THE ESSELEN PEOPLE OF MONTEREY:

 

BASES FOR REINTERPRETATIONS

by

Les Field (University of New Mexico)

Lorraine Escobar (Tribal Genealogist, Esselen Nation)

Alan Leventhal (San Jose State University)

 

 

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.

Throughout United States history, however, many native peoples did not successfully conclude treaty arrangements with the federal government, for reasons that range widely. These peoples have come to be known as the unacknowledged tribes. Their unacknowledged status to a certain extent derives from the very different and distinctive historical epochs and outcomes that occurred during the Spanish, British, French, and Euro-American settlement of North America. In the thirteen states that composed the original United States, many native peoples had been conquered by the British, and had through a variety of means reached accommodations with the colonial power or retreated into very isolated regions. Such peoples frequently came to occupy a murky official status, often as non-Indians (e.g. the Lumbee and the Mashpee Wampanoag) but always as administratively unacknowledged by the federal government. In California, Oregon, and Washington, the unacknowledged status of tribes initially colonized by the Spanish, British, Russians, or freelance Anglo-Americans sometimes resulted from land cessions carried out unilaterally or in other cases by congressional refusal to ratify treaties native peoples had already signed. Whatever the reason, unacknowledged status signified and continues to mean that the United States government refuses to officially recognize that such groups can legally define themselves as native people with legitimate and substantiated relationships to specific territorial, linguistic and sociocultural heritages, and that therefore such groups cannot claim the rights of recognized tribes with respect to local, state, and federal governments.

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 Monterey Bay region of central California (see maps).

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 California ethnology. Such particular bits of anthropological knowledge have become part of both common knowledge (i.e. the widespread notion in central California that native peoples died out some time ago) and official knowledge in state and federal governments.

This 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 Monterey region also greatly aids in reconstructing the identities of these native people, keeping in mind Alberto Melucci's definition of identity:

 

"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 Monterey region, at the same time we reiterate the inadequacy of the conventional conceptual framework for understanding that history.

 

II. The unacknowledged status of the Esselen Nation: an historical summary

 

The California coastline from the contemporary border with Baja California northward as far as Sonoma county was colonized by the Spanish Empire during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Along this coast, some areas featured native population centers or towns, but most of the region composed a relatively densely inhabited rural countryside of numerous small villages or hamlets; native peoples obtained a rich diet through a complex management of wild food resources that did not involve agricultural cultivation (see Blackburn and Anderson eds, 1993). With an eye toward gaining a geopolitical advantage against both Russia and Great Britain, both of which had taken control of large chunks of territory on the north Pacific littoral, Spain deployed a dual strategy in order to secure California (see Weber 1992). On the one hand, the Spaniards constructed a chain of military forts, or presidios, along the coast, which kept vigilant watch on the movements of other European powers and their navies. On the other hand, the Spanish authorities facilitated the establishment of a parallel chain of Franciscan missions (twenty-three in all)3, whose purpose was to transform the native populations. This transformation involved converting the native peoples to Christianity, and concentrating them in small areas where their labor could be turned toward what the Spaniards considered economically productive pursuits (see Jackson and Castillo 1995 and Milliken 1995 for two contemporary contrasting views on the intentionality of the missions). Of course, the presidios also functioned to control and constrain any armed resistance on the part of native peoples to the missions, which on several occasions became necessary (see Jackson and Castillo 1995). The result of this dual strategy utterly transformed not only native peoples' way of life, but the natural environment which had supported native social and cultural systems (see Bean and Blackburn eds. 1976).

So 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 United States, Sider (1993) makes observations about pre-colonial native societies and the effects of colonization which are insightful for the California case as well. While towns may have been less important in native California than in the southeast, Sider's comments can be applied to whole districts of native population in the former case:

 

"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)

 

In California, these new postcolonial units were partly demarcated by the limits of each mission's outlying territory, and partly by Europeans' predilection to identify groups speaking a common language as bounded political entities. In sections that follow, we will discuss the latter, and the implications of bilingualism and language shifts among the native people of Monterey for both anthropologists and those who have made use of anthropological knowledge for political purposes. Paying attention to the first factor for the moment, we note that during and following Spanish colonization, native peoples of the California coast became identified and self-identified with the mission in which they were interned. In the case of the Esselen region, the native people became known as Montereyanos because of the name of the local presidio, or, more frequently, as Carmeleños, derived from the name of La Misión del San Carlos Borromeo de Rio Carmelo Mission. This colonial identity formation, which as Sider (1993) perceived meant that very diverse regional relationships of kin, language, economic, and political alliance were collapsed into simplified identity "packages," continued after California became a part of independent Mexico in the 1820s. Under Mexican sovereignty, however, the nineteenth century ancestors of the Esselen Nation received a series of land-grants related to the Mexican government's secularization of the Franciscan missions (see Field, Leventhal, Underdal, and Escobar 1995).

