR. Because the Mashpee had simultaneously petitioned the BAR and brought suit against the real estate developers changing the face of their ancestral lands, and because the BAR clearly indicated that it would not or could not expedite its consideration of the Mashpee file, BAR's regulations became the structure for courtroom dramatics. As Campisi (1991) put it, the Mashpee became a "tribe on trial," while at the same time the BAR's rules about tribal identity in general went on trial as well.
As judge and jury attempted to navigate conflicting anthropological interpretations of the concept of tribe as well as more strictly defined legal rulings, they clearly opted for the latter in its most narrow, racial terms. Even the Mashpee plaintiffs relied on legal precedent derived from racial discourse, in their use of the 1901 Montoya v. United States definition of tribe:
"a body of Indians of the same or similar race, united in a community under one leadership or government, and inhabiting a particular, though sometimes ill-defined, territory" (quoted in Campisi 1991: 23).
With its clear relationship to BAR's regulations, attorneys representing the real estate developers took a strictly biological approach to race, and a very narrow definition of leadership and territory. The Mashpees' attorneys responded by qualifying the rigidity of the Montoya ruling, attempting to explain to the jury that a history of social interaction in a community leads to ethnic ascription and collective consciousness of shared culture.
In its own ruling, the jury showed how utterly confused its members had become about the concept of tribe, deciding that the Mashpees had been a tribe in 1834 and 1842, but not in 1790 or 1869, 1870, or for that matter in 1976, the year of the trial. Ignoring the contradictions involved in the capricious appearance and disappearance of tribal identity, the jury did not find that the Mashpee had been an historically continuous community, as required by BAR regulations. The significance of the defeat of the Mashpees for other unacknowledged tribes, such as the Esselens, has been somewhat clearer, however. Since the Mashpee case for recognition as a tribe became a legal jurisdiction over the meaning of tribe in the specific context of the Mashpee struggle to retain control over their lands, the decision in this case once again brings into sharp relief the tightly woven connections between Indian identity, the race/blood conundrum, and historic struggles over territory in the United States. In the case of the Esselen, the weaving together of identity, race/blood, and territory pointedly references these concepts' relationship to language and culture in scholarly and bureaucratic discourses; we must examine this whole cloth in both academic knowledge and common sense.
C. Conceptual conflations in both anthropological and bureaucratic discourses
Anthropologists arriving on the scene in late nineteenth and early twentieth century California, where the political, economic and cultural systems of native peoples, particularly in the coastal region, had been utterly transformed in the ways Sider noted, adhered to an ethnolinguistic model for mapping the locations and boundaries of so-called tribes. This model is itself a product of much larger European world-views, as Smith (1996) recognizes in her analysis of "the symbolics of blood," deep-seated in scholarly, bureaucratic and common sense discourses. Like Smith, Williams (1993) argues that the politics of late nineteenth century European nationalism, which is also the formative period in anthropology's history, shaped certain inescapable and deep-seated conceptual linkages in the West and its colonial hinterlands. Race and culture conflated, such that culture became an integral component of the blood of particular racial groups; culture conflated with nation, such that singular cultures (and languages) became identical with particular territories. One language per culture in one national territory inhabited by one racial group - - in other words what became the formula for post-World War I nation-building in the former Hapsburg and Ottoman imperia.
the native peoples of
"Within these nations the 'mainstream culture' is thus made in the bodily image of the economically and most often also politically dominant racial cum ethnic group. Its essential or 'foundational' elements are then deemed to be produced by members of that group or are those elements which its most powerful members have adopted..." (1993:175)
"Minority groups," those collectivities such as native peoples which are excluded from the national identity learn that even by adopting the norms of "the mainstream" there are limits to the possibilities of integration:
"As tolerated subordinated or acceptable inappropriates, cultural passers can be integrated into the national community but they are not to be confused with the national community" (1993:180-181).
Native peoples in the
"natives are not only persons who are from certain places, and belong to those places, but they are also somehow incarcerated, or confined, in those places" (1988:37).
relevance of this insight to the reservation system in the
"The smallness of the group is in marked contrast to the degree of its linguistic distinctiveness. It is therefore likely to be a remnant of a people that once ranged over a much larger territory . .. . it seems reasonable to believe, accordingly, that the Esselens once owned at least a part of the [coastal] region to their north." (Kroeber 1925: 544-545)
This view was restated in The Handbook of North American Indians:
"Clearly, the Esselen are
among the least-known groups in
Such anthropological knowledge has functioned to make real bureaucratic and common sense notions about the disappearance of native peoples such as the Esselen, making a rocky ground even rockier on the road to federal recognition.
