California Native Americans
Name of Student
Dr. Robert Miller
California Native Americans
The history of California is richly dominated by its inhabited aboriginals. California as a part of America differs in its nature of history as the land was being inhabited by some ethnic indigenous Americans and a large number of immigrants were added later on. Thus, the diversified population of California expanded the boundary of history to 10,000 years by time (Kroeber 38). The migrated people came to California either to escape mishap or to try their fortune. On the contrary, the aboriginals of California lived a plentiful life. The interesting point of California history is it simultaneously more or less reflects the history of entire North American West coast part. California itself used to be a different existence as it was divided into more than hundred tribal group speaking of same number of different languages. They respected the nature and its capacity, followed specific religious dogma and social norms. Basically, they survived by doing the necessary. Many studies concentrated on the Indians of California to explore beyond the romantic stories related to them and most importantly the methods of their successful survival till the Europeans invaded.
It should be mentioned that Spaniards may be the reason of popularizing California, but much before them some adventurous Asians came to this land via Bering Straits. Their descendants scattered through and settled in North America and South America, and so did their climate, language, and cultures. These people were altogether identified as Indians by the initial European explorers (Sturtevant et al. 78-81). It is almost agreed unanimously by most of the historians that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese by birth, explored into the land of California for the first time, representing Spanish legacy in the year 1542. From this point of time, the history of Native Americans in California started to reshape very incoherently in comparison to the previous scenario.
The Spanish colonizers accounted the California Indians to be very submissive and primitive to accept their rule. However, the truthfulness of such assertion is doubtful as the voice of Indians at that point of time had no expression. In fact, many studies showed how the imposed peacefulness in the relationship between Indians and Spanish is actually the suppression resulted by superiority (Ansary 92). Apart from that, the Spaniards implemented the mission system as a mean of acquiring colonization. The authority of Spain decided to eliminate heathenism from the aboriginals and imbue them with the purest virtues of Christianity that was Catholicism. The order of Franciscan was the chosen ones to initiate the process of missionization of around Alta California. In the year 1769, the first mission was established at San Diego. It continued to spread along North. It ended in 1823 with Sonoma Mission. It was not only limited to the boundary of religion for the missionaries. They used Christianity as a form of acculturation as their mission was expanded to an absolute transformation in each aspect of the life of those native Indians.
Basically, the missionaries tried their best to inject the Hispanic seed in starting from their social organization, habits, religion, clothing, food, etc. In order to execute such massive acculturation, the Spanish colonizers, first of all, curtailed the free-spirited nature of the Indians and imbued them totally with the illuminating goodness of missions. Moreover, dictating over the natives became much easier for the colonizers and not only that; they could even manipulate the labor of those people (Bancroft 112). This process calls for a comparison with the colonizing approaches by the British merchants over India. They used occidental philosophy and educated a large of the population from India into Western education to exploit their labor as the way of religion was very hard to employ upon the people of India. Education had been a factor of proud for them and the British were clever enough to capitalize on it. In case of the Spanish colonizers and California Indians, religion was an easier way to manipulate them as education was not that much deep rooted among them.
However, at the initial phase, some converted native people were recruited by the missions to help them in converting each of entire villages. And after being baptized, the Indians were meant to move into the missions. However, this process was not that rapid as it was expected to be. In the beginning of 1800, the coexistence of both missions and native villages was noticed to a certain extent (Heizer 45-62). With the time, the recruited natives could not cope up with this ever continuing, and exhaustive job and missionaries were compelled to find replacements. In addition, searching for replacement was eventually turned out to be a limitless process and even Sacramento Valleys and San Joaquin required forays.
It is debatable whether the missionization upon the California Indians were imposed or unanimously accepted. The Catholic churches upheld that baptism was used to be executed in a complete voluntary manner and labor was accordingly agreed by the natives after conversion. It has been heavily contradicted by the detractors as the mission system forced the natives to adhere to Christian beliefs even against their will and compelled them to adopt slavery at the mission (Sturtevant et al. 152). The historians found partial truth in both views. The true Catholic fundamentals stated that a person should always be voluntarily baptized. At the same time, the Indians were not capable to anticipate the actualization of colonizer’s motif, socio-cultural and political aftermath of being baptized. However, staying at missions and serving there was compulsory after baptism either willingly or forcefully and simultaneously they had to adopt the Hispanic traditions and cultures by nullifying their own. In order to confirm the success of transformation, the Indians were used to be regularly groomed and supervised by the missionaries. In simple words, they were monolithically taught to believe as the Hispanic actions and behaviors were the only correct practice for religious elevation.
