The Supernatural World of the Kawaiisu


Maurice Zigmond1

                     The most obvious characteristic at the supernatural world of the Kawaiisu is its complexity, which stands in striking contrast to the “simplicity” of the mundane world. Situated on and around the southern end of the Sierra Nevada mountains in south - - central California, the tribe is marginal to both the Great Basin and California culture areas and would probably have been susceptible to the opprobrious nineteenth century term, ‘Diggers’ Yet, if its material culture could be described as “primitive,” ideas about the realm of the unseen were intricate and, in a sense, sophisticated. For the Kawaiisu the invisible domain is tilled with identifiable beings and anonymous non-beings, with people who are half spirits, with mythical giant creatures and great sky images, with “men” and “animals” who are localized in association with natural formations, with dreams, visions, omens, and signs. There is a land of the dead known to have been visited by a few living individuals, and a netherworld which is apparently the abode of the spirits of animals - - at least of some animals animals - - and visited by a man seeking a cure. Depending upon one’s definition, there are apparently four types of shamanism - - and a questionable fifth.

                     In recording this maze of supernatural phenomena over a period of years, one ought not be surprised to find the data both inconsistent and contradictory. By their very nature happenings governed by extraterrestrial fortes cannot be portrayed in clear and precise terms. To those involved, however, the situation presents no problem. Since anything may occur in the unseen world which surrounds us, an attempt at logical explanation is irrelevant. Experiences attributable to extra animals - - human influences can only be described; they need not be explained or understood.


                     Even a cursory inquiry into the nature of that other world gives the unmistakable impression that the prevailing mood is one of evil foreboding. With rare exceptions, the “signs” point to disaster and death, and they are so numerous that it can probably be said that any unusual sight or sound may be interpreted as conveying a portentous message. The word “unusual” as used here would include the flight at night of a bird normally expected to be seen during the day. The general term for such intimations of doom is tuuwatuugidi - - a word which has thus far not yielded to linguistic analysis. It is to be understood that a tuuwatuugidi is an announcement of impending doom and not a key to prevention. Furthermore, the omen is not likely to specify the individual victim. The immediate reaction is not “What can I do to prevent it?” but “Who will be, or has been, the victim?” (The disaster may already have struck, but news of it may not yet have reached all parties concerned.) In a few situations counteraction may be possible. If it can be determined that the sign - - especially in dreams - - has been sent by a witch (a bewitching shaman) who can be identified, a powerful curing shaman may be able to nullify its evil intent. But for the most part the tuuwaruuqidi is not responsive to human interference.

                     No exhaustive list of tuuwaruugidi can be compiled since most “unusual” phenomena are unpredictable. The following items were recorded in the course of fieldwork among the Kawaiisu and were embedded in ethnographic and mythological reports. Some of these will be considered at some length later.

Seeing a ring around the moon Seeing a crescent moon standing on end (in this position the moon is called niwinookaridi, ‘person-carrying’)

Seeing a falling star which starts high and falls to the horizon

Counting the stars but counting short (cf. the story about the counting of bedrock mortar holes under Localized Supernatural Beings)

Seeing an eagle drop dead

Seeing strange behavior in animals - - like a dog talking

Seeing a sudden gathering of animals, birds, or flies

Seeing a large fish in a creek where only small fish are expected

Seeing localized beings (animals or people)

Seeing a drop of blood in the house

Seeing a rattlesnake in the house (the plant which cures rattlesnake bites is never kept in the house for it also attracts rattlesnakes)

Seeing the “laughing” bird (species unknown) in the house

Seeing a person known to be elsewhere

Seeing an unknown person who has put in a sudden and unexplained appearance

Seeing a limb of a seemingly healthy tree break off (if an old tree, an elderly person will die if a young tree, a young person)

Seeing White Coyote, the Great Snake, the Man-carrying Bird, or the Giant Locust

Seeing the Rock Baby or hearing his cry

Hearing unidentified knocking or walking around the house

Hearing a coyote howling near the house on successive nights

Hearing talking, calling, or whistling from an unknown source

Hearing an owl hooting in flight or quails calling after dark

Dreaming of the death of someone living

Dreaming of grizzly bear, rattlesnake, coyote, the Rock Baby, or the Giant Locust

Looking at the mountain with the “rattlesnake’s tooth” rock formation in the spring

Cutting your hair (but you may shave yourself)


                     A central element in the supernatural structure of the Kawaiisu is the vision, whether it comes in the form of a dream or an hallucination. It may present itself at a time of consciousness or of unconsciousness; but its message, whether constructive or destructive, is never dismissed as meaningless. Artificially induced dreams are called for in a variety of situations, and a number of ways of seeking them are known and practiced. The goal may be to live long, to avoid illness, to find a cure, to annul the dire effects of a vision which has come to one’s self, or to someone else about one’s self. Because visions may be sources of power, goad luck, or information, they are deliberately sought even though there is always the possibility that they will presage disaster. The desire to gain beneficial visions leads people to undertake one of several accepted procedures. These include the drinking of an infusion of jimsonweed root (Datura wrightii), the eating of tobacco (Nicotiana bigelovii), the swallowing of live red ants in balls of eagledown, walking nude through a growth of nettles (Urtica halosericea) - - all these regimens also have therapeutic value (see my forthcoming Kawaiisu Etbnobotany) - - end talking to the mountains or to the darkness, usually alone on a mountain height and at night. The resultant revelation may call for further action or counteraction.

                     The meaning of some of the dreams is self-evident. When Emma Williams was a small girl, a woman who had taken the jimsonweed drink (toloache) related that in her hallucinatory vision she had seen Emma dead. This demanded a prompt response. Emma had to undergo toloache. Thereby she not only escaped harm, she lived to a ripe old age. But the messages of many dream situations are more subtle. While these may have been an integral part of traditional knowledge, the data at hand do not provide a comprehensive analysis of dream interpretation. However, specific instances were cited from time to time, and from these it is clear that the revelation may be either benevolent or malevolent.

                     Dreaming of deer is a favorable omen. If a hunter dreams of killing deer, he will have successful hunting. Should a young man dream of deer singing, he will become a huviagadi (curing shaman, see below). If a hunter has a vision of women, he will see female deer the next day. Dreaming of rolling rocks is a good-luck sign for the hunter. Seeing one a self winning a fight brings good luck. Dreaming of clear water or of snow foretells goad health, and an ill person having such a vision is assured of recovery. It is a good sign to dream of being in the mountains especially where there is timber. A dream of fish makes one a tireless swimmer (although such a consequence was cited, it should be noted that Kawaiisu territory offered little opportunity for swimming).

                     There are, of course, visions which have negative implications. It is unlucky to dream of fire for this means fever is coming. Falling off a cliff indicates that one may soon die. If you are beaten in a dream - fight, you will be sick and helpless. If you picture someone you know crying, disaster will befall one of his relatives. If you recognize someone drowning, he will die or is in some danger. Dreaming of sexual intercourse is a warning that you will be subject to sickness and weakness. In this situation it is advisable to refrain from intercourse for a time. As will be discussed in a later section, dreams involving Coyote and his children have sexual connotations. The hapless dreamer who is ravished by Coyote’s sons or daughters will be left exhausted. But dream-contact with Coyote may be dangerous in other ways. Unless some counteraction is taken, he or members of his family may push you over a precipice or into water or fire. The death of Steban Mirandas wife (Tubatulabal) was attributed to Coyote’s sons. She had dreamed of them but neglected to take the protective step of “talking to the dark.” A day or two later, while getting water near a dam, she fell into the water and drowned.

            Dreaded are those dreams recognized as having been sent by a pohagadi (bewitching shaman, see below). The sight of such creatures as the rattlesnake, the grizzly bear, the coyote, the ̉̉uwan̉̉azi  (the Rock Baby, q.v.), and the haakapaizizi (the Giant Locust, q.v.) may well prove that a pohagadi is using his baneful power against you. Counteraction is called for; several neutralizing steps are suggested. The dreamer can go to the mountains and tell the evil power not to bother him. A huviaqadi may be able to reveal the identity of the witch, but a rash accusation without the corroboration of a huviagadi may prompt the witch to increase his pernicious activities. The latter, however, may be unaware of his destructive abilities and, when confronted by a curing shaman, may agree to desist. An informant told of a situation in which the victim and her relatives alternately threatened and bribed an alleged pohagadi in an effort to persuade her to stop causing pain and suffering in the form of arthritis. In extreme cases the witch might be put to death.

                     A potential consequence of the dreams sent by a pohagadi is that, if they persist, the dreamer might himself become a pohagadi. As soon as parents are aware that their child is having such dreams, they do what they can to alter his dream-pattern, since a witch’s life is fraught with danger. (James Scobie, non-Indian rancher, told of five murders of Indians accused of witchcraft in the area.) Solitary vigils in the mountains are deemed effective counter-measures. A pohagadi, however, might instruct his children in his art. One element in this training is to toughen the skin by walking nude through a stand of nettles. Marie relates that, when she was a child, she encountered a young girl who said to her, “Let’s walk through the nettles and see who is tougher.” Marie would not come near, but the girl took off her clothes and walked through. The latter grew up to be a witch. Her father was also a pohagadi She is said to have killed her first two husbands through witchcraft.

                     An elderly informant pointed out that, once a witch reaches adulthood, there is no way of removing his evil potentialities.

                     Though not altogether consistent with the dream data thus far presented, the following information was recorded by McCown from Bob Rabbit (1929): “Dreams of fighting always mean good luck in hunting. Bad luck results from dreaming of snakes, of ‘devils’ and of women. In the latter case it means no success in love and bad hunting. In order to counteract this, one scatters a little tugub [beads - - see ‘Prayers’ and Offerings] and washes [?].”


            Of the beings in the supernatural realm, the best known and most commonly experienced is the   ̉inipi which, because of its diversified activities, is variously conceived of as “spirit,” “ghost,” and “devil.” No clear picture of the ̉inipi emerges from the several descriptions. He may be visible or invisible. If visible, he may look like a human being and be mistaken for one unless he gives himself away by performing super­human feats like suddenly disappearing, flying off, or being impervious to bullets. Or he may have horns (though this idea may be a Christian borrowing), or appear as a skeleton- - ”all bones, no skin and red eyes.” Once an ̉inipi was found sleeping in a bunkhouse. He wore black clothes and had fingernails so long that they protruded through the cracks in the wall. One informant thought an ̉inipi is like a bat - - blind in the daytime but with vision at night. Bob Rabbit told McCown, “Devils may come as woodrats and you can tell because they tap their tails.” While there must be myriads of  ̉inipi, they seem never to be spoken of in the plural, and apparently never act in concert.

            Every human being - - and probably every animal - - has its own indestructible ̉̉inipi. Though the essence of one’s life, it may wander off when one is asleep and leaves the body permanently when one is dead. When an individual is destined to die- - whether through “natural” or malevolent causes or through accident - - his  ̉̉inipi may act as if he is already dead, not only forsaking the body but betraying to the living the foreordained demise. At death, however, the ̉inipi is reluctant to leave familiar haunts and is not likely to depart for a few days. Maybe he had cached money and he comes by to see it. As an informant explained, “It’s just like your wanting to see your car again” (at the moment it was parked out of sight). McCown was told that “the ̉inipi of a dead man would come and take acorns and pinyons from trees where he had got these things in life. For a period of two or three years there was no food for the Indians.” (The implication seems to be that the ̉inipi cleaned the trees bare.)

            At the time of burial someone might enjoin the ̉̉inipi to go off to its new abode and not do injury to the survivors. As the mourners leave the place of interment, they are careful not to look back lest they catch sight of the ghost - - an experience that would of itself be an evil omen. (In the tale Coyote Marries His Daughter, Coyote warns his family not to look back after igniting his pyre. He has other motives, but his wife understands well the danger of seeing his  ̉̉inipi.) Ultimately the ̉inipi must take the path that leads across the desert eastward to the other world. When you walk through the desert and feel a sudden gust of hot wind “like from a fire,” it is the ̉̉inipi passing by.

