Folk Tales of the Kashia
The Kashia Pomo people lived on these lands which they called Metini for thousands of years. What was the arrival of these strangers (the Russians) like for the Kashia? Of course, it is very difficult for us to know how the Kashia really felt about the people they called “the undersea people”. The Kashia did not have written language at that time. Most of the written information about what life was like for the Kashia during the Russian occupation was written by the Russians themselves, which only tells their story.
The Kashia story is oral, in other words, spoken. The stories of the past were passed down through storytelling, and that is how the people learned and remembered their own history and legends. Through the years oral history relating to their past and the presence of the RAC has been lost or untold. Fortunately, in the late 1950’s, Robert Oswalt, a linguist from the University of California at Berkeley recorded several oral histories of the Kashia and Coast Miwok people as he studied their languages. He conducted hours and hours of interviews with several Kashia ‘informants’, or storytellers. Robert Oswalt understood the importance of preserving the stories and tales which the elders told him.
Several stories are told by Herman James, who was the grandson of Lukaria. Lukaria was about eight years old when the Russians arrived at Metini. She lived in this area for almost her entire life. She died in 1908 when Herman was in his twenties. Herman heard these wonderful tales throughout his life. There are also stories from Essie Parrish, considered the last shaman of the Kashia People.
Tales of Fort Ross by Herman James
“This too my grandmother told me. She also really saw this herself. I am going to tell about the land of Metini. They lived there. Where they originated, where our ancestors originated, at Metini, is the place that they first lived. They lived there for a long time.
Then, unexpectedly, they detected something white sailing on the water. It later proved to be a boat, but they didn’t know what it was – the Indians hadn’t seen anything like that before. Then it came closer and closer, and unexpectedly it landed, and it proved to be a boat. They turned out to the undersea people – we Indians named those people that.
Having landed, they built their houses close the where the Indians were. After staying for a while, they got acquainted with them. The Indians started to work for them. They lived there quite a while; having lived there thirty years, they returned home.
The name “undersea people” is an appropriate one for those who arrived here in 1811. If you are standing on the shore and see the white sail of a ship approaching from the distant horizon, it looks as if it is coming from under the water.
It may take some creative reading skills to understand exactly what Herman James is describing in the passage below. Go slow, and maybe have the kids make a quick sketch of what they think is going on in each paragraph.
Grain Foods told by Herman James
“My grandmother told me this too about what the undersea people did. What I am going to tell you now is how they ground their flour when they raised and gathered wheat.
Where the land lies stretched out, where all the land is at Metini, they raised wheat which blanketed the land.. When it was ripe everywhere, then the people, by hand, cut it down, tied it up, and laid it there. Then is a s sea lion skin, they dragged it to their houses.
They had made a big place there, with the earth packed down hard by wetting – there they threw down what they had tied up. Next they drove horses down there. The person who drove the horses around there in a circle was one man who took turns with various others. When it was that way (threshed), when it had become food alone, they put it in sacks. While loading it in sacks, they hauled it off in stages to where their storehouse was. They filled that place up with lots – many sacks.
In order to make it turn into flour, they had something which spun around for them in the wind – they called it a ‘flour grinder’. When they got ready to grind with that they poured the wheat down in there to be ground, while tossing the sacks up – they did that all day long. Then they filled the sacks up with flour, and hauling it away as before, they piled it in a building. There was a lot for them to eat in the winter.
Once, while a woman was walking around there, she happened to get too close while the wind was turning the grindstone. At that time, women’s hair was long. The woman’s hair got caught and turned with it. The woman too was spun around, all of her hair was chewed off and she was thrown off dead.
They picked her up, carried her home, and cremated her – at that time they were still cremated. that is the way it happened; the flour grinder snared the woman and she died.
They also used to tell that the Indians in their different fashion also gathered grain when it was ripe by taking a tightly woven packing basket and knocking the grain so it would fall into that. When they filled the baskets, they would store that at their houses. They too had a lot, a lot like that for winter, and pinole too.
Then they found out; they say how they, the undersea people, stored their own food. At that time, the Indians didn’t yet know much about flour. Later on when the Russians had lived there a while, the Indians ate flour too. They also ate pinole in their own way.
This had been a true story that my grandmother used to tell me, one that she saw herself – at the time that she saw those things, she was still a young woman. When she had grown old, she told me that true story. That is what I have told, the true story that our grandmother told. This is all.
