Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tongva Village Names

Do you wonder how we know the names and sometimes the locations of Tongva villages while much of the language and cultural knowledge of the Tongva was lost?

Or maybe it’s just me. I always wonder about that sort of thing.

Well, there are a couple of sources for the village names. One is the baptismal records at the mission—in this case, the San Gabriel Mission. When a Native American was baptized by the Franciscans, the record noted where he or she was from. Many village names appear over and over again in the records.

Some books refer to Chowigna as a particular village, but most agree that it was a branch of the Tongva in a particular geographic area. Chowigna villagers were all over the Palos Verdes Peninsula (as noted in the previous post), on Catalina Island, in Redondo Beach, Long Beach, and even in Orange County.

There were also a few European-descended commentators who wrote about the local Indians. I have a library book that’s a collection of letters written by Hugo Reid in the 1850s. Reid was an immigrant from Scotland who came to California, married a Tongva woman, and eventually owned Rancho Santa Anita—though he went bankrupt and lost it. Read more about him at ArcadiasBest, here.

This statue of Hugo Reid and his wife, children, and faithful dog, stands in  the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia, outside Reid's adobe home.
After bankruptcy, Reid wrote a series of essays on the local Indians, possibly hoping to establish himself as an expert so he’d get a government appointment. Unfortunately, Reid died the same year his essays were printed in the Los Angeles Star: 1852.

Reid listed dozens of villages and their locations. He also listed vocab words such as numbers, colors, etc., gave some basic information about religion, customs and practices for marriage, birth, death, punishing crimes, healing, etc. For instance, Reid says that “during the season of flowers” women and children wove flowers into their hair and strung flowers and stems together into boas.

Reid also records some fables. Given that his wife was Tongva, I’m guessing that he had good access to his information and presented it faithfully.

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