Types of Indian Culture in California

Types of Indian Culture in California

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Types of Indian Culture in California

Types of Indian Culture in California

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Excerpt

Only one attempt to give a systematic account of the Indians of California has been made. More than twenty-five years ago Stephen Powers wrote his famous Tribes of California, which with all its defects still stands unrivalled in comprehensiveness and usefulness, the one work on California which every anthropologist must cite. The last few years have seen more extended research of the Indians of the state. The Ethnological and Archaeological Survey of California, conducted by the Department of Anthropology of the University of California through the liberality of Mrs. Phoebe A. Hearst, is intended to secure and preserve for record as much information about the Indians, and to save for the people of the state as many of the remains and objects illustrative of native life, as possible.

From the time of the first settlement of California, its Indians have been described as both more primitive and more peaceful than the majority of the natives of North America. On the whole this opinion is undoubtedly true. The practical arts of life, the social institutions, and the ceremonies of the California Indians are unusually simple and undeveloped. There were no war for its own sake, no confederacies of powerful tribes, no communal stone pueblos, no totems, or potlatches. The picturesqueness and dignity of other Indians are lacking. In general rudeness of culture the California Indians are scarcely above the Eskimo; and whereas the lack of development of the Eskimo on many sides of their nature is reasonably attributable in part to their difficult and limiting environment, the Indians of California inhabit a country naturally as favorable, it would seem, as might be. If the degree of civilization attained by people depends in any large measure on their habitat, as does not seem likely, it might be concluded from the case of the California Indians that natural advantages were an impediment rather than an incentive to progress.

Throughout the greater part of the state the civilization of the Indians is very much alike. While the number of groups and of divisions corresponding to tribes, and the number of languages, is large, and no two groups show exactly identical customs and beliefs, the general type of culture is uniform. The exceptions are Southern California and the northwesternmost part of the state. But the territory covered by these divergent cultures is comparatively small, and more than two thirds of the state, including all the central part, show a fundamental ethnical similarity, whose distinguishing characteristics furthermore are not found outside of the state. It is therefore possible to speak of typical California Indians and to recognize a typical Californian culture area.

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