Thursday, July 16, 2009

Perfuming the Edge of the World, Part 2

(This is the second part of an article about the Rumsen speaking Carmel Ohlone Native Americans.)

The Rumsen Carmel Ohlone territory is identified as Number 2 on the above map.

Location, Location, Location
As hunter-gatherers, RCO’s were constantly on the move throughout their territory, following the seasonal crops, animal and seafood cycles as they occurred. They were a complex society who were dependent on fishing and hunting. The land and sea provided well for them, and what they had in abundance they traded for items they could not obtain locally. Thus, they maintained a mutually beneficial association with other nearby groups and travelling native traders with whom they nevertheless maintained a wary ongoing vigilance.

The RCO managed their land well, taking surprisingly modern agricultural steps, such as controlled burning, to maintain an ideal provision of food, clothing, shelter, fuel, and tools. The wet meadows that preserved the water supplies were coppiced by the women to encourage the growth of choice basketry materials.

Margolin, in The Ohlone Way, offers a rich description of the annual life rhythm:
“For the Ohlones one harvest followed another in a great yearly cycle. There were trips to the seashore for shellfish, to the rivers for salmon, to the marshes for seeds, roots, and greens. There were also trips for milkweed fiber, hemp, basket materials, tobacco. and medicine.

Thus Ohlone life was a series of treks from one harvest to another. As one food or material ripened or came into season--and the season was often quite brief--the people worked hard to collect it and in some cases to dry, smoke, or otherwise preserve it. Then, after a small respite, there would be another harvest, another event, another episode in the year.

The series of ripenings and harvestings divided the year into different periods, and gave Ohlone life its characteristic rhythm. Moving from one harvest to the next, the Ohlone led what early observers called 'a wandering life.'

Each triblet had a major village site, but they did not live there throughout the year. 'They moved their village from place to place,' comment Father Francisco Palou. Sometimes the whole group traveled together. Other times it split up into separate families. But always the Ohlones were on the move, wandering about their land in pursuit of still another ripening crop."

The RCO had one or more permanent villages usually consisting of dome-shaped thatched huts clustered around an open area. At Point Lobos, the Ohlone established spring and summer village sites near the mouth of San Jose Creek at the Reserve's northern boundary and along Gibson Creek, which forms the southern edge of the Reserve.

This village along San Jose Creek, known as Ichxenta (pronounced “Ah-shen-ta”), was first occupied about 2,500 to 3,000 years ago, and is thought to be the longest inhabited Ohlone village site in the Monterey area. Within the Reserve, nineteen sites have been identified which were used as seasonal camps while gathering abalone and mussels or grinding seeds and acorns into meal. Other RCO villages of Achasta and Tucunut were located across the nearby Carmel River, close to the site where the Carmel Mission was later established.

Today, signs of the Ohlone's former presence can be found in many forms: black dirt from years of campsite fires, grinding stones, and large mounds of cast-away shells called middens.

The wandering life set the Ohlones apart from many other North America Natives. They did not cultivate or depend on one specific food source. They followed a more ancient way: the way of the hunter-gatherer. "Like the Arabs and other wandering tribes," wrote Captain Frederick Beechey, "these people moved about the country and pitch their tents wherever they find a convenient place."

In contrast to other parts of the world where hunter-gatherers lived in less favorable environments and needed expansive territories over which they could range in pursuit of food and water, in Carmel the abundance of wildlife and edible plants allowed for a small territory. “Stephen Powers' characterization of a Maidu people to the northeast of the Bay Area might just as accurately have described the Ohlones: ‘They shift their lodges perpetually: yet it is very seldom that a Nishinam, after all his infinite little migrations, dies a mile from the place of his birth. They are thoroughly home-loving and home-keeping, like all California Indians.’"

”Thus we can picture an Ohlone family on one of its ‘infinite little migrations.’ They number perhaps a dozen people. The old and infirm have been left behind in the main village where they will be visited regularly by other family members who make certain they are well-fed and comfortable. The women of the group are weighted down with burden baskets and digging sticks. Sets of cooking baskets and a variety of skins and pouches are heaped on top of the burden baskets. Some of the women have babies in cradles lashed to the top of everything else.

The older children carry small baskets full of seeds, acorns, and dried meats and fish. The men have quivers of bows and arrows tucked under their arms: over their shoulders are slung carrying nets filled with skins, knives, fire- making tools, beads, cordage, and perhaps ceremonial regalia. Some of the men and women also carry medicine bundles hidden within their baskets or nets.

They stop frequently along the trail to eat, nap or simply rest. The children romp about, excited by the sight of new or seldom-visited meadows. The men poke among the bushes, wandering off to revisit an old quarry site, a bear den, an eagle's nest, or some other point of interest. The women rest at the side of the trail: they are tired, for a fully-loaded burden basked weighs up to 200 pounds.

Later in the day the people arrive as their destination. The children gather firewood, the women unpack their baskets and cook dinner, and the men set about constructing shelters as a sweat-house. Within a day or two everyone is settled, the encampment is complete, and the people are thoroughly ‘at home.’"(Margolin)

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