            The ̉̉inipi is not always malevolent. He may be expected to behave very much as his living embodiment did. If the latter liked to tease, his  ̉̉inipi may continue to do so. Once when a sudden breeze rustled the pages of my notebook so that I lost my place, an informant remarked, “It is the ̉̉inipi. ” But if you have been unkind to a person, his  ̉̉inipi may come to frighten you. CC recalled an incident of her youth. Her young brothers were often mean to their grandmother. She would say to them, “I’ll fix you when I die.” Not long after her death, the boys and their sister were gathered around the fireplace. Suddenly they heard someone hitting the outer wall of the house with a cane. The old lady had always carried a cane. Then there was a sound like “Hm hmm” (said to be characteristic of old women). The boys were terrified, but their sister, who had been kind to her grandmother, was not disturbed. She knew her grandmother did not intend to frighten her.

            The ̉̉̉inipi is most likely to make his presence known just before or just after death. Therefore evidence that he is around is usually taken to mean that someone is about to die or has already died but the tidings have not yet spread around. The victim may or may not be immediately recognized, but news of the actual demise will provide clear proof of the identity of the  ̉̉̉inipi. If two people die at about the same time, relatives and friends would be sufficiently familiar with the habits of the deceased to realize whose ̉̉̉inipi is prowling about.

            At least three people testified to the presence of the ̉̉̉̉inipi of Henry Willie, who was killed in an automobile accident. A few days after he was buried, his father was in the outhouse of his home. He heard sounds coming from a nearby shed where phonograph records and animal traps were kept. The records were being thrown about and the traps moved “as if someone wanted to put them out.” A relative who had apparently come for the funeral was looking for the father. She found him visibly upset as he walked toward his house. He warned her not to go near the shed - - Henry’s  ̉̉̉inipi was there.

            Setimo Cirado was staying at a friend’s house not far away. One night he heard someone walking outside. It was a man’s step. Next morning he asked if anyone had walked around that night. No one had. He went out and looked for tracks, but there were none. “Someone is going to die,” he said. At first he thought it was the ̉̉̉inipi of Jim Manuel of whose death he was already aware. Two days later he learned of the death of Henry Willie who had lived with his family in a neighboring house. Then the identity of the ̉̉̉inipi was clear.

            Five days after Henry died, his brother Raymond, who had a home of his own, heard noise coming from his car as if the car were being started. He looked around, but saw no one. He walked away, heard the sound again, but still there was no one to be seen. Then Raymond returned to his house where he fell “dead” for two or three hours. He woke up, but didn’t feel well for two days. When asked why he had “died,” he told about the car. His mother knew it was Henry’s ̉inipi and commented that maybe it had touched Raymond. (This case was not isolated. Once a man came home in a stupor. His eyes rolled up, and he was “dead,” but he was breathing “a very little bit.” When he woke up three or four hours later, he was asked, “Why were you dead?” Then he remembered that he had seen the ̉̉̉̉inipi.)

            When Francis (Frank) Phillips was in a Bakersfield hospital, Setimo was frightened several times. Once, when Setimo was home in bed, he heard someone coughing, clearing his throat, and spitting by the side of the house, but he couldn’t see anyone. At another time he heard talking outside. He thought it was Ed Williams (a neighbor) and called out “Ed! Ed!” The ̉̉̉̉̉inipi answered, “Frank.” Later Setimo told John Nichols that he knew Phillips was dead and would be buried in the Indian cemetery above his place. The body was kept overnight at Loraine (a few miles away) and brought to the cemetery the following day.

            The impending death of Virginia Ball, Setimo’s daughter, was indicated by signs extending over a winter season. Once Setimo heard whistling and other noises while he slept. It sounded as if dishes and utensils were being moved about. A fryingpan fell to the floor. Virginia used to cook there. Setiino heard a woman talking outside in the orchard. That is where he often chatted with Virginia. Two weeks before she died, Willie Leon was trying to sleep in a car near Loraine. He had a cover over him. Someone tugged at the cover as if to pull it off. Willie looked up quickly but didn’t see anything. He hadn’t known that Virginia was sick. She died later, “but that was her ̉̉̉̉̉inipi.”

                     Emma Williams was picking beans at Harry McKay’s (near the Piute Rancheria) when she heard a human cry. It came from somewhere near Setline’s place where Refugia Williams lived years before. Emma thought the sound came from Setimo and she was frightened. Two women were passing in their car on the way to tell Maude McKay of Refugia’s death. Shortly after, Maude came out to tell Emma the news.

            The ̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi of Marie Girado’s uncle appeared the night he was buried. At the burial, Setimo (Marie’s husband) blew across the palm of his hand and told the  ̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi to go away. As it did so, it was heard to whistle. That night there was a knock at the door of one of the Cirado daughters. She heard the ̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi say (in Kawaiisu), “Let me in!”

            The ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi of a non-Indian behaves the same way as that of a Kawaiisu. Jim Scobie, non-Indian rancher, well - known and liked by his Indian neighbors, died in a brush fire (though he apparently had a heart attack as he attempted to escape the fire). About two weeks before, three Kawaiisu women were camping out and gathering pinyons. They heard Jim coming along the trail whistling about dusk, but they couldn’t see anyone. Joe Williams, who had been working at a house under construction not far away, was walking up to them on the trail. He heard two people riding horses and talking, but there was nothing to be seen. When he reached the place from which the sounds had come, “his bones nearly fell off” from fright. Nothing was there. “Jim was already ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi.”

            An ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi may be in the control of a bewitching shaman (pohagadi )and may be sent on destructive missions. The pohagadi can order it to push a man off a cliff or cause a car to crash. But whirlwinds are governed by an ̉inipi  to be found at its center. One must therefore avoid whirlwinds for, in the midst of one, the ̉inipi  may enter a person through the mouth. In this situation no counteraction is possible. Henry Weldon recalled an experience with a whirlwind which came after him as he was driving his car. It lifted the car slightly as it passed, then turned around and came back. Henry was frightened and yelled at the whirlwind in Kawaiisu (which he rarely used). The whirlwind turned away and did not return.

            Not all the appearances of the ̉̉inipi can be understood as being a premonition or conveying a message. At least no visible aftermath was reported in some cases. Here is an occurrence related by CC: “When I was coming home from school, I saw an ̉̉inipi in the pine tree near my house. He seemed to be wearing clothes. It was getting dark. I was with two of my sisters. We saw a ‘man’ and thought it was Harry Williams. Then we realized it was a devil, and ran.”

            Again: “Three of the Williams brothers, Ed, Willie and Harry, saw an the ̉̉̉inipi while they were driving a car up to the Piute Rancheria. ‘He’ came into the car and smiled at them. They kept talking to each other as if the devil were not there. When they approached the house, ‘he’ disappeared. They said, ‘What was that? It was a devil!’ They all had a very strange feeling.”

                     “Another time a devil entered the car and sat down between them. The devil said, ‘There goes Harry.’ Later Harry was driving along this road and went off a steep embankment. The person riding with him was killed.”

            “The ̉̉̉̉inipi sometimes comes right in the house. Early one morning I heard one whistle in this house.”

            An old informant told of an incident that happened long ago: “People were hunting kangaroo rats at night. They set the brush on fire and then clubbed the rats as they ran out. Suddenly the people saw an  ̉̉̉̉̉inipi sitting by the fire. They were afraid and ran home.”

            It is unlucky to dream of  ̉̉̉̉inipi since it means that a pohagadi is trying to make you sick. Anyone who is so indiscreet as to keep talking and laughing in bed after the lights are out may expect to be frightened by  ̉̉̉̉inipi. An elderly informant, however, insisted that it was the pitadi, the neighboring tribe to the south, that had the custom of remaining quiet in bed “until the ̉inipi passed.” To invalidate the baneful effects of dreaming of   ̉inipi  , one should hurry to a mountain and there tell him to stay away. (The custom of “talking to the mountains” will be discussed elsewhere in this paper.) As one proceeds to the mountain, the ̉̉̉̉inipi might frighten one by whistling or becoming visible. One should not whistle at night or the ̉̉̉̉inipi will answer. Once when the informant’s brother whistled at night, the ̉̉̉̉inipi whistled in response. One should not cut one’s hair at night or the  ̉̉̉̉inipi will call you (see under Tuuwaruudidi above).

            When one’s ears ring, ̉̉̉̉̉inipi is calling. Once the ears of Emma Williams’ maternal great-grandmother were ringing. It was the ̉̉̉̉inipi summoning her. She heated her finger by the fire and put it in her ear (to avoid hearing the call). “She didn’t want to go, but she had to go anyway.”

            The ̉̉̉̉̉inipi fears tobacco (sỏ̉odi, Nicotiana Liqelovii), the smoke of dried “wild celery” root (kayeezi, Lomatium californicum), and the smoke of burning blue sage (tugubasidabi Salvia dorrii). To chase him away, one places a pinch of tobacco on the back of the hand between thumb and forefinger and blows it in several directions. The ̉̉̉̉̉inipi sleeping in the bunkhouse (cited above) was made to disappear when a man blew tobacco at him. Dried wild celery root is ignited and the smoke spread about the room. Emma kept some of the root wrapped in a cloth by her bed. Blue sage is either thrown into the fire at night or, according to one informant, put in a fryingpan over the fire.

            In recent years several of the Kawaiisu women and their children have became members of a local Apostolic Faith Mission church. They now equate the ̉̉̉̉̉inipi with Satan who is rendered powerless by pronouncing the name of Jesus Christ. They tell of instances in which they protected themselves from the threat of  ̉̉̉̉̉inipi in this way. One young man dreamed that he was chained by the “devil,’ but the word “Christ” broke the shackles.

            In the house it was customary to hang charms which were believed to keep the ̉̉̉̉̉inipi away. One, the ̉̉anaguyuuti, was made of two bird wings stretched on a stick. The other, the cakolỏ̉waazi2, consisted of a long, thin strip of wood twisted into a spiral. Both were suspended and moved freely in the air currents. Some informants insisted that they were merely toys to amuse the children.

            There are complicating and perplexing elements in the descriptions of the ̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi as recorded over the years. It would appear that some individuals are “part ̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi” and some possess something “black and like a hair” which may be located internally, apparently about the heart, or externally about the neck. McCown gives the name of this item as ‘uwa unup’ though neither Cappannari nor I had encountered this ten.3 To quote in part John Nichols’ statement to McCown:

A man might dream of an uwa unup and he might come to possess it. He could wear it around his neck. This gave him the power to take it out of another person who had one inside of him. He could disappear and reappear at will. Also, it made him invulnerable.

            But John thought it would not help a man against witches and witchcraft. McCown notes that “George Bowman has an uwa unup. His father had one, too, but he had to help George get his. Evidently it was not possible for George to inherit this thing.” Bob Rabbit told McCown that the uwa uuup will eventually kill its owner. “Bob thought they were very dangerous to play with. He knew about them [but] never wanted to have one.”

            Although Cappannari provides no name for it, the presence of hair is mentioned in his account of the exploits of the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi: “Twisted hair is a symbol of an the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi. If someone dies because an the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi has entered him, a twisted hair will be found by cutting his chest open.” Such a hair was found around the heart of the killer ‘bear’ pogwti (see below).

                The feats of men who were “part ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi” are described in an informant’s recounting of an incident dating back to an early contact of the Kawaiisu with the “Mexicans.” The Indians walked to Los Angeles where the Mexicans had locked their horses in a corral. At night one Indian “who was  ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi” unlocked the gate by spitting on his hands and opening the padlock. The horses ran out and were driven to a “rock corral” on the other side of the mountains. The  ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi “shot” the pursuing Mexicans through the ears (?). The informant explained that the  ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi wore twisted hair around his neck.