Reconsidering native identity in the
critical analysts such as Williams and Smith have rightly emphasized the
profound roots of race/culture/language/territory conflations in both Western
common sense and scholarly discourses, they and others (e.g. Malkki 1992; Gupta and
" the linguistic group approach encourages scholars to construct fictional past cultures, by extrapolating characteristics documented for one local village group to all the village groups in its language area. Language similarity cannot be assumed to go precisely hand in hand with material or social culture. . . Tribes whose lands bordered linguistically divergent neighbors often shared numerous cultural elements with these neighbors" (Milliken 1991:25-26).
Moreover, he has pointed out that:
"multi-lingualism was a common skill in aboriginal
His approach, and the general
ideas offered by Bean and others impel this section's use of different sources
to generate new interpretations of the
for these new interpretations include: anthropologists who have dissented with
the Kroeberian framework; over two hundred years of
sporadic observations by European explorers, scholars, administrators and
clergy; the ethnographic commentaries of Monterey native people recorded by
Smithsonian linguist John P. Harrington in the 1920s and '30s; and, recent
interviews we have conducted among the membership of the Esselen Nation. In examining these diverse sources of
information and insight concerning native peoples in
"[The land] is thickly settled with people whom I found to be of gentle disposition, peaceable and docile . . . Their food consists of seeds which they have in abundance and variety and of the flesh of game, such as deer which are larger than cows, and bear, and of noat [sic] cattle and bisons and many other animals. The Indians are of good stature and fair complexion, the women being somewhat less in size than the men and of pleasing countenance. The clothing of the people of the coastlands consists of the skins of the sea-wolves abounding there, which they tan and dress better than is done in Castile; they possess also, in great quantity, flax like that of Castile, hemp, and cotton, from which they make fishing lines and nets for rabbits and hares. They have vessels of pine-wood very well-made, in which they go to sea with fourteen paddle-men of a side, with great dexterity -- even in stormy weather." (Merriam Archive n.d.)
description is significant for several reasons.
First, the characteristics Vizcaino attributes to the Monterey natives
—tall and fair — are later used by later observers (Costanso,
Malaspina, Alcalá-Galiano, Lamanon, Balbi, among others) to
characterize only those natives who spoke the Esselen language. Second, Vizcaíno's
observation of dense population is also repeated by later writers, and again
with specific reference to Esselen speakers.
This stands in stark contrast to previous characterizations of the
Esselen as a small population, indeed a remnant group among populations of
speakers of other languages who were consequently non-Esselen. Finally, Vizcaíno's
report of large, pinewood boats paddled by twenty-eight men clad in robes of
sealskin never reappears again in any other source. The description brings to mind the superb
maritime skills and craftsmanship of the Chumash boat-guild (see
next view of
"The natives of
(Merriam Archive n.d.)
The impression of a numerous people appears again, particularly for those who lived in mountainous inland zones, the areas which are later imputed as the main area of settlement of Esselen-speakers. The reputation of the Esselen-speakers as extremely generous and friendly people is also repeated.
