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Early Honors for Mom

Event focuses on the Valley's matriarchal Tongva tribe.


Sunday is Mother's Day, a holiday celebrated by many local families for most of this century on a single day in May. But for folks who lived in the Valley prior to that, namely the Native Americans who settled here in earlier millenniums, every day was Mother's Day.

"They were a matriarchal society and their creator-god was a woman," explained Kathryn James, a docent who will be giving an outdoor presentation entitled "Native Ways" on Saturday at the Sooky Goldman Nature Center in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

At the event, children and adults will learn about the family life of the local Tongva tribes, sometimes called Gabrielinos, and find out how to make Native American craft items out of natural, locally available materials. James will also display a model, which shows how the Tongva used these materials to build homes.

It was a good idea to be nice to one's mother in this particular society, James' research has revealed. This was because women, specifically the mothers of candidates for the job of tribal chief, had final say on whom the leader would be. "They chose him and they could take him out of power, too," James said. And they saw to it that children didn't fail in their community responsibilities. Older children were responsible for younger children.

With the help of flash cards, James will teach modern denizens of the Valley how to identify some of the plants and animals that for ancient peoples provided food and medicine--flora and fauna that can still be found in undeveloped parts of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Beginning in 5,000 BC, until the Spanish colonial era, the Tongva had settlements in what are now Encino, San Fernando, Big and Little Tujunga canyons, Universal City and Chatsworth.

One craft item that James will show visitors how to make is a "bull roar"--a kind of noisemaker, like a flat, wooden version of the Argentine bolas that gauchos use to catch animals.

The Tongva version, however, is perforated to make a mighty whine--or roar--when it is swung overhead on its string. It's not for throwing but for signaling--sort of a Native American air-raid siren, except in their day the problem wasn't enemy bombers but marauding bears. It was also used to hail protective spirits, similar to the ringing of bells during celebrations today. The Spanish padres who heard the sound likened it to the roar of a bull.

James said kids will be provided with the materials to make the noisemakers, but she won't allow them to use the things right away without adult supervision, lest they bop one another at the nature center.

She also warns about the careless use of them later, especially in the house.

After all, no one wants to upset mom, especially around Mother's Day.


"Native Ways," from 1 to 3 p.m. Sat., will explore the heritage of Native Americans who lived in the Valley. The free, interactive, outdoor presentation will be at the Sooky Goldman Nature Center, 2600 Franklin Canyon Drive, near Coldwater Canyon and Mulholland Drive. For reservations, which are required, and directions, call (310) 858-3090.

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