            On another occasion two Kawaiisu men came into a camp of white men (apparently miners). One of the Indians saw a woman’s clothes hanging on a line, and stole two silk handkerchiefs. The woman’s husband caught the thieves, stripped off their clothing, and found the handkerchiefs. One of the men was hanged from a tree, but he didn’t die. The other was locked up in the house. When everyone was asleep, the latter spit on his hands, opened the lock, and walked out. He said “hello!” and jumped from the door to the top of a mountain. He walked a bit and then jumped to the next mountain. “He had dreamed of a little insect that jumps and that gave him the power to jump. He was  ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi camp the next morning. He was a rainmaker and made it rain on the white man’s camp.

                     At the time of the Kernville massacre (more than a century ago), Indians of several tribes were rounded up and shot. When the Kawaiisu were led to the place of execution, one of the men suddenly sat down. The soldiers didn’t see him and passed by him. “It was  ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi that made him invisible.” He escaped.

            That the characteristics of  ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi know no tribal boundaries is indicated by an incident that occurred in Yokuts territory when the Kawaiisu and the Tubatulabal were invited to a fiesta. For some reason fighting broke out and the Yokuts started shooting at their guests. A Tiibatulabal woman fled and got as f at as a hill near Bena (near the Kawaiisu-Yokuts “border”). “The Yokuts followed her; they wanted to kill her. She had on her basket-hat, and pushed it off the back of her head. Then they couldn’t see her. They saw only the hat. It was  ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi. She got away.”


            While the yahwẻera has some of the characteristics of the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi, he is not associated with the spirits living or dead. Yet, like the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi he is indestructible, and his presence is an evil omen and ought to be avoided if possible.

            One informant maintained that the yahwe ̉era cannot be seen- - only heard - - but generally he is believed to have the form of a bird with a tail about a foot long. One of the difficulties about identifying him is that he has the ability of imitating the sounds made by men and animals. Emma related how one day she heard him “yelling” and thought it was a cow. A bit later he was farther away and sounded like a rabbit. Then he moved still farther and sounded like a grey squirrel. Once described as a “little hawk,” he seems to have some relationship to the mountain quail. As to his indestructibility, one comment was, “It’s a bird - - how’s it going to die?”

            If yahwe ̉̉era approaches closely, you become stiff and helpless. But if he is still some distance away, you can get rid of him by putting some tobacco on a rock and throwing it in the direction of the sound. He yells as he swallows it. You won’t hear him again for several minutes. Then you hear him far away. “He won’t come back.” Setimo told how, when he and his family were camping out to gather pinyons, they were bothered by yahwe ̉̉era every night. He would pick up a stone, spit on it, and rub some tobacco on the moistened area. Then, crying “heel” he would fling the stone into the darkness. That would keep yahwe ̉̉era away.

            When he appears to you in your sleep, he takes the form of a female if you are a male, and a male if you are female. He will have intercourse with you all night, and the next day you will be weak and worn out. You won’t be able to get up until the next evening. An informant recounted the experience of an old man who told him how yahwe ̉̉̉era had slept with him on Piute Mountain. He heard yahwe ̉̉era coming “like quail” but he couldn’t move. He didn’t remember anything after that, but yahwe ̉̉era stayed until morning and the man slept the whole day.

            It appears that yahwe ̉̉̉̉era dwells in a “cave” deep in the earth. The entrance is difficult to find because it keeps changing and sometimes disappears altogether. Someone once tossed a rock down the “hole” and it took a long time before it reached the bottom.

            There are two tales which, told with variations by several narrators, involve yahwe  ̉̉̉̉era.   One of them is concerned with yahwe  ̉̉̉̉era ’s house” and will be told in the section on the Netherworld (q.v.). The other relates the story of a woman who, accompanied by her little daughter, was out pounding acorns. The girl misbehaved so her mother walked off and left her. When the mother returned to get her daughter, the latter had disappeared and could not be found. Yahwe  ̉̉̉̉era had taken her to his cave and made her his wife. A long time afterwards the girl’s brother, out hunting, saw her in a field gathering tickseed leaves (tihividibi, Coreopsis bigelovii, an edible plant). He did not speak to his sister but went home and told his mother who, thinking the girl dead, was about to prepare her clothes for the mourning ceremony. (According to one version, yahwe  ̉̉̉̉era fed the girl little fish, about six inches long. He had no fire but cooked the fish by placing one under each arm. When they dropped out, they were “done.”) There are two versions of the end of the story: (1) Not long after the brother saw the girl, yahwe  ̉̉̉̉era brought her home after telling her not to reveal where she had been. He told her parents that she was pregnant and they were not to harm the babies that would be born. The girl gave birth to many babies who immediately ran off to the hills. The parents asked her where she had been and she told them. The babies threw rocks from the hills, destroyed the house, and killed everyone inside. (2) After a while, yahwe ̉̉̉̉̉era told the girl to go home. She was pregnant, and he instructed her to keep the babies under a basket. There were many babies and they got out. She tried to catch them, but they ran away. They were mountain quail. Yahwe ̉̉̉̉̉era picked up a rock, threw it at the house, and killed everyone.


            There is a “baby” who dwells inside exposed rock areas. His name, ̉̉̉̉uwani ̉̉azi, is explained as being derived from the sound of his cry: “ ̉̉̉̉uwa  ̉̉uwa,” though it is clearly related to  ̉̉̉̉uwa ̉̉iici, infant. Since he is linked to rocky regions, he is believed to be engaged in painting the pictographs found scattered throughout Kawaiisu territory. Though no reason was forthcoming from informants to account for this activity, the ̉̉̉̉uwani ̉̉azi never stops working at it. Thus the patterns may change from day to day, and the Indians commonly react to a description of a certain group of pictographs by saying, “It wasn’t like that when I last saw it.” The suggestion that humans may have been the artists is invariably rejected as absurd. (It may be noted here that cave contours are also regarded as changeable, but these are not attributed to the Rock Baby. As far the numerous bedrock mortar holes, they are accepted as the “normal” shape of the rock formation.)

                     Both the Rock Baby and his pictographs are ‘out of bounds” for people. The paintings may be looked at without danger, but touching them will lead to quick disaster. One who puts his fingers on them and then rubs his eyes will not sleep again but will die in three days. Some informants said that this would be the consequence even if the eyes were not rubbed. Photographing the pictographs was thought in the l930s to bring bad luck- - the camera would break. By the 1970s, however, this unhappy outcome was forgotten.

            But the real danger lurks in the ̉̉uwani ̉̉azi himself. He is an omen of disaster. Though rarely seen, he is described as “just like a baby,” but his sex is indeterminate. He has a little black hair. Usually he is heard rather than seen, and his cry is a tuuwaruugidi. A number of incidents are related in which the presence of the ̉̉uwani ̉̉azi brings death. In the following two stories the people involved are said to be ‘South Fork’ (Tubatulabal) rather than Kawaiisu.

                     Some South Fork people went above Onyx (on the South Fork of the Kern River) to get chia. One of them heard a baby crying on a rock so he went up, got him, and brought him back in his arms. The man told the others to come and see him, but they put their hands over their eyes because they were afraid to look at him. Only two glanced at the baby. Then a girl told the man to take him back, and he did. But when the man put the baby down and stepped away, he could see that the baby had a cradle tied on him. The baby got up and walked right into the rock.

Sometimes that baby lives in the water near a spring. One day a Tubatulabal woman was going from South Fork to Tule River. She was walking across the Greenhorn Mountains. She came to a spring and put water in her water‑bottle. Her baby, whom she carried in a cradle, began to cry. He kept on crying so the mother nursed him as she walked along. While he nursed, he kept looking at his mother's eye. He started to swallow her breast. When she arrived home, her husband tried to pull the baby away but could not do so. Finally the husband cut off the breast. The baby swallowed it and ran off. The mother died. The  ̉̉̉̉uwan ̉̉̉̉azi [at the spring] had turned the woman's baby into an ̉̉̉̉̉uwan ̉̉̉̉azi.

Sadie Williams heard the cry of the Rock Baby in the summer of 1947 and a few days later a neighbor died.

A couple were lying together on a cot out of doors. The woman heard a baby crying under the cot. She told the man, but he said he didn’t hear anything. They looked under the cot but saw nothing. At about this time the woman lost a grandchild. It was the cry of the ̉̉̉̉̉uwan ̉̉̉̉̉azi.

About a month before her baby died, GG heard the Rock Baby crying in the rocks. For several nights before the death, she heard a coyote howling near the house. On successive nights, the howling sounded closer. After the Infant died, it ceased.

Henry Weldon had an experience at a pictograph site, but he did not mention the Rock Baby or any other being as the cause. He was riding his horse near a pictograph rock, but the horse stopped before the rock was passed and refused to go farther. Dismounting, Henry attempted unsuccessfully to pull the animal. He mounted again, but the horse seemed to be pulled down and fell over on its side. One of the horse’s legs lay on Henry’s leg and neither could get up. When it looked as if they night be held there all night, Henry pulled out his gun and shot toward the pictograph rock. Then the horse got up and they went on their way.


The activities of Coyote’s sons and daughters are limited to a single pattern which would seem to stem directly from the proclivities of their lecherous father. In the Kawaiisu version of the widespread tale Coyote Marries His Daughter, Coyote’s wife and children escape from him by ascending to the sky where they become the stars in the Pleiades.4 Thereafter the “children” - - apparently two sons and two daughters  - - return to the earth to enjoy sexual intercourse with their sexual opposites. If they come at night, they are seen in dreams and have their way with the helpless victim. During daytime their chosen partner temporarily “dies,” that is, either faints or goes into an epileptic fit. (The distinction, however, is not made by informants - - they simply describe the human partner’s condition as a “dying” for a period of a half-hour or more.) According to one informant, both daughters - - and, by implication, both sons - - appear to the partner who makes a choice, but in no case is the experience considered desirable, and ways are sought, not always successfully, to prevent it.

Two informants told of an “old man” who, tired of the repeated dream of being seduced by one of the daughters, hit upon a means of frustrating her. Before going to sleep he spread cholla cactus (Opuntia echinocarpa) all around him. Then he tied the sharp pointed leaves of yucca on his penis with the points projecting outward. That night the girls came down and found it impossible to get to him. They wept in their helplessness. He continued this practice every night until he was no longer disturbed by that dream. As one informant remarked, “They can’t cross the cactus, and they are afraid of the yucca points. He didn’t die anymore after that.”

The daytime dying can occur in any situation and at any time. The attacks seem to begin at about the age of adolescence. A man of twenty-one may “die” as he sits in his saddle. Sometimes these sky beings draw you near water so that, when you “die,” you will drown. An old Yokuts woman “died” at Tejon; she fell into a fire and then she really died.

John Marcus’s daughter began her “dying” when she was thirteen. When I saw her, she was said to be twenty-four. According to one informant, she dreams of Coyote’s two sons. Sometimes the attacks come frequently and then cease for several months. When John served as my informant, his daughter was kept in a shed surrounded by chicken wire. Neither John nor his wife ever referred to her, but it was clear that they treated her with kindness and kept her confined for her own safety.


In a number of places within the territory occupied by the Kawaiisu the sudden appearance and subsequent disappearance of “beings” has been indicated. Though usually taking the form of animals, there are instances in which the “beings” are “people.” Their supermundane nature is evident from the fact that they come and go without leaving a trace, but the frequent tragic aftermath reveals them to be tuuwaruugidi. Although they are rarely seen, it is assumed that they are always there, and their unexpected visibility is taken to convey an ominous message. The disastrous consequences are not always specified, but this may be due to negligent reporting. In the words of one informant, “Anything might suddenly come out of the ground, but there wouldn’t be anything there. It is a sign of death for some relative.”

