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Mojave Desert Indians - Historic Desert Indian Territories Map: Cahuilla

Religion - World View

The Cahuilla believed that they lived in a systematic, but unpredictable, universe, in which one could maintain existence only by being able to access and use "?iva?a," or power, which was also unpredictable, and potentially dangerous. They accordingly were constantly in a state of apprehension about the future, an attitude that was realistic in the desert environment of their homeland (Bean 1972:161-164).

They believed that "?iva?a," was differentially distributed, a fact that explained unusual talents or abilities, and unexpected events. It was possessed by both animate and inanimate beings, any of whom could use it for both negative and positive actions. They believed also that human beings and other parts of the universe made up an interacting system, a belief that fostered an ecological ethic (1972:163-165).

According to Cahuilla tradition, each individual had a tewlavelem, or soul spirit, that persisted after his or her death in temelkis, the land of the dead, where all the tewlavelem and the nukatem (people from Creation Time) lived, and which was located somewhere to the east. It could usually be reached only after an arduous ritual in which both the telmekis and the living survivors of the deceased participated. Once there, the tewlavelem could still hold some communication with the living, sending them advice and help (1972:168-169).

The Cahuilla creator gods were twin brothers, Mukat and Temayawet, who fought over who was the older, in keeping with Cahuilla respect for the aged, a useful adaptation in a difficult environment since it encouraged younger people to draw on the wisdom of their elders in threatening situations. Mukat, who worked slowly and carefully at the task of creation, and who promoted caution, precision, and orderliness in the face of challenge, won out over his brother, who "worked rapidly and injudicially" (1972:171). The latter departed for the underworld. Unfortunately, Mukat was not consistently benign. He taught his people how to live, but tended on occasion to give them bad advice in a spirit of trickery. He also violated Menily (moon maiden), who gave people additional advice on how to live. His people for these reasons magically killed him, and as he lay dying, he gave instructions for his cremation. Despite precautions, Coyote managed to steal Mukat's heart from his burning corpse and to run with it into the desert, where it left red pigment where it was put down. The story of the cremation is sung at Cahuilla nukil ceremonies, sung ceremonially every year or two in memory of those who have died since the last nukil. These were the Cahuilla's most sacred ceremonies (1972).

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A Cahuilla girl

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