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Achumawi

Worldview

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The Achumawi did not have formalized religious practices (ceremonies, rituals or priests), instead, their "life is permeated through and through with religion. But it is not organized religion" (Angulo, Achumawi Sketches 80). Furthermore, they did not have any formal creation myths, but rather many stories about the time before humans when "the world was peopled by 'men-animals' and later on these men-animals lost their humanhood and became mere animals, and real humans appeared on the earth" (Angulo, Achumawi Sketches 83). Stories were customarily told during the long winter months when it was too cold to leave the winter-houses, which had no windows and were lit only by firelight (Angulo, Achumawi Sketches 84).

Angulo provided the following quote from an Achumawi "friend" which gives a glimpse into their view of the supernatural world:

All things have life in them. Trees have life, rocks have life, mountains, water, all these are full of life. You think a rock is something dead. Not at all. It is full of life. When I came here to visit you, I took care to speak to everything around here.... I sent my smoke to everything. That was to make friends with all things. No doubt there were many things that watched me in the night.... They must have been talking to each others. The stones talk to each other just as we do, and the trees too, the mountains talk to each other. You can hear them sometimes if you pay close attention, especially at night, outside.... I do not forget them. I take care of them, and they take care of me (Angulo, Achumawi Life-Force 61).
Angulo describes the Achumawi as possessing a "personal shadow" made of light, called delamdzi. He asserts that delamdzi is not akin to what we know as the soul, but it is something that leaves the person during sleep: "'You can hear it sometimes in the morning, just before you wake up. It comes from over the mountains. It comes from the East. It comes singing: 'Dawn is rising. I come. I come Dawn is rising. I come. I come'" (Achumawi Life-Force 61). If a person was to lose their shadow for some reason, even though they appeared to be still alive, the person was considered to be dead (Angulo, Achumawi Life-Force 61). Singing of songs was an important part of daily life and "esthetic pleasure to a means of mystical communion with the mysterious forces of life and the world" and the Achumawi were known to sing songs for many hours at a time. Singers often knew two to three hundred songs, some of which were acquired through dreams and were thought to be associated with "power" particularly in the case of shamans. (Angulo, Achumawi Sketches 83).

Among the Achumawi, shamans (doctors), either male or female, were called to the position by means of visions and then apprenticed under elder shamans. Doctors acquired their powers from their tamakomi, roughly translated as "'power', 'medicine', and 'poison'." They treated patients by calling on their tamakomi by singing and smoking, then asking it to discover and deal with the source of the illness. Shaman also treated patients by sucking out the root of the illness (Olmstead and Stewart 232-234). At the beginning of the salmon runs, the shamans observed dietary taboos against eating fresh fish and meat, which helped to ensure heavy salmon runs and a plentiful catch (Powers 270).

Some animals were prized for their supernatural powers. Hummingbird feathers were believed to bring luck in gambling, as did the beaver. Reptiles were also thought to possess supernatural power, and as with most California Indians, Coyote was considered to have significant supernatural powers (Olmstead and Stewart 228-229).

 

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