by Mati Waiya
Within the Chumash Nation, there are northern, southern, and central peoples, who have traditionally resided along the coasts, on the islands, in the mountains and valleys, and by the rivers. In a village, everyone has a role. This is to maintain continuity and balance. Traditional Knowledge was and is inspired by paying attention to the wisdom of the elders and traditional leaders.
Our people are known historically for advanced money (bead) system, complicated and stunning basketry, cave paintings, and for being a maritime culture. Every member of the various Chumash communities were aware of their roles. There were hunters, gatherers, medicine people, tomol (canoe) makers, basket weavers, money makers, and people who observed the seasons and the stars. They observed their affect upon the land and the wilderness. The lessons of nature taught them the balance between mind and nature, and they witnessed the consequences of disrespecting their environment.
People learned the Three Basic laws first-hand: Limitation, Moderation and Compensation.
Limitation: Realize our limitations; we are going to live and we will die; we can only do so much. Once we identify and accept our limitations, we can better accept who we are as individuals.
Moderation: Harvest from the lands and oceans just what we need; leave some for another day and for others. This applies to our work as well, leave some for tomorrow; don't try to do everything at once.
Compensation: If you want to do something for your children, for the land, or for another person, do it because it's inside your heart; don't expect anything in return. Compensation can come in many forms; it can be a child, or happiness, or health, or wealth. It often comes when you need it most, and you least expect it. That is true compensation.
We can apply these three laws mentally and physically, and we can live by them.
Time and Seasons
When we become a part of nature, and let nature become a part of us, we start to understand the time that nature lives by, a natural time. Salmon live by nature's time; they know when to swim upstream to spawn; the birds know when to fly south, or north - nature tells them.
The Chumash lived by Nature's time, not man's time. When we pay attention to the seasons, and the changes, and the helpers and the keepers from each direction, we gain useful lessons about life; they help us understand our role in it. Each season held a special place in relationship with life's cycles.
People are going against the grain and living by the time of man. If we live by the time of nature, I believe people will be enlightened.
The North is the Winter
It is the color white. This represents the New Sun, and the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. In winter there is a cold wind, and the sun begins its new cycle and a new year begins.
The Eagle and the Bear symbolize the winter season. The eagle represents man's pride and strength. The eagle, with its great vision observes the land and if it sees danger, warns the Bear. The Bear represents the strength of Mother Earth; no other creature is stronger. The Bear protects the land.
The South is the Summer
It is the color blue, for the warm winds and the soft waves of the ocean. The Chumash thrived as a maritime culture.
The Owl and the Snake represent the Summer season. The Owl represents clarity of mind and spirit, and wisdom. The Snake represents the sensitive side of the Mother. The snake's body is pressed against Mother Earth, feeling its movements and emotions, moving like waves across its surface. It senses her passion.
The East is the Spring
It is the color yellow, for the Rise of the Sun and the birth of new life.
The Hawk and the Deer represent the Spring season. The Hawk is the Deer's helper. Chumash legend has it that the Hawk returned the missing sun on its red-tipped tail. The Deer symbolizes Life. Every part of a Deer is consumed: its hide, its meat, its bones and antlers, its hooves - nothing is lost or wasted. There are stories, songs and dances, for the Spring.
The West is the Fall
The color of Fall is Red, for the colors of the sky when the sun sets. This is the direction where life exits the land.
The Fall is a time of Transition, the time of the Dolphin and its helper, the Raven. As the Rainbow Bridge story tells it, when the Chumash crossed over from the islands to the mainland, on the Rainbow Bridge, the Creator told them not to look down, or they would die. However, some could not resist. Instead of letting them die, the Creator saved them, turning them into Dolphins. Hence, the transition - from humans to Dolphins. The Ravens are chatterboxes; they constantly talk and speak names, communicating, carrying messages from one place to another. They watch the spirits exit this world where the sun sets and the Milky Way makes its path.
The Chumash are the Keepers of the Western Gate. We have to pay attention to the seasons, the changes of the land, the language of nature and the voices of its creatures. They give us insight about balance between us and our surroundings. They teach us respect for the plants that heal us, and make our homes. The lessons teach us sustainability, and how to maintain our relationship with nature.
It is a balance of survival.
Balance and Sustainability
We need to respect this balance and be responsible for it, as were our ancestors. The three bodies of life - land, air and water - sustain us; we are dependent on them for our existence and survival. The Chumash tribes came together each year, to share our stories, and meet the newborn, and dance together. We shared our knowledge and our experiences with each other.
Man wants to control everything; this is a problem. Man's greed interrupts nature's way of life. We need to incorporate nature's laws into man's laws. In today's world, we have forgotten this balance. We have forgotten our responsibility. Our mind's eye - our 3rd eye - knows this; one cannot ignore their inner thoughts and visions. It drives our interpretation of what we deem right or wrong. Through our sacred fires, our ceremonies, our dances, we remember: m'uptamai - memory - the visions of our past. This can never be taken away from our people. We carry our ancestors' thoughts and ways. The prayers and ceremonies teach us to respect our balance with nature. We must listen.
