American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Salinan

The Salinans consisted of two divisions: Northern (Antoniaño) and Southern (Migueleño). A third division, extreme Coastal, may also have existed. The people traditionally lived along the south central California coast, inland to the mountains. Today's Salinan descendents live mainly in the Salinas Valley between Monterey and Paso Robles. Salinan was a Hokan language.

The Salinans offered prayer to the golden eagle, the sun, and the moon. Shamans controlled the weather. Souls went to a western land of the dead. Initiation into religious societies was important, probably in the context of the Kuksu and/or the toloache (a hallucinogenic root) cults.

Clans as well as a Deer–Bear ceremonial division may have existed in aboriginal times. Although generosity with property was considered a virtue, loans of currency came with high rates of interest. Girls did not undergo a formal puberty ceremony. The boys' puberty ceremony involved the use of jimsonweed (datura, which was also used for pain relief). Although the Salinans observed no formal marriage ceremony, marriage was formalized by gift giving and other customs, and divorce was relatively easy to obtain. The dead were cremated. The people played a traditional bone game, shinny, ball races, games of strength, and possibly hoop-and-pole (in which an arrow was shot through a rolling hoop) games. Shamans cured. They also poisoned and specialized in black magic. Medical treatments included bleeding, scarification, herbs, and sweat baths.

Both coiled and twined baskets were used for a number of purposes. Stone tools included scrapers, choppers, points, mortars, pestles, and bowls. Bone and shell tools included awls, wedges, and fish-hooks. Wooden tools included mortars, combs, and spoons. Musical instruments included cocoon rattles, elderwood rattles and flutes, musical bows, rasps, bone whistles, and drums. The Salinans also had calendars, numerical and measuring systems, and some knowledge of astronomy. They cooked basket-leached acorn meal in an earth oven.

The Salinans and Yokuts enjoyed friendly relations, including visiting, mutual use of resources, and trade. The former traded beads and unworked shells for salt-grass salt, seeds, obsidian, lake fish, and possibly tanned hides. They also traded with other groups for wooden dishes, steatite vessels, and ornaments. Trade competition for the inland market for shells led to much enmity, particularly with the Costanoans. Beads of mussel and shell formed the basis of a local currency.

In 1771 the Spanish constructed San Antonio de Padua, the first mission in Salinan territory. By 1790 this was the largest mission in California. Mission San Miguel followed in 1797 and also expanded rapidly. Under some pressure, most Salinans abandoned their aboriginal customs and became acculturated to mission life. After 1834 and the secularization of the missions, the Salinan experienced a rapid depopulation, primarily as a result of intermarriage and assimilation. Survivors either worked on the large rancheros or else remained in their original homeland as small-scale ranchers and hunters and gatherers. By the 1880s, most of the few remaining Salinans worked on the large cattle ranches that spread throughout the area, retaining a memory of their Indian heritage as well as close contact with each other. Until the 1930s there was a Salinan community not far from Mission San Antonio known as The Indians. The Northern division of Salinans became associated with the former mission; the Southern with the latter mission.

 

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