When the United States annexed California in 1846, and then the state entered the union in 1850, native peoples experienced a series of disenfranchisements, notwithstanding the legal guarantees afforded Indians by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Rights to own property, such as the land grants, bear witness in court, and rights as laborers were systematically denied to Indian peoples (see Hurtado 1988; Rawls 1984) The U.S. Congress appointed special commissioners to negotiate treaties with native Californians. Among the eighteen treaties that resulted from this process, Treaty N of Camp Barbour covered the Esselen people and territory, and would have officialized their status. Unfortunately, Congress ratified none of the treaties, and even knowledge of their existence was suppressed until 1905 (see Heizer 1978). Nevertheless, Esselen ancestors participated in and were recorded by the 1928-33 Special Enrollment of Indians under the California Jurisdictional Act of 1928, and researchers from both the Bureau of American Ethnology (Henry Henshaw, Alfred Kroeber) and the Smithsonian Institute (John Harrington) carried out extensive ethnographic and linguistic research with self-identified Esselens from the 1880s into the 1930s. This substantiation of the Esselens' continuous presence did nothing to alter the federal and state governments' erasure of coastal native peoples in California. Ironically, perhaps even surrealistically, in 1972 the federal government paid out $668.52 to individuals among the Esselen and other native peoples as part of the California Claims settlement, thus at the same time acknowledging and denying their existence as native people.

 

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 California

 

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 California. This divergence - - between Californian foraging peoples and their character, on the one hand, and what anthropologists assert about and expect from foraging peoples on the other - - helps to explain much of the analysis of California peoples. California Indians were foragers, and thus they should have conformed to the band level of sociopolitical organization, with the associated traits characterizing the band such as nomadism, minimal material culture, an economic system based purely upon reciprocity and non-specialized production, etc. But California Indians did not conform to that mold. This is problematic for anthropologists now, as it must have been earlier in this century when anthropological studies of California Indians began. One way to think about anthropologists' use of tribe in California (usually deployed in the diminutive form "tribelet" coined by Kroeber), is as a solution to the problem of categorizing the sedentary sociopolitical units they found there, which were larger, more wealthy and more socially complex than the bands found among foragers living in the marginal habitats where anthropologists had worked elsewhere in the world. These solutions remain attractive to contemporary anthropological work in the state

Alfred Kroeber adapted the concept to the circumstance of foraging people living in a biotically resplendent habitat. In California's north-central region (which includes the Monterey-Carmel coastline), he wrote:

 

"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)

 

In this excerpt, Kroeber made clear that a tribe in this part of California was by nature small and bounded, connected to other tribes by shared language, a territorial entity populated by several settlements, characterized by rather informal leadership with minimal social hierarchy, and denominated by a main settlement or the name of a chief. In his widely read and quoted The Natural World of the California Indians (1980), Heizer and Elsasser distilled Kroeber's definition of tribe as follows, specifying the denomination of the smaller unit, the "tribelet," which pertained to the north-central region:

 

"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 California. The Yokuts of the San Joaquin Valley and the Yuman tribes of the Colorado River fell within this definition. Elsewhere in the state the so-called tribelet organization prevailed. A tribelet is one of a series of small groups that shared a language with their neighbors, but each had its own local name and territory. Tribelets contained from 100 to 500 persons and had from a few to a score of villages, one of which (usually the largest) was the tribelet capital because it was where the chief resided. Chiefs in California had little formal power, but were wise and experienced men whose advice was listened to, especially when it was supported by a majority of the old men, who constituted an informal council group. Chieftainship was customarily a hereditary position, with a chief's son usually succeeding him (1980:5-6).

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 U.S., and for peoples living under the onus of unacknowledged status in particular.