Several accounts were given of the unexplained appearance of “lots of dogs” in Kelso Valley. At least one such place is described as on a “little ridge” and is called puguro ̉̉̉̉̉oci, ‘dog-hole’. “Old timers saw lots of dogs there, but there were no tracks.” Perhaps the same locality figures in this episode: “In Kelso Valley there are red rocks piled on one another. Under the rocks is a hole. A hunter passed on a trail which goes nearby. He saw white woolly dogs with beautiful hair and tails curved up like Eskimo dogs. He watched them on the rock and wondered where they came from. Then they vanished.” There is another place above Walzer’s Ranch. A couple of old women went down there to gather juniper berries. One of the women saw a big, black dog and thought it was a sheepherder’s dog. “It went down the rock into the water below and wasn’t seen again.” The women picked the berries in a hurry and went home.

Hu ̉̉̉̉̉yupizi, transvestite,5 was picking ku ̉̉̉̉̉u (seeds of blazing star, stickseed, Mentzelia sp.) and went to get water toward evening. At the spring he saw a dog which looked like a sheepherder’s dog. Hu ̉̉̉̉̉yupizi ran and hid. Re stood watching from his hiding place. The dog disappeared but Hu ̉̉̉̉̉yupizi didn’t see where it went. When he returned to the spring, he could find no dog tracks. The informant’s comment was “Hu ̉̉̉̉̉yupizi was afraid of a man [who might be with the dog]; that’s why he hid.”

Near Piute Ranch there is a spring where the water used to come out of the ground like a fountain. There were lots of reeds (Phragmites australis) growing there and so it was called pagabo ̉̉̉̉̉ova ̉̉̉̉̉adi, ‘by the reed-water’. A white dog lived there. Old timers saw him lying off to one side. “Maybe he lived in the water.”

When Emma Williams’s brother was a little boy, he saw some animal in Landers Meadow. “It was red and had no hair on it. Maybe it was a dog - - maybe a bird.” The boy went down to take a drink and then he saw many of these creatures. He ran away.

There are similar stories about the mysterious appearance of rattlesnakes. “Sometimes near a spring you see a bunch of rattlesnakes come right out of the water, but nothing’s there. Near the hot springs in Thompson Canyon, Marie Girado saw lots of rattlesnakes in a hole. Maybe that’s where Rattlesnake lives.”

On one side of Bear Mountain there is a little lake on which a “basket” was floating.6  By the side of the lake there is a pinyon tree whose pinyons are always green, and a Joshua Tree. Once a kohozi (Panamint) Indian, coming by with his little son, was told about the basket. He said, “It can’t be there.” He went to the lake and tried to pull the basket out with a long stick. It wouldn’t budge. He pulled very hard. Two rattlesnakes “stood up.” There was no basket there at all. The man and his son were frightened away. When they got back to Caliente, blood was flowing from their noses. Both of them died that night. That pinyon tree and the Joshua Tree belong to the rattlesnakes. There are lots of pinyons on the tree even in winter, but if you eat them, a rattlesnake will bite you. The “basket” looked as if it had the rattlesnake-design (togowarkidi) on it. The rootstock core of the Joshua Tree is used in the making of this pattern. Later a Kawaiisu man looked for the place, but he never found it.

In Walker’s Basin there is a flat rock with many mortar holes in it. The rock belongs to Rattlesnake and it is dangerous to count the holes. Once two women, one a Kawaiisu and the other Panamint, came there to pound their acorns. The Kawaiisu woman warned her companion about not counting the holes, but the latter wouldn’t believe her and proceeded to count them. Just as she stepped off the rock, she was bitten by a rattlesnake and died right away. When the Kawaiisu woman got off the rock, there was no rattlesnake around.

Many years ago Jim Manuel went deer-hunting near Big Bear Lake where he had never been before. He found fresh deer tracks and followed them to the lake. There he saw three holes in the ground and an enormous rattlesnake several feet in diameter. The snake bit him, and Jim fell down and crawled along until he reached a red-ant hill. Having eagle-down with him (as hunters do), he put live ants in balls of eagledown and swallowed them. Then he fell asleep and dreamed of the snake who said to him, “I just bit you. You are not going to die, but will be well when you get home. Why did you come here?” The next morning he woke up and began to crawl home. Two men, who were looking for him, found him and took him home on horseback. He recovered, but after that he never went hunting and was afraid of snakes.

Near Monolith there is a little spring. Louisa Marcus’s grandmother once saw a bunch of buzzards there. But actually there was nothing.

Two springs near the Piute Rancheria are said to be inhabited by supernatural beings. One is occupied by a “seal” with “tusks.” The spring is called ciipiipo ̉̉̉̉̉oweena  ‘seal’s water’. No one has seen the “seal” for many years, but that is no indication that he is not still there. The other is called yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era kahniina, ‘yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era’s  house’, which is at or near the entrance to yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era’s cave.

Emma said that in “Tejon” (Kitanemuk?) territory there are more springs inhabited by “animals” than in the Kawaiisu area.

In at least two instances the “localized beings” are “people.” A “little old woman” has been seen sitting at the mouth of a cave in Sand Canyon. She is a tuuwaruugidi, and passers-by keep clear of the spot. At a cave entrance in Kelso Canyon a young girl who had come to use a mortar hole (probably to pound acorns) saw an “old man.” When she told her mother of her experience, the latter immediately had the girl undergo the procedure of swallowing red ants in balls of eagledown. In her dream the girl saw the old man who assured her that, since she had taken the ants, she would not die. Otherwise her use of his pahazi (mortar hole) would have meant death.

Two pictograph sites north of Monolith are apparently exceptions to the general rule that the rock paintings are made by the  ̉̉̉̉̉uwan ̉̉̉̉̉azi. The pictographs, too, differed from those of other sites in that, instead of the usual color, at least five colors were used: red (predominant), green, yellow, black, and white. One site is a small shallow cave and the other a large rock shelter perhaps forty feet in height and several hundred feet long. When seen in the l930s, the paintings were in an excellent state of preservation. Subsequent vandalism, however, has almost completely erased them. In mythological times the animal-people held celebrations at both these locations. It may be that each of the participants painted his own picture. In any case, it was at the rock shelter that the world was created. A mortar hole marks the spot. It was Grizzly Bear who called the animals together although, according to one version, he was not the chief. He still lives in the rock and there is a fissure through which he can come and go. He is known to have growled at a non- Indian woman - - and perhaps chased her - - when she approached too near (see Offerings). Here the animals decided what they wanted to be. [A discussion of Kawaiisu mythology will be published elsewhere.]


Two ominous symbols are apt to appear in the sky, though there is some indication that at least one of them, in somewhat different form, has been seen on the ground.

White Coyote (tugusina ̉̉̉̉̉avi, ‘sky-coyote’) may be seen going across the sky. Many years ago two women were gathering chia (Salvia columbariae) when they happened to look up and saw White Coyote. The women were so upset they could eat no supper. A few mornings later one of the women was gathering willows for basket-making when she heard a baby crying in the rocks. Several days after three men were killed at Walker’s Pass: her son, her sister-in-law’s son and an old man. (This may have been the historic episode related by Powers in his South Fork Country [1971:30-1]. The Indian version of the tragedy, however, is quite different from that of Powers.)

One summer Benny Girado heard White Coyote howling. The next day he accidentally shot himself through the foot.

The Great Snake, tugubaziitibi, may be seen in the sky during the day or night. He is described as “reddish,” about 200 feet long and three feet in diameter. When it rains heavily, you can see him hang down. He urinates out of his tail. He moves in “curves,” and fades into clouds. If you see him, one of your relatives will die. Sam Willie’s great grandmother saw him in the sky over Kelso Valley and at the same time he was seen in Cummings Valley (perhaps thirty miles away). Soon after the great grandmother saw the Snake, her brother died. One informant said it appears “all lit up in the sky.” The way its head points shows where people (Indians?) are going to die. But the tugubaziitibi is also seen on the ground “crawling just like a rattlesnake.” According to AG, the home of the tugubaziitibi is in the Tehachapi Mountains. The area is known to be fraught with danger and the Kawaiisu seek to avoid it. Hunters have died up there. One day AG and HF (a non-Indian) were riding through on horseback with the cattle. They saw a lizard about 3 ½ feet long. It swayed from side to side and moved its head as it went along., They wanted to catch it, but they had no place to put it. AG thinks it was a tugubaziitibi. After this experience, Sophie Williams, her son Joe, and his wife Louise all died within - few weeks.

In Oak Creek Pass (near Tehachapi) there is a spring called tuqubaziitibi pỏoweenatuqubaziitibi’s water’ because someone saw the Lizard there. The mud around it shakes - - one can’t pass through it - - it would bog you down. The water is no good for drinking.

The Great Snake which the sick man had to pass over in the netherworld (q.v.) is a tugubaziitibi.

There are two giant beings that are involved in a number of myths and, if seen, are tuuwanzuqidi. One is the Man-carrying Bird (nihnoovi or nihnihnoovi) who swoops down and seizes people. When a member of GLG’s family was in the hospital, another member caught sight of the wing of the Bird and the hospitalized person died in a few days. The haakapainizi is a large-sized grasshopper, but he is also a giant who can walk “from lnyokern to Onyx in one step.” He relishes eating children though, in several myths, they manage to escape. In one, a mother substitutes a redhot stone (an arrow-straightener) which the giant swallows and dies. CP recalls that, when she was a child, her grandmother (who had reared her) would frighten her when she misbehaved by saying, “The haakapainizi is coming!”


With the data available, it is impossible to arrive at a clear definition of the term miitiipi. Superficially it looks as if it combines mii, ‘only, just’ and tiipi, ‘dirt, earth’, but no informant offered such an analysis. In any case, it is used to designate an unfavorable and unlucky sight which, unless prompt counteraction is taken, may be the prelude to some dire consequence. But the relationship between miitiipi and tuuwaruudidi was never indicated. Perhaps a living creature which is tuuwaruudidi  may be referred to as miitiipi. However, this is nothing more than a guess. One informant described a miitiipi as follows: “When you are out and see something you haven’t seen before - - a big rattlesnake or other big animal - - it is a bad sign. You will die in two or three days. He will eat you. He is called miitiipi. But if you eat or drink nothing after seeing him and you take red ants the next morning, you will live.” The formula was spelled out in Kawaiisu: miitiipi meheciina taasuuvita yiigidinaami hiikeevaaci. ‘When seeing miitiipi, they swallow red ants in order to be well’. “After swallowing the ants, you fall into a deep sleep at once like being drunk. The miitiipi comes to you in your dream and says: yuwaati yuwe ̉̉̉̉ikweevaanaami, ‘you will, not die’. One can’t tell where miitiipi comes from. He disappears and leaves no tracks.”

A few sights considered miitiipi were mentioned, but it is unlikely that the list is exhaustive: rattlesnake, grizzly bear, the Rock Baby, a white man. (The inclusion of the last named must go back to the earliest period of contact.)

“When you go out hunting, you might step on a rattlesnake. Therefore they say to you: ‘Be careful of miitiipi!’”


As has already been indicated, the attempt to influence one’s destiny is an important preoccupation among the Kawaiisu. Two techniques may be equated with procedures familiar to worshippers of the “western” religions. One, “talking to the mountains” or “to the darkness,” roughly resembles a direct appeal to some invisible power. Its use as a preventative measure to ward off threatened disaster has been mentioned earlier, but there is a positive side to the practice. A man starting out on a hunting trip might first address “the mountains.” Apparently his request would be stated aloud and, in any case, briefly. Be would ask that he be permitted to see deer and no rattlesnakes (and perhaps no miitiipi of any kind).