The story about the woman who got her hair caught in the windmill is one of the enduring legends of Fort Ross. The paragraph which refers to threshing grains is a little difficult to understand. Indeed, the Russian method of threshing was to make a hard dirt (later wooden) round floor, surrounded by a plank wall. Horses were led in and stampeded around in a circle until the wheat was separated from the chaff. Many visitors to the Ross Colony wrote descriptions of the process.
The First White Food told by Essie Parrish
“It was also there at Metini that the white people first discovered the Indians – having come up, they found them. After they discovered the Indians, they wanted to domesticate them. In order to feed them food, in order to let them know about the white man’s food, the white men served them some of their own white food.
Never having seen white man’s food before, they thought they were being given poison. Having given the Indians their food, they left and returned home, but the Indians threw it in a ditch. Some they buried when they poured it out. They were afraid to eat that, not knowing anything about it – all they knew was their own wild food. They had never seen white people’s food before then.
This is what the old people told us. This is the end.
Overtime the Indians became accustomed to the white man’s food. As the Russian agricultural efforts increased and traditional gathering and hunting grounds got covered by Russian grains and cattle, white food became more and more a part of the Kashia diet.
There was much intermarriage between the local Natives and the Alaskans and Russian employees of the company. This too would have played a significant role in teaching the local women about white food and how to prepare them.
Coyote Creates the Ocean
A Kashia Pomo Text
As told to David W. Peri by Essie Parrish
Coyote was the smartest of all. He watched over his people telling them what they should do; he guarded them and guided them. because he was the smartest of all, he was the leader of his people.
At the time Coyote created the ocean, there were no human beings, there were only animal people. Though they were animals, they acted like people, and spoke a language like the one we speak today. We still speak the same language they spoke in the days before Coyote created people.
Coyote gave the animal people different languages for different places and sent them off to live there. That’s why Indians who love in different places talk in different ways; he create it that way, even though we are all Indians and of one flesh. Giving one group a certain language, he sent them 0off to live in one place – along the river, the creeks, and in the valleys; those speaking another language, he sent somewhere else to live. We too were given a language, but we stayed right here at this place, along the coast, that the white people call Stewarts Point. The language we speak now is the same as our ancestors spoke long ago, and they spoke the same language the animal people did when Coyote was here on this earth creating things. Our language has been handed down from that time, through the generations, to us today.
One time, long ago, when the animal people lived on this earth, Coyote went off someplace where there was only wilderness. The land where he traveled was burning hot and there was no water anywhere. Then, he found a large grassy opening in a level field. He way sick from thirst and starving for food. Because he was starving, he burned grasshoppers in the opening in. Many grasshoppers made their homes in the grass. People made a trap of fire, they burned the grass, and the fire herded the grasshoppers to some spot al together. The fire burned through them all gathered together and roasted them, and the people ate them. In the old days, they set fire to such grassy openings in order to get food. Having eaten the grasshoppers, Coyote became terribly thirsty but couldn’t find water anywhere. Having walked up onto a hill, near where he burned the grasshoppers, he stood and looked out over the burned opening, and thought about his great thirst and what to do.
He sat down, resting on his knees, and looked as far as his eyes could see. Then he went back to that burned place. He picked up a manzanita stick, sharpened it with a rock, and began to dig with it. He dug for water though there didn’t seem to be any anywhere in that dry field.
As he dug, it looked more and more like there might be a little water where he was digging; so he continued to dig. After a little while, when he got deeper, water suddenly shot up. It sprouted up so high it looked like it was never going to stop. He couldn’t; remain standing there; the water was spouting up almost far enough to hit the sky. Again,, he ran up that hill, not because he was afraid, but in order to see what had happened from a distance. The land was beginning to be filled completely with water.
Then he drank the water; the heat, his journey, and the grasshopper’s he ate all made him very thirsty. the water he drank tasted salty because of the ashes which remained after he burned the grass; that is why the ocean tastes salty. The water continued to shoot into the air, and soon it became a great body of water. Then he named that great water saying, “This will be the ocean,” and it became as he said, even to this day.
He went up that hill and looked out over what he had made. The water lay still just like a lake with no waves, like a mirror, It looked strange laying there so still, like it was asleep. Coyote then took up a stick and making wave -like motions with it, he said, ” Do like this!” Making waves, moving the water up and down and making it splash, he said, “Make waves! Let it move. : Suddenly, the water lifted up in high waves; it was heaving up all around like boiling water and breaking all over the rocks. Other waves followed one after another, never to stop and it continues like that even to day. When the waves washed up all over, they washed away the earth, leaving rocks and the sand behind; they were hidden under the earth. As the waves did this and the water filled the land, the beaches and rocks in the ocean came to be as they are today.