citing the next group of visitors, aboard the 1792 expedition led by Alejandro Malaspina and Dionisio Alcalá-Galiano, Cook was at pains to try to distinguish the
Esselen speakers as a distinct culture group, a goal which Merriam did not have
in mind. Merriam included extensive
documentation of Alcalá-Galiano's observations, which
both praise the details of Monterey native people's food collecting
technologies, such as the manufacture of bows and arrows, fishing nets,
processing techniques and the like, and denounce their laziness and stupidity. Decades later, Hester explained that these
vivid denunciations, which describe
However, Alcalá-Galiano also recorded the first vocabularies of Huelel (Esselen) and of a very different language, Rumsen ("Runsien" in his notes) , which apparently were spoken widely by the natives living in the Monterey region.10 The distinction the explorers made between these languages provided Cook with materials with which to argue in favor of a distinct identity among the Esselen speakers; his argument was made in the context of a dissertation had recently been published by an anthropology graduate student at University of California Berkeley which had attempted to discount the existence of a distinct Esselen group (see Pohorecky 1964). Using the Alcala-Galiano accounts, Cook cited specific examples to show that the Esselen-speakers diverged sharply from their neighbors in ways other than language alone. For example, the explorers remarked that the Runsien-speakers considered the sun as human-like and capable of assuming human form, while the Esselens did not. The latter believed that after death humans became owls, whom they venerated, according to these accounts. Yet centuries later, Isabelle Meadows, Harrington's main informant who has been consistently identified as Rumsen because she spoke that language fluently, observed the following:
"Owls (tecolotes), screech owls (lechuzas) were kept by the people in the old days as a pet, not in cages, or maybe not in a cage but they had it outdoors with its feet tied with a bit of rope. never heard of this particular pet. But it is true that owls talk. (Harrington Notes, Reel 71: 481A, 11/35)
In making other distinctions, Alcalá-Galiano reported that the Esselen practiced polygamy while the Runsien did not. In considering acts of adultery, the Runsienes punished the man not the woman, while the Esselen compensated the wronged husband by permitting him to replace his wife. The Runsien did not punish homicide, the Esselen killed murderers. On the death of a chief, the Runsienes divided his possessions among his relatives; the Esselen compelled friends and relatives of the dead man to contribute something to be buried with the deceased. In the end, Cook concluded that:
"there is no question that the Esselen of Monterey County possessed a sharply defined language of their own [and] insofar as a language predetermines culture, the Esselen were distinct and apart from their neighbors. . . . in spite of linguistic and historical divergence the Esselen must have been in active communication with the Costanoans and Salinans" (Cook 1974: 3).
Cook's argument could not escape
the ambiguous implications of shared languages, geographical proximity, and the
possibility of common cultural traits, even as he attempted to draw clear
boundary lines around a separate Esselen people. Moreover, Cook's portrayal of the Esselen,
like the conventional paradigm, continued to view the Esselen-speakers as a very
small population, neglecting the fact that according to the observers on board
Alejandro Malaspina's ships the Sutil
and the Mexicana, "the Esselen were much more numerous than the rival Rumsens" (see Cutter 1990:113). Mariano Vallejo, who lived in the San Carlos
"Isabelle heard it said that there were many people of the Eslenes more than any other of the Indians from here and that they lived down the coast, on the Post Ranch, in Agua Caliente (near the Post Ranch), on the whole coast and at Buena Vista; that they were light and good looking, while the San Antonio Indians were very dark and so were the other Indians around here." (Harrington Notes, Reel 72: 466A, 4/5/32)
observers whose comments were contemporary with or later than those of the Galiano-Malaspina expedition also wrote about the languages
spoken in the
"They were beautiful, the Eselenes, nice and handsome these Eselenes, and they weren't so dark, they were light, those Eselenes . . . they had beautiful skin, these Sureños, they were half-white, there were many people, there were more of these people than of any other nation." (Harrington Notes, Reel 72: 507A, 4/15/32)
any event, the distortions and simplifications of Europeans' interpretations
make some of their comments of dubious value.
The following comments about Huelel were
recorded by Robert de Paul Lamanon aboard the French
expedition that also brought the linguist La Perouse
"Attention is called to the fact that this tribe[Esselen] uses the letter f, rare among California Indians; and that the idiom is richer than in the other native languages . . The language of the Achastliens [Rumsens] is proportioned to the feeble development of their understanding. As they have few abstract ideas, they have few words to express them."
(Merriam Archive n.d.)
