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California Tribes

The Mohave and the Chemehuevi

The objective of this paper is to explore the history, social organization, and customs of two California tribes: The Mohave and the Chemehuevi. The scope of the paper includes a review of the current status of the two tribes.

The Mohave and The Chemehuevi

The American Indian tribes are the original immigrants of the continent of America. In fact, the people of these tribes are of old Eastern origin, believed to be descendants of the Mongloid race in Asia. Over a period of thousands of years, these tribes gradually populated the unoccupied Western Hemisphere, from the Bering Strait to the southern most tip of South America, and from coast to coast. These first settlers were not savages and, in fact, possessed ancient knowledge about the laws of the universe and nature. They developed varying types of social organization and mechanisms, which satisfied their choice of environment and preferred manner of living, in harmony with nature (Dutton 1983: xix-xx). It is the objective of this paper to discuss the history, customs, and social organization, both past and present, of two of the American Indian tribes that settled in the West, namely, the Mohave and the Chemehuevi.

The Mohave and the Chemehuevi are American Indian tribes that were historically situated in the Yuma and Mohave counties (partly over the California State line). According to archeologists, the Mohave were a populous and warlike Yuman tribe, while the Chemehuevi were a wandering tribe closely allied with the Utes. Both tribes, however, appear to have lived in the vicinity of the Colorado River (Lindquist 1923: 305). In fact, the country of the Mohave lies along both sides of the Colorado River, where that stream forms the boundary between Arizona and California. The surrounding country is a desert. However, since considerable areas along the river get flooded annually, the Mohave were able to raise the usual crops of the arid regions of the United States such as corn, pumpkins, melons, and beans. The tribe also gathered and ate mesquite beans, mesquite screw, and other wild food products, besides hunting and fishing for their food (Hallowell and De Laguna 1960: 506).

The American Indian tribes spoke a variety of languages, which tended to divide them on linguistic lines (Dutton 1983: xix). Thus, the Chemehuevi who were a part of the true "Paiute," were associated with them and the Ute in one linguistic subdivision of the Shoshonean tongue. Originally, this tribe lived in the eastern half of the Mohave Desert, and it has been estimated that there were between 500-800 of them. Like the Mohave, the Chemehuevi also relied on seasonal crops, and hunting. By 1776, however, the tribe seems to have settled on the Colorado River below the Eldorado Canyon, moving on later to Cottonwood island in the Chemehuevi Valley, where they came under Strong Mohave and Yuma influence (Dutton 1983: 161).

The fact that both tribes lived along the Colorado, along with the Chemehuevi ultimately coming under the Mohave influence, explains the great deal of similarity seen in the customs and social organization of the two tribes. The Mohave and Yuma people, however, spoke a different language from that of the Chemehuevi, since they belonged to the Yuman linguistic group of the Hokan-Siouan family (Dutton 1983: 168). Language differences besides, the two tribes shared a great deal of common history and heritage, beginning with their mythology. For instance, according to Mohave myth, Mastamho, the Creator's brother, built a winter house of logs and dirt to serve as the model for the dispersal of various tribes over the earth. He invited the Mohave into the house and divided them, creating the Quechan and the Kamias. Mastamho then instructed other tribes to sit outside the house - the Chemehuevi to the west; the Hualapai to the northeast; and the Yavapai to the southeast (Griffin-Pierce 2000: 235).

In terms of social organization and tribal customs, the cultural inclusion and influence that the Mohave exercised on the Chemehuevi is evident in several aspects. For one, both tribes appeared to not have followed the tradition of dividing inheritance on patriarchal lines. Secondly, neither tribe appears to have had any concept of a ceremonial complex. True, the house held ceremonial importance for the Yuma and the Mohave, but in actual ceremonies, the house was rarely used (Hedrick, Kelley and Riley 1973: 117). The Chemehuevi, in fact, adopted many Mohave traits such as floodplain farming; the growing of certain cops; earth covered houses; and a belief in and emphasis on dreams (Griffin-Pierce 2000: 405). The other marked similarity between the Chemehuevi and the Mohave was the fact that both tribes followed a social system where "patrilocal extended families were...the rule" (Driver and Massey 1957: 405).

There appears to have been some differences, though, in the habits of the two tribes: "The various tribes of this arid and semi-arid region differed considerably in the food on which they lived. There seems to have been a prejudice against any food, which was not customary, even though it were obtainable. The Mohave did not eat the lizard and the turtle which the neighboring Paiute ate...." (Hallowell and De Laguna 1960: 507) The Mohave were also clearly more aggressive and adventurous than the Chemehuevi. This is evident by the fact that it was the Mohave who made the longest journeys for the purposes of trade, traveling from their home on the Colorado River west to the Pacific coast and east to the Hopi tribe in Arizona (Driver and Massey 1957: 377).

The Mohave were also warlike in nature. Indeed, intertribal warfare was so interwoven into the fabric of River Yuman culture that the very Mohave myth of Creation includes instructions on the use of the war club. Naturally, this led to the formation of military alliances: "the Quechan league, which included the Mojave, Yavapai, Kamia, Chemehuevi, Hia C-ed O'odham, and western Tohono O'odham; or the Maricopa league...." (Griffin-Pierce 2000: 237) Indeed, the Mohave took such pride in their prowess in war that brave men and war leaders were more influential than the tribal chiefs (Dutton 1983: 169).

Perhaps the adventurousness and warlike nature of the Mohave led to a self-perception that they were very distinct from all other tribes. Indeed, the Mohave felt that all members of their tribe were inherently and psychically different from all persons of other tribes. Thus, there was a sense of racial rather than tribal separateness (Hallowell and De Laguna 1960: 509). No doubt, the Mohave's sense of superiority may have been further fed by tribes such as the Chemehuevi imitating many of their customs: "It is reported that though the Chemehuevi continued to stress basketry, they began to imitate the Mohave in making a few pottery vessels.... The men started to wear their hair in Mohave fashion.... They took over the use of rule rafts...followed the Yumans in cremating...mourning ceremony...religion took on Mohave characteristics...modes of making war." (Dutton 1983: 162)

Thus, both the Mohave and the Chemehuevi grew into possessing many similar elements in their social organization and customs. For instance, both tribes believed in dreams that conferred supernatural powers on certain individuals (Griffin-Pierce 2000: 409). Interestingly, most of the facts discussed in this paper find substantiation in Indian-American fictional stories such as "Earth-tongue, a Mohave." This short story, in fact, serves as a true window to Mohave society and customs, describing as it does, the Mohave's belief in the power of dreams; pride in their warlike ability; the use of pots to ferry children across the Colorado River; the methods of irrigation; the custom of singing to the dying; and the travels undertaken by the tribe (Kroeber 1991: 189-202).

Today, both tribes are living in reservations, with their numbers greatly reduced. After repeated defeats at the hands of the Anglo-Americans, some of the…[continue]

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