The Heart of the Hearth
Artwork of Kut (fire) by Morongo School student displayed at the 2020 Native Voices Poetry Festival.
Thinking about Fire
By Pat Murkland
Snow on the white sage. Branch scarred by the 2020 fire is on the left. (Pat Murkland Photo)
The screaming winds had departed. Falling snow gave the world a special silence. As I walked, the only sound I could hear was the occasional crunch of my feet stepping on ice. I didn’t see any wild animal tracks. Soon my tracks also would vanish under the falling snow.
I checked on the plants regrowing after the 2020 Apple Fire. Snow and ice blanketed them. The four elements were right here: Air, Earth, (frozen) Water, and the burned branches that are memories of that dangerous 2020 Fire.
Today, though, is one of those days when Fire is welcomed. On a wintery day like this, the ancient people of these Native homelands would have warmed themselves near Fire, or Kut, in Cahuilla, Cupeño, Luiseño, and Serrano.
The late Paul Douglas Campbell, who studied and shared the survival skills of Indigenous California, always emphasized how crucial fire is to the people.
“It was the simple two-piece hand drill the ancients revered,” he wrote in 1999.“At the time of European contact, the fire drill could be found everywhere in California. The ability to make fire in the wild is perhaps the most important survival skill one can possess — literally the difference between a dark shivering death and a hot meal in the glow of a warming blaze.
“It cannot be taught by theory. Only through familiarity with the range of materials and techniques the Indians used in a variety of environments and by practice does the fire come forth.”
Palm Springs Fire-Makers
When News from Dorothy Ramon Learning Center explored native Palms in Palm Canyon, home of the Cahuilla Achachem lineage, we remembered the Cahuilla story of how people received the gift of Fire.
Native California Fan Palm trees (Pat Murkland Photo)
A beautiful woman named Min my wit lay on her back, and as a palm, she was drilled for the first fire, which lighted the Creator Mukat’s funeral pyre, the late Francisco Patencio told.
The drill used friction to start fire in palm stems. This sacrifice helped the people gain fire to cook, to stay warm, to live well, our guide Sean Milanovich of Agua Caliente told us.
J. Smeaton Chase described how Palm Springs Cahuilla people made fire in the early twentieth century."Dry palm fruit stems of the California fan palm (Washingtonia filiferia) made both hearth and drill, the former about 1 inch broad and of any length, the latter less than half as thick and about 1 foot long.
“In the hearth they cut a hollow with a little groove that led to a small heap of dry leaves. The drill was trimmed to a blunt point, placed upright in the hollow of the hearth, and rolled rapidly between the open hands of one Indian while another steadied the hearth. The hands moved down as the firemaker spun the drill and returned again and again to the top. A stream of wood powder fell from the groove upon the leaves. Smoke arose from the hearth in less than two minutes. A coal fell on the tinder and blowing on it produced a flame. All this was completed in under three minutes of hard work and at much risk of failure in blowing the ember into the fire.”
A carved wood fire drill and fireboard, along with a stick for revolving, given by Desert Cahuilla shaman Pedro Chino in 1917 to Edward H. Davis, courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
More Info here.
If you can’t visualize making fire this way, think of Fly. Fly showed everyone how to make fire by rubbing his front legs together, according to Francisco Patencio, and Fly is still doing this today.
May you be warm and safe in these storms.
Despite the Storms …
At this time Dorothy Ramon Learning Center still plans these weekend events:
Saturday, February 25, 2023, noon to 3 pm, 127 N. San Gorgonio Ave., Banning, CA
Creative Corps Listening Session hosted by Riverside Arts Council.
Come and learn about $3.8 million in grants for our region. You don’t need to be a 501c3 to apply. Individuals welcome. This includes musicians, Native American Culture Bearers, and those sharing cultural arts.
From the Riverside Arts Council: “This session is for all artists, residents, community-based organizations, and tribal leaders in the region. This will serve as an open conversation about local priorities and pressing community needs. We want to hear from you about what you care about most and ways funding can support local community projects. We would also like to learn about barriers you’ve had to applying for past grant programs.”
Sunday, February 26, 2023, Fourth Sunday concert, 3 p.m. , Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, 127 N. San Gorgonio Ave., Banning, CA.
Your $10 benefits the programs of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Dorothy Ramon Learning Center and helps us save and share Southern California Native American cultures, languages, history, and traditional arts.
Save the Date!
NATIVE VOICES POETRY FESTIVAL
March 11, 2023, 10 am to 4 pm, Dorothy Ramon Learning Center,
127 N. San Gorgonio Ave., Banning, CA 92220
Free family fun!
Performances: Enjoy storytelling and traditional singing, dancing, contemporary arts, and much more.
Exhibits and interactive displays: Taste Native foods, discover and explore Native American cultures, visit with area community groups. Shop for books!
Family workshops: Bring your creativity! Writing and art for children and everyone else.
Special events: Screening of the film documentary, Saging the World, and discussion with filmmaker Rose Ramirez.
Also: Discussion on the revitalization of our own Southern California languages.
And much more! MORE INFO HERE
This year Dorothy Ramon Learning Center is honored to partner with the new Idyllwild Arts Native American Arts Center, also our major sponsor.
And thanks to you, the 501c3 nonprofit Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, led by Elder Ernest Siva (Cahuilla-Serrano), is in its 20th year of saving and sharing Southern California’s Native American cultures, languages, history, and traditional arts.
More thanks, as always, for reading, sharing, and subscribing to our free online newsletter, News from Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, from Center leaders Ernest and June Siva, and Editor Pat Murkland. We value you and your ideas: Please EMAIL. February 23, 2023.
Paul Douglas Campbell, Survival Skills of Native California, “The Fire Drill,” and “Fire — Some Indian Tips,” © 1999 Paul Douglas Campbell, Gibbs-Smith, Publisher, Utah, pp 4-14.
Francisco Patencio and Margaret Boynton. Stories And Legends of the Palm Springs Indians, 1943, Times-Mirror, Los Angeles, p. 20.
Cited by Paul Douglas Campbell, p. 5.