Probably more common than “prayers” was the giving of offerings. A wide variety of situations might call far this type of action though, again, the basic purpose was to create favorable conditions and to avoid unfavorable ones. The verb stem naahwi- seems to express the idea of scattering since the offerings were usually spread broadcast, though at times they may have been aimed in a specific direction. Such “scattering” accompanied festive occasions like “fiestas” when dancing was always a feature, the mourning ceremony, and toloache drinking. The offering might consist of one of several items: eagledown (probably the most highly regarded), beads, acorns, berries, or seeds. Pieces of meat are mentioned in one incident. Not limited to “formal” events, an offering might be prompted by unforeseen and spontaneous happenings. To insure success for his undertaking, a hunter might “talk to the mountains” and also scatter an offering. Though probably referring to eagledown rather than to “feathers,” an informant told McCown: “Men sometimes put feathers on the brush, talked and danced. This helped in finding deer. Some men took tugub [beads] with them and scattered it about the ground and talked. This made the deer come quickly.” Rafael Girado’s statement to McCown is at variance with those of other informants: “Eagledown was put into little bags. The bags were tied to trees - - would help the person who put them there in his hunting.” (While eagledown was carried in little bags, the customary procedure was to cast it about loosely.) And there was still another technique to increase the effectiveness of deer hunting (see Magical Substances). A hunter might repeat the offering-ritual as he went along; when, for example, he was about to go through a mountain pass (and uncertain, presumably, as to what lay beyond). As Emma put it, “Whenever they came across something strange and unusual that didn’t belong on that mountain, they would toss it a piece of meat” (or, doubtless, other things). A sight recognized to be tuuwaruugidi would warrant an immediate offering.

Here is an incident which was recounted, with variations, by several informants: Emma’s father and Charlie Haslem’s father had killed a deer and were skinning it when Charlie, who was with them, saw a little bird (a puupizi, species unknown). He shot at it with his bow and arrow but missed. The bird flew away, but soon two returned. Charlie was about to shoot again but didn’t. Then birds came in great numbers. Charlie was frightened. Emma’s father threw the internal organs of the deer - - heart, liver, lung (one version mentions only liver)- - in the direction of the birds. One version says they ate what was thrown and another that they didn’t. In any case, they flew away. Some time later a relative (apparently of the Haslems) died.

When Sam Willie and John Marcus took me to the rock-shelter site (mentioned above), they stopped a few hundred feet before we reached our destination and told me that, before we could proceed farther, it would be necessary for each of us to make an offering to an animal whose representation we chose to see. Otherwise we would see nothing. Unnoticed by me, Sam had picked some juniper berries along the way. He now divided them among us, and I was instructed to name the animal I wanted to see and then scatter my berries in the general direction of the site. Sam and John did the same. After having performed this ritual, I was assured that we should see pictographs - - which we did. They told of a non-Indian woman who had come to see the pictographs but made no offering (possibly she was ignorant of the custom!). She heard the growl of a grizzly bear, fled, and never returned. According to one version of the story, she was actually chased by the bear.


To a number of substances supernatural potency is attributed, and it is quite likely that the magical properties of others have escaped notice. The efficacy of those recorded is diverse. Thus there is a rock standing about three feet high called no ̉̉̉̉̉ozig ̉̉̉̉̉adi, ‘one who is a little pregnant’ because of its shape. Though no specific case was cited, it was said that a young woman who wanted to become pregnant would knock off bits of the rock and swallow them. (According to one informant, a sterile woman might become fertile by drinking a decoction prepared from the dried powdered paw of a mouse.)

Thirty-five years after squaw bush (Rhus trilobata var.) was described as having a limited use in basket-making (see Kawaiisu Ethnobotany), an informant recalled that her grandmother had told her that this material could be used only by women who have no relatives.

As previously noted, at least three plant substances are considered effective in keeping way the ̉̉̉̉̉inipi Tobacco (Nicotiana bigelovii and probably N. attenuata) is potent against both the ̉̉̉̉̉inipi and the yaahwẻ̉̉̉̉ era. The efficacy of the dried root of “wild celery” (Lornatium californicum) is indicated by the fact that Emma always kept some on hand. Perhaps the supernatural quality of blue sage (Salvia dorrii) is to be seen in its native name, tugubasidabi, ‘sky/night pasidabi (chia)’. All of these plants also have medicinal usages.

A plant which figures prominently in Kawaiisu magical practices and yet, as far as is known, does not grow in the area normally inhabited by the tribe is muguruuvi, turpentine broom (Tharnnosma montana). Men were willing to travel considerable distances to obtain it. Several functions are assigned to muguruuvi. Dried and crushed to powder, it is carried in small containers on hunting trips. When deer tracks are located, a small quantity of the powder is dropped into each deer foot imprint. This procedure has the effect of slowing down the deer so that it can be over‑taken and shot. The odor of the plant undoubtedly contributes to some of the beliefs about it. Thus it is said that the kaap(i)sikimi  (Yokuts) and the pitadi (a neighboring tribe to the south, possibly Kitanemuk) die from smelling it. While my Kawaiisu informants maintained that nothing except deer blood was ever put on arrows, Cappannari was told that, when fighting the Yokuts, the Kawaiisu treated “their arrows with a poison made from a weed called muguruva. . . which caused [their enemies’] noses to bleed.” Though he obtained no name for the substance, McCown recorded that “fighters used a medicine . . . to make the eyes of the enemy wink in order to facilitate killing them.” This sounds like muguruuvi. The powder may be kept on one s person to keep rattlesnakes away, but, on the other hand, it attracts snakes and causes men and horses to sweat. If you keep muguruuvi with you, certain material benefits may accrue: you will win at gambling and, in recent years, the cashier at the supermarket will err in your favor as she totals your bill.

No substance is more puzzling or more mysterious both as to identity and to effect than puyumảaku. When, in 1975, at my request, a linguist asked his elderly Kawaiisu informant about the word, her response may have reflected the attitude of all previous informants. “She said it was ‘poison’ and a ‘bad thing’, and acted like she didn’t really want to talk about it.” While my informants referred to it as a powder, McCown was told by one man that it is “an ointment or salve” and by another that it might be “red, white or blue colored” and that “one type of puimak, a powerful charm, is a rock crystal.” McCown notes: “I tried to get Bob [Rabbit] to describe what puimak looked like. From his statements it might be dirt, rocks, liquid.” There are two possible causes of the confusion: it may be that no informant had ever seen the substance, or the term may have been used to apply to different materials. It might be appropriate here to point out that B. W. Voegelin, in her Tubatulabal Ethnography, refers to a substance as a “white powder (alum?) . . . white stuff that looks like flour . . . like baking powder.” Although the name of the material, ayi·p, in no way relates it to puyumả aku, its usage in “bear shamanism” closely parallels one of the chief usages attributed to puyumả aku by the Kawaiisu.

McCown’s informants made no mention of a bear-cult in any form, but both Cappannari and I were told of the role of puyumả aku in what might be called “bear-impersonation.” However, it was always maintained that the Kawaiisu never used it for this purpose, but knew of its use by neighboring peoples - - the kaap(i)sikimi and, especially, the pitadi. In some instances, as will be seen, the Kawaiisu are said to have obtained the substance from the pritadi at Tejon, but the avowed purpose had nothing to do with bear-impersonation. Indeed, the Kawaiisu picture themselves as the victims rather than the perpetrators of this sinister activity.

The actual situation is complicated by the failure of informants to make a clear distinction between a “real” grizzly bear, a bear-impersonator, and a human killer for whom the term pogwti, ‘grizzly bear’ and tuhugadi, ‘murderer’ might be applied synonymously. The grizzly bear itself is invariably portrayed as “mean” and dangerous - - a symbol of evil and malice. It will be recalled that the animal is a miitiipi and to dream of it is a “bad” omen (see under Miitiipi and Dreams). The bear is said to kill people in a special way - - taking the scalp from the back of the neck upward and removing the limbs while leaving the upper part of the torso intact and usually sitting up. The bear-impersonator of the pitadi is, according to Kawaiisu informants, “able to behave like a bear by dressing in a bear skin. They used puyumả aku to make him run and act like a bear.” One informant said that “the pitadi made a ‘bear’ called kaukau [recording uncertain]. Maybe they put puyumả aku on the man. He sits inside the bearskin. He has reins and carries lots of beads inside. That powder makes the hide alive - -makes him run.” Thirty- five years after these statements were recorded, the same beliefs persisted: “If a bear is killed and skinned, then someone with this substance can control or direct the bearskin from a distance by using some kind of rein or bridle-type mechanism, and it can be used to kill one’s enemies. Perhaps the person doing the magic could hide a knife inside the bearskin to kill someone.” Voegelin notes the use of a bear skin and a “white powder (alum?)” but states that the Tubatulabal (living adjacent to the Kawaiisu) “were aware of it but did not imitate [it].” She attributes the practice to the “Ventura Indians” and the Chumash, and says that the “bear machine” was “stored in a cave north of Tejon” (just south of the Kawaiisu) but the “white stuff” was obtained in Tubatulabal territory.

The operation of a bear-impersonator is described in an “actual” case:

Someone in Tejon wants to kill someone over here. The “bear” waits for the man in the mountains. He hides in the willows near the trail. The man to be killed is a “South Fork” [Tubatulabal]. The “bear” cuts off his head and legs. They thought it was a “real” bear, but it wasn’t. He stuck arrows with the points upward in a circle around the dead man. . . . The people, including the dead man’s wife, went up there. The “bear” was watching from somewhere - - they could hear him laughing. [This seems to be a habit of the bear-impersonator.] They thought it was a grizzly bear until they found the arrows. Then they knew it was a man.

Here is an enigmatic episode: Once some cowboys in Tehachapi saw a bear eating juniper berries. They threw a lasso and caught it by the hand. They pulled and the hand came off. Later, that “bear” was not in his “outfit” and he saw these cowboys. He said, “Look what you fellows did to me.” His hand was missing.

Once two of the “bears” went through Kelso Valley on the way to the desert to get salt. “Real bears never go to get salt.” On the way back they passed by Jim Haslem’s place where there was a pine tree. One of the “bears” jumped up and swung on one of the limbs. Then they went through Tehachapi on the trail back to Tejon. Their tracks could be seen.

Emma told a grim and lengthy story about pogwiti, a “bad man” who lived in Old Town (usually regarded as in Kawaiisu territory but on the way to Tejon) and went about killing people for no apparent reason. Five men were murdered by him, but eventually a posse ambushed and killed him. The individual episodes were recounted by Emma to me in 1938 and to Cappannari. in 1947. Our respective fieldnotes seem to indicate that no puyumả aku was involved and that pogwiti was “just mean.”

Apparently referring to the same individual, Marie said that after pogwiti was dead he was cut open. Around his heart was found a hair, and that hair was ̉inipi. (The assumption is that pogwiti was possessed by an ̉inipi.)

As already indicated, McCown obtained no affirmative data about the use of puyumả aku (or, in McCown’ s transcription, puimak) in a bear- cult. McCown notes that Nichols “did not recognize my description of bear or rattlesnake shamanism.”  However, other unrelated usages of puimak were known to several of his informants. Both Emma (Williams) and John (Nichols) said that puimak was brought from Tale River. Only wealthy people could afford to have it as it was expensive. John said it was “strong” and could make people do whatever you wanted them to do.

It might be used in business or in love to make the other party accede to your wishes. Also it was rubbed on the back during dances, for what purpose he did not explain. . . . A man might use puimak to make a girl come to him despite her parents’ opposition. . . . It was often used by people who wanted to make money. If you had puimak people would come to your house to trade with you and you were always successful. It might be used by a man who wanted a certain girl, especially if she was reluctant.

Emma said that a rag “with some sort of medicine on it, possibly puimak, might be hung over the door of one’s house and people would come to the house regardless of their wishes in the matter.”

