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TIMOLOQINASH: Another Approach To Interpreting Chumash Indian History - Part 3


This is the second part of a six part series based on Michael’s upcoming book (available in the Spring.) Your comments are encouraged – think of it as a large scale proofreading or focus group. Thank you, Michael, for sharing your passion with us.

Michael K. Ward is both an author and an artist, his artwork is on display at the Chumash Interpretive Center in Thousand Oaks, Ca.

The history of the Chumash People starts at the beginning of their world. There is however, no existing creation story for the Chumash:

surviving Chumash myths provide no statement concerning how the universe was created, or anything that describes a creator . . .it may well be that such an . . .account . . .never existed at all--perhaps it was simply not needed.1

Creation or rather re-creation, was nevertheless a continual theme in Chumash life long ago. Year-end public ceremonies annually abolished time and history in the sense of our own twentieth-century understanding of these terms. In the process, a new world was collectively regenerated by the whole of Chumash society. All ceremonial activities, whether they were individual or collective, public or private, were expressions of re-creation.2 As such, the first verse of a "medicine song," attributed to a Chumash man named Carlos from Mission Santa Ynez goes: "they will create us with their breath," and the second verse vaguely refers to the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. This chant is thought to be a curing song used by Coyote.3

Regardless of whether or not the universe ever had a beginning, the Chumash perceived a world that was five-tiered with three main divisions. The human world was in the middle of the three primary parts, and was called Itiashup, with Mount Piños Iwihinmu as its center. Humans themselves likely originated from this place.4 Below Itiashup was C'oyinashup, the lower world, which was the realm of powerful and dangerous monsters called the nunashush. The world above Itiashup was filled with wonderful and immensely powerful, though potentially dangerous, "sky people" including Sun, his daughters, Moon, Morning Star, and Shnilemun Sky Coyote, among many others. This upper world, called Mishupashup, was itself a model of the whole world, with two worlds above it.5 Sun's name in the Chumash sacred language was Kakunupmawa, meaning "the radiance of the child of the winter solstice." The dawn light of each new day is Kakunupmawa's breath expressed as a sigh.6 Bears, rattlesnakes, deer, mountain lions and ravens were the "pets of Sun."7 The Sky People were probably the inventors of masuqtskumu, the Chumash calendar, spanning twelve months in one year.8 Mishupashup, supported in the sky upon the wings of the giant golden eagle Slo'w, was also home to other powerful beings who could be seen as "planets, and significant stars and constellations." Above this world was Alapayashup, and above that, Alapay.9 Alapay was a mysterious place where the solitary and nondescript Xoy resided alone, leaving his world only to attend celebrations in Mishupashup.10

Itiashup, where human beings live, was perceived of as being a great island which floated in a vast, circular ocean. Elye'wun swordfish were the "people of the sea."11 In addition to that "biggest island" and the eight islands of the California Bight, the Chumash said that there were three others; Wit Condor, Ayaya, and Shimilaqsha, that together made up the "Land of the Dead," where Shaq, or Turtle, was the wot, or chief.12

The earliest inhabitants of the world were the "First People," called Molmoloq'iku, and many of them were giants.13 Slo'w, the big golden eagle who held up the upper world, was the wot of the Molmoloq'iku and the "giver of laws" for the First People. Thus, he was also the original lawmaker for the Chumash. Sub-chiefs included Xelex Falcon, and hawks of many different species. Mudhen (Coot), called Ksen, was a messenger. Hew Pelican and Mut Cormorant were the first mariners and fishermen. They also were both wealthy canoe owners; it is probable that these two persons even invented boats.14 Crow, called Ax, was the original story-teller.15 Anaqpúw Wildcat, Tuk'é'm Mountain Lion, and Shi'w Elk were the first hunters. Muhu Owl, Taxama Skunk, and Ashka shniwush Coyote, were the original shamans.16