Lamanon in 1787 wrote:
"The country of the Ecclemachs extends more than twenty leagues east of
He concluded, falsely, that the Esselens were strangers to this part of
is the richest language of all those known in New California, and its grammar,
according to Lamanon presents the remarkable
singularity of resembling the languages of Europe more closely than those of
interpretation of the alleged "complexity" of Esselen could be that
this language was composed by multiple specialized jargons — for shamans,
healers, basket-makers, boat-builders, hunters, and the like. In the case of Rumsen,
the fact that this language later became the common Indian tongue of Mission San
Carlos, known as Carmeleño among both Indians and
Spaniards, could lead one to hypothesize that even before the arrival of the
Spanish Rumsen had functioned as a trade language or
regional lingua franca for the whole
In 1821, Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta worked with a man named Lutasis Eusebio who spoke Huelel fluently. Lutasis Eusebio identified himself with a specific village located in the mountainous interior on the Arroyo Seco named Enhuakilka, rather than with the language he spoke. As the Spanish crown's dominion over California was replaced by the Mexican Republic (1821) and then by the United States (1848), those who attempted to elicit information about the Esselen language confronted informants who were clearly multi-lingual in Spanish, English, the Rumsen language Carmeleño, and to a variable extent, the Esselen tongue. In 1878, Alphonse Pinart recorded a substantial vocabulary of the "Ex'xien dialect" of Esselen, later copied by Merriam, and by Heizer as well. Pinart's informant, Omesia, later appears in the Harrington notes as a member of Isabelle Meadows' circle of friends, whom as we show below were intimately connected through ties of marriage and consanguineality. Shaul (1995a) reports that Omesia was a Rumsen speaker whose husband spoke Esselen. In the following excerpt, Isabelle Meadows mentions Omesia when Harrington asks her about the origins of the word "icxenta," the name of a coastal village attributed by most anthropologists to ethnically Rumsen:
"Thinks 'icxenta is
at la Reventazon. For Omesia said
that Laureano (Alfonso's father) and others from the Reventazon were going to come: 'icxentay 'ainma,
aid the old lady. The wagon would come
just full of those people, all the children:
Alfonso, Leveriana, Manuel Ramirez, Arcaria, Julia (sister of Alfonso), and tci.kwil (pet name of Pascual), and their mother
In 1890, H.W. Henshaw encouraged a woman named Eulalia, identified as a Rumsen speaker "whose mother had been Esselen" (Shaul 1995a:193), to recount another substantial Esselen vocabulary. Isabelle remembered Eulalia through a friend of hers at the old mission church, Father Mestres:
"Father Mestres knew Eulalia. She died in 1894 at an age of 100 plus years (I am not sure of date or age he mentioned.) She was a little short-statured wrinkled old women. She lived at the Meadows house up Carmel valley (not on the Moore's ranch) Once he was at the house there where she lived and was talking to some other people and they said the reason he (Father Mestres) had so much money was because he had discovered the whereabouts of the mine of the Fathers. Father Mestres assented to this in fun. Eulalia spoke up afterwards and asked him if it was true that he has found this mine. He asked her if there was one, and so she said yes, but I promised my father never to tell anyone where it is.
He persuaded her to show him
samples of the mineral that she had there with her belongings at the room. It consisted of black sand with gold in
it. He told her that confessing to a
priest was not the same thing as telling a thing, and that therefore it was all
right. She saw the justice in that and
he made an appointment with her to take her in his buggy to the place. That day of the appointment he first let her
get her bearings by looking out over the estero at
the mouth of the
'You must let me go back. The bird announced that we must not go.' She insisted on going back" (Harrington Notes, Reel 71: 482A, 482B, 483A, 11/35).
The significance of the owl in
this excerpt hearkens back to earliest reports of its meaning to the Esselen
speakers. The meaning of these
linguistic intertwinings and various cultural traits,
so frustrating to Hester, Cook and others eager to draw sharp ethno-linguistic
boundaries, could be ascribed to at
least two different causalities. In
clinging to the concept of bounded ethno-linguistic cultural groups, analysts
such as Cook proposed that in the
"Sargenta-Ruc may have been an area which was originally Esselen but which had been subjected to an intrusion of Costanoans. If this were a slow process of infiltration, not one of armed and rapid conquest, the missionaries may have encountered a civilization in transition, with a still intact substratum of Esselen overlain by a veneer of Costanoan language and culture" (Cook 1974:9).
Milliken (1981, 1990), in analyzing data about this area and the larger Monterey to Point Sur region, seems to imply that the inter-weaving of linguistic and cultural features in the region stems from inter-marriages that took place in the context of missionization and successive colonial occupations, inter-marriages of necessity between declining populations of distinctively identified and identifying groups.
of these interpretations seems to resemble the picture that emerges from
Harrington's questioning of Isabelle regarding her understandings of language
and identity. In every instance,
Isabelle makes clear that among her ancestors and the native community in which
she lived, language boundaries as they appear in the
anthropological literature did not exist.