Bob (Rabbit) said that puimak   was used by shamans and also other men. It would make them crazy. Puimak might be used to make people go crazy or it might kill them. It works at any distance. One type . . . is a rock crystal. The possessor has to put the right kind of “dope” on it to insure its efficacy. It might disappear or kill the owner unless he knows how to keep and use it. . . . Once an Indian on a high mountain took out his eagle feather. He talked. . . . The puimak appeared. The Indian knew how to make the puimak stay with him. [It has an] attraction for lightning. The lightning will come and take the puimak away. This is why trees get hit with lightning. One Indian (Juan) was killed by lightning because he had puimak in his pocket.

Of three kinds of puimak - - red, white and blue-green - - according to Bob, the red “was for fighting. . . . The puimak that is best for [making] rain is blue-green like galena. . . . Puimak was no good against witches.” Bob mentioned still another usage: To make pinyon trees bear, a cone on a large limb is painted with puimak. It brings good results for seven years. The same procedure is recommended for acorns and chia (!).

My informants, including John and Emma, and those of Cappannari, described puyumả aku as a “deadly poison” which, if placed anywhere on the skin, will sting like the bite of a red ant - - and cause death. The kaap(i)sikmi are said to put it on their arrow points. It makes dead worms come to life and can grow flesh on bare bones. A pohagadi employs it against his victims. One pohagadi had grown flesh on [the bone of] a human finger. It was discovered in her nephew’s trunk after she had died. Marie Girado told of an old man who had heard an owl hooting in a nearby tree. He shot it. The next morning he looked for the bird but found nothing but old bones. A witch had wanted to kill the man, and had brought the bones to life with puyumả aku. But the intended victim had not touched the owl and thus escaped harm.

As suggested by John Nichols, the “powder” is also an effective love potion. An informant knew of a Kawaiisu woman who had learned of its power from a pitadi Indian. If the substance is kept in the house, a couple cannot stay apart. They will spend their time making love. The woman used some on a man nicknamed sina ̉vi “coyote” (perhaps so called because of his sexual preoccupation, though in this instance it would seem more aptly applied to the woman!). It proved predictably potent. But the man’s aunt disapproved of the match, and when, on one occasion, she found the couple out of the house, she looked under the pillow and saw some hair on which there was puyumả aku. She took the hair and threw it into the creek. The man had known nothing about the presence of the “powder,” and soon left the woman.

An old pohagadi at Tejon lived across a creek from a couple. The young wife was alone while her husband was working in a nearby town. The pohagadi was about to put puyumả aku in the woman’s chamberpot, but the latter saw her. When the husband returned, his wife told him of the witch’s attempt to poison her. Pretending that he was going off to work, he walked a short way and hid. That night he knocked at the witch’s door and, when she opened it, he killed her with an axe.

A Kawaiisu man called Pete wanted to marry a certain girl. He had some of that powder. He came up to her and sat back-to-back against her. There were people there and they all felt “pretty good.” They started to sing and dance. An old woman who had been picking juniper berries came singing and dancing along the trail. “Maybe Pete rubbed against the girl. She jumped up and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ Then everybody had to dance. He threw the powder away. Be didn’t get it here - - maybe at Tejon.” The girl didn’t marry him. “If we had the powder here now, it would make us all dance.”

Another story does not mention puyumả aku specifically, but it may well be the substance involved. A pohagadi living in Kawaiisu territory “went to Tejon and came back with some kind of poison. All the people got sick. Some children and old people died.” Two men found the witch taking a nap on a hill near where he lived. They hit him on the head with a rock and killed him. They were his relatives. After that, all the people got well.

Clearly my early informants regarded puyumả aku as having a compulsive quality. “The pitadi have that puyumả aku,” said an informant. “If one of them calls you to come there [to Tejon], you have to go.”

Although we have data on the substance covering a forty-five year period, it remains, to the end, elusive and mysterious. It is tempting to regard puyumả aku as a broad concept covering diverse materials and functions, and it is even possible to theorize that some of the reputed usages may more properly belong to one or more neighboring peoples. But it would appear unlikely that any meaningful reconciliation of the diverse testimony can be achieved at this late date.


There is no Kawaiisu equivalent for the term “shaman,” but the idea of “specialist” or “expert” may be expressed through the use of the suffix -gadi, ‘possessor’, ‘one who has’. Thus pugugadi is ‘dog-possesor’ or ‘owner of a dog’. A huviagadi is a ‘song-possessor’ or curing shaman. An ordinary “secular” song is kaapi, but huviavi is a song that has been received through a dream or vision and is therefore of supernatural origin. While no authentic example was ever recorded - -the last alleged huviaqadi died around 1930 - -a typical shaman’s song is said to have named the surrounding mountains and other phenomena of nature. The important factor was that the song was received in a dream that might be deliberately sought. There seems to have been no claim of ownership, however. During a curing session a song introduced by the shaman could be picked up by onlookers and repeated. The words kaaci ̉idimi and kaace ̉eyawi  (no longer remembered in the l970s). based on the root kaa-, were said to refer to ‘shaman’s assistants’, but it is not clear that such roles were institutionalized.

Aside from singing, the huviagadi was apprised of his calling through dream-images. The only one mentioned was deer, and especially deer singing, but there were probably others. While Charlie Haslem’s competency as a huviagadi was questioned by some (see below), his account to McCown is all that is available concerning the process through which one became a curing shaman. Charlie said that as a young lad he thought that he was “just dreaming” and for the first few years he did not realize that “his dreams were doctors’ dreams.” It might take four to six years before one was “strong enough” to cure. Charlie’s uncle (his mother’s brother) Ramon, a well-established huviagadi, recognized Charlie to be a “dreaming man” destined to become a huviagadi. Ramon tried to cure Old George of a nosebleed or hemorrhage, but he was unsuccessful. Told by Ramon to try, Charlie stopped the bleeding.

He had the power two years before he made his first cure. . . . He blew on George’s head and the bleeding stopped. . . . Ramon did the singing the time that Charlie cured George. . . . The “man” in the dream gave Charlie the songs that he sings. Re always saw the “man” before he made a cure. . . . He gets a new song for every cure. . . . Also this “man” gave him the crystal in the dream.

The techniques followed in a curing session were never clearly defined. Part of the confusion may stem from the fact that people were not reluctant to seek the services of shamans of any tribe if a reputation for effectiveness was widely known. This practice led to considerable differences of opinion as to what a Kawaiisu curing shaman usually did. Here are some of the features of the procedure as recorded: The singing continued throughout the night and was often - -but not always - -accompanied by dancing. The shaman was given a mixture of tobacco and water in a steatite bowl, and he chewed and swallowed as he worked. Be laid his hands on his patient and, when he reached the affected place, his hands felt “as if they had been stung by nettles.” The patient might also feel this sensation. Describing Charlie Haslem’s movements, the informant said “he hopped on both feet like a bluejay. His arms were by his sides with palms facing forward and knees relaxed.” Suddenly he produced his crystal and showed it to all present. He rotated his hand, but the crystal (or ‘diamond’) did not fall. He placed it on the sickness, sucked on it, and drew the sickness out. A little sore on the body marked the spot. Whatever was drawn out of the body (one informant insisted that nothing was removed), he took outside, put in a hole, covered up, and then stamped on. If the shaman was convinced that a witch (see below) was involved, he might go off to the mountains in the middle of the night to learn of the witch’s identity. John Marcus said that the huviagadi might rub his hands together and produce a “snowball.” Be gave it to the sick man who swallowed it. On one occasion John (Marcus) was watching Charlie “doctoring,” and relates the following conversation:

I said to him, “How you going to make well? You got nothing with you.” Charlie said, “You’re right.” After a few hours he said, “I think I fool you. I’m going to show you something.” He put his open hand out the door and drew it back. In his hand was something very pretty - - round like a sheep horn. “Who you think save it to me?” asked Charlie. Night gave it to him. It speaks to him like us.

A huviagadi is paid for his services - - usually in advance. He might receive $5 to $20 or be given a horse. If the patient dies, the payment is returned to the relatives. Charlie told McCown that “doctors” would refuse to take a case if they knew that the patient was going to die. The sudden death of a patient during a cure was due to the efforts of a witch. The ̉inipi will come back and haunt the one who killed him. The bewitching shaman, pohagadi (possessor of pohavi, ‘poison’, but the word is a cognate of Southern Paiute poa-, ‘supernatural power’) also gains his power through dreams and visions (q.v.). The images are those identified as tuuwaruugidi and miitiipi. As noted elsewhere, stinging nettles may aid in preparing an aspiring pohagadi for his vocation. No mention is made of song either in connection with the preparation or the procedures of a witch. As to his techniques, there is the same kind of confused evidence that characterizes those of the huviagadi Apparently the “poisoning” could be achieved both through direct contact and indirectly, at any distance. According to John Marcus, the pohagadi works at night. “You might be here and he is in Kelso Valley.” When he wants to kill you, it appears in your dream.

Maybe you see an animal, a rattlesnake or something else. He tells you you’d better go away or you’ll be killed. He lies, because it won’t do you any good to go away. You might feel all right the next day, but the next night you begin to feel sick and you go to bed. Sometimes the pohagadi has a small rattlesnake in his pocket. He makes it straight like an arrow, and shoots it at you with his bow. He may be far away. That rattlesnake might show like a spot on your leg. It gets bigger and bigger and then you die. You see him shoot at you in your dream.

The fear and hate that witches inspired are expressed in the statements of John Nichols to McCown:

The sole function of witches was to kill people. They never used their power for spells in hunting. . . . If a witch was killed, that was all right because they were mean people and no one cared for them. They were better off dead. . . . Women are very bad witches; they are not “doctors” [i.e., huviagadi - -this assertion is not supported by the testimony of others]. Devils [̉inipi] help the witches and will carry poison for them. When a witch appears in a dream it means sick‑ ness. They have the power to change into wildcats and snakes.

Bob Rabbit told McCown that “[bewitching] shamans were often killed and when this happened, they were burned and not buried [in the usual way]. This was to prevent their coming back [apparently as ̉inipi].”

Though the goals of the huviagadi and the pohagadi were in sharp contrast, people were not always confident of the identity of each. The ultimate proof was in the result of their respective actions. If recovery followed upon the ministrations of a ‘doctor’, then his reputation as a huviagadi was advanced. But if, instead, death followed, he might well fall under suspicion. After several failures, conviction would grow that he was not a curer at all, but a witch. Under such circumstances his life might be in danger and, as already indicated, there were instances in which accusation led to murder. Depending upon experiences, one family might characterize an individual as a huviagadi, another as a pohagadi. Though reputedly a curing shaman, Charlie Haslem was accused by the head of one family of “never curing anybody.” At least two attempts were made on his life, but he lived beyond the age of 90.

An important function of a huviagadi was to identify the pohagadi whom he was convinced had caused an illness. This placed upon the huviagadi a grave responsibility, and it was generally believed that only a powerful one could risk making such an accusation. If bewitching was the cause, identification of the witch could lead to a cure.

It should be noted that, with the acceptance of non-Indian medical services, there has been a shift in the meaning of words. A, modern physician is called a pohagadi (apparently with no pejorative connotation), and a huviagadi today is a musician.

In the area of healing, another specialist was also recognized- - the matasukwigadi ‘possessor of medicine’. While John Nichols explained the term to McCown by saying that a matasukwigadi is “like an American doctor, a doctor with medicines,” his assertion that “anybody could do this - - all that was required was a knowledge of the weeds and how to fix them” would not be acceptable to others. Actually, with the many plant medicines known (my Kawaiisu Ethnobotany lists 107) and with the probability that other substances were believed to have curative powers, an expert in medicinal. formulas should have been an important functionary. Speaking on the basis of personal experience with a matasukwigadi (who was, however, a Tubatulabal and not a Kawaiisu), John Marcus, whose evaluation of the profession differs from that of John Nichols, explained to me that the matasukwigadi was acquainted with all kinds of medicines, both beneficial and poisonous. This knowledge put power in the hands of the ‘possessor of medicine’ and John M. was convinced that the Tubatulabal expert was responsible for the deaths of his three sons who died in successive years. Nevertheless, “home remedies” were an integral part of traditional Kawaiisu lore and the people from whom I assembled my materia medica in the 1930s made no pretense to being “professionals.”

