Pasqual Culture Day June 2014
By Roy Cook
In the skyline is the hazy blue silhouette of Palomar Mt. and behind lazy clouds many tribal peoples gather for this premier cultural event. Greeting each other in the bright sunlight of these first days of summer at the June 21, 2014 they are listening to Bird songs. Many teams are looking forward to the evening and night Peon gathering. Urban visitors enjoy overlooking the valleys below. The heat of the sun this afternoon peels off the cares and layers of imposed western society. Once again, in our own Native company and our own native skin we bask in the Native tradition of this land. The Ipai tradition, the Yuman language is at home in the riparian banks of the Santa Ysabel Creek, the hills and rocks of eons of generations. This is a land of significant National History and it is a chronicle of our Federal government doing right and very wrong in history. And yet, in spite of so many obstacles, we continue to survive as a native people.
The San Pasqual Culture Committee is responsible for preserving the Kumeyaay culture on the San Pasqual Reservation for future generations. It is also responsible for the maintenance of its Culture Center overlooking Lake Wohlford; its museum, resource center and archive of tribal documents and artifacts. The Committee can be reached: (760) 749-3200.
But, that aside for the moment and looking toward the future this June 21, 2014 Bird song and Peon gathering culture day at San Pasqual is evident of the quality of dedication that a community can provide, by example, for the Indian children. Tribal people from all over Southern California have come to visit with friends and relatives. They have come to enjoy the hospitality and festive traditions of thousands of years at these gatherings. There are excellent food booths to sample, beautiful gifts to select from and free T-shirts to remember this San Pasqual culture day.
As the sun dips in the west and the Singers start the Bird songs and the dancers respond as they form and reform into ever changing lines of responses to the songs and singers. These songs are a sweet sophistication of multiple related songs. The lead singer may or may not elect to bring out double step, or triple step songs, spins, turns. Facing the Singers the dancers will often assemble, mostly female, and guided by the gourd rattle and song join in the presentation. The dancing is often inspired by the moment and song selection of the lead singer. Strong songs sung by stronger singers from the River Tribes call out to the dancers, visitors and our relatives unseen that we are still here. We respected their teachings and examples. We remember them and our songs that sustain us in and thru many changes. We are still here!
Singer groups change and we realize directly of the boundary, International blockage that still keeps the flow of culture under imposed restriction and the institutionalized artificiality of colonial languages a quagmire of misunderstanding, separation of relatives and an indecent restriction on traditional burial practices. But today, these southern relations bring their songs and the same language as spoken in these Ipai hills to San Pasqual for this June 21 Bird song and Peon gathering.
Singers continue to take their turn into the dusk and night as the fires are lit for the Peon games that might last till dawn. Sometimes, after 3am and when the groups are head to head in fierce challenge, the best songs come out to encourage the teams of players.
The "Peon" competition that takes place is a highly competitive game of complex strategy, skill and calculation. The Yuman songs are thousands of years old. Not too many years ago, social opportunities to enjoy these songs were mostly at Fiestas or by invitation only gatherings. Sadly, too often I have over heard comments on Bird Singing from outside observers to the Tipai-Kumeyaay culture, They all sound alike." also "They just go back and forth, over and over." Yet, to the informed, these songs are a sweet sophistication of multiple related songs. The lead singer may or may not elect to bring out double step, or triple step songs, spins, turns. Facing the Singers the dancers will often assemble, mostly female, and guided by the gourd rattle and song join in the presentation. The dancing is often inspired by the moment and song selection of the lead singer.
With the shadows of the evening and the lighting of the fires the youth "Peon" competition took place. This is a highly competitive game of complex strategy, skill and calculation.
It is played with eight players - four on each side, with an additional man or woman to act as umpire (Koymi). The two sides are usually made up of male or female players from different tribes or bands. The game itself is played with eight "peon sticks"- four white, and four black (usually made of sheep bone or coyote bone). They are about three inches long and half an inch in diameter. The object of the game is for one side to win all the tally sticks. The Koymi, at the end awards tally sticks corresponding to the number of correct guesses from one side to the other. The game is won when one side wins all of the tally sticks.
Much betting accompanies the game among both the men and the women. The game may be won in a short time, or it may - as frequently happens - prolonging itself through an entire night, until the early morning, with several hundred dollars or more changing hands.
Finally, with the people gathering, the songs sung and the traditional games played create a resonance with the land that is sustaining and empowering. As we do this Tribal custom and tradition we will continue to survive with and on this Indian land.