Chinigchinich, All Powerful and Almighty
Spanish dominion over Alta Califonia radically changed the lives of indigenous people. During the Mission Period in Alta California (AD 1769-1834), Franciscans served over the native peoples, observing and critiquing their native languages, customs, and beliefs. While it was the goal of these missions to "train" the Indians, in the nineteenth century, the Spanish government sent out questionnaires to see if any native people had still retained their ways. Surprisingly, the padres of Mission San Juan Capistrano responded that yes, the local people - the Acjachemen - still retained many of their traditions, their dances, their customs, and their beliefs. This included their beliefs in the great Chinigchinich.
One padre, Father Geronimo Boscana, recorded his observations, providing one of the most detailed written records of indigenous beliefs in Southern California (while Mission San Juan Capistrano was in what is considered Acagchemen land, native people in the region traveled between tribes, traded, intersected, and shared traditions). While at the mission between 1812 and 1826, Boscana produced his work, Chinigchinich – A Historical Account of the Origin, Customs, and Traditions of the Indians at the Missionary Establishment of St. Juan Capistrano, Alta California Called the Acagchemem Nation, in response to the 1812 questionnaire. While his belief is infused with his own personal beliefs regarding native culture and the superiority of Spanish ways, the account is still one of the best records of local tribes in the region. Chapter 3 ( Of the Creation of the World According to Those Residing on the Sea-Coast) covers the creation stories of those at San Juan Capistrano.
The great God, Chinigchinich, was a sky chief and supernatural force. He first appeared to the people after the death of their old tyrant, Ouiot:
After the death of Ouiot, they remained, for some time, undecided, whether to inter his remains, or to burn them; however, it was determined by the elders, that they should do the latter. The fire was prepared, the body placed upon a pile erected for the occasion, and fearing that the “Coyote” would come, and eat him, they sent out and burnt his retreat; but he had made his escape, and soon presented himself at the place of sacrifice, declaring he would be burnt with his captain; and, suddenly leaping upon the pile, he tore off from his stomach a large piece of flesh, and ate it. The remainder of the body was afterwards consumed by the flames. The name of the Coyote was Eyacque, which implies second captain; and from this time they changed his name to that of Eno; signifying a thief and cannibal, and thieves were generally termed Eyoton, derived from Eno and Ouiot…
After burning [Ouiot’s] body, a general council was called, to make provision for the collecting of grain and seeds; the acorns, &c., &c., and the flesh of animals; such as deer, rabbits, hares, squirrels, rats, and all kinds which they fed upon. While consulting together, they beheld for several days, and at distinct times, a spectre, unlike themselves, who appeared and disappeared; sometimes in one direction and sometimes in another. Alarmed at its appearance, they determined to speak to it. Having summoned it to their presence, inquiries were made if he were their Captain Ouiot. “I am not Ouiot,” said he, “but a captain of greater power; and my name is Chinigchinich. My habitation is above. On what matters are you debating, and why are you thus congregated?” he inquired. “Our captain is dead,” said they “we have come to his interment, and were discussing in what manner to maintain ourselves upon the seeds of the fields, and the flesh of animals without being obliged to live upon the clay, or earth, as we have done.” Having listened to their answer, he spake unto them, and said, I create all things; I will make you another people, and from this time, one of you shall be endowed with the power to cause it to rain, another to influence the dews, another to produce the acorn, another to create rabbits, another ducks, another geese, another deer.”
Chinigchinich brought order to realm, gave them laws, and anyone who followed his precepts could claim part of his power:
Chinigchinich, after having conferred the power, as we have said, upon the descendants of Ouiot, about the time of “dixet et factum est,” created man, forming him of clay found upon the borders of a lake. Both male and female he created, and the Indians of the present day are descendants of these. He then said unto them these words–“Him who obeyeth me not, or believeth not in my teachings, I will chastise–to him I will send bears to bite, serpents to sting, misfortunes, infirmities, and death.” He taught them the laws they were to observe for the future, as well as their rites and ceremonies. His first commandment was to build a temple where they might pay to him adoration, offer up sacrifices, and have religious worship. The plan of this building [i.e., the wamkech] was regulated by himself. From this time they looked upon Chinigchinich as God. The Indians say, he had neither father nor mother, and they are entirely ignorant of his origin. The name Chinigchinich signifies “all-powerful” or “almighty,” and it is believed by the Indians, that he was ever present, and in all places: he saw every thing, although it might be in the darkest night, but no one could see him. He was a friend to the good, but the wicked he chastised.
Click the file below to read the full account of Friar Boscana's Chinigchinich.