When one suffers from an ailment, what determines the choice between seeking the services of a huviagadi and a matasukwigadi? “I failed to ascertain,” writes McCown, “the distinction between sicknesses curable by herbs and those requiring a shaman. From talks with Santos [Phillips] who is always ailing and with John [Nichols], I rather think that the gravity and length of the sickness determines this. A bad cold is usually treated homeopathically at first but, if it gets worse or lingers and other pains or headaches develop, a doctor may be called in.” It may be added that, if traditional medicines do not prove effective, it may be suspected that a pohagadi is involved. The next move, then. would be to consult a huviagadi.

More than a half century ago, the Kawaiisu had achieved preeminence as rain shamans. Kroeber refers to this talent in his Handbook of California Indians (1925). Voegelin, in her Tubatulabal Ethnography, mentions (1938:64) the “notable reputation” of  “Bob Rabbit, Kawaiisu rain doctor”; and Steward, when doing fieldwork among the Owens Valley Paiute, heard of the “shaman in Kern County who predicted storms” (1933:311). The rainmaker, or more accurately, weather-manipulator, is called  ̉uupuhagadi a term whose derivation is not altogether clear. Rain is ̉uwa-  stem sometimes shortened to ̉uu-. Thus ̉uupuhagadi may mean ‘rain-witch’ or ‘rain-doctor’, but there is an unidentified item in the rainmaker’s kit called ̉uupuhivi, so that the definition may be ‘possessor of uupuhivi’.

In the land of the Kawaiisu, precipitation was of prime concern. The productivity of the wild plants is dependent upon rain in an area which often suffers from drought. On the other hand, water is capable of descending in overwhelming quantity. Flash floods were known and feared, and a dry creek bed could suddenly turn into a rampaging, destructive torrent. Therefore the services of a competent ̉uupuhagadi were in much demand.

Of a number of stories about rain-control, here are two recorded by Cappannari: There was a female rain shaman who lived near Caliente. She bad not made rain for a long time and the people in Kelso Valley were hungry and worried about their wild plant crop. The drought was wide‑ spread. Three kohozi women walked over the mountains from Inyokern to Kelso Valley. They too sought rain and carried beads and baskets to give to the ̉̉uupuhagadi . They went on with the Kawaiisu women to Caliente and gave their gifts to the rain shaman, but “she just laughed.” The women started back but, when they reached Sand Canyon, it started to rain. It was a moderate rain and soon the grass and edible seed plants came to life. The ̉uupuhagadi joined the women to gather seeds. It was raining in Inyokern also. “It rained all over.”

There was a Kawaiisu rain shaman at Tejon who had not made it rain for a long time. The creeks were almost dry. Some Kawaiisu people and a non-Indian cattleman visited him and gave him money to make rain. He sang and danced all night. In the morning he told the people to look at the sky. They saw a huge black cloud. Soon it rained very hard.

Weather shamans were secretive about their procedures. According to one informant, “no one can watch them at work.” The most detailed account of weather-control techniques was obtained by McCown from Bob Rabbit. Bob had been “around” a good deal and, as a result, seems to have brought together some eclectic ideas about rainmaking.7 The emergent picture is not as clear or precise as one might wish. Thus Bob talked weirdly of a “rain-god” who comes from the “south” and speaks Serrano (?). Of the equipment which rain shamans used, McCown lists a steatite plate, chia, pinyon (seeds), acorns, a young fawn, eagle feathers, and special crystals or rocks. Songs were indispensable. Bob said he acquired his songs in dreams after he had eaten the tobacco-lime mixture as a young man. His songs would be effective even if someone else used them. Apparently into the steatite plate (which seems also to be designated a “bowl”) mud, kept moist, is laid and seeds of all kinds are embedded. Over the whole the skin of a fawn is stretched. Bob smoked his pipe “three times” and blew through a bone tube “three‑times - - this is to make the wind.” Then there was something about tracing “a circle with cross lines pointing north and south.” The important thing, according to Bob, was to be able to stop the rain after it had started. “Otherwise the whole world might be drowned.” McCown records that “Bob chewed weeds (medicine) and water. He spat into his fire, steam rises and the rain stops in three days from that time.” The use of blue-green ‘puimak’ (see under Magical Substances) was mentioned but no particulars of how and to what effect were volunteered. Bob emphasized that all those who benefited from the rain were expected to pay for the services of the ̉uupuhagadi.

There is still another method of causing precipitation and, unlike those imperfectly described thus far, it is available to everyone. It is the use of the tree-lichen, paaziiomỏ̉̉ora (Ramalina menziesii). Bob had employed it himself and told how he went to Koso Hot Springs (to the north) and put paaziiomỏ̉̉ora in the water there. He claimed that it brought rain with cool weather, “but it did not blow or freeze and there was a good stand of filaree” (probably Erodium cicutarium). But Bob was highly critical of the widespread use of paaziiomỏ̉̉ora for two reasons. For one, its effects were unpredictable. When placed in water, it might produce rain; but, instead, it might bring cold, sleet, snow, and high winds. Secondly, “people all aver the country would try to use it. It invariably made trouble and also kept the rain shamans out of work.” Even as late as the 1970s, the older people testified to the effectiveness of paaziiomỏ̉̉ora, and I was warned about its power when I took some away for taxonomic identification. LG explained that heavy winter rains were caused when some children sprinkled water on the lichen which she had hung on her kitchen wall. Thereafter she hid it in a can.

The possibility that some form of “bear shamanism” existed among the Kawaiisu is discussed above (under Magical Substances). No Kawaiisu word was ever suggested. The term kaukau is clearly alien, and informants insisted that bear-impersonators belonged to neighboring tribes. It is therefore doubtful that bear shamanism was a Kawaiisu institution.


When the sun goes into eclipse, it is sick. (When the moon is in eclipse, it is also sick.) People were frightened lest the darkness remain. They felt that they ought to stay at home so that they would not get lost in the blackness. During a solar eclipse, “pinyon birds” swarm over the earth. If it gets very dark, these birds will eat people alive. Once a couple were walking up a trail. Late in the afternoon there was a solar eclipse. They heard the pinyon birds coming. The woman ran away in the dark, but the man stayed and struck at the birds with a stick. The birds killed and ate him. When the woman returned, she found his bones picked clean. There were holes in all her baskets.

Sometimes the sun can be “cured” during an eclipse. Emma recalls an eclipse when she was a little girl. As it grew dark, an old man sang and danced. He had “dreamed” the song. The sun “got better.” Many years ago there was a great earthquake. Emma’s mother and grandmother were crying. Marie’s grandfather went outside and shouted three times. Then he lay flat on his stomach and struck the earth with a winnowing tray. He had dreamed what to do to stop the earthquake. The earthquake stopped.

When it thunders, one should remain quiet indoors. One should avoid loud talk, singing, or playing music because noise makes Thunder angry. You may talk to Thunder and tell it to go away, but if you yell or whistle or point a finger, it will get worse. But you may point with your thumb over a shoulder.

One may talk to the clouds - - tell them to go that way and not come this way. They will obey.

Killing a trapdoor spider (“tarantula,” niwisooyagizi) will cause the wind to blow.

Blowing on the “fluff” on rabbitskin will bring precipitation. CP remembers that, as a child, she and other children were blowing on a rabbitskin which they held between their hands. Her grandmother warned her that this would bring snow. The next morning there was snow on the ground.

Emma’s great grandfather told her: “When you see a new moon in the winter, take a small stick and break it in the direction of the moon (?). This will, shorten the long winter months.” But only an older person can do this.

When clouds appear for three successive days, there will be rain for three days. A rainbow augurs an abundance of edible seeds. But one should paint at the rainbow only with the thumb. Using a finger will cause it (the finger or the rainbow?) to break off.

If a pregnant woman looks at a waning moon, her child’s face will be black on one side. She must keep away from foods and objects which symbolize closure or stoppage. She must refrain from eating the feet of animals lest her infant be born feet first, and from stepping over a mole tunnel lest he be born blind.

During pregnancy no one (in the family?) killed an animal that might harm the child - -a rattlesnake, grizzly bear, mountain lion. Tule elk was not eaten because it is a big, slow animal, and the baby would be fat and slow, beer is quick - -it is good for the baby.

If the teeth of the pregnant woman remained white, the infant would be a girl. If the teeth turned black, it would be a boy.

Sewing with needles would hurt the baby’s eyes. A head scratcher was used by menstruating and pregnant women. If they scratched with their fingers, their hair would fall out. Hot water was drunk by menstruating and pregnant women because cold water hurts the blood. If deer meat were eaten before hunting, the hunter would have no luck because the deer would not show themselves.

If one steps on a rattlesnake’s track, it makes one’s legs ache. Instead, one steps across the track. If snakes’ rattles were kept in the house, one would have a headache all the time. Also, snake rattles attract snakes and, if kept in the house, snakes would came in. If you wound a rattlesnake, it will wait for an opportunity to bite you. Sophie’s brother injured a snake. The next year it was at the same place waiting, but he killed it this time. You never talk about a snake biting someone. “You don’t even think about it.”

If you tell myths in the summer, a rattlesnake will, bite you. (This constitutes a problem for the ethnographer.) In the winter those who listened to myths the evening before must jump in the water no matter how cold. According to Emma, this was done because rattlesnakes are afraid of people who have just taken a bath. But her grandson, Harry, said it is because rattlesnakes drink water only in September.

For fear of grizzly bears, one would start on a hunt in the morning - - never in the afternoon. When wounded by a bear, one is not likely to die right away, but might live a month and then die.

If a hibernating bear is located, one doesn’t talk about it that night or the bear will move to another place (before he can be killed).

If you talk at night about birds’ eggs which you have seen during the day, you won’t find them the next morning. If you cast your shadow over a nest of eggs, they won’t be there the next day. If you talk about birds before the eggs hatch, the eggs will be destroyed.

If you sneeze once, someone is saying (or thinking) something bad about you. If you sneeze twice or more, someone is saying (or thinking) something good about you. If your eye twitches, you will cry soon. If you nose twitches, you will fall on it.

One never touches human bones (they sometimes become exposed after burial). If one does so, the skin of one’s hand will peel off. Once a woman stepped barefooted on bones in a graveyard. A few days later the foot became very sore and the skin peeled off. It stayed that way a long time.

One does not refer to the recently deceased by name. Instead, the word ̉i ̉̉̉̉̉inipi  (cf. ̉inipi, ‘spirit, ghost’) is substituted. One does not give the name of the recently deceased to a newborn child, for to do so would be a sad reminder to the bereaved. However, after several years the name may be used again.

As you come to the end of life, your mind wanders to all the places where you’ve been (̉inipi paginiidi, ‘the spirit goes about’). Finally you come to the end of the trail and you die.

There is a spirit (or ghost) trail  ( ̉̉̉̉̉̉inipitoovi where the spirits of the dead walk at night. It comes from the Piute Mountain area into Kelso Valley and then into the desert over Mustang Canyon. In the evening the ghosts come from the east to the west, and then, just before daybreak, they return eastward. You can feel the hot air as they pass.

The morning or evening stars may be seen bobbing up and down behind the mountains. Coyote threw these stars up there when he was playing ball, and they are still bouncing.

If pinyon cones or acorns are put in the pockets of a dead man, no pinyons or acorns will be produced for five years. Cones will grow, but there will be no seeds in them.


Informants claimed to have some familiarity with the abode of the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi after death since a few living individuals had visited the place and had returned to tell about it.