Then, he took up his stick again and scratched a mark in the earth to set the limits to which the water could go; he marked the boundaries of the ocean and this is the way we see it still today. When he did this, he called out to the ocean saying, “Go only this far forever.”
When he had completed that part of the ocean and it looked good to him, he made food in the ocean for people to gather. He knew, that when he made people, they were going to be hungry; they would need food when they became people. He said, “I will put different food in the water for people to eat.”
Then he took different things from the land and threw them, one by one, onto the ocean saying, “This will be this,” and it became what he said. First, he threw down the biggest animal in the ocean. He named it calling out, “whale”. He threw down a big log, while saying, “this will be whale”, and it became that. It became what he called it, what he named it, and so he created whales. When he threw down the log for whale, the water shot up into the air; that’s why whales shoot up water. At the time he made whales and all other thing in the ocean, he gave them instructions, rules to live by. to the whales he said, “Whales, you will live here and make your home in this part of the ocean and hint for this food and no other. ” Coyote also gave the fish and the other animals that live on the rocks and in the sand a language. Making different sounds for each kind, he created words for them. he said, “this will be your language so you can talk to the one another.” All this happened as he commanded it to be, as he intended it to be.
After this, he threw down smaller logs from different trees saying, this will be porpoise; this will be seal.” then he threw down a manzanita branch and it became swordfish. taking up a snake, he threw it down saying, ” this will be eel”; and throwing down a salamander, he said, “this will become bullhead,” and lizard became sea trout. All kinds of fish he was naming and throwing down and in this way he created all of the fish, large and small.
When he completed this, he went up to that hill and looked out over and into the ocean at what he had done. Way to the west, he saw that the water kept being at low tide with everything he created in plain sight: they , including the whale, were lying visible, all the big animals were lying around in plain sight sticking out of the water. It looked very strange to see them that way. he then took up his stick again and scratched a mark and ordered, “Ebb and flow as far as here.” The mark he make there is what we see when the ocean flows closer in. Having done this, he again looked out over the ocean and saw that everything was working together. Being satisfied with what he had done, he continued on with is work.
Next he threw down different food so to grow on the rocks. He threw down one kind of turtle saying, “This will be abalone,” and it became that. he cast down another turtle saying, “This will become chitons, large and small,” and it became so. for barnacles, he threw down a kind soft mushroom, and for limpets, he threw down acorn caps. Coyote gathered gooseberries and throwing them down, they became sea urchins; hazelnuts became all manner of ocean snails – black snails, brown snails, periwinkles – all kinds; deer hoofs became mussels; and feces became anemones, He then took up different colors. Taking up each one, he threw them down saying, ” You will become red earth starfish; you, bumpy starfish; and you, sunflower starfish”; and so, he created all the starfish.
When he dad finished this work, he then caused all the sea plants to grow. He gathered up horsetail plants and threw then onto the rocks and said, “You will become sea palms and grow on these rocks.” He also got cow parsnip plants and cast them into the ocean and said they would become kelp and what he said came to pass, and kelp was created. Gathering up all kinds of plants and grasses, he threw them down while saying that this one would be seaweed, another sea lettuce, and so on until all the sea plants were created.
Then he continued on to make all sorts of other things which live in the ocean. He took up a mushroom that grows on trees and looks like a clam and threw it in and said, “You will become clams and live under sand in the mud, and among the rocks.” In this way, he made all the different clams we know about, calling out each of their names while throwing down different things.
Other things we know about he also made: he took all different types of spiders and throwing them into the water, he said, “You will become purple crab; you, spider crab,; and you, hermit crab,” and so he called out all the names of the different crabs we knew about, and they came to be as he said. Like the other things he created, he instructed them where they were to make their homes. Coyote said to the crabs as they each became what he intended them to be, “You will live among the rocks and among the kelp, and you will carry your home around with you.”
Having completed this work, Coyote climbed a hill and looked out over the great water he created. He looked at the waves, the tides, and all the animals and plants he created. He saw all these things and they were as he intended them to be; they were all living together in the same ocean, but each of the different things had their own place, their own rule to live by, and their own language; just like ourselves. We Indians, we are all one flesh but we have different languages; we have different rules and we have our own places to live so that we can all live together in this worked. the ocean creatures had rules so they could all live together in the same ocean. this was the cay Coyote intended it to be; and so it should be even today. It should be like it was when Coyote make all things.
