Thursday, July 16, 2009

Perfuming the Edge of the World, Part 4

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

Discovering the Lost Treasure

In an almost unbelievable stroke of luck (helped along by the foresight of a few remarkable visionaries), the terrain and native plants of the Rumsen Carmel Ohlone territory remain relatively undisturbed. Except for some peripheral development, the main body of land remains almost unchanged beyond the natural acts of nature. Portions of the territory are protected nature preserves.

Within these bountiful areas lies the Holy Grail, the last living evidence of an intricately balanced culture, the place where, by applying the art and science of ethnobotany, a living understanding of the extinct RCO culture emerges.

Here are the native plants still growing in the Ichxenta locale:

Up the Carmel River into the Carmel Valley is Garland Ranch, also part of the RCO territory, and also a protected area. Here are the native plants still growing in the Garland locale:

There is no mention in primary sources of RCO use of incense or fragrant unguents. It can be concluded from secondary sources and from extrapolating our understanding of other California native tribes that they may have, in preparation for the hunt when, after fasting, sweating, and cleansing, utilized the smoke of burning sage to mask their remaining human odor.

Although no record exists of other forms of fragrancing, the RCO did use fragrant herbs and medicines containing roots, barks, leaves, fats, and resins.

Using the scholarly work of a dedicated ethnobotanist as a tabula rosa, the native plants can be cross-referenced with those that were used by the RCO, a process wherein the specific plants and their RCO uses are revealed.

As an interpretive perfumer, I will guide the reader through the making of a spiritual botanical perfume based solely on the plants that were used by the Rumsen Carmel Ohlone people. It will be a prayerful living accompaniment to honor the wisdom of those who were here before us.

May it teach us in the future to conserve rather than use up our natural resources;
to respect all people and their differences rather than to try to form all opinions into a single tribal mentality;
to protect the animals, birds and fish with whom we live—bringing them closer to us once again;
to be true to our innermost being through our own path of spirituality;
to make wise choices in our personal health and habits of living, and to live in harmony one with another, honoring and respecting the older people, caring for the younger people and those who are most frail or vulnerable in our society.

These are the lessons to be learned in honoring the Ohlone Way.

Perfuming the Edge of the World, Part 3

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

At Whaler’s Cove in Point Lobos, stands an old whaler’s cabin that houses a small but priceless Rumsen Carmel Ohlone archaeological assemblage that includes projectile points (including Desert side-notched points), a variety of cores and modified flakes, bone awls, a bone tube, a bone gaming piece, portable mortars, pestles, shell jewelry, and a bone whistle.

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)

Perfuming the Edge of the World, Part 1

Carmel, California began forming in the late 1800’s on ground previously occupied by the Ohlone (pronounced “Oh-lone-nee”). These were the native hunting and gathering inhabitants who preceded the Spanish occupiers who built the still-existing Carmel Mission.

The entire Ohlone (sometimes referred to as Costanoan) territory covered the coastal area of California from the northern San Francisco bay area to what is now the southernmost boundry of Monterey County. There were many independent subgroups within this larger group, many speaking distinctly different languages than their nearby neighbors.

Costanoan and Ohlone are externally applied names, or exonym’s. The Spanish explorers and settlers referred to the native groups of this region collectively as the Costeños (the "coastal people") circa 1769. Over time, the English-speaking settlers arriving later anglicized the word Costeños into the name of Costanoans. (The suffix "-an" is English). For many years, the people were called the Costanoans in English language and records. According to historian Florence Fava, the neighboring Miwuk tribes were the first to refer to this group as the "Ohlones" - the people of the West.

The Costanoan languages are considered by most linguists to be part of the Penutian family of languages, most closely related to Miwok. There were once several distinct Costanoan languages, including Mutsun, Rumsen, Karkin, and Cholon. These languages were as different from one another as the Romance languages of Europe (French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.) Language loss in California has been especially severe. None of the Costanoan languages have been spoken in more than fifty years. However, some of the few remaining Ohlone people are working to revive their ancestral language.

Some archeologists and linguists hypothesize that these people migrated from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River system and arrived into the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas in about the 6th century AD, displacing or assimilating earlier Hokan-speaking populations of which the Esselen in the south represent a remnant. Datings of ancient shell mounds in Newark and Emeryville suggest the villages at those locations were established about 4000 BC.

Through shell mound dating, scholars noted three periods of ancient Bay Area history, as described by F.M. Stanger in La Peninsula: "Careful study of artifacts found in central California mounds has resulted in the discovery of three distinguishable epochs or cultural 'horizons' in their history. In terms of our time-counting system, the first or 'Early Horizon' extends from about 4000 BC to 1000 BC in the Bay Area and to about 2000 BC in the Central Valley. The second or Middle Horizon was from these dates to 700 AD, while the third or Late Horizon was from 700 AD to the coming of the Spaniards in the 1770s.


This monograph is focused on a small group of Rumsen speakers who occupied a small section of the coastal area south of the Carmel River up through the lower end of Carmel Valley to the San Clemente Dam. It is their land on which I was raised in Carmel. From this point forward this group will be referred to as the Rumsen Carmel Ohlone, RCO for short, because it distinguishes them from other nearby groups, and because we don’t know what they called themselves.

This group remained undisturbed until the establishment of the Carmel Mission in the late 1700’s. However initially well-intentioned, the mission system was the equivalent of GITMO on steroids. It was a genocidal pogrom.

Remaining evidence of the Rumsen Carmel Ohlone villages and ways of life are extremely scarce. Few artifacts remain, as they made no pottery, preferring the use of more portable finely woven baskets. Nor did they work with metal. They burned their dead. Their custom of never speaking of the dead precluded the development of any verbal history. They did not value the accumulation of goods or wealth. Of their intricate basketry, remaining examples are scarce. By the time this tiny nation of about two hundred people was ultimately decimated by the effects of the mission system, their previous sustainable, portable lifestyle left little in the way of a footprint of their culture.

Following the confiscation of the missions by the Mexican government in 1834, the few remaining descendants of the RCO travelled to Southern California in 1864 to work on ranches. There, those who can still trace their Ohlone ancestry have recently established the tribes listed below and are making admirable efforts to revive some of the old ways.

Other than these few individuals living several hundred miles away, the tribe is officially classified as being extinct. The Rumsen language, as mentioned above, is no longer spoken and only a few words were ever recorded. By the time photographs of any remaining descendants were taken, tribal life had been virtually obliterated.

Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe
3025 E. Brookside Ct.
Ontario, CA 91761

Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe
3929 Riverside Dr.
Chino, CA 91710

Costanoan Band of Carmel Mission Indians
P.O. Box 1657
Monrovia, CA 91016