The Luiseño and Juaneño, who culturally and linguistically are one group, are an American Indian group located in southern California. The Luiseño were associated with Mission San Luis Rey and the Juaneño with Mission San Juan Capistrano, from which the two groups take their respective names. Neither group evidently had a distinct name for themselves in precontact times. The precontact population, estimated as high as ten thousand, decreased to about seven hundred in 1940 and had increased to about two thousand in the 1980s. The Luiseño language is classified in the Takic subfamily of the Uto-Aztecan language family. An active effort is being made to maintain the language.

A distinct Luiseño culture has been traced back archaeologically to about A.D. 1400. Neighboring groups were the Gabrielino and Serrano to the north, Cahuilla to the east, and Ipai and Cupeño to the south. Following the establishment of Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1776 and Mission San Luis Rey in 1798, much of the traditional culture was replaced by Spanish, then Mexican, and, beginning in the 1850s, European-American culture. Following years of inconsistent federal policy, most Luiseño today live on or near La Jolla, Rincon, Pauma, Pechanga, Pala, and Soboba Indian reservations. Despite the depopulation, external influences, and resettlement on reservations, much of the traditional Culture regarding religion and expressive culture has survived.

Luiseño society was composed of localized village groups, each of which exploited food resources in their territory, though they also traveled to find food elsewhere. A semisubterranean earthlodge was the typical village dwelling.

The subsistence economy was based on gathering of acorns and other seeds, collecting greens, hunting small game and marine mammals, fishing, and digging roots and bulbs. The subsistence territory was owned and protected by the Village group. Today, many Luiseño work in semiskilled and skilled occupations, with their wages supplemented by occasional participation in traditional subsistence activities.

Traditional kinship rules and practices disappeared rapidly under Spanish influence before they could be described. Evidently, each village group was a patrilineal clan group, with arranged village-exogamous marriage preferred as a means of affording villages access to other subsistence Territories. Both boys and girls underwent elaborate initiation ceremonies, suggesting the central economic contributions made by both sexes.

Each village group was governed by a hereditary chief who exercised religious, political, and warfare authority, an assistant chief, and a village council. The political structure may have been more elaborate in the larger villages located on or near the Pacific coast. Warfare was often the result of boundary disputes between villages. Today, reservation decisions are made by the entire adult population on the reservation, although many Luiseño serve on the boards of various local, reservation, regional, and state organizations.

Elaborate ceremonies led by paid ritual specialists from other villages and involving dramatic recitations, feasting, and distribution of goods were a central feature of Luiseño life. Sixteen ceremonies have been reported, including those for initiation, hunting, fertility, death, marriage, conception, and peace. Some of these rites are still celebrated in addition to Catholic holidays.


Bean, Lowell John, and Florence C. Shipek (1978). "Luiseño." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 8, California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, 550-563. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Shipek, Florence C. (1985). "California Indian Reactions to the Franciscans." Americas 41:480-492.

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