Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

CV’s First Inhabitants – The Social Structure of Wiqangna


Our local Native American village of Wiqangna had a complex social structure that was developed over thousands of years. Referring to William McCawly’s book “The First Angelinos,” we can surmise some of the daily social life of our Wiqangnan villagers.

I say “surmise” because the Tongva culture is basically a lost civilization. McCawley in his book relies on accounts written by early explorers, missionaries and visitors who interviewed or observed (perhaps subjectively) a Tongva culture that had already been decimated by disease and Missionization.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Wiqangna, like other Tongva villages, was ruled by one man, the “tomyaar,” who inherited his title through lineage, probably from his father. He was a mature man when he took this office, usually over 30 years old. Maturity was needed, for his responsibilities were huge, and the consequences of mistakes were deadly. He moderated disputes, enforced law and served as a conduit for trade between villages. If he screwed up, didn’t act carefully and fairly, it could result in deadly war between villages.

Even more serious was the duty of food allocation. Although private property was maintained, food was treated as communal. The harvest and game were brought to the tomyaar, and he distributed it fairly among the villagers. If he grossly mismanaged the food, for instance hoarding food for his own family, he could be executed. The tomyaar maintained a delicate balance in his duties and decisions by relying on advice from Wiqangna’s Council of Elders, the “medicine man” or shaman, and supernatural beings. Some interesting facts about Wiqangna’s tomyaar: The tomyaar took the name of the village as his own, so his name would have been “Wiqangna’ie.” He kept more than one wife often marrying daughters of other village’s tomyaars to form alliances. The tomyaar position was not always taken by a man and some female tomyaars were recorded.

Family was everything to the Tongva, and complex familial ties were maintained. Villages were sometimes just one or two extended families. Three very distinct social classes existed in the village. The upper class, determined by profession, personal wealth and lineage, wore clothes that distinguished them from the others and spoke with a different accent. The middle class was craftsmen, and the commoners relied on the village’s shared food for survival. Sub-classes below that were the very poor, who were considered lazy and undesirable; vagrants, or wanderers; and, at the very bottom, slaves – women and children captured in wars. Interestingly, homosexuals and transvestites were an accepted part of society and came from all classes. In fact, male “wives” were desirable as they could do the hard work of women with the added physical strength of a man.

Inviolate codes of behavior in the village were determined by tradition and religious beliefs. Sharing of food, respect for the tomyaar and observance of religious rites were deadly serious to the villagers. Rules on child rearing and personal behavior were reinforced by lectures by the tomyaar and through stories and songs. Morality was a pervasive force in Tongva society and offenders were not tolerated. Murder was almost unheard of, and robbery, incest, mismanagement of food resources, or religious sacrilege were capital offenses. Offenders were hunted down and shot with arrows until dead, or captured and burned to death. Oddly, corporal punishment such as whipping didn’t exist in their culture. When the Tongva later submitted to Mission life where corporal punishment was common, whippings were often the flashpoint for rebellion. Children were strongly controlled by parental guidance and religious code. Child rearing was taken very seriously and rebellious children were not tolerated. Once the kids hit puberty, they were no longer controlled by parents.

As far as we know, for several thousand years the villagers of Wiqangna enjoyed an unchanging and stable culture. They had a strong religion that guided their daily conduct and a well-established hierarchy of government, with clear leadership, laws and consequences. Given that, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that, after European epidemics killed a good percentage of their population, many of the survivors were willing to try out what the Mission fathers seemingly offered – stability.