August 19, 2016

Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Principal Feasts and Dances


As on all their feast days, dancing was the principal ceremony of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians.  I will endeavor to describe many of the ludicrous customs attending it. Such was the delight with which they took part in their festivities, that they often continued dancing day and night, and sometimes entire weeks. Their whole heart and soul were wrapped up in the amusement, and hardly a day passed, without some portion of it being devoted to this insipid and monotonous ceremony.


Chinigchinich gave to them as a religious precept, that they should adhere strictly to this custom, and once, previous to his death, whilst dancing, he was carried up among the stars. So this accounts for the enthusiasm universally observed among them on such occasions, and whoever did not take an active part in the festival, they believed would be chastised, and hated by him.

The outfit used by them, called the tobet, has been already mentioned in a previous chapter, when describing the dress of the “capitans” or “puplem;” but perhaps, it would not be out of place to repeat the same, and in addition, to give a description of that generally worn by the females.

In the first place, they fixed upon the head a kind of wig, called “emetch,” that was made secure, by a braid of hair passed around the head, into which, they inserted various kinds of feathers, forming a crown, or as they termed it, an “eneat;” then, their covering for the body, was also prepared from the feathers of different kinds of birds, which were sewed together, and like a sort of petticoat reached down to their knees–this they called a “paelt.” The parts exposed, were generally painted red and black, and not unfrequently, white.

The females painted their faces, breasts and arms, with a sort of brown varnish, imparting a glossy, and rather a disgusting appearance to their persons. From their necks, was suspended a variety of ornaments, such as beads, and pieces of shells.

They never danced with the males, but each sex by itself, notwithstanding all danced at the same time, and after this manner. The males formed a file by themselves, and directly behind them, say two or three yards distant, the women were placed in like manner, and the musicians seated themselves upon the ground in front of all.

Many of their dances were very modest and diversified by a number of grotesque movements, so that for a short time one could look on, and witness their performances with some degree of pleasure; but they had no variety of figures, or songs, and kept on in the same monotonous movement. There were persons selected from both sexes to conduct the music, and for this purpose they had a kind of instrument, which they called “paail.”

The most celebrated of all their feasts, and which was observed yearly, was the one they called the “Panes,” signifying a bird feast. Particular adoration was observed by them, for a bird resembling much in appearance the common buzzard, or vulture, but of larger dimensions.

The day selected for the feast, was made known to the public on the evening previous to its celebration, and preparations were made immediately for the erection of their Vanquech, into which, when completed, and on the opening of the festival, they carried the Panes in solemn procession, and placed it upon the altar erected for the purpose. Then, immediately, all the young, married and unmarried females, commenced running to and fro, with great rapidity; some in one direction, and some in another, more like distracted, than rational beings; continuing thus racing, as it were, whilst the elder class of both sexes remained silent spectators of the scene. The “Puplem,” painted as has been heretofore described, looking like so many devils, in the meantime dancing around their adored “Panes.”

These ceremonies being concluded, they seized upon the bird, and carried it in procession to the principal Vanquech, or temple, all the assembly uniting in the grand display–the Puplem preceding the same, dancing and singing.

Arriving there, they killed the bird without losing a particle of its blood. The skin was removed entire, and preserved with the feathers, as a relic, or for the purpose of making their festival garment, “Paelt.” The carcass they interred within the temple, in a hole prepared previously, around which, all the old women soon collected, who, while weeping and moaning most bitterly, kept throwing upon it various kinds of seeds, or particles of food, and exclaiming at the same time, “Why did you run away? would you not have been better with us? you would have made pinole as we do, and if you had noit run away, you would not have become a ‘Panes!'” Other expressions equal in simplicity, were made use of, and as the ceremony was concluding, the dancing commenced again, and continued for three days and nights, accompanied with all the brutalities to which they were subject.

The Indians state that said “Panes” was once a female, who ran off and retired to the mountains, when accidentally meeting with “Chinigchinich,” he changed her into a bird, and their belief is, that notwithstanding they sacrificed it every year, she became again animated, and returned to her home among the mountains. But the ridiculous fable does not end here; for they believed, as often as the bird was killed, it became multiplied; because, every year, all the different Capitanes celebrated the same feast of Panes, and were firm in the opinion that the birds sacrificed, were but one, and the same female. They had no evidence, however, of where she lived, or where she originated, and neither were the names of her parents known. The commemoration of the festival, was in compliance with the commands given to them by Chinigchinich.

The kind of dance common among these natives, was introduced by first preparing a large bonfire, around, and into which, the men promiscuously jumped, until all the fire was extinguished. The females stood a short distance from the scene, keeping up a continual screaming, and moaning, during the ceremony, and not until every particle of the fire was destroyed did the crying cease–then dancing commenced. Should it so happen, that they were not successful in extinguishing the flames, or if there should remain, and be discovered afterwards, any sparks, the dancing did not take place immediately; but they remained silent and discontented.

It was a bad omen, and signified the approach of some calamity.

This dance was generally performed at night, but when introduced in their large feasts, and danced during the day, then, in addition to the ceremonies already described, they despatched one of the most active of the tribe in quest of water, which, invariably, was brought from a great distance, and from a place designated. When obtained, they emptied the same into a hole previously prepared within the Vanquech.

Then all went up into the temple, each one in his turn, blowing with his mouth upon the water, and uttering expressions which were apparently designed to curse and not to bless; however, the latter was the interpretation given to me, and when this was done, they went up again in the same order to sprinkle their faces with the dirty water. The women remained some distance off, and on no account were they allowed to touch it.

Another dance equally ludicrous among these natives, was conducted as follows. The males commenced, first dancing alone, and continued to do so for a short time, when they formed themselves in a line, and one of the females came forward in front of them, with her arms folded upon her breast, and danced up and down the file with many graceful turns, and movements, which were several times repeated, when she retired, and the males resumed their part of the performances–and so they continued dancing, the males and females alternately, until it was time to change the monotony.

They had another dance, very similar, with this exception–that the female was entirely exposed, and whilst she was singing and displaying her person in many disgusting attitudes, the spectators, men, women and children, all formed a circle around her. This immodest exhibition was also one of the teachings of Chinigchinich, but was introduced twice, only, during the year, and then outside of the town.

They had another, which was introduced on the occasion of the son of the puplem, or chief’s first appearing in public, adorned with the Tobet. Not only every one in the place was invited to attend on that day, but also many from the neighboring towns, and the arrangements were as follows.

When all were congregated together, the youth was brought forward, and they put upon him the paelt, or robe of feathers, such as was used by Chinigchinich, afterwards the crown, and then the exposed parts of his person, they painted black and red.

Thus arrayed, he commenced dancing, with the paail in his right hand, keeping time to the music of the singers, that did not cease until the lad was completely exhausted. If he were unable to dance, then, one of the Puplem was dressed in like manner, who, placing him upon his shoulder, danced before the assembly. After this was accomplished, one of the women rose up; a sister, an aunt, or some one nearly related to the youth, in all cases, however, a young person, who immediately disrobing herself, danced in presence of the multitude.

Chinigchinich, religious God of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians
Description of the Vanquech or Temple
Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Puberty Rites
Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Marriage Customs
Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Principal Feasts and Dances
Superstitions of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians
Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Funeral Customs

Native American Dances
About nativelady

Leave a Reply