Monday, August 13, 2012

Finishing the Kumeyaay Village

This week, the Kumeyaay Indians (and a few non-Indian helpers like myself) are putting the finishing touches on a model village they've built on some land they've recently (re)acquired near the Sycuan reservation. The land will be inaugurated in a ceremony this Thursday, so they are down to crunch time.

Kumeyaay Village
Kumeyaay village

The village consists of four traditional houses ('ewaa), two tule boats, and two granaries. I believe they hope to build a ramada if time permits. The landscaping crew has added a fire pit, several large flat rocks to sit on or use as tables, plenty of native plants, and a beautiful stone staircase leading to the lake.

The four 'ewaa are built with willow branches, cattail thatch, and agave cordage. They are all done, but they will be trimmed up to look nice by Thursday. Last night, the group was busy sweeping them out and adding doors to the three of them that did not have doors yet.


Meanwhile, another group was working to finish up the second tule boat.

Building a Kumeyaay Tule Boat
Putting the finishing touches on the boat.

Tule boats and 'ewaa
Completed boat in the foreground, incomplete one in the background on top of the granary platform.

Martha Rodriguez, a fantastic basketmaker, brought over two granary baskets she made. I'll be taking a basketry class with her starting next week. Kumeyaay granary baskets are made with willow because it deters bugs. They are placed on raised platforms to keep the rodents out.

Granary Baskets

Granary Basket

It turns out that I was not the only one frustrated by the thick layer of dusty dirt covering the lovely flat rocks that could otherwise serve as nice places to sit or place your stuff. One of my classmates went off and came back with a large stick and a bundle of a plant called "broom" (Baccharis sarathroides). I couldn't figure out what she was doing with it until someone said, "That's brilliant." That's when I connected the very obvious dots. She was making a broom out of broom!

Making a Broom
Making a broom out of broom.

Then she swept off all the dirt from the stone and we had a nice place to sit!

And then there was the landscaping! Practically overnight, the village was planted with coast live oaks (for acorns), yucca and agave (for cordage), strawberries, elderberries, lemonadeberries, lauren sumac and sugarbush ((Malosma laurina and Rhus ovata, both used medicinally), deergrass (used in basketry), and more. I spotted a datura plant (traditionally used in male coming of age ceremonies) and asked if they planted that too. Nope, that sprouted up all by itself. Just good luck.

There was one other job to be done and it was a fun one: testing the boat. When we went down to the lake to do it, we got a surprise. A very sweet little garter snake who hung out there with us for quite a while.

Western Garter Snake
Western Garter Snake

So, does the boat float? Yes, it does! Here are a few shots of a classmate and me in the boat, rowing around. The tall reeds in the back are tules, the same plant the boat is made from.

Tule Boat

Tule Boat

We're almost ready for Thursday!

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