During the times of oral tradition, important lessons were passed down through allegory that could be remembered telling after telling, generation after generation.  Allegories included mnemonic devices such as familiar local animals or prominent landscape characteristics.  Santa Susana Pass near Chatsworth, California is an ancient crossroads that was occupied prehistorically by the Chumash, Tongva and Tataviam Native Californians.  Before the railroad came in 1905 and tunneled through the life-sustaining aquifer, the land at the pass was a lively place to hunt and gather.  Now the water is mostly gone, but the landmarks of oral tradition remain in the rocks and still tell the old stories.

Gavilán and the Land of the Dead

“Gavilán” Sparrowhawk   Photo by Greg Hume

Gavilán was a widower who missed his wife. He traveled to the Land of the Dead and asked her to come back with him.  She agreed she could return with him as long it we would agree not to touch her for nine days.  He made the promise and kept it…for eight days.  On the ninth day he could no longer resist his wife and tried to mate with her.  Having broken his promise, his wife could no longer stay with him and began her return to the Land of the Dead.

The wife told Gavilán that she was now forbidden to him, but he chased her with determination.  She turned to him and said:

“What do you want with me – is it this you want?” And she pulled out her vulva and threw it at him. He dodged, and it flew against the rock and imprinted itself there, and there it is yet in the mountains above the town of Chatsworth.

Her vulva imprinted itself on the rocks.

Then she disappeared, and he was so sad at losing her that he climbed into the mountains and sat down and turned into stone.

He sat down and turned to stone.

Reference: Harrington, John P. 1942. Cultural Element Distributions: XIX, Central California Coast. University of California Anthropological Records 7(1):1-46.


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