If Godelier decisively undermined the evolutionist paradigm and the tribe concept on the level of theory, a volume of essays edited by Bean and Blackburn in 1976 did the same work specifically in the realm of California Indian ethnography. Bean's and others' contributions to this volume directly undermine conventional notions of tribelets as bounded and provincial, and instead paint a picture of much larger, if loosely united, sociopolitical units:

 

"In northern and central California stable trade and military alliances seem to have involved at least three tribelets, often members of different ethnic nationalities, whose ecological potential was mutually useful (e.g. ocean, river, foothill, and mountain peoples allied for mutual exchange and protection). These alliance structures appear to have been determined by ecological factors, extending to the logical, naturally imposed limits within an area. . . . Between the level of political confederations and alliance levels which were sometimes coterminous, there were ritual congregations. . . which linked California tribelets with other tribelets and ethnic nationalities. It has been suggested that the Kuksu and World Renewal rituals did [so] for central and northern California" (Bean 1976:104).

 

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 Blackburn volume set in motion. Together, these articles provide a platform for alternative reconstructions of coastal California ethnography, at least for scholarly work. However, native Californians, such as the Esselen, and all native groups, recognized and unacknowledged alike, must live with conceptions of tribe operative beyond the scholarly world. Academic deconstructions of the concept of tribe are likely immaterial in and of themselves to the readers of acknowledgment files in the BAR who can reject or recognize a group such as the Esselen. We now turn to the bureaucratic conceptualization of tribe, intertwined as it is with the scholarly notions we have reviewed above.

 

B. Tribe, blood, race and territory in bureaucratic discourses

 

The 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 U.S. government involved land cessions by the former in exchange for partial control over small parcels of territory (reservations) and various promises of material aid and obligation on the part of the latter. This pattern, which federal and local officials appear to have understood as a temporary state of affairs leading to ultimate assimilation of native peoples and their remaining lands into the nation (Jaimes 1992), was still operative when California became a state in 1850 (see Phillips 1997). The Dawes Act (1887), the first major modification, was designed to speed along the process of assimilation by splitting ownership of vast tracts of the reservations into individual allotments of 160 acres. Allotted reservations generally meant wholesale loss of Indian land through their sale to whites by impoverished Indians. Indeed, reservation holdings dwindled to nearly one third of their former size. The more pernicious effects of the Dawes Act, however, stemmed from the blood quantum requirements of individuals receiving allotments. That is, the law entitled only those Indians who could document one-half or more Indian blood as eligible for allotments. Such a law obviously depended upon very strange, Western notions of blood as a real substance composed of measurable percentages ultimately determinant of racial, social, and cultural identity (see Strong and Van Winkle 1996; Jaimes 1992, 1995; Smith 1996 for a more general analysis of blood and race in the Americas; and below) which have ever since decisively shaped Indian identity for both Indians and non-Indians.

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 US government, and the obligatory imposition of federally approved tribal governments as the singular official conduit for the relationship between recognized Indian peoples and the federal government. Tribal governments elaborated the use of blood quantum for the purposes of tribal enrollment and access to very limited benefits funneled to recognized tribes from the federal government. The IRA thus greatly exacerbated the differences between recognized tribes and unacknowledged peoples through the universalization of the approved form of tribal organization and the naturalization of blood pedigrees as a marker of Indian race. These differences were again heightened during the third major modification, the termination and relocation period beginning in 1953. The laws eliminated numerous recognized groups by revoking their tribal status, while simultaneously mandating the relocation to several urban areas of large numbers of individuals from both recognized and newly terminated tribes. Relocation, it was hoped, would facilitate miscegenation, which in tandem with blood quantum requirements would also dramatically decrease the population enrolled in recognized tribes (see Biolsi 1995).

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.

For the native peoples of Europe's colonial world, these conflations had two outcomes. On the one hand, race/blood/culture/territory/language conflations are the recipe for excluding native peoples from national identity, as Williams describes:

 

"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 United States and the rest of the Americas occupy a peculiar position relative to other minorities with respect to the territorial facet of the nation-building conflations discussed by Williams and others. As Appadurai has noted in nation-states:

 

"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).

