Kumeyaay - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Kumeyaay worshiped a high god and his prophet, Kuuchamaa, who taught moral rules and proper behavior. Eagles, red-tailed hawks, and ravens were messengers between chiefs and God. Lesser spirits in all living things were placated by rituals. The spirits of the mythology resided in sacred places and were potentially available for aid. Secondary spirits dealing with humans and all other things were also recognized. Witchcraft caused evil and disease. Many myths taught children expectations of the behavior of others in an unstable, erratic, untrustworthy world. They saw Spanish missionaries and soldiers as evil, thieving witches. Most Kumeyaay are now Catholics, viewing their God as identical with the Catholic God and their prophets as valid as biblical prophets.

Religious Practitioners. Priests and singers were paid for services with valuables or food, as were ecological and curing specialists who managed their specialty through rituals validated by the religion.

Ceremonies. Ceremonies managed all life crises: naming, puberty (boys and girls), marriage, death, year after death, and a keruk for all who died over a several years' period. Ceremonials celebrated solstices, equinoxes, and new moons, called for and stopped rain, dew, and fog. Others prepared for war or celebrated victory and peace. Ritual began and ended all ecological activity: controlled burning, planting, harvesting, and group hunts. Now Catholic baptisms, marriages, Funerals, and memorials have varying combinations of Kumeyaay and Catholic ritual. Major events and yearly fiestas begin with a combination of Catholic and Kumeyaay prayer and ritual.

Arts. Rock art was probably ceremonial and included geometric designs, large mazes, and human and animal figures; some related to solstice ceremonies. Singers performed many elaborate four- and five-day rituals with songs timed by the movement of sun and stars. Men performed elaborate ritual dances, and women, complex social dances.

Medicine. Although all Kumeyaay used herbs for common ailments, men and women healers specialized in specific diseases, experimenting with the medicinal qualities of herbs. Improper behavior or witchcraft caused serious diseases. Some rituals were for psychological illness; others were combined with herbal medicine. Many still use efficacious herbs or modern medicine, depending on the problem.

Death and Afterlife. Formerly, at death a cremation Ceremony aided the spirit's journey to an afterworld in the south. Memorial services returned the spirits for a last time to enjoy life's activities: singing, dancing, peon (a gambling game of skill). Today, funerals and memorials are important to honor an individual and free the spirit from the earth.


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