A long time ago a woman was bitten by a snake while she was gathering chia, and died when she reached home. She had three nephews who put beads around her neck (in preparation for burial) and cried all night. Her ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi went along the trail eastward to the land of the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi. When she got there, she was told to go back where she came from. The ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi of her deceased grandmother said to her, “You stink,” and directed her to return home. Before she left, the woman saw many dances. The ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi were dancing and singing just like human Kawaiisu and lived in the same kind of brush houses. As she ran home, she looked back at the hills where the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi were. She saw fires that looked like lights.

When she reached her home, she stood outside and heard her nephews crying. She was “bashful” (embarrassed?) and hesitated to go inside. Eventually she entered the house, and then she awakened. She asked for a drink of water. They took off her beads and gave her water. The next morning she was all right.

The account of Bob Rabbit’s visit or visits to the afterworld may have suffered from the retelling. Perhaps all three versions available ought to be presented. The second and third versions were recorded by McCown.

(1) Bob was sick. He “died” and went to the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi ‘s world. There he found his grandmother cooking acorn mush. His parents were also there, but they did not speak to him. The grandmother told him to go back. She said, “The ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi here sometimes kill people. They might kill you.” So he came back.

(2) Bob said he had visited the plate of the dead. His relatives did not treat him well. They would not feed him although they had plenty of food. He saw his father, mother, sister, and grandmother.

(3) Bob made two trips to the soul land to see his sister but found the doors locked so he came back.

The inference seems inescapable: The world of the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi is not a hospitable place - - at least for those who don’t belong there!


As previously indicated under Yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era,  this supernatural creature is apparently in charge of a netherworld where the spirits of animals are to be found. One informant called the place ‘yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era kahniyeena, ‘yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era ‘s house’. While differing in some details - - one version does not even mention ‘yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era  the descriptions are alike in certain significant features. Perhaps two versions ought to be presented separately:

(1) A sick man who was seeking a cure came to the entrance-way which is in Back Canyon. Its opening assumes various forms and is some‑ times shut altogether. This is the place where “all the deer you kill come.” Someone once saw the tracks of three deer leading to it. To reach the bottom, the man had three nets tied together end-to-end, and one end was tied around his waist so that he could be let down the shaft. He said, “When I get to the bottom, I’ll shake the rope.” He did, and the people above pulled up the nets and went home. Down below, the man entered a tunnel of white rock. A large gopher snake (kogo) stretched across the tunnel and served as a “door” to yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era ‘s house. The man climbed over it. A little farther in there was a larger snake, tugvbaziitibi, and he climbed over it too. He passed the Brown Bear and the Grizzly Bear and walked on. Beyond it was sunny just like outdoors. Many deer were eating the leaves of sina ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉aruubi, mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides). Yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era told the man to sit down, and gave him acorn mush in an acorn cupule and dried deer meat to eat, but the food was never exhausted. Yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era asked what he wanted. The man said, “I’m sick and I want medicine.” There were different medicines wrapped in deerskin. The man chose a song which was also wrapped in deerskin. Yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era told the man which way to leave, and said he would come to a spring. The man found himself outside again.

(2) A man was up at the cave above Indian Creek. He ate a large piece of tobacco because he wanted luck. After he ate the tobacco, the entrance to the cave closed. He began to walk through the tunnel and it had no end. He was very frightened. He saw many different animals - - deer, bear, and others. They spoke Kawaiisu just like people. Someone handed the man a basket with one pinyon in it. He ate it and there was still a pinyon in it. He was also given a never-emptying basket with one acorn in it. There were many different kinds of luck on the cave walls. He saw a bow and arrow of a good hunter in a prominent place. He took something for his luck. (The informant did not know what it was.) Finally he came to the end of the cave. He saw water that was transparent like a window. He came out through the water and found that he was way up in Back Canyon - -a few miles from the cave entrance. That man had been gone a whole year. His relatives didn’t know where he had been. There is another ending which parallels that of a different yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era tale (see above): Yaahwe ̉̉̉̉̉ era told the man that for f –unreadable- he was not to tell anyone where he had been. The man resisted a–unreadable- tions for a time, but finally told his story before the end of the  -unreadable- day period. He died.


"When Joe Williams [CP’s brother-in-law] was a small boy, John Nichols took him under his wing to teach him to hunt, to track, and all the ways of the animals. One day John had tracked this mountain lion. It was a fresh track, and he took some of the sand from the track and mixed it in his [Joe’s] food. He told him [Joe] now this would give him the ways of the lion, the ability to track, to scent, and to kill. What‑ ever he was stalking, he would manage somehow to kill it. As a rule they did this with the boys. His [John’s?] comment was that they didn’t usually tell the child when they were feeding it to him - - usually afterwards. The name of the mountain lion is tukuumici. After that they felt a brotherhood between the mountain lion and the one who had eaten of his track. Joe Williams won’t kill a mountain lion to this day.

“One time my father Andy Greene and Joe worked on a ranch. It was a cattle ranch and the boss told them, ‘If you see any mountain lions, destroy them.’ Of course, they were paid bounty on them, too. In the course of knowing that they should do this to keep the cattle from being destroyed, my father shot a mountain lion. He felt extreme remorse afterward because he had been fed the track of this mountain lion, and he felt the binding of this brotherhood. I don’t believe he ever collected the bounty. If I remember right, he brought him home and buried him like you would a pet-something you felt a strong attachment to.”


Kawaiisu culture began to deteriorate at least 120 years ago as the presence of the non-Indian came to be an inescapable fact. One by one the traditional customs fell into disuse, although the order of their disappearance can no longer be traced. Groups of neighboring households, usually interrelated, continued some basic activities. Ritualized occasions like “fiestas” (often intertribal), the mourning ceremony, and toloache and red-ant swallowing, could not have survived far into the twentieth century. By the 1930s there were no curing shamans and but one rainmaker who was no longer interested in his vocation. There were those, however, who were suspected of being bewitching shamans in the l940s and quite probably beyond. Pinyon gathering outlasted acorn gathering - - it may be because the end-product was more popular. (I participated in a pinyon “expedition” in 1937, but was assured that “it was not like in the old days.” In the l970s one of the women promised to make me some acorn mush on her kitchen stove. Having gathered the acorns, she kept them for more than a year and then died without completing the project.) A half - century ago moden cigarettes may have taken the place of the strong native tobacco for smoking by the men, but the women perpetuated the old tobacco complex at least into the l940s because they enjoyed chewing the tobacco-lime mixture.

What has survived into the 1970s? Thirty-five people - - none of them less than 35 years of age - - can speak the native language, but they never do so except with close relatives. The common speech is English. No one attempts to teach Kawaiisu to the children since, as one mother commented, “Who are they going to speak to?” In only one family are both husband and wife Kawaiisu. Of the survivors, 26 live within an area of about 55 square miles, but they never meet together as a group.

As noted under Shamanism, 107 medicinal plants are listed in the forthcoming Kawaiisu Ethnobotany, but not more than a handful are still utilized. The people consult modern physicians and find no conflict in taking both modem medicines and those dictated by tradition. One elderly woman was given a prescription, but she didn’t understand what she was supposed to do with it. She continued with her old-time remedy and, when she saw the physician again, he told her she was much improved. In the l930s there was a sharp difference of opinion as to whether Mexican or Kawaiisu procedures should be followed to strengthen the crippled legs of the infant son of a Mexican father and a Kawaiisu mother. Possibly both were tried but, in any case, the physical condition was not improved though the son is now nearly forty.

Some of the ideas and beings of the supernatural world still live in the minds of a few people. To the women who have become faithful devotees of the local pentecostal church, the  ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi is very much alive, but he is now Satan and is kept under control by Christ. CW has told me that she is perplexed by the thought that the old-timers were somehow able to protect themselves from the evil machinations of the  ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi even though they knew nothing of Jesus Christ. She has tentatively decided that they must have had “very strong thoughts” through which they escaped disaster. A few of the women make the annual pilgrimage to the Church Assembly in Oregon. En route one year, one of them gathered some of what she believed to be the rainmaking lichen (paazimỏ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉ora). She had no doubt as to its potency (see under Shamanism). There is no longer any huviagadi matasukwigadi, or ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉uuptzhagadi. One must be somewhat less certain about witches (pohagadi) since suspicion about an individual, if held, would remain a dark secret to be shared only by members of one’s immediate family. The sheer paucity of numbers, however, makes it quite unlikely that anyone now living can be considered qualified for that unfortunate calling. On the other hand, tuuwartiigidi  may well lurk in the minds of the few who still have memories of the older beliefs. The occurrence of the “unusual” is an ever-present reality for all of us! AG’s experience with the crawling tuuwartiigidi falls within the present decade. And who can deny that some strange cloud-borne image might appear in the sky tomorrow?

No longer a viable way of life, Kawaiisu culture will have a fragmentary survival in the consciousness of a few people for another decade or two.

End Notes:

Citation: Zigmond, Maurice L., 1977, The Supernatural World of the Kawaiisu in Thomas C. Blackburn (ed.) Flowers of the Wind: Papers on Ritual, Myth, and Symbolism in California and the Southwest.  Socorro: Ballena. (Northamerican Indians in the U. S. Southwest.) pp. 59 - 95.

1) This paper is based upon my fieldwork among the Kawaiisu extending from 1936 to 1974 (with a thirty-year gap between 1940 and 1970), but it also includes data gathered by the late Theodore D. McCown in 1929 and the late Stephen C. Cappannari in 1947-1949. Cappannari and I had agreed to publish our materials together, but other interests took hint away from the field of anthropology. I had never met McCown though I knew of the existence of his notes. As far as I am aware, he never attempted to put them in publishable form. It seemed to me, therefore, that this study on the Supernatural World of the Kawaiisu provided an opportunity for at least some of the work of these two men to appear in print. I had long had copies of Cappannari’s notes and his widow Lael sent me all the material she could find among his papers. Copies of McCown’s notes reached me in March 1976, after the first draft of this paper had been completed. I then undertook to revise the manuscript in those sections where McCown’s data were relevant. This gave rise to a problem of proper “credit.” Whereas I had not always distinguished between the contribution of Cappannari and my own, I was careful to insert McCown’s name wherever his material was added. Thus Cappannari s name does not appear as often as it deserves. Perhaps the inequity can be somewhat overcome by associating each of us with our most important informants, all now dead: Emma Williams assisted all of us. John Nichols assisted McCown and me. McCown was assisted exclusively by Bob Rabbit, Santos Phillips, Charlie Haslem, and Rafael Girado; Cappannari by Marie Girado and Sadie Williams; I by John Marcus, Setimo Girado, Sam Willie, and Henry Weldon. Living informants are indicated by their initials.

2) The presence of ‘1’ in this word seems to indicate that it is a borrowed term.

3) ‘unup’ is obviously the ̉̉̉̉̉̉̉̉inipi (terminal vowels are frequently omitted in speech), but the force of ‘uwa’ remains unknown.

4) There is a difference of opinion as to the identity of the constellation. One informant called it the “Little Dipper,” another the “Milky Way.” Sapir (1930:533, ftn. 88) comments on a Paiute text: “A constellation of seven stars is meant. Tony [his informant] thought it was the Dipper (Ursa Major). . . but was not quite certain.”

5) The Kawaiisu word for transvestite is hủ̉yupizi, but, since all references in my fieldnotes seem to be to one transvestite, I treat the word here as though it is a personal name. No other name was ever used.

6) A close parallel to this story is found in Voegelin’s Tubatulabal Ethnography.

7) Harold E. Driver, in Culture Element Distributions VI, evaluates Bob Rabbit as a “rather poor, erratic informant, but good on topics that interest him, such as deer hunting” (1936:89). I spent one day with Bob in 1936, and agree with Driver except that I do not recall any comments on deer hunting.

8) Transcript of a recording made by CP, 8/25/70.