Many of the things Coyote make for the ocean, he made for us. The things he created were to be our food and our medicine. He prepared all this so it would be ready when he created people.
Now, people could eat the foods he had prepared, that he had made. Collecting it from many places – the shores, the rocks, and in the water – they ate it. With that food, they stayed alive after having first been created on this earth. the food that they are was the best and healthiest of all; no one ever got sick but grew old. and when they reached the end of their lives, just died. that’s why the old people and others still eat the ocean’s food, those who know that food still eat it now.
The elders, in talking to us, have brought forth this record of the creation of the ocean. Form it, w- having become people – were taught the rules of the things in the ocean and the rules for us, the people who use the things in the ocean.
As handed down to me, this is the end of my knowledge of the beginning of the world in the days before people, and of the creation of the ocean. The story of creation that our old people told us through the generations is true.
How Coyote Helped to Light the World
This is the story told by Medicine Man of the southern Pomo’s, about how light came into the world.
A long time ago when the world was very young and there was not a single beam of light anywhere, a hawk kept flying around trying to find his way in the black sky.
Down on the black earth, Coyote was stumbling around trying to find his way. Day after day, Coyote groped through the thick darkness trying to find a ray of light somewhere.
Above, Hawk flew around and around trying to find his way to light. At last, Coyote groped and stumbled and pulled his way up a high mountain. In the darkness he bumped into trees and rocks. he skinned his haunches. He fell. He skidded backward, but he kept on going. His paws got very sore, throbbing with each step upward, but he finally reached the top.
Just then Hawk happened to swoop lower and lower over the very same mountain. “Bang!” hawk flew too low and bumped right into Coyote and bent his whiskers and hit his nose. “Yeah -ouh!” howled Coyote in the dark. He clapped his paws to his face and rubbed his nose.
Sqauw-eek!” screamed Hawk in the dark as he shook his feathers straight. But Hawk and Coyote didn’t get angry and fight. Hawk said to Coyote, “I’m sorry I hit you, but it is dark and I can’t see. you nearly scared the feathers off me..” That was not your fault, Hawk,” said Coyote. “I couldn’t see either, or I would have kept my long nose out of your way. You nearly scared me out of my skin.”
With that, Hawk flew above Coyote and hung fluttering in the darkness and talked about how wonderful it would be if there were light in the world. Coyote sat on his haunches on the cold mountain top and talked back about light, too.
Then Coyote began to think. “It doesn’t do any good for you to fly around talking to me about the dark, hawk,” he said with a sigh. “And it doesn’t do me any good to sit here on my haunches and grumble in the dark.” “you are right,’ Hawk told him. But what can we do, a hawk and a coyote?”
Coyote was silent, thinking hard. Hawk grew silent too, except for the fluttering sound of his wings. But the harder hawk and Coyote thought, the darker it seemed. Then, when Coyote stopped thinking so shard and pricked up his ears and listened to the whispering darkness, an idea came. “I’ll gather a heap of tules from the marsh,” he told Hawk, and roll them into a ball with my paws.” “how can you get light form a ball of tules?” Hawk asked. “Tules are just marsh grasses.” He sniffed aloud a in great big “Sniff-er!” then he flew away in disgust. Coyote felt very much alone as he stumbled down the night covered mountain to the marsh and gathered tules that grew there. His front paws ached and grew raw from pulling tules. he told himself that light was worth sore paws and weary back. he kept on working until he had a big pile of tules beside him.
He picked up one of the long stems of grass and wadded it into a small ball. Then he wrapped another tule around that, pulling it very tight so it would be solid. He kept on doing this until he had a very big solid ball, a ball bigger than had ever been make in all the world before.
All this took lots of time. Hawk grew lonely and flew back to be near Coyote in the dark. He was guided by the sound of the tules that rattled while Coyote wadded and twisted them together.
