by Glenn Miller
Modern man lives in a society ruled by clocks and calendars. We depend on wristwatches and appointment books to tell us when things are happening. But, how many of us would know when the seasons begin without looking at a printed calendar? Like other Native Peoples, the Tongva had a “natural” sense of time. Their lives and activities revolved around the observed cycles of nature, including the Sun, Moon, and stars. This required a wisdom and experience that most of us can only imagine.
The exact year of any event was not noted by the Tongva. Instead, they were only interested in remembering the “anniversaries” of important occasions (deaths, celebrations, etc.). This system worked well for a people who cherished the repeated rhythms of their world.
Their calendar was primarily based on the Sun, in particular the solstices (the beginning of summer and winter). In fact, the Tongva “year” started on the day of the winter solstice (near December 21st) because they knew that the Sun would be getting higher in the sky …bringing the growth and warmth of spring and summer. In addition, they believed that the solstices were so significant that the whole lunar system (which defined their “months”) was affected by them. As a result, their calendar had 10 “months” because the period near each solstice lasted twice as long (containing an extra “moon”). Therefore, there were 8 “regular” months, and 2 “big” months (near each solstice) which all had names that aptly described some aspect of nature as follows:
“The Month of Cold and Hunting” (December and January)
“The Month of Little Rain” or “The Little Tree Sprouting Month” (February)
“The Big Tree Sprouting Month” (March)
“The Green Grass Month” or “The Rise of the Waters Month” (April)
“The Month of Roots” (May)
“The Month When the Young Eagles Fly” (June and part of July)
“The Brown and Sear Month” (August and part of July)
“The Month of Wild Fruits” or “The Gray Goose Month” (September)
“The Wind Whistling Month” (October)
“The Big Whistling Month” or “The Month of Nuts and Acorns” (November)
To reckon these months the lunar phases were used. They noticed that the Moon started as a very thin crescent and got bigger until it reached Full Moon, then it got smaller and smaller until it vanished completely for a few days (at New Moon). Consequently, the reappearance of the Moon was welcomed with dancing by the old men and a race by the younger ones. The old men would also sing a song of hope…”As the Moon dieth and cometh to light again so we, also having to die, will live again!” As always, the circle of life in all things was re-affirmed by a people who embraced it.
Chinigchinich by Fr. Geronimo Boscana (1933);
California’s Gabrielino Indians by Bernice Johnston (1962);
Handbook of North American Indians – California (Vol. 8) by Robert F. Heizer (1978);
The Yang-Na Indians by the Office of the Superintendent, Los Angeles City Schools (1946)