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Serrano Indians

Religion, World View

Serrano world view, like its culture in general, is less well known than that of some of their neighbors, such as the Cahuilla. This lack is due to several circumstances. In part, it is because so large a proportion of the Serrano people were brought into San Gabriel Mission before or in 1811, after the failure of an attack on the mission. Disease subsequently further decimated the population. When scholars began to study Serrano culture, few remembered it as it was before the arrival of Europeans. It is known, however, that to the Serrano, as to other Native Americans, the plants, animals, and even rocks in the environment are sentient beings. As noted above, it is believed that they derive from human beings at creation time who were willing to be transformed into other beings.

Baldwin Lake, Bear Valley
Baldwin Lake, Bear Valley

The Serrano creation epic tells of two brothers in a story that is very similar to that of the Cahuilla and Luiseno. It tells of twin brothers, Pakrokitat and Kukitat, at the dawn of time. Pakrokitat created human beings and three beautiful goddesses on an island called Payait, to which he fled after disagreeing with Kukitat as to whether human beings should die, as the latter thought they should. Human beings divided into groups, and the groups warred with each other until it was decided that Kukitat, having done poorly by them, should be put to death. Kukitat's final illness, after Frog swallowed his excretions and thereby poisoned him, Coyote's theft of his heart, his death, and his subsequent cremation took place on the shores of Baldwin Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains. In a fight that erupted after the death, all the Mariņa Serrano were killed except one man, from whose posthumous son all subsequent Mariņa Serranos are descended2 (Kroeber 1925:619; Harrington Serrano notes; Bean and Vane 1981:158).

2A common theme in southern California oral literature is that of a catastrophe, caused by oversight, deception, or accident, in which only a single male child survives, and becomes the progenitor of a new group from which subsequent people descend.

The story of Kukitat's death and cremation was sung until the 1960s at the Serrano's annual Mourning Ceremony, at which the Mariņa as the oldest clan took precedence (Strong 1929:34; Bean field notes 1975).

In the earlier part of the 20th century, the Serrano and Cahuilla often joined forces to conduct their traditional ceremonies. When W. D. Strong was doing his field work in the 1920s, the Serrano Mariņa and Aturaviatum and the Wanikiktum and Kauisiktum Cahuilla conducted their ceremonies jointly, being the last active religious organizations of their groups. It was customary for each group to hold its annual mourning ceremony once every two years, with the other three in attendance (Strong 1929:14-15).

Ramon speaks of an earlier time, when the ceremonial leader of the Serranos at Twentynine Palms, having no ceremonial house, came to Mission Creek to hold a feast:

Long ago they held a feast in the home of our ancestor who has since passed away. He was from Twentynine Palms. But there was no ceremonial house there (at Twentynine Palms). He moved here from there. They were having a feast somewhere ... (at) Mission Creek... .

He built a ceremonial house. I was still small at the time (around five or six). I don't know how old I was. I must have been about four, five, or six, I am not sure. But I was a little bit aware of my surroundings. And so they built it. I saw those men who were building the ceremonial house. I would be asleep sometimes. I didn't see everything (while asleep). Sometimes I would be awake. There were very many men who would dance. I think it was morning. I am not sure. I don't know what they were dancing. I think they must have been dancing the deer dance. That's all I know, and so that's what I'm talking about. At the time I was very little (Ramon and Elliot 2000:259).

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