Moreover, Isabelle confessed an historical awareness of language change
among her relatives and friends which is entirely absent from the
anthropological literature. These
excerpts were written down by Harrington in a mixture of Californio
Spanish and English, with the addition of words in native languages. The Rumsen language
is always identified as Carmeleño, the language of
"Isabelle knew only one José Cupertino. He lived at el Carmelo, old Carmel Indian; when I ask if he knew 'eslen, Isabelle says: 'Everybody else also spoke it.' Thinks Ularia was his parent, but not sure. Josecillo was another old Indian of the same class, and he didn't know if he had parents" (Harrington Notes, Reel 71: 647B, 11/35).
"Isabelle when I tell her that the Sureños are supposed to have talked Carmeleño, says she doesn't know if they may have talked Eselen earlier and learned Carmeleño here on the coast. All she knows is that the watcarrones talked different, the Carmeleños talked different, the eselenes talked different" (Harrington Notes, Reel 72: 10B, 3/23/32).
"When I asked what language
they talked at the
"The informant [Isabelle] understands that the grandparents of Jacinta, etc. were Eselenes but they no longer spoke it, just Carmeleño and Spanish. All these hollows [have] shells of clams and abalones that they ate and their mortars" (Harrington Notes, Reel 72: 466A, 4/5/32).
lived at the ranch of Bill Post, the Cooper ranch, and down to Agua Caliente (=Tasajara) and probably at San Simeon. But they never explained to Isabelle where the
speaking Indians and where the Carmeleño speaking
Indians lived. Also the Indians of Jashawa were
Isabelle consistently identified Esselen-speaking people as associated with a geographical term: Sureños, or Southerners. Notwithstanding European and Euro-American naming of the other native language of the region "Rumsen" (or some variant thereof) based upon the name of a village in the region with this name, Isabelle did not even recognize the linguistic utility of this term:
"Another kind of Indians here was rúm.cen (better rum.cen). These and the guatcarónes and eselénes were the Indians here. The whites (gente de razon) were called mónc. Has no idea where the rum.cen lived. Very important and carefully heard. No Rumsien at all (Harrington Notes, Reel 72: 20B 4/35).
our work with the descendants of Harrington's informants, we also have found
that these individuals identify the language spoken by their ancestors as Carmeleño. The current generation of old people in the Esselen Nation clearly
remember the Carmeleño language being spoken by their old people among themselves, while
none of the living old people were ever taught this language. All of the interviewed individuals remember
the last speakers of Carmeleño as a veritable social
club that gathered to
speak Carmeleño, sing old songs, and
perform the old dances. Interviewees
also made plain that their older generation also featured the last individuals
who subsisted entirely through farming.
These elderly persons — Isabelle Meadows, Tom Torres, Bibiana Mucjai, Jacinta Gonzalez,
Tomasa Cantua, Placida Losano and Maria Antonia Rios Soto — were Harrington's
linguistic informants but spoke to their young people (the contemporary old
people) in Californio Spanish. In an analogous fashion, moreover, it is
clear that Harrington's informants' old folks spoke the Esselen language
amongst themselves, but taught Carmeleño
to their youngsters. And similarly,
today's old people remember how to speak Spanish with each other, but spoke and
taught only English to their young people.
Yet with all these linguistic transformations, mostly in jumps of three
generations, our genealogical research and the living memories of the
contemporary old people — Myrtle Green, Ernest LeMasters,
Louie Machado, and Lawrence and Eddie Escobar, as well as an individual from
the current middle generation, Rudy Rosales — together document a network of
kinship that did not make ethnic distinctions between speakers of different
languages. All of these people have and
continue to consider themselves native people of the
Below, we summarize in simplified form a catalogue of familial and linguistic relatedness going back three to four generations from the current older generation. We have bold-lettered both ancestral and still living individuals, drawn attention to the important linguistic informants reported by ethnographers and others, and added clarifying excerpts from the Harrington notes.
