CV’s First Inhabitants – Hunting
As I have mentioned in previous columns, the Tongva people of the Los Angeles area enjoyed a rich and nutritious diet. Besides the variety of plants they ate, they had a wide array of high-protein meat available. While the coast natives were awash in seafood (pun-intended), the inland natives had many game animals to choose from.
The food gathering was gender-based. The women gathered plants and the men hunted. Let’s follow one of the men of Wiqangna, our local village, as he goes on a hunt for deer. It’s late summer and the deer have come down for water into the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
He awoke just as the dawn was breaking and he stepped out of his house and into the cool morning air. He took a quick bath in the nearby stream as he did every morning. Returning to the village, he could smell the acorn mush heating by the morning fires, but he would not be eating breakfast. A good hunter never ate before or during a hunt.
He had done much to prepare for this deer hunt. He had resisted lying with his wife the previous two nights. He had participated in the hunting ceremony the night before with the tomyaar, the village chief, and the shaman to ask for God’s help in this hunt. Rather than eating breakfast, he chewed some sage leaves to mask the smell of his breath, a trick he had learned from tribes to the north.
This morning the women of Wiqangna were scraping the skins of the rabbits the village had caught the day before. The village had done a controlled burn of the valley floor the previous winter and the grasses had come in thick. Hundreds of rabbits were grazing there, and the whole village turned out to drive them into the low nets they had strung.
He met up with his two friends who would go with him on the hunt. In his house he had many weapons to choose from. There were the flat, boomerang-shaped throwing sticks and the weak bows and arrows for rabbits and squirrels. He was teaching his 7-year-old son to hunt using the small elderberry wood bow and the untipped arrows made from wild rose stems. But for this hunt he would use his big compound bow he had constructed from pine and deer sinew, and bone-tipped arrows with cane shafts he had carefully straightened.
The men set off toward the mountains carrying their weapons and the disguises they would need for this hunt. They passed a small camp in today’s Dunsmore Canyon. A couple of the village families had come up here where it was cooler for a few days, and the men stopped to say hello. The families were roasting grasshoppers on sticks over the fire and offered them to the hunters, but they resisted. Good hunters did not eat while on a hunt.
They walked back down the canyon and around the ridge to the east. As they came to a spot where they could see up the next canyon (the top of Pennsylvania Avenue), they spotted some grazing deer. The three men donned their disguises, deer heads stuffed with grass that they wore as hats. They crouched and slowly meandered closer to the small herd, their arrows nocked and ready. The three were expert at imitating the motions of deer, and the deer herd suspected nothing. When the three were only 10 feet from the herd, they rose up together and planted three arrows in the nearest deer, while the rest of the herd bolted. They cut up the warm meat with their stone knives and carried it back to the village.
There the tomyaar, the chief, divided the kill, some to the hunters’ families and some to the village. The hunters themselves didn’t eat their own kill, as superstition had it that doing so would hurt their chances in the next hunt. But that was fine. It had been a satisfying hunt, and there was plenty of rabbit to eat.
Thanks to the expert hunters of Wiqangna, their people never went hungry.