American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Bole-Maru Religion

The Bole-Maru originated in the atmosphere of the late nineteenth century revitalization movement that arose out of Wodziwob's (Gray Hair, Paviotso Piaute, Nevada) apocalyptic vision depicting a great natural cataclysmic event destroying ("swallowing up") the living and the dead with only the Natives being resurrected to prosperity. The Pomo tribe, who developed Bole-Maru from the Earth Lodge or Kuksu cult, learned of the apocalyptic visions primarily through Wintun and Hill Patwin tribes when forced together through growing Euro-American encroachment. Bole-Maru became a more adaptive movement than the various versions of the Ghost Dance developed after Wodziwob. The Pomo integrated characteristics derived from different tribes in northern and central California along with increasing knowledge of Euro-American culture and its religions.

During the winter of 1871–1872, the medicine man Richard Taylor predicted that a flood would soon wash away the white people and that those who danced through the deluge in semisubterranean dance houses would survive. The predicted event failed to happen. Participants returned to their communities taking the hope of the prediction with them. Those who returned to their homes modified aspects of Kuksu practices, such as regarding Dreamers as prophets for the people, the use of dance houses, and a dualistic understanding of creation that later blended with Christian concepts of heaven and hell/God and the devil. Kuksu Dreamers were exclusive members of a secret society of men. As the Bole-Maru developed, this exclusivity diminished. Years of contact with the emerging dominant culture decreased Native population and social cohesion, presenting the need for adaptive changes in social life that minimized the loss of traditional values and understanding. Originating among the various communities, Bole-Maru developed as a religious/social political movement combining traditions from various communities. Variations spawned by each new community provided the catalyst for Bole-Maru to survive the conflicts surrounding increasing contact with the Euro-American culture.

In Keeping Slug Woman Alive, Greg Sarris (p. 66) says, "Where once there had been many private or secret cults within a tribe, now an entire tribe was united under one cult, the Bole-Maru." The name of the cult itself reflected the diverse influence, Bole (hill, Patwin) and Maru (eastern Pomo); both referred to the person leading the ceremonies, who, through dreams, received instruction on many levels. Dreams also influenced the dancing of the participants, their regalia, and the decorations of the dance house. The leaders designed clothing, instruments, dance patterns, feast patterns, and other aspects of the ceremonies, as well as retaining the cohesiveness of the traditional society.

Annie Jarvis, a Kashaya Pomo Dreamer between 1912 and 1943, strengthened Native identity during the time that Bole-Maru was losing influence among other Pomo and coastal Miwok. Mary Jean Kennedy (HRAF 2000 Computer File #24, p. 133) "simultaneously with the development of the Dreamer religion, the people became more involved economically in the dominant culture." Along with the benefits came damaging influences as well. As drinking, gambling, and other such influences became a concern, Kennedy strengthened Native identity by requiring sober participation in ceremonies and by standing against boarding school education and intermarriages. Through her influence and her Dreaming, she brought cohesion, as well as additional Christian influence, to dances and activities. She taught a belief in heaven and a resurrection. She instituted a naming ceremony, blessing a baby by naming it with an Indian name and announcing that name to the Father in heaven.

Assisting Kennedy, Essie Parrish (1903–1979) became the next influential Dreamer. Essie's dreams were more like visions, because they tended to occur while she was awake. She foresaw World War II, the atomic bomb, the coming of a black book, and the influence of a new religion. Throughout her life, she experienced resistance from Pentecostals, who declared that her visions came "from the Devil" and forbade their adherents to participate in Bole-Maru. Eliciting a more sympatric response from the Mormons, Essie converted to that religion, declaring her earlier vision about the black book as the coming of the Mormons.

The Bole-Maru Dreamers incorporated the healing aspects of their older beliefs. Innovations from their dreaming and the wisdom of the adaptation of nontraditional lifestyles created a new cosmology, just as traditional healers did before contact with the dominant society.

Arthur Robert Brokop II


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