One of the most prominent of the Molmoloq'iku was a very wealthy, elderly widow named Momoy. After the Flood, Momoy was transformed into her present form, that of the Jimson Weed plant.17 Grandmother Momoy figured prominently in Chumash religious beliefs and practices.18 Momoy's granddaughter, who was born at the village Homomoy19 was the wife of Oxkon Thunder, considered to be the creator of Zaca Lake in Santa Barbara County.20 With Thunder and his brother Fog, she had twin sons, Six'usus Little Thunder, and Sumiwowo Little Fog, who interestingly were also the grandchildren of Momoy.21 Six'usus was the older of the twin Thunder brothers, and he was a great mischief-maker.22 He was the first person to wear sandals, and thus became the inventor of shoes.23

The aunt of the twin Thunders was a nunashush named Ashixuch "the burner,"24 who lived on Seneq "at the woman" mountain (Santa Ynez Peak).25 Ashixuch was later killed by the twins' fathers "Old Thunder and Old Fog."26 Another powerful nunashush, the sucking monster Haphap, once chased the twin Thunders through the Santa Ynez mountain range. As he did so, the Haphap sucked in great pieces of the land, spitting out rocks and dirt, thus creating gaps in the mountains that can still be seen. The twins later killed Haphap at what is now Laurel Canyon, as evidenced by the "big, cracked rocks there." The twin Thunders also killed two other powerful nunashush, Yowoyow and Xolxol.27 Pohono, a nunashush who attempted to capture Six'usus and Sumiwowo in her tar-filled burden basket, was killed when Coyote, the twins' uncle, rescued them.28

Ashka shniwush Coyote "came into existence" from the sweat of Grandmother Momoy.29 He was born at Capwaya village, where his grandfather was a wot. As the model for all human behaviors which came later, Coyote was both Wise Man and Trickster; representing all of the best and all the worst that people could do. To the Chumash Indians, Coyote was a hero in the classical sense of the term and his exploits were well-known. In the same manner as other prominent, influential Chumash, Coyote carried several different names, each of which describe different aspects of his character. His birth name was Nawaqmayt "something to be feared."30 Another of these names was Shupusiwas, meaning "he who knows."31

Coyote knew and loved women. He is quoted as exclaiming, "events in the world are all right, but what changes things in this world is love of a woman."32 He seduced Fox and Wildcat, the fiancées of Xelex and Slo'w respectively. Each woman bore twelve sons from their sexual unions with Coyote.33

In response to the unrequited love of Coyote, Tspe'ey kaxutash "Flower of the World," the daughter of Slo'w Golden Eagle, left the East Santa Cruz Island village of Swaxul to endlessly roam the seas surrounding the island of Halashat (San Nicholás Island). All inshore fish and shellfish are her progeny.34

Coyote married Toad, and when she was killed by "Tulareños" (Yokuts Indians), for a wrong that Coyote had committed, he pursued her into the land of the dead, where she tried unsuccessfully to trick him into being killed in order to force him into joining her there.35 Coyote married Frog, the "Queen of the Waters," and had sixteen sons with her. Frog withheld the waters in a dispute with Coyote, later unleashing them in a raging torrent down what is now Mission Creek in Santa Barbara. The zigzags in the creek today are seen as evidence of the path that Coyote took in his escape.36 Coyote also married Qaq Raven, and had a very mischievous son with her.37

Coyote's escapades and adventures ranged far and wide through the lands of the Chumash, involving more than his numerous exploits with women. On an occasion when some fishermen insulted Coyote, he initiated a war of retaliation against them, that involved "companies of men from Ventura, La Purisima and the Tulare."38 In another episode, while in a fit of boredom, Coyote is described walking the hills behind Ventura, and "defecated everywhere," permanently ruining the water quality there.39