The more we remove ourselves from nature's role - our natural role - the more we will become obsolete; we won't be a part of it. What we do in this century will set the stage for future generations. From the strongest to the weakest, we have to remember that we are ALL in this together. It is said, without man, this world would flourish. It is true. We have to learn to live in this world in a sustainable way. Life will continue, it will find itself again, with or without us.
"...I believe in the sun and the stars, the water the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking. they're measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How healthy we are. Because we and they are the same. That's what I believe in."--Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually Elder
We can not justify our way of looking at the world if it's only to benefit man.
If our children swim in toxic, polluted waters, we pull them out. If a bird drinks from that water, little do we know if it flies away and dies. We don't want to realize the consequences of what we've done. We have become greedy; we consume and we waste our precious resources.
There was a time when people quenched their thirst with fresh water, they respected and appreciated every drink they took from that water, because it took time and effort to get it; it didn't just come out of a faucet. We were involved in what we had, what we used. Our food and our resources, as well as our songs and stories, were a gift. The wood, the willow and the tule were gifts. Nature gave us the materials to build our homes. The sacred fire kept us safe and warm.
Little by little people are waking up to the fact that we need to be responsible for the impact of what we do with respect to the environment. We cannot benefit from our luxuries without recognizing that we are going to pay the price for it. Unfortunately, too often Man is oblivious or in denial of the consequences of his actions that are harmful to nature's system of life.
We are losing that connection to an effort. It is critical to change the standard back to a normal. The standard is a condition that man has made. It is a chosen method of relating what life should be versus what life IS.
When children experience the natural environment a seed is planted in their minds of their natural role. Nature will introduce them to their responsibility for it in the future. Nature teaches us. The children need to be able to develop a relationship with nature so they can experience the profound knowledge that exists with in it and become aware of their interconnection
A child's mind is like a 'crystal', which contains strength and power, if you discover how to use it.
There are many paths from which to choose. We need to put the children on the right path, without influencing them with current beliefs that are harming us, our wildlife and our planet.
Three Important Phrases:
1. Planting a Seed
Plant a seed in a child's mind that will give them a stronger understanding for the future.
2. The Eyes of the Children
Children's eyes do not lie. Pay attention to them. We can learn from them.
3. Building a Foundation
Build a foundation for a new world, which consists of better choices. Leave behind a legacy of knowledge. The ongoing practice of customs and traditions secures our survival in the modern world.
There are sounds that can break through stone, and there are words that can give us understanding. There is no difference between the two, if we pay attention. Sometimes we need to be out in the sun, sometimes we need to be in the mountains, or in the oceans or the rivers. We need to stop and listen to the wind, the voices of the past, the breath of life. We need to feel nature, our wilderness, and be cleansed.
Listen to the songs - whether from a bird, or from a coyote. We also make sounds that are not words. Learn to pay attention to the elements; they have a body and a strength of their own. Wind, water and fire have their own life and spirit; we can't control them. That's why floods, earthquakes and fires put man in check.
We need to stop and listen to the voice of the past. If we open our minds and pay attention, we receive the knowledge that nature is trying to give, like waves crashing on the shore: we can look at them like hands reaching out for help, because the sea creatures are dying. Once again, we can't justify our way of looking at the world, if it is only for the benefit of Mankind.
Within ancient stones lies the memory of the past and the knowledge of the future. Sometimes we awaken the stones, through ceremonies, when we heat them up. When we water the heated stones, the steam coming from the stones is the breath of the ancestors, the breath of life that gives us insight and allows us to share our dreams and prayers.
Death has beauty; death brings birth. When we talk about life, we don't talk about death. But they go hand in hand. There is a beautiful side to death: the songs for remembering, the stories and messages people left to us. We carry the spirits of those we love who have passed away. We can feel their presence; they live on inside of us.
When we think of the life of a human, where does that life lie - in the body, or in the heart and mind? The feelings we feel are not physical; they are internal, like our personalities. Within all of us lies the spirit, the sacredness.
When you have lost your loved ones - your family and friends, and you find yourself with the memories they left behind, it gives you the understanding that you too will pass.
When someone dies, they are remembered by songs and stories. They live in a memory; their spirit, their identity, their power, and their sacredness exist within us.
Story - The Birth of a Rainbow
When a seed of water falls from a cloud in the sky, and lands upon Mother earth, the Mother gives birth to a Rainbow. The Rainbow reaches up from the earth and goes around in the sky. It brings us a promise, for the past and for the future. There is beauty at both ends of life; the Mother's love inspires us and touches our hearts at both ends of the Rainbow.
Chumash Word: tuhuy - rain
The Rainbow Bridge
Wishtoyo is a bridge connecting the past and the future. The creator told the Chumash people on Santa Cruz Island to cross over the rainbow bridge to the mainland, where there was an abundance of land and food for their families. Wishtoyo Foundation is building a bridge to bring an understanding about the relationship between nature and man. And this education and knowledge will hopefully bring a sense of security and abundance for the future and allow us to look through the eyes of our ancestors…who nurtured and respected our planet.