“I’m sorry I flew away,” said hawk. “I’ll help you any way I can – if you think you can bring light to the world.” “Well, it’s about time,” Coyote snorted. I’ve worked alone and I need help if we are ever to have light.” Coyote felt around in the dark and Hawk felt around in the dark until they touched each other. “Here”, said Coyote, and he gave the big, round bundle of tules to Hawk. He groped around on the mountain top and found some pieces of flint. these he handed to Hawk, too. “now what do I do?” asked Hawk, still not believing that he, a bird, could help bring light to all the world. “Take the tule ball in your claws and the flints in your beak and fly as high as you can,” Coyote told him in a sure voice. “Way up there where only you can fly, strike the flints together, make a spark and light the ball of tule. then leave the burning ball and fly away as fast as you can before you catch on fire. ” Hawk was pleased because he could fly and coyote couldn’t. He took the tule ball and the flints and strained every muscle in his wings t fly higher than he had ever flown before. He’d show Coyote how high he could go! “Whoosh” he went up higher and higher, while Coyote called out “Ye-ou-ooo” to cheer him on. Up and up Hawk went so high that the “ye-ou-oos” of Coyote cheering him on grew fainter and fainter. finally, he was so high that he couldn’t’ even hear Coyote’s calls. There was only silence and blackness and the rushing sound of Hawk’s great, climbing wings. “Now I’ll light the tules”. Hawk said to himself. “it’s time because now I’m so high up there’s hardly any air to beat my wings against.” He worked with his claws and his beak to strike the flints together for a spark. It was hard because he had to hold onto the big tule ball and keep his wings spread wide on the thin air. A bright, hot spark suddenly flew up from the flints! Hawk’s wings lashed the air in excitement.
But just at that instant North Wind discovered Hawk and went “Whe-e-on” very hard. “Get out of here,” North Wind hissed. “Up here is where I live! Not even hark is allowed up here!” the spark died. North Wind “We-e-eoned” so hard that Hawk could scarcely hold onto the huge tule ball. His tail feathers were blown back and forth until he was afraid they would be ripped off. The feathers on the back of his head blew forward into his eyes. Hawk was discouraged, but he was proud. He wouldn’t let coyote down there on earth think that he couldn’t do his part in lighting the world. He worked harder than ever in spite of North wind. He gripped the tule ball firmly in his sharp claws; then he wedged one of the flints just under one claw. The other flint he held in his beak. He struck them together many, many times. Just when he had almost lost hope, a new dancing spark leaped into life! Swiftly, Hawk touched the spark to the bundle of tules. The spark caught. Red and yellow flames licked upward around the great ball. Suddenly, whole ball blazed with so much light and heat that Hawk’s joy turned to fear. He let go and went racing downward. Even as he flew down to the cooler air, he was filled with a sense of wonder a the giant ball of flame he had left blazing there above. Light poured over the whole sky until Hawk felt almost blinded from its beauty.
Dazzled, he looked at his own soaring wingtips. such glitter and color! And how pleasantly warm the heat from the ball was, now that he was close the earth. ” What pretty feathers I have!” he bragged. “And if it weren’t for me there would be no sun in the sky.”
Coyote heard hawk’s loud boasts but he didn’t care, because he could see too, with this wonderful new light. He looked at this poor bleeding front paws and he saw the fine shiny yellow coat that he wore. He looked at the beautiful things in the world all around him: the trees and the brooks, and the golden waving grasses and the snow on the mountains high above. he knew that it had taken both a Coyote and hawk to bring Da, the Sun, into the world. But soon Coyote became dissatisfied because Sun moved so fast that time after time it disappeared and there dark spans called nights.
When Coyote talked to Hawk about the darkness returning whenever Sun went away, Hawk only sniffed. “Sme-erk,” he said to coyote. “You wanted the world lighted and I did it. Are you never satisfied?” He went away and sunned himself on a rock. but Coyote was smart. He knew how to manage Hawk. He made another bundle of tules and took them to the rock where Hawk was sunning himself. “Hawk,” he said, “you are a wonderful bird! You brought light to the world because you can fly so high!” Hawk was pleased. He preened his feathers. “Hawk, you can do something ore for the world. Indians will always love you. All people will remember you, if you can do this.’ “What?” asked hawk. “Take this bundle of tules up high, when it is night, and light them and there will never be night again.” Hawk, feeling happy to be such a fine high flying bird, took the second bunch of tules when it got dark and he soared upward. But this time, when the spark flew up from the flints, the tules did not blaze as they had before. They burned in a pale way, with a silver smoke.
And so it is that Alaca, the Moon, burns with a dim and uncertain light in the night sky. Sometimes North Wind blows “Whe-e-oon” so hard that Moon is only a thin splinter of light. sometimes Moon is only a quarter lighted and sometimes it has a bite out of it. Coyote blamed himself for giving Hawk damp tules to make Moon. that is why whenever the moon is full, Coyote’s great grandson’s and even his cousins, the dogs, sit on their haunches and howl “Ye-ouw, the moon is too dim.”