The Rich History of Pre-Spanish California (Part 2)

The Rich History of Pre-Spanish California (Part 2) August 2021

Rich History of Pre-Spanish California
  • Muwekma Ohlone Society: The men were hunter-gatherers-fishermen, but they were also builders and constructors. They constructed their homes from tule rushes and redwood bark in the West Bay. The construction was such that these structures remained dry in the rains and warm in cold weather. They also used the same tule materials to build the boats they used for fishing. These vessels were lightweight and very maneuverable, making them ideal for use in marshes, rivers, and coastal waters. The women addressed domestic affairs and raising the family, and when they were not occupied gathering firewood and ingredients or cooking, they spent time weaving beautiful baskets which found many applications, and decorated their home with colorful feathers and shell ornaments and beads. There is ethnological evidence that during their free time, both men and women played various games, often with a betting element, danced, interacted with other tribelets, and paid attention to inculcating tribal values and culture in their children.
  • Interactions with Others: The ancestors of Muwekma traded with and intermarried with other Ohlone tribes. While this level of interaction and cooperation remained fairly constant, there were periodic flare-ups of tension caused by insults, misunderstandings, and territorial incursions. These periods of tension were usually short-lived. While there was an element of suspicion in dealing with other tribes and tribelets, the Muwekma were very welcoming of visitors such as the Spanish explorers at first contact. Because of the way the men of the Portola Expedition were nursed back to health by the Ohlone tribes that they met, they were able to continue and eventually “discover” San Francisco Bay.
  • Decline of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe: The kindness that the Ohlone people showed to the Spanish was a one-way street. The Spanish established their missions and forcibly brought the natives into them for conversion to Christianity, and to serve as peons for the Spanish colonial elites. Over time, they were all indoctrinated by the new religion, and this, in turn, caused the fading away of the ancient tribal culture and way of life. Additionally, the Ohlone, who had never before had any interactions with non-Native people, and had no immunity or resistance to the Europeans diseases and infections the Spanish brought with them. Vast numbers of them died from diseases like measles and smallpox. The “Spanish Mission Era” ended in the 1830s, and some of those Ohlone who had survived, intermarried with the European settler or Mexican to avoid discrimination.
  • The Ohlone Today: The growing recognition of the Native American experience and how their culture and way of life have been suppressed have ignited interest. The Muwekma Ohlone and other tribes, both in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the country, are slowly re-establishing their presence and creating interest in the ancient values and ways of life. Their contributions to the development and growth of the U.S. and in fighting for the country in various wars are slowly gaining recognition. However, until the rich culture and contributions of the Muwekma Ohlone and other tribes are fully recognized and accepted, they will not be able to take their rightful place in the history of America.