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Mojave Desert Indians - Historic Desert Indian Territories Map: Cahuilla

Religion - Spiritual Reciprocity

Reciprocity was an important value in Cahuilla rules for living. Not only were humans to give and receive freely in relationships with each other, but "humans were to reciprocate with supernatural powers to maintain the world order," with the humans being responsible for performing ritual in return for Mukat's and the nukatem's "support of man's existence" by using "?iva?a" (Bean 1972:174). It was so important that rituals be conducted with absolute accuracy that most traditional rituals are no longer performed, there being no individuals remaining who can be trusted to perform them without any deviations from the proper form. Bean points out that in order to live successfully in a difficult environment, the Cahuilla needed to value precision and order as they did. They had to have a comprehensive understanding of what we know as botany, zoology, and geology if they were to be successful hunters and gatherers in their desert and mountain territory. They also had to be able to communicate precisely with respect to directions and distance in space (1972:174-177). The Serrano creation story, as described above, was similar to that of the Cahuilla, as were their religious beliefs and practices in general.

In considering the places and natural features of a place such as Joshua National Park, that the Cahuilla nukatem or early people are associated with certain kinds of natural features should be taken into consideration. These included:

Taqwish, who travels about the area at night or in the early morning, leaving his home on San Jacinto Peak to capture souls, and is seen as meteor or "an anthropomorphic form shooting sparks." He was the first puul, or wielder of supernatural power, appointed by Mukat, and often acted as mentor to other puvalem. He tends to bring trouble to humans, in opposition to Mukat's intent (1972:166). (People whose souls are stolen become ill or die.)

Kutya?i, or firewind, is a similar being, in that he travels at night capturing souls. He manifests himself as a whirlwind and is dangerous. Tenauka, wind action, also travels about to catch souls, but in daytime. A white deer may be a manifestation of Pemtexweva, the master of hooved animals, who is associated with beings called pa?vu?ul, who can transform themselves into other beings such as deer and antelope (1972:166-167).

Springs may harbor Pa?ahniwat, who may take the form of a serpent or a water baby, that could often be heard crying out. He also acted as sponsor for puvalem. Palpuhawil, in Strong's version of the Cahuilla creation story (Strong 1929:132) is a water demon who emerged from the water to live in the sky, but sometimes is manifested as a water spout in association with thunder clouds (Bean 1972:167).

"A flash or streak in the air" may be Tematsuwet, another daylight soul catcher, who ordinarily is seen as a star. A wind, and especially the northwind, is Yavi, who dries things up. Another being, whom Bean does not name, is associated with the rain, who was created during creation time and sent to the sky to make things grow, and thus was a more benevolent nukatem than some (1972:167).

The eagle, Aswut; the wildcat, Tukut; and the coyote, or ?isily, are all nukatem area or primal beings who "connect the distant past with the present," and thus are sacred to the Cahuilla (1972:166-168).

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    Mt. San Jacinto at dawn

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