Eventually, as mentioned earlier, a great flood occurred, drowning all the Molmoloq'iku. Kakunupmawa caused the flood to end when he heard the cries of Maqutikok Acorn Woodpecker, from atop the tallest tree on Mount Piños, at the center of the world.40 During the Flood, the Molmoloq'iku were transformed into their present forms, as the plants and animals that inhabit the world in human times. They continue to exist however, as Molmoloq'iku, in the previously-mentioned other world, parallel to our own.41 The event of Momoy's transformation into the datura plant "marked the transition between mythical times . . .and the advent of the world order familiar to the Chumash."42 More specifically perhaps, this milestone denotes the appearance of a world translatable and recognizable to western eyes and perceptions. And as the waters of the Great Flood retreated, this recognizable human world emerged from Iwihinmu Mount Piños.43


1 quote from Hudson and Underhay 1978: p. 39; also see Blackburn 1975a: p. 31. Groups which surrounded the Chumash, and with whom they interacted did have creation stories. Yokuts stories, for example, tell of the creation of the world by Eagle. See Applegate, 1978: p. 17.

3 Tegler 1979: selection #6.

5 Blackburn 1975a: pp. 91-94. Eliade (1954, p. 9) points out how this replication of the ordinary world on a spiritual plane is typical of traditional societies: "The world that surrounds us, . . .the world in which the presence and the work of man are felt - the mountains . . .,rivers . . ., cities . . ., sanctuaries - all these have an extraterrestrial archetype ["exemplary model," as opposed to the Jungian interpretation of the word archetype] . . .a "double" existing on a higher cosmic level." According to Whistler (1980), Mishup is the word for "down, below; . . .to go down, (sun) to set; bottom, floor; on the ground; . . . ." (p. 17; omitted is its use as a term for "hell" due to such translation having historic, non-Chumash origins). Mishupashup may mean literally, "the floor of the world." Its use as the name for the Upper World may appear at first confusing, but probably has a number of interpretations. For example, contrary themes are indicative of extreme sacredness, as in the role of clowns among many American Indian groups, (Barbara Tedlock, "The Clown's Way," in Teachings From the American Earth, Indian Religion and Philosophy, Dennis and Barbara Tedlock, eds., (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1975), pp. 105-18), and certainly applies to the Chumash as well. As the lower-most of the three upper-worlds, the name Mishupashup also has practical meaning. The middle of these upper worlds is named Alapayashup, and the highest of all three is Alapay. Alapay translates as "above, over, up; [or] on the surface of; . . . [or] sky; . . .[or] ceiling" (Whistler, 1980: p. 1; omitted is its use as a term for heaven for the reason cited above).

7 Walker and Hudson 1993: p. 45.

9 ibid.: p. 40.

11 John R. Johnson, "The Swordfish in Chumash Prehistory," in Alolkoy, (Santa Barbara, California: Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, 1993).

13 Blackburn 1975a: p. 95; Hudson and Underhay 1978: p. 40.

15 ibid.: p. 199.

17 Jimson weed is identified as Datura meteloides. Blackburn, 1975a: pp. 35-36. The Flood, which drowned all of the First People, will be described later.

19 Hudson and Underhay 1978: p. 82.

21 Richard B. Applegate, "The Datura Cult Among the Chumash", The Journal of California Anthropology, Volume 2, 1975a: p. 16; Hudson and Conti, 1984: p. 80. Twins, an "uncommon" occurrence among the Chumash, were probably treated with some circumspection due to their existence outside of the realm of a predictable world and its norms (John P. Harrington, "Culture Element Distributions: XIX Central California Coast," Anthropological Records 7:1, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1942; p. 35).

23 Blackburn 1975a: p. 114.

25 Applegate 1975b: p. 40.

27 Blackburn 1975a: p. 114.

29 Applegate 1975a: p. 16.

31 ibid.: p. 163.

33 ibid.: pp. 195-196.

35 ibid.: p. 174.

37 ibid.: pp. 210-211.

39 ibid.: p. 227.

41 Blackburn 1975a: pp. 32,and 35-36; Hudson and Underhay 1978: p. 40; Applegate 1978: p. 16.

43 It is significant that the world of the First People ended at Mount Piños. It also seems appropriate that this should be the location of the beginning of human existence. See also footnote # 39, this essay.

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