Gopher Woman

"Tell Me a Story"

Wey wot

By Julia Bogany

Wey wot

Tam ingaro

Kitame

To,o'ome

Pieme

Sook

Ha.mee.nga'a mee?

Yo-mah-ha-re-

Ah.ho;non.nga Noh.kah.

He ah mo pa

Mah-he-o-noi

Kemah-ne-koo-karro

Me ah em roi

Yah-oah

Creator

East

South

West

North

Grandmother

Where are you?

I love you

I am in the doorway

The sun is going down

I’m in a hurry

Come with me

A day’s journey

Tell me a story.

“This poem was written to give honor to my Grandmother Julia. … I have set out to honor my grandmother in all that I do, honoring first, God, and then my Grandma, who inspired me to be the woman I am today. … Learning my language is exciting to me. It fills my heart with love. Our language is coming alive generations later. With the spirit of our ancestors’ love, it will stay alive for generations to come. I’m blessed to have 14 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren [in 2007]. I’m trying to teach them our language, so that we may never forget who we are and who we represent. History might say we don’t exist, but we are here because our grandparents were strong, and their spirit lives on in us.” — Julia Louise Bogany, 2007. (“Heritage Keepers” newsletter Vol. 4, No. 1, pp 2-3, Dorothy Ramon Learning Center)

Julia Bogany from her website, To be Visible.

Her Journey

Beloved Elder Julia Bogany has joined the ancestors whose cultural knowledge she worked so hard to share with everyone. She told traditional stories to help healing. She led workshops that featured Native Tongva traditions. She worked with the late Barbara Drake, her cousin, on many projects that spotlighted uses of native plants for food and medicine.

Medicine plant yerba santa (Pat Murkland Photo)

As Henry Vasquez wrote in his March 28, 2021, message to followers of the Native American Community Council of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, “Those of you who knew Julia, know that she was part of almost every aspect of Southern California Native culture, in particular all things related to the Gabrieliño-Tongva people. … If you look through news articles of Southern California Indian events, you’ll find photographs and footage of Julia at almost every one.” Before the pandemic began, in a memory we treasure, Julia Bogany was playing the role of wise Gopher Woman in Isabella Madrigal’s play, “Menil and her Heart.”

Gopher Woman

Gopher Woman, in the traditional Cahuilla telling, is a weaver. She is often weaving. Weaving and weaving, she weaves the earth together. And according to one traditional story, her wise words help save the Cahuilla people from extinction.

Julia Bogany as Gopher Woman at the play premiere in 2019 at Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, with the late Luke Madrigal, who played Dreamwalker in his daughter Isabella’s play. Dreamwalker’s telling of the traditional story, “Devil Woman,” from Francisco Patencio’s 1943 Stories and Legends of the Palm Springs Indians helps the main character, a young Native woman, find healing and resilience after the devastating disappearance (and murder) of her sister.

A Scene with Gopher Woman

(Excerpt from “Menil and her Heart” by Isabella Madrigal)

A girl, Menil, comes into view. She is obscured and far away so her face is not visible.

NESUNE: Who’s that? Hello? I need to get to my car … the road —

DREAMWALKER: Don’t interfere. This is not your story. 

GOPHER WOMAN comes into view. She approaches the GIRL, startling her.

GOPHER WOMAN: Child, listen to me. We do not have much time. I can already see that you are beginning to forget. I have seen the cloudiness in your gaze many times before. Do not trust Devil Woman. She means to drink your soul. Suck it from your heart, as she will suck the marrow from your bones. I know you are frightened, but you can escape her. Do not eat the food or drink the water that she gives you. She is poisoning you slowly. The Devil Woman can only see above her. She is blind to the things that go on underneath. When she gives you food, bury it in the ground. Do not let her see you do this. Child, I can help you escape but you must listen to me. 

The GIRL nods. They leave from view together — but before they are entirely gone the girl stops and casts a meaningful glance at Nesune. They stare at each other. The GIRL is gone. 

NESUNE: That girl, it was Menil wasn’t it? 

DREAMWALKER: Was it? 

NESUNE: She saw me. I know she did. 

NESUNE pursues the retreating figures. 

DREAMWALKER (to SNAKE): Go, follow her. Devil Woman is not someone to be trifled with. She’s powerful here. See that the girls do not fall into harm. 

SNAKE: Yesssssssss. 

2019: Dreamwalker (Luke Madrigal) tells the Snake (James Fenelon) to follow Nesune.

Ernest Siva: The Story of Gopher Woman

Elder Ernest Siva (Cahuilla-Serrano), president of Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, is accompanied by his dog, Remy, as he remembers storyteller Julia Bogany and tells the traditional story about Gopher Woman saving the Cahuilla Dog Clan.

Thank you!

Thanks for reading News from Dorothy Ramon Learning Center. We value your comments and contributions. Please EMAILDorothy Ramon Learning Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that saves and shares Southern California Native American cultures, languages, history, and traditional arts. Join us at dorothyramon.org and Dorothy Ramon Learning Center on Facebook. Pat Murkland, Editor. March 31, 2021.