 

The relevance of this insight to the reservation system in the United States is obvious, but the broader implications for California native peoples apply to the whole way anthropologists mapped the distribution of natives using their own version of the race/language/culture/territory conflation. These complex maps (see Heizer and Elsasser 1980), while to a certain extent revealing the extraordinary linguistic diversity of native California, presented as factual the false idea that language groups classified by anthropologists were identical with ethnic affiliation as practiced by natives. But there is more. Insofar as language was prima facie evidence for cultural identity and territorial occupation, the disappearance of a language became evidence for the cultural and racial extinction and territorial disappearance of a previously identified group.9 For the native people of the Monterey-Carmel region, the fairly rapid disappearance of the Esselen language (denominated Huelel by the speakers themselves in several sources, see Shaul 1995a, 1995b) following statehood led anthropologists to conclude not only that the Esselen culture and racial group had also disappeared, but that the Esselen language speakers/culture/race/blood had been marginal to begin with:

 

"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 California. Sometime in the early decades of the nineteenth century, the Esselen became culturally extinct, the first among California Indians to so vanish. Thus it is almost impossible, given the paucity of reliable data, to define the nature of this small tribe. Early accounts make it evident that the Esselen were different from both their Salinan and Costanoan neighbors (Balbi 1826; Kroeber 1904a) although it is difficult to determine whether or not . . . distinctions are made on other than linguistic grounds" (Hester 1978:496-497).

 

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.

 

IV. Reconsidering native identity in the Monterey region

 

While 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 Ferguson 1992) have outlined antidotes to these heady brews. In California ethnohistory, Milliken argues that:

 

" 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 California. Wherever districts or tribelets of two different languages lay contiguous to one another, we may assume that most of the adult speakers were bilingual"(Milliken 1990:73).

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 Monterey region's native ethnohistory. These new interpretations, like the critiques we have already explored, cannot by themselves move the Esselen towards federal recognition, but which are nonetheless important parts of that process.

Sources 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 Monterey, we note that two anthropologists took on the task of assembling an extensive archive of materials about the peoples described as Esselen (or alternatively as "Ecclemach," "Eslene," "Ex'xien," and other near variants of the name). The first to do so was C. Hart Merriam (n.d.) in the early years of this century; Sherburne Cook's later archive (1974) was in fact largely based upon Merriam's work, and has been curated at the Bancroft Museum Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Merriam's archive provides the first European view of the Monterey coast and its natives, recorded by explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in 1604 in his diary. In one excerpt, certain impressions of Monterey natives are first established, impressions which are repeated by later visitors. Sailing into Monterey Bay on May 23, 1603, Vizcaíno wrote:

 

"[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.)

 

This 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 Hudson et. al. 1978), and might lead one to imagine a much wider distribution of such knowledge on the central California coast which unfortunately cannot be further documented.

The next view of Monterey afforded by European eyes in Merriam's archive reveals both resonant and somewhat different views. Miguel Costanso, a member of the Portolá Expedition (1769-1770), which from Monterey explored northward into the Santa Clara valley and the San Francisco Bay Area wrote:

 

"The natives of Monterey live in the hills, the nearest about one and a half leagues from the beach. They come down sometimes and go out fishing in little rafts of reeds.. . .. Game is very plentiful in the mountains, especially antelopes and deer. These mountaineers are very numerous, extremely gentle and tractable. They never came to visit the Spaniards without bringing them a substantial present of game . . . [t]heir good disposition has given the missionary fathers well-founded hopes of speedily winning them over to the faith of Christ."

(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.

In 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 Monterey natives as "the most stupid as well as the ugliest and filthiest of the natives of America" should be seen in the light of "twenty years of mission life" after which "the Esselen apparently existed in a degraded state" (Hester 1978:498). The contrast with the earlier observers' reports is certainly evident.

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 Mission at Monterey from 1826-1842, wrote that at the founding of the mission in 1770: "The religious solemnity was presented for a great number of the Indians of the Eslene tribe."(Merriam Archive) Such estimations receive an intersecting confirmation centuries later in the commentaries of Isabelle Meadows, Harrington's main linguistic informant:

 

"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)

 

Many observers whose comments were contemporary with or later than those of the Galiano-Malaspina expedition also wrote about the languages spoken in the Monterey area, about the Esselen language particularly, and compared the relative populations of different speakers. Their assessments are imbued with Eurocentric standards of complexity, beauty, and value; nonetheless, these evaluations are useful because notwithstanding their prejudice they belie much that was later written about the Esselens and the Monterey region. In the much later narratives Monterey natives told to Harrington, it is unclear whether his informants had internalized Eurocentric standards, relying on native concepts, or a combination of both, as when Isabelle Meadows explained to Harrington:

 

"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)

In 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 to California's shores in the late 1780s. La Pérouse collected a brief vocabulary of Esselen in 1786 and noted:

 

"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 Monterey. The dialect of these tribes differs entirely from those of their neighbors; it has more resemblance to the European than to other native tongues . . . The idiom of this nation is richer than those of the other tribes in California." (Merriam Archive n.d.)