The primary cause of being drawn towards the Spanish cultures and eventually their missions was the exotic essence within them. Thus, many natives got voluntarily baptized. Some Spanish goods such as cloth, metal, some advanced skills and knowledge and most importantly the supernatural possession of the Spaniards over the animals especially horse (Sonneborn 202). Moreover, the missionaries along with Spanish colonizers introduced some political authoritativeness in those villages. They, in fact, started to resolve minor local disputes among the natives in those villages. However, many times, the missionaries applied coerced methods to dismiss or suppress any discord. Often women or children were forcibly baptized and held them in the missions and accordingly used them to compel the entire family to embrace Christianity. The process of missionization succeeded quite smoothly to diminish the tribal and ethnic socio-cultural base of the Indians and hid them permanently behind the glossy facade of misionization.
As mentioned before, behind this religious mission, the ultimate objective of the Spanish colonizers was to avail cheaper labor ranches, pueblos, and presidios. The missions were seen to concentrate more on industries and factories instead of the educational institute with the aim of converting faith. The missions employed two clergymen for teaching religious and spiritual dogma and instructing vocational educations. Professionally, the Indians were much accustomed in physical labour. The Spanish missions needed the labor as European peasants and eventually became imprisoned in the missions.
However, a massive death toll was resulted from the mission operations. The duration of missionization was 65 years (1769-1834) and as per the sources, 81,000 Indians were baptized and the number deaths recorded was 60,000 due to various causes. The prime reason was to be the import of European infectious diseases into the land of California and the Indians were not immune to those diseases and also did not have any natural cure (Sturtevant et al. 134). It was followed by another major reason of malnutrition as in the missions after going through such physically hectic and exhausted schedule, their diet consisted of very little animal protein and vegetables and more carbohydrates. Apart from that, there was no such proper provision for health care and sanitization. The baptized natives were not allowed to consult native medical practitioners and forced to spend the night in the unhygienic conditions of over-occupied dormitories, dank, etc.
It is obvious to be heavily criticized and protested in the harsh scenario of the mission system. The first instance of castigation by the Indians was recorded six years prior to the official execution of Franciscan mission system. A small group led the attack and as per report, only one village fuelled this first skirmish. This attack was reasoned to be the absence of knowledge about the missionaries, and the natives suspected they wanted to snatch their lands away. However, after six years, forty villages together assimilated to drive these exotic creatures out of their land. The main cause that fuelled the attack on 1775 was an event of the mass baptism program initiated by Franciscans at San Diego. Almost 300 natives were brought for baptism that too within only 3 months and by the time of the attack the number reached 500. Such sudden accelerated conversion enraged the Indians against the entire fraternity of Spanish colonizers but as the missionaries used to communicate with them directly had to face the initial wrath. The baptism got divided into four groups directed by four priests (two additional ones along with the previous two as mentioned before). The groups were divided on the basis of age and sex that were boy, girl, men and women.
It is true that when the Europeans landed on America starting from Peru, Cuba, Mexico, some South American regions, Texas, Baja, Florida to Alta California, the equilibrium of tribal, simple and comparatively primitive life got destroyed forever. However, a comparative study of other colonized places, the scenario of California seemed relatively humane as the conditions of Native Americans were not that pathetic. The Catholic followers viewed that the Franciscan mission system of Christianization successfully overshadowed the situations over other regions of America. Studies have shown there were many native Indians who were very much contented to embrace the better way of life, Christianity. On the other hand, there were natives as well who tried to escape mission immediately after conversion and wanted to remain in their old way of life.
Ansary, Mir Tamim. California Indians. Chicago, Ill.: Heinemann Library. 2000. Print.
Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History Of California. Santa Barbara: W. Hebberd. 1963. Print.
Heizer, Robert F. California. Washington: Smithsonian Institution. 1978. Print.
Kroeber, A. L. Handbook of the Indians Of California. New York: Dover Publications. 1976. Print.
Sonneborn, Liz. California Indians. Chicago, Ill.: Heinemann Library. 2012. Print.
Sturtevant, William C, and Douglas H Ubelaker. Handbook Of North American Indians. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. 2006. Print.
Venegas, Miguel. A Natural And Civil History Of California. [New York, N.Y.]: Readex Microprint. 1966. Print.