Myrtle Green's grandmother was Placida Maria Losano, a Carmeleño speaker. Placida was the daughter of Isabela Ramona Mucjai, who was mother (by another man) of Tom Torres, another of the last speakers of Carmeleño. Tom Torres, the great-grandfather of Rudy Rosales (and his sister Gloria Ritter), married Maria Antonia Rios Soto, another key member of the last group of Carmeleño speakers. Maria Antonia was Ernest LeMasters' grandmother. When she married Santiago Alvarez, she became sister-in-law to Maria Jacinta Alvarez, also one of the group of Carmeleño speakers. Maria Jacinta, known as Jacinta Gonzalez in the Harrington Notes, called herself an Esselen, through her mother Manuela Maria Bufanda:
"Jacinta Gonzalez when drunk
would say "I am 'es len, and a southerner (sureño)' (because her father was from the South, he
was called Sebastian, and her mother was 'es len, from here,
In 1902 and 1906, Merriam recorded Esselen vocabulary from Bibiana Mucjai, whom the Harrington Notes show was a participant in the Carmeleño group:
[sic] told Isabelle that in the old days when they danced the bear dance, they
put on a blue blanket for a zapeta . Viviana was at the
house of Tomasa Cantúa (on
Bibiana was the sister of Isabela Ramona Mucjai (the mother of Tom Torres and great-grandmother of Myrtle Green) as well as sister to Maria Agueda Mucjai, the great-grandmother of Lawrence, Eddy, and Lloyd Escobar. Harrington's key linguistic informant in the
"When I ask where 'eslen was spoken, says that her grandfather Antonio Onésimo said that he was a Sureño and that he was born in El Sur, and when a boy there he was chased by a bear, and he talked Carmeleño and never knew that he spoke Eselen" (Harrington Notes, Reel 73: 759B).
Antonio's wife and Isabelle's grandmother, Maria Patcalux, had a sister named Angela de Pulgencio, whose daughter, Maria Tecla Angeles Tuppaj, is the link to the rest of the Carmeleño group and their descendants, all of whom are the contemporary elders of the Esselen Nation. Maria Tecla married Nick Escobar, and were parents to Tomasa, who appears as Tomasa Cantua as seen above in the Harrington Notes, and to Maria Branlia, who was the great-grandmother of Louie Machado. Another of their daughters, Laura Escobar, also an important player in the Carmeleño group, married Alfonso Ramirez, who was the son by Laureano Ramirez of Estefana Real Cholom. Estefana also had children by Manuel Bufanda, and their daughter Maria Manuela Bufanda was therefore Alfonso's half-sister. This link in turn connects all the blood-line and married relations between Maria Manuela Bufanda, Isabela Ramona Mucjai, and Maria Tecla Angeles Tuppaj.
The nineteenth century Esselen informants also are related to these lineages. This is especially true in the case of Henshaw's informant Eulalia. Her great-grandfather, Juan Climaco Cushar, was Isabelle Meadows' great- great-grandfather and also great-grandfather of Maria Tecla Angeles Tuppaj. In the case of Pinart's informant Omesia, the link is stretched. Omesia's daughter, named Micaela Chuquis, married Francisco Peregrino Lopopoche, who was the brother in law of Salvador Mucjai, the father of Isabela Ramona Mucjai. Hopefully future research will reveal more direct information about Omesia herself.
the weaving together of the sources we have consulted in this section, several
interpretive points emerge which resonate with the critique of anthropological
concepts explored in the last section, concepts upon which conventional views
a) The languages spoken in the
b) The Esselen language was not a remnant language; on the contrary, both European explorers and native informants stress that speakers of Esselen were numerous and predominated in the region. Therefore the foregrounding notions in the ethnographic literature used to frame Esselen extinction are inaccurate.
c) The spread of the Carmeleño idiom is likely related to the era of missionization and its aftermath. Early European reports describing the Rumsen/Carmeleño language as less complex than the Esselen tongue may indicate that this language was a trade idiom in pre-Hispanic times, a lingua franca for a linguistically diverse region. The spread of Carmeleño, and its subsequent decline, do not therefore diminish the heritage of the contemporary Esselen Nation as direct descendants of Esselen speaking individuals and communities.
c) The degree of intermarriage and extended kinship over a large region stretching from the long coastline to a broad interior suggest a native world in which horizons stretched beyond the local limits of conventional concepts of tribe/tribelet. Instead, Bean's view of regional integration structured by kinship, trade and shared ceremonial complexes appears to match the information gathered over a three hundred year period.
