*updated and expanded*
‘Ra’wiyawi & Munits
[Excerpted from the ethnographic record]
The original name for Castle Peak was reported as kas’ele’ew by José Juan Olivas and kas’elewen by Sétimo López, both versions being based on the Ventureño Chumash word for ‘tongue’. This peak is featured prominently in a myth written down by Carobeth Harrington on the evening of November 9, 1917 (Johnson 1997b).
The story begins:
’Ra’wiyawi was the name of the capitán of Tujunga Juan [Menéndez]’s mother used to tell stories (especially this story) y aquí salía un canción, aquí y aquí (Juan M. illustrates by drawing with his finger on the table, the songs branching off here and here, etc. [They] learned the stories from her but cannot tell them like she did. . . . ’Ra’wiyawi must have been his name, because that is what the calandria [meadowlark] called him when the calandria went to notify the cerviol [stag] (the capitán grande) of the mischief ’Ra’wiyawi had been doing – that is what the calandria sings now: kasisoko’ ’ra’wiyawi, kasisoko’ ’ra’wiyawi [‘soon’Ra’wiyawi comes] [Harrington 1986: Rl. 106, Fr. 188, with minor revisions]
The story of ’Ra’wiyawi is told in three parts and has to do with the misadventures and deaths of ’Ra’wiyawi, his daughter, son, and wife. A somewhat different version of this myth had been recorded in 1852 by Hugo Reid (1968:55-63) and included many of the same narrative elements; however, the narrative as related by Menéndez was more detailed and specified several places in the vicinity of El Escorpión. The first part of the myth pertains to ’Ra’wiyawi’s daughter, who married a man from a ranchería (Hahamonga, according to Reid [1968:55]) and eventually was rejected and sent home because of her gluttony. In the end, she was consumed by the “Mother of the Waters” at a place where the people of her ranchería made storage baskets.
The second part of the myth pertains to the killing of ’Ra’wiyawi’s son, who was blamed for his sister’s death. A sorcerer named Munits, who lived inside a cave on the Calabasas side of the peak behind El Escorpión, was paid by ’Ra’wiyawi to avenge his daughter’s death. Munits captured ’Ra’wiyawi’s son and dismembered him, throwing the body parts out of his cave to the people who sought the son’s return. When he saw his people’s sorrow, ’Ra’wiyawi ordered the death of Munits. Munits was surprised while he slept on top of Castle Peak by the Gavilán (Hawk) who tore open his belly, releasing the partly digested clover he had just eaten. This is why some clover is bitter to the taste. After the loss of her children, ’Ra’wiyawi’s wife retreated up Little Tujunga Canyon in grief and turned to stone, this resulting in the name tuxúnga, meaning ‘old woman place’ (Table 9).
The third and final part of the ’Ra’wiyawi narrative describes how he became embittered and wandered about, causing grief for the people of other rancherías. Eventually the Cerviol (stag) convinced ’Ra’wiyawi to cease doing harm, and then, like his wife, ’Ra’wiyawi turned to stone somewhere in the mountains near Tujunga (Harrington 1986: Rl. 106, Fr. 188-194).
In the ’Ra’wiyawi narrative, several features in the vicinity of the Simi Hills are mentioned. The place called El Zapo (called kwárung by Sétimo López) was where ’Ra’wiyawi’s daughter was killed by the “Mother of the Waters,” and the picacho of El Escorpión (Castle Peak) was where the brujo (sorcerer) Munits lived, who killed the son of ’Ra’wiyawi and who himself was killed as he slept on top of the peak.
TODAY’S CAVE OF MUNITS
The original Cave of Munits at the peak of Kas’ele’ew has long since caves in. The new Cave of Munits is about 1/4 down the ridge from Kas’ele’ew/Castle Peak. What has come to be called The Cave of Munits is along the El Scorpion Canyon Park trail and is one of my favorite places to take visiting guests to explore. It is a very exciting, huge, picturesque chimney cave full of the creepy echoes of birds living in its recesses.
I attended a medicinal plant workshop given by James D. Adams, Jr., protege of a Chumash medicine person. He told us about the Datura plant (Jimson Weed) that was used to induce out-of-body experiences in young people who were coming of age. This out-of-body experience would last for several days and would give them time to visit the spirit world and discover their purpose in life. The shaman would tend the nearly dead youth throughout the ordeal, sustaining life, and sometimes reviving them. I imagine the shaman was walking a pretty thin line during those days when it came time to soul walk with the children of the chiefs. I think it is interesting that Datura grows at the mouth of many sacred caves I visit in the California deserts.
The cave is extremely well kept considering the amount of graffiti one sees in most cave-like spaces so close to the city. It is also said that there used to be pictographs on the walls of the cave, but sadly they have been erased by careless visitors.
My kids and I like to joke that Munits sounds more like the name of a Jewish podiatrist than a Chumash shaman. I like to tell my boys that I want to go see Docta Mew-nitz (pronounced with exaggerated New York accent) and tell him that my corns are killing me. It usually gets a laugh if I really ham it up.
It is late and I don’t have many words left in me for the day. I will let the photos speak for themselves. Beauty sometimes just can’t be explained, it can only be appreciated once beheld.