 

He concluded, falsely, that the Esselens were strangers to this part of America but had taken up residence on the Pacific shore a very long time ago. Another Frenchman, Adrien Balbi, made similar conclusions, allegedly based on the Lamanon notes, yet differing from them as well, as late as 1826:

 

"The Ecclemach 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 America." (Merriam Archive n.d.)

 

One 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 Monterey region. Both languages were apparently widely spoken in the Monterey region during two hundred years of European observers' reports. With each successive report, the link between spoken idiom and ascribed identity becomes more unclear, unless one conflates language, culture, and territory, as many anthropologists have done.

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 Sacramento, each hand had but three fingers, and early turned deaf." (Harrington Notes, Reel 72: 23B, 4/35)

 

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 Carmel River from Carmel church, towards the point of Lobos, and then they started on again. After they had driven some distance, an owl flew and made a noise, and suddenly she stopped and said:

'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 Monterey region the Costanoan Rumsen speakers represented the migration of a new ethnic group into formerly Esselen territory. In trying to explain the reports of multi-lingual speakers in the village of Sargentaruc, Cook argues:

 

"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.

Neither 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 the Carmel mission, which spread to the entire Indian community within the memory of immediate ancestors of Harrington's informants. The spread of Carmeleño and decline of Esselen need not be seen as a confusing or unique occurence. Imperial Spanish language policies throughout the Americas typically featured attempts by church and secular authorities to reduce the number of native languages spoken and to utilize a single native language in addition to Spanish as the idiom of official discourse. Native groups may not even record within their cultural memory that an older language was displaced by a common indigenous idiom under the encouragement of the colonial administration, as Field (1992) found in northern Ecuador. (see also Albo 1979 and Harrison 1990 for the case of Quechua in the Andes; Gamboa 1996 in Field n.d. describes the domination of Nahuatl over local native tongues as part of Spanish policy in Nicaragua). Yet Isabelle and her friends did possess an acute memory and understanding of linguistic shift in their community:

 

"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 Big Sur rancheria, she says they had already stopped speaking the Eselen language and they used the pure idiom of the mission here, such as Isabelle's immediate ancestors talked. So don't be too sure that the coast south of Carmelo was not Eselen in language" (Harrington Notes, Reel 72: 48B, 3/24/32).

 

"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).

 

"The Sureños 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 'eslen speaking Indians and where the Carmeleño speaking Indians lived. Also the Indians of Jashawa were brought into Carmel mission to Christianize them. but she doesn't know what language they spoke, but supposed they spoke Carmeleño or maybe mixed Carmeleño and Eselen. When I ask again if the Eselen were costeños, she says for sure, the Indians lived on the shore of the coast where they ate clams, which means nothing" (Harrington Notes, Reel 73: 759B, 10/34).

 

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).

 

In 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 Monterey region.

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, from Buena Vista, I don't know where). She would add: 'Because of this, I am wicked'" (Harrington Notes, Reel 37: 667)

 

In 1902 and 1906, Merriam recorded Esselen vocabulary from Bibiana Mucjai, whom the Harrington Notes show was a participant in the Carmeleño group:

 

Viviana [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 Abrigo St. in Monterey), and Tomasa Cantúa, and Isabelle and Pancho Martinez were there. Tomasa Cantúa sent her husband (Manuel Cntua) out for a bottle of whiskey from there in the bar, and they all drank some, and Viviana took her black shawl and put it around her hips like a zapeta, just like the bear dancer in the old days would put on a nice blue blanket de zapeta, and Pancho Martinez sang in the Carmelo language a bear song (he and others also sang escondidas game songs in Carmeleño when they played escondidas) and Viviana danced. That was the first time Isabelle had ever heard the bear song, and cannot remember tune or words. Viviana danced with her hands outstretched (unclenched), fingers in front of her imitating a dancing bear, holding hands first to one side then to the other, and suddenly she growled, as if she was ready to bite, destroying like a bear and dancing (Harrington Notes, Reel 71: 331- 332A).

 

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 Monterey area, Isabelle Meadows, perhaps the central figure in the Carmeleño-speaking social group, surmised that her grandfather, Antonio Onesimo spoke Esselen.