Concluding remarks: towards a revised culture history of the
have surmised that the archival and ethnographic sources concerned with the
Recently, John and Jean Comaroff have proposed a series of hypotheses regarding the formation of ethnicity, and its relationship to the spread of capitalism through the colonization of the world by Europeans. The Comaroffs write that ethnicity is an inappropriate description for most pre-capitalist societies in which relations of trade, intermarriage and other forms of exchange are roughly symmetrical, while under colonial regimes ethnic boundaries and identities emerge as a function of hierarchical, asymmetrical economic formations. The relevant excerpt from their hypotheses reads:
"while totemism emerges with the establishment of symmetrical relations between structurally similar groupings — groupings which may or may not come to be integrated into one political community — ethnicity has its origins in the asymmetrical incorporation of structurally dissimilar groupings into a single political economy.
More specifically, totemic consciousness arises with the interaction of social units that retain -- or appear from within to retain -- control over the means of their own production and reproduction. It is, in short, a function of processes in which autonomous groupings enter into relations of equivalence or complementary interdependence and, in so doing, fashion collective identities by contrast to one another.
The emergence of ethnic groups and the awakening of ethnic consciousness are, by contrast, the product of historical processes which structure relations of inequality between discrete social entities. They are, in other words, the social and cultural correlates of a specific mode of articulation between groupings, in which one extends its dominance over another by some form of coercion, violent or otherwise; situates the latter as a bounded unit in a dependent and unique position within an inclusive division of labor; and, by removing from it final control over the means of production and/or reproduction, regulates the terms upon which value may be extracted from it"
(Comaroff and Comaroff 1992: 54 - 56).
the Comaroffs' demarcation in mind, let us stretch
the limits of the ethnohistorical imagination at this
point with the following historical scenario.
We conclude that prior to contact with Europeans, the relatively dense
population of the greater
the arrival of European colonialism in the form of Spanish military occupation
and missionization, this diverse human landscape was
profoundly transformed. As elsewhere in
the effects of successive colonialisms conditioned the abandonment of the
Esselen and later Carmeleño languages by native
It is that task which we have attempted to initiate here.
1) Compare: US,
2) Exception: The case of the Gay Head Wampanoag, in which the BAR reversed an initial negative finding and eventually granted full recognition to this tribe (Clifford 1988; Davis 1991).
3) The Spanish established twenty-three
missions, but the usual figure cited is twenty-one, which counts the number of
missions that actually survived. The
"missing two" were La Purísima Concepción
on the lower Colorado River and the nearby San Pedro y
4) Literature analyzing the built
environment and how narratives of place and sociocultural
identity inscribe upon physical space has mushroomed in recent years and also
inform this essay. See Khalidi 1996 in Yaegar (ed.) for
a superb example; also Sarris 1996 in Lavie and Swedenburg (eds.) for such an analysis which focuses upon
5) The terms used to name native societies, both by Europeans in their own languages and by natives in their own and in European languages, have varied considerably. "Nation" was used by all sides in the 18th and 19th centuries (see Berkhofer 1978), and is again being used as an alternative to "tribe" (see for example Jaimes 1992, 1995; Deloria 1984).
6) A reading of recent
anthropology textbooks which are used in undergraduate courses all over the
"Tribes differ from bands in that they have formally organized institutions that unite the scattered residential communities, give the society greater cohesiveness, and make possible a more united response to external threats. . .. Although tribal-level societies are egalitarian, with leadership dependent on part on the persuasive abilities of individuals, formalized political offices with institutional authority exist. . . there was little economic specialization, either individual or regional among tribes. Except for cooperation in communal hunts, families produced their own food and manufactures their own clothes and material goods. From an economic perspective, each band or village was virtually a self-contained unit, capable of sustaining itself without support from other communities. (1994:284-85)
7) Thanks to the work of
Blackburn (1975) and
8) See Jaimes 1992 for an optimistic and Wilson 1992 for a pessimistic view in this regard; Strong 1996 features a political stance derived from a more artistic and literary deconstruction of the role of blood quanta.
9) See Field, Leventhal, and Mondragon (1994) concerning the treatment of the life and death of Ascención Solorsano, the last speaker of the Mutsun Ohlone language, who was thusly considered the "last of her tribe" notwithstanding the numerous descendants she left behind, many of whom survive into the present time.
(Runsien), or what