Introduction and Origins

The Quechan people (pronounced Kwuh-tsan), also known as the Yuma, Yuman, Kwtsan, currently reside the South West of the United States on the Yuma Reservation. The Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation is located along both sides of the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona. The reservation borders the states of Arizona, California, Baja California and Mexico. (http://www.itcaonline.com/tribes_quechan.html). The Quechan do not have a written language and at the present time there are less than 200 people who can speak it fluently. Their tribal name comes from their creation myth, taken from the name of a special trail that goes down from the top of avikwame called xam kwatca’n. (Forde 86) The term Yuma derives from a name given by the Pima for the Quechan and the related groups the Kamya, Diegueno and the Maricopa.  (Forde 89) While little is known about the Quechan language group it is suggested by Kroeber that their language is most similar to the Halchidhoma, Maricopa and Mohave. (Forde 106)

The Quechan have always been linked to the Colorado River, which is where their historical record begins. (Forbes 5) The Colorado River with its annual, silt heavy flooding was a crucial factor in the development of Quechan culture. (Forbes 7) Three periods are identified in the area: Yuman I, II and III. Yuman I started sometime between 450AD to 1050AD and ended about 1050. Yuman II started 1050 and ended about 1450 with Yuman III starting about 1450. (Rogers 168-195)  The name is somewhat of a misnomer because the people originally in the region where not the Quechan or Yumas of today. Rogers states that these ceramic cultures which evolved over these three periods were influenced by the Anasazi and the Hohokam but Forbes disagrees that the Hohokam had any major influence on the development of River Yuman cultures because of their distinct differences. (Forbes 18) It is thought that Quechan and other River Yuman cultures came from the Gila Basin to the Colorado River, which is supported by Pima stories of invaders from the East. (Forbes 19-21)

The Quechan’s account of their own history is just as important as the findings of non-native archaeologists and historians. In Quechan culture the role of dreamers is very important in Quechan culture. Dreamers are more respected and revered than other members of society and this respect translates to leadership. (Forbes 68) Quechan history and myths originate from these dreamers and are agreed upon, making them less subject to variation. (Harrington 463) The information here is taken from Tsuyukwerau, or Joe Homer, revered as the best dreamer among the Quechan at the time the story was transcribed (1908). The Quechan creation myth focuses on several characters the first of which are Kwikumat and the Blind Old Man. Kwikumat made the moon and then made people making a not only a Yuma man and woman but also a Cocopa, Maricopa, and Diegueno men and women. (Harrington 467) The Blind Old Man attempted to make people but they did not have fingers or toes and so they became river animals instead. The men were then given names and the women learned to speak from the men. When the Yuma woman disobeyed Kwuikumat he turned all of the men into beasts except for the Yuma man who named Marxokuvek, who would help him to fix the world. The first men and women who had godlike powers explained to the first people how to live and where each of the different peoples would live. Marxokuvek was the first Quechan but he would eventually die and be carried down the Colorado river-valley and be buried at the base of Mokwintaorv Mountain or Newberry Mountain. (Harrington 487) From this creation myth comes the Karuk, the Quechan mourning ceremony which is still an important tribal ritual. (Miller 5)

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