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Poem: To heal the world, sing songs

January 16, 2009
Chumash Painted Cave Art

Chumash Painted Cave Art

Julie Tumamait Chumash speaker says
the people named several hundred places
in the 7000 acres where they lived.

Names came from what was abundant when they
looked at the land, names came sometimes from dreams.
Camulos is their name for juniper;
names after water—Lompoc: stagnant water;
Zaca Lake: no bottom, made by thunder.

These names still sing here, are known by us
I see these places, these names the ancients.

Sometimes they named the land for body parts.
The people who first lived here were large
so large they could wander around easily.
The mumula people, in a flood, they
turned to stone. You can see an eyelash here
an elbow there and that named those places.

Animal body parts too were found here:
–the place of the jaw of the coyote–
or after an abundance of animals:
house of the jackrabbit, urine of the deer:
the curative powers of the healing
waters –hot springs—the tears of the suns.

Ojai –or moon– the place nobody knows.
Mt Pinos– after dusk where the spirits came.
Malibu where the surf sounds loudly.
Saticoy means sheltered from the wind.
Pismo, the word for tar which sealed tomols
The people canoed out to the islands by tomol.
Lots of references to tar along beaches.

Our paths today follow the native paths.
Our directness disrupts natural ways.
Our tunnels in mountains upset water flows.
The people honored the calendar cycles.
At winter solstice, the moon was going
to fall off the middle earth and the people
called the sun back to middle earth.

On the hill above Shishilop, village
of the Mud People, they gathered 5 days
in ceremony paying homage to
ancestors, they left shell money, pine nuts,
to start over the new year in sycamores.

The people weren’t a warring tribe—they got
even using spells and curses. We do
our work at certain shrine areas:
open fields with sycamore and oak trees,
shrines as sacred as a church. Know this earth
held for centuries the people, cradled.
They saw the moon going in and out of
phases: tides of the ocean, women’s cycles
Caves also were altars where they could find
a spirit helper, celebrate that god
was not out there but in plants, animals,
in the datura, Grandma Momoy.

Bring these native plants back into our yards
to heal the world sing songs connect yourself
to the earth and to your family lines.

This is a poem in progress based on a talk Julie Tumamait gave Thursday January 15 on Chumash spiritual places 5th Annual California Cultural & Heritage Tourism Council’s Symposium held at the historic Pierpont Inn in Ventura.

I intend to integrate a few more of the names, to check on spellings, and a few other ideas. I hope to find some images of the places she mentions and to indicate the Chumash words more clearly, possibly find links–right now they are in blue. The image above is found here. Ventura is full of Spanish words and most of us assume that words like Saticoy and Lompoc are Spanish. As part of a larger writing project, I look forward to learning more about the Chumash place names.

Read more about Chumash folkways here.

Read another poem/post using a info from talk by Julie.

Read about the publication of a Chumash dictionary here.

Try out a  Chumash tutorial here.

To see other poems which have a taste of dialect or native languages, check out Read Write Poem.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2009 10:48 pm

    That is a very cool project and a very cool poem. It always surprises me, the similarities between native cultures, groups of people who had no contact who developed amazingly similar cultures. Have you read any Oodgeroo Noonuncaal? This spiritual connection to the land is something we are going to have to relearn.

  2. January 17, 2009 12:11 am

    thanks, Paul, I am looking for some Oodgeroo Noonuncaal!! (there isn’t any around here so I have to order it…)

  3. January 17, 2009 9:07 am

    This is bold, ambitious, and quite engaging. I would love to see where you go with this, if this is only a draft.

    “celebrate that god
    was not out there but in plants, animals,
    in the datura, grandma nimoy.”

    Something modern western humankind has never really grasped… sadly so.

  4. January 18, 2009 12:58 pm

    Very interesting, I’ve always been fascinated by place names and the cultural history behind them. Following on from paul’s comment, I recently read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel which traces (among other things) hoe humans have migrated across the world, which explains some of the seemingly unexpected connections between cultures in very different places.

  5. January 18, 2009 6:03 pm

    I agree, Juliet, Jared Diamond is brilliant! The way he is able to connect the dots and convey the patterns revealed is nothing short of stunning. His massive “Collapse” is the flip side of “Guns Germs & Steel” and I whole heartedly recommend it to you!

    I’ve heard Diamond speak thrice now: at UCLA, at CSU Channel Islands where he discussed the rise and fall of civilizations, and then a few years ago, when “Collapse” came out, the LA County Museum of Natural History put together a amazing show to illustrate the ideas and spark a conversation and he was on a panel discussion.

    If he gets your way, move mountains to hear him!

  6. January 18, 2009 7:52 pm

    I quite enjoyed this! So much engaging information in a pleasing form.

    I agree wholeheartedly–“to heal the world, sing songs.”

  7. January 19, 2009 5:38 pm

    You draw the reader into a mystic other world, at least other for me. Wonderful! I bet her talk was like being under enchantment, since it inspired you to write a poem. And it is just right for a prompt on translation and languages.

  8. January 19, 2009 5:48 pm

    angie, glad you enjoyed this! and now is certainly the time to sing songs!

    christine, thank you, and yes listening to her speak i am torn between her enchantment and my taking notes as rapidly s possible to get the cadence and music and meaning from her speech.


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