Yokuts - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Yokuts origin myth depicts a world covered with water, which is transformed by the action of Eagle, who takes mud brought from the depths by an aquatic bird, mixes it with seeds, and allows it to expand to form the earth. The Yokuts believed in a variety of localized spirits, some of whom were potentially evil.

Religious Practitioners. Part-time religious specialists, or shamans, with powers derived from visions or dreams cured the sick and conducted public rituals and celebrations. Most often males, the shamans were believed to be capable of using their powers for evil purposes and might be executed on suspicion of doing so.

Ceremonies. The most important of the Yokuts religious rituals was the annual mourning ceremony, a six-day rite held in the summer or fall to honor the dead who had passed away during the previous year. The ceremony, which involved the participation of visitors from other villages, included symbolic killing, the destruction of property, and the ritualized washing of mourners, and concluded with feasting and games. Other ceremonies included simple first-fruit rites held for various seeds and berries as they became available for harvest.

Arts. The most important artistic achievement of the Yokuts was in designs woven into their baskets. Musical instruments included rattles, bone and wood whistles, and a musical bow. Music was expressed primarily as an accompaniment to ritual activities.

Medicine. Serious illnesses were treated by shamans employing supernatural powers received in visions and dreams. Cures, effected only for a fee, involved consulting with spiritual helpers and sucking the sickness-causing agents from the patient's body.

Death and Afterlife. Cremation and burials were typical funeral practices for the Yokuts, with the latter becoming more common in the historical period as a result of White contact. After death the corpse was handled by paid undertakers and buried along with personal possessions with the head to the west or northwest in a cemetery outside the Village. Among the Southern Valley Yokuts cremation was reserved for shamans and individuals who died while away from home. After cremation, the remains of the deceased were buried in the village cemetery. The Yokuts believed that the soul left the body of the deceased two days after burial and journeyed to an afterworld in the west or northwest. Following a death, close kin maintained a three-month period of mourning, which included ritual abstention from eating meat and burning the hair short.

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