Grandmother Oak spreads her massive branches as a canopy of shade for the gathering Kumiai. Her children have been gathering for 2000 years in this valley, but their ancestors date back 10,000 years. The oak has provided for them in life-sustaining ways for millenniums. The people come to honor their life in this June 13th celebration in the Guadalupe Valley. The settlement of San Antonio de Necua is fairly new in Kumiai history; still the oak and the plants of the region are very important to the modern day tribe. This day the shade from Grandmother is deep and cool. I was included under the canopy with the families.
The acorn, Sinuaw, has been at the core of Kumiai survival. Their village is built with Sinuaw central and everything radiates out from this point. This Live Oak acorn has sustained the people's survival for thousands of years. Ground to powder and processed, it is a staple food and also can be turned into a drink. The Oak roots run deep into the ground as it does in the people’s lives. Standing next to a living thing that is hundreds of years old imparts a deep sense of continuity.
A new village has been created from the once small hamlet first built in the 70’s. Even with the new buildings, the festivities are held out under the oaks and the breeze is welcomed on a hot day. The open air kitchen is filled with activity; women cook rice and beans in huge pots on an open fire. Warm tortillas go with the barbacoa, beef cooked in a pit barbecue. It took the whole community to prepare it. They would serve hundreds of people on this from noon on into the evening. A not too sweet drink created from the hibiscus was refreshing. This bounty is shared with us as a gift. This is a long held custom.
Up the hill from the cocina and under a roughly built shaded palapa, the singers and dancers are performing. The Kumiai tribe has an oral tradition and tells their stories through song accompanied by the shaking of a large gourd rattle. As I took pictures I watched the dancing feet. What strikes me is that they touch the earth with a very gentle foot fall. I am seeing in action something I’ve heard many times in spiritual circles...to walk softly and leave no foot print. The warm air carried the fresh fragrance of sacred white sage and there is a sense of quiet reverence as they follow the singer’s lead. The singer advances as the dancers move toward him into the center. They meet, then slowly move back. This is repeated over and over as the power of the singer’s voice combines with the vigorous sounds of the rattle. As I took pictures I found myself in a dance with them, a little embarrassed, yet I knew they would understand how one can be moved to join in. I feel honored to be here.
Light caught a young girl’s long black hair. Children run everywhere. The old ways merge with the cell phone hooked at the singer’s belt. I am fascinated by the faces. From the sweet innocence of a young girl standing near an elder whose eyes hold the history of her people. The youthful faces learn the story-songs, singing with gusto and the old ones are as solid as the oak carrying the wisdom passed on to them.
Under a huge oak the artisans lay out their offerings. Everything is created from the natural plants. From bows and arrow that the men still hunt with to lovely feathered jewelry. The true artisans are the basket weavers. Their skill is world renowned. Horacio Gonzales, Sustainable Development Coordinator for Terra Peninsular, once said, "Every time a Kumiai basket is woven, the spirit of their ancestors is carried on in an endless and tightly knit symbol that is a reflection of the essence of the Kumiai community. Working together as a group, weaving past and present together, holding strong in unison, allows the family to stay as one unit for countless generations." The Kumiai have had to bridge the modern world and still hold sacred their tradition. Selling their baskets to the outside world is now necessary. On today’s market one winnowing basket can sell for several thousand dollars. It can take eight months to complete. The math of time versus dollars is still part of the dark ages. Certain weavers are well known and collectors will pre bid when they learn a new basket is being created.
The singing has been going on all day. At sunset a bonfire will be ignited signifying the end of the celebration. Horacio Gonzales says, "The fire means that the vibrant culture is still alive... this celebration started in the late 1970's as a way of seeking the cultural revival of the communities." Horacio’s life is fully dedicated to this endeavor.
"All we have to offer the world is our ancient tradition and culture, hospitality and friendship, and we offer it all to anyone who wants to discover and experience our unique lifestyle. This is the purpose of our annual festival and celebrations. Simplicity, dedication and determination allow us to carry on with our ancient traditions and culture." I have come to know Horacio and enjoy his keen sense of humor. He made me laugh when he suggested that Baja California has more to offer than Margaritas, then adds, “By the way, after 10,000 years of living in this region, we know how to throw a great party!"
Terra Peninsular, conserving the Natural Beauty of the Peninsula of Baja California since 2001.
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com