Chumash Memory: Dance, Oral Histories, and Objects

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:20 AM
Columbia Hall 2 (Washington Hilton)
Lisbeth Haas, University of California, Santa Cruz
This paper explores the production of indigenous memory and historical narratives among Chumash people in Spanish colonial missions and nineteenth century California.  In the colonial era, Indigenous individuals narrated Chumash histories through painting, writing, and dance.  The records that reveal or depict native narration shifted in the late nineteenth century to oral histories, and to a focus on objects that individuals and communities selected to represent their pasts. I am particularly interested in the indigenous sacred regalia and other things that Chumash individuals from Santa Ines and elsewhere gave to French ethnologists in the late nineteenth-century, and to the stories they told during that era.  The paper focuses on the particular kind of historical narration produced in oral records and objects.  It sets those late nineteenth century narrations of the Chumash past in conversation with colonial era painting, writing, and dance. Each genre emerged as part of a reworking of colonial or national frameworks.  The sources also speak to elements of a Chumash historical imagination that had its own logic and form.  The paper’s analysis of Chumash historical narratives contributes to the larger debate about the construction of memory in indigenous communities, especially within the context of traumatic historical events. These affected the communities’ relationship to language, time, and place.  The paper is cognizant of, and discusses, the methodological problems involved in analyzing constructions of memory through oral sources and objects, and the delicacy needed when memories are produced under difficult circumstances.