 

"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.

From 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 of Monterey native peoples have been based. We conclude that:

a) The languages spoken in the Monterey region did not define bounded groups in the view of native informants as far back as we have information.

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.

 

V. Concluding remarks: towards a revised culture history of the Monterey region

 

We have surmised that the archival and ethnographic sources concerned with the Monterey region undermine the conventional anthropological interpretations of the Esselen-speaking people and the theoretical frames for the conventional views in anthropological and bureaucratic discourses. At the end of the last section we proposed alternative interpretations of the source materials, and it is appropriate in conclusion to further explore alternative theoretical frameworks for reconceptualizing the culture history of this area.

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).

 

With 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 Monterey region was composed of Esselen speaking communities that were more often than not bilingual in the Costanoan language known to anthropologists as Rumsen and to Native people of the last two hundred years as Carmeleño. Over this broad region, ritual and ceremonial complexes were shared and a variety of goods were produced and extracted for trading in a partially monetized economy in which trading partners occupied roughly symmetrical positions with respect to one another. Marriage and kinship structured networks between disparate communities, and these broad networks composed the substance of numerous totemic identities distributed across the region. It is unfortunate indeed that little or no data that could substantiate such totemic identities in the Monterey area has been found in the archives thus far analyzed; however, information from elsewhere in California suggest that totemic identities linked to kin-structured social organization did exist in the larger region before contact with Europeans (see Goldschmidt in Bean and Blackburn 1976).

With the arrival of European colonialism in the form of Spanish military occupation and missionization, this diverse human landscape was profoundly transformed. As elsewhere in what became Latin America, Spanish domination of myriad indigenous peoples produced a subaltern "ethno-class:" the Indians (see Rasnake 1988). For the Spaniards, California Indians figured as a very bizarre non-cultivating people in a land of plenty, whose customs were all equally barbaric and whom they mostly differentiated on the basis of the different languages spoken. This distinction became formalized in the evolutionist perspectives of anthropological analysis that classified California natives as tribes and bounded them within linguistically defined ethnic territories. Anthropologists in effect completed the work of transforming formerly totemic identities into ethnic ones, in which the criteria used for defining the latter did not historically correspond to the elements of the former.

When the effects of successive colonialisms conditioned the abandonment of the Esselen and later Carmeleño languages by native peoples of Monterey, their descendants could no longer fulfill the requirements and assumptions of the dominant ethno-linguistic classification system. Yet the descendants remained within the greater Monterey region, linked by the old ties of kinship, and with an understanding of their own history and ancestry. In order to reclaim their ancestry, the descendants, who now compose the membership of the Esselen Nation must show not only that they have in fact survived, but that the whole manner in which their history has been told must be recast with a new set of concepts.

It is that task which we have attempted to initiate here.

 

 

Notes:

 

1) Compare: US, South Africa, and Israel vis-à-vis the acquisition of territory during the colonial process at the expense of indigenous peoples, and how the nation utilized forms of limited sovereignty to control native populations and facilitate their ultimate disempowerment, even cultural demise.

 

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 San Pablo, both of which were destroyed by local native peoples. One apparent consequence of "forgetting" these two makes it possible to gloss over the powerful resistance to the missions on the part of native peoples in what is now California, and to reproduce the impression that native peoples reacted passively to missionization.

 

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 central California native peoples.

 

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 United States underlines the former point explicitly. In Peoples and Bailey's Humanity, the tribe is considered an evolutionary step up from the band, the smallest unit of social organization discovered by anthropologists, and considered by these writers and many others as typical of the foraging stage in human evolution.

"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 Hudson and Blackburn (1982), and later Arnold (1987, 1992, 1995), a strong, very striking ethnohistoric portrait of the Chumash has emerged. Their work details the materially quite accomplished aspects of this society, in its mastery of boat-building, navigation, wood, stone, and fiber manufactures, and in the elaboration of complex, specialized, socially stratified social organization that belies the conventional descriptions of tribal or even chiefdom societies.

 

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.

 

10) Rumsen (Runsien), or what Monterey Indians ethnographically called Carmeleño, has been classified as one of the Costanoan or Ohlone languages, which are part of the Penutian language family (see Levy 1978). Huelel, by contrast, is a Hokan language (see Shaul 1992). However, Dinwoodie (1997) points out that both the Penutian and the Hokan language families are extremely problematic for contemporary linguists.