For over 7,000 years, the Tongva had settled the Los Angeles-Orange County basin and developed a complex society of fiercely independent towns and villages with democratic governments, sophisticated arts, and rich spiritual traditions.

Their lives centered about the concept that all life is one: human, animal, plant, the spirit world, and even the world of stone and mineral. They felt a responsibility to and for the world about them. They hunted and fished carefully. They harvested foods from the land and the sea aware of the delicate balance of humans, animals, and plants. They shared with all who visited or passed through their rich world.

Yet within a single lifetime, all would be changed forever, and almost all would be gone.

In 1542 came Cabrillo and in 1602 Sebastian Vizcaino. While they passed through without settling, seeds of new diseases began to spread. In 1769 the Spaniards returned. In 1771 San Gabriel Mission was established on the site of Sibangna and an era of captive forced labor began. Tongva customs, clothing, food, language, and spiritual values would be swept aside in forced conversions.

Seven revolts from 1771 to the 1830′s shook the land but all were put down with European ferocity. The most famous revolt was that of 1785 under the leadership of Toypurina, a spiritual leader and daughter of a chief.

Disease decimated the people. Measles, influenza, tuberculosis, syphilis, and dysentery were all part of the tragedy that struck the Tongva. The traditional custom of bathing twice a day was stopped by the Church and the dietary practices were altered from the old foods to a starchy mush.

With Mexico’s independence from Spain (1823-1824), Mission lands were transformed into Mexican ranches and the Tongva were kept on as free labor without rights or liberties.

The change to American California in 1850 did nothing to improve the lives of the Tongva who were looked on as “trespassers” on their own lands.

The great rivers were dammed and altered, and the forests cut down. The herds and flocks of wild life have disappeared. Under the massive city of Los Angeles and its suburbs the world of the Tongva lies buried. Old footpaths and trade trails now are congested freeways. Only a few placenames remain.

But like their folk-hero Coyote, the Tongva survived. Like wild flowers blooming where least expected and under harsh conditions they have emerged in the later half of the 20th century as a living people with a rich culture that is part of California’s heritage.

The music and songs are still heard. The language is spoken, hesitantly and slowly, but it is heard. Tongva women gather plant materials and weave their baskets. Festivals and dance gatherings are held. Storytellers, spiritual guides, and elders beam with pride.

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