“Los Quatro Americanos:” (included Dana, see the Blond Ranchero, p. 74-79)
Francis (Franicsco) Ziba Branch (1802-1874): Francis Ziba Branch was born in upstate New York in 1802 and left his family at an early age to make his own way in the world. In 1830, after various experiences including sailing ventures on Lake Erie, he joined, at St. Louis, a trading party bound for Santa Fe. While there Branch joined the Wolfshill trapping party and came with them to California in the Spring of 1831. A few of the party decided to remain, Branch among them. He married Maria Dominga Manuela Carlon (1815-1909) in 1835 and he and his wife were granted land in the vicinity of San Luis Obispo. Later, by right of his own grant [Santa Manuela Rancho, granted in 1837] and two others [Pismo and Huer-Huero] which he claimed through his wife’s family and by purchase, he became possessed of one of the largest land holdings in the county. His business prospered and in 1874 he died, leaving a large family to share in a considerable estate. (www.oac.cdlib.org)
The three eldest Branch sons married three Robbins women, who were 1st cousins to the Dana siblings. According to Juan Francisco, “…I remember Don Francisco as a fine man, slightly built but very hardy, and much interested in education. He even sent to New York for a tutor for his children. He built the first schoolhouse at Arroyo Grande and held many public positions in the new county of San Luis Obispo after its formation.” [Blond Ranchero, p. 75]
John Michael Price (1810–1902): John Price was born in England and went to sea at the age of 15. Harsh treatment by the older sailors caused him to jump ship in Mexico. He arrived in Monterey in 1830 and worked as a vaquero on various ranchos in the Salinas Valley before coming to the Rancho Nipomo in 1836. According to Juan Francisco Dana, he became the Rancho’s mayordomo and stayed until 1840. The enterprising vaquero Juan Miguel Prais ran cattle on Rancho El Pizmo as mayordomo before purchasing the land and settling his wife Maria Andrea Carlon (1829-1912) and their young family into old adobes on the rancho—just as California became a state. Maria Andrea Carlon’s sister, Manuela Carlon married Francis Ziba Branch. As American statehood settled over California, John Michael Price readopted his English name and language, established Rancho del Pismo, and founded the town of Pismo. During the 1850’s he was well respected and served as a judge, sheriff and San Luis Obispo County supervisor. [Blond Ranchero, p. 76-79; www.pricepark.org/]
Isaac J. Sparks (1804?–1867): Isaac Sparks was born in Maine and was an otter hunter who came west with the Ewing Young party in 1832. Sparks settled in Santa Barbara, bought a store and also erected the first two-story brick building in town. He also built a one-story adobe and a store and settled down to life of a business man. During an early hunting trip he fought a grizzly bear and lost an eye. [Blond Ranchero, p. 76]
Sparks obtained his Huasna Mexican land grant in Dec. 1843. The land grant included all of the Huasna Creek Valley, a major portion of the Huasna River Valley, part of the Alamo Creek Valley, and ranges of hills between them al and was surveyed and parented in 1872-73 for a total of over 22,000 acres. Like all grantees of the day, Sparks had become naturalized as a Mexican citizen, joined the Catholic Church and married a Mexican woman, Maria de las Remedios Josefa Eayrs. The Sparks never actually lived at Rancho Huasna, preferring instead to be closer to his business holdings in Santa Barbara. However the ranch was stocked with cattle and sheep and its operation was entrusted to John Price. Shortly before his death in 1867, Sparks divided the ranch among two of his three daughters, Manuela Flora Sparks Harloe and Maria Rosa Sparks Porter. (http://www.southcountyhistory.org/huasna.html)
Benjamin William Foxen (1796-1874): Foxen was born in Norfolk, England and joined the British Navy at age 14. He later joined the merchant service and worked his way up to first officer. Later in the Sandwich Islands, he met Alpheus Basil Thompson who was in need of a first officer on his ship which was engaged in the California-Boston hide and tallow trade. After working for Thompson for two years, Foxen went into business for himself. Using his own ship, he made his first visit to San Francisco Bay in 1815 and Santa Barbara in 1818. In 1828 after completing the rebuilding of the schooner Goleta for William G. Dana, Benjamin Foxen captained the ship for several years trading in Alta and Baja California. During his trading, he had met Eduarda Osuna, the step-daughter of Tomas Olivera. As he wished to marry her, he was baptized into the Catholic faith in August, 1830 and given the name of “Domingo,” but the Indians called him “Don Julian.” Guillermo Domingo Foxen and Eduarda Osuna were married at the Mission Santa Barbara in May, 1831. The Foxen was granted the Rancho Tinaquaic in May of 1837. Like his fellow ranchero, William Dana, Don Julian spent many years building up his rancho and large adobe ranch house. In Dec. 1846, his rancho was the next stop for Capt. Fremont in his military drive south towards Santa Barbara after leaving the Rancho Nipomo. Because he was Mexican by adoption, Don Julian decided the wisest thing was for him to remain neutral. Juan Francisco Dana relates his version of the story: “Foxen told him [Fremont] that there was no way to go south except by the narrow Gaviota Pass. So when the rains stopped, Fremont…set out. He was surprised when he got near Santa Ines Mission, to see William, one of Foxen’s sons, riding after the army with a message from his father for Fremont. He said that an ambush had been prepared at the Pass of las Gaviotas and huge boulders were being loosed to be pushed down by the Californios on the gringos as they went through.” Young William Foxen then showed the troops over the tricky San Marcos Pass. Juan Francisco Dana later wrote: “Don Julian surely paid a heavy price for his bravery for many of his native friends turned against him. He was harassed by Indian raids from the Tulares to the east and his home was later burned to the ground.” [Blond Ranchero, p. 27-28]
John Wilson (1797?—1861) and Maria Ramona de Luz Carrillo Pacheco de Wilson (1812—after 1880): Maria Ramona la Luz Carrillo was baptized at the Mission San Juan Capistrano on 24 Jul 1812. Ramona Carrillo and Maria Josefa Carrillo de Dana (b. 1812) were second cousins. At age 14 years old, Ramona married Romualdo Pacheco, native of Guanajuato, at the San Diego Presidio Church on 4 Aug 1826. At the end of 1828, Pacheco was transferred to Santa Barbara, where he was made comandante and later being promoted to lieutenant in 1829. In 1831, he was granted the use of a part of the Simi rancho. While marching with a small part of his company to support Governor Victoria, Pacheco was killed in a fight near Los Angeles on 5 December 1831. Ramona and Romualdo Pacheco had two sons: Mariano Pacheco born 1830 and Romualdo Pacheco, born in Santa Barbara within the month after his father’s death.
The widow, Ramona Pacheco married a second time to Juan (John) Wilson on 9 Nov 1835 (or 1837) at the Santa Barbara Presidio Church. Witnesses to their marriage were Maria Antonia Carrillo and Jose Noriega (Jose de la Guerra y Noriega). Ramona had lived with the De La Guerra family since she was widowed. Captain John Wilson was a Scotch shipmaster and trader who arrived in California about 1826. He became a naturalized Mexican citizen in 1837. He partnered with James Scott and Mr. McKinley in 1845 to purchase part of the Mission San Luis Obispo buildings for $510. Wilson was a grantee of the ranchos Canada del Chorro and Canada de los Osos, where he spent the rest of his life. [Bancroft’s California Pioneer Register and Index, p. 385] Ramona Carrillo de Wilson was granted the Rancho de Suey in 1837 and it was patented and surveyed in 1865, containing over 48,000 acres.
The Dana and Wilsons stood as godparents for a number of their children: John Wilson was a godparent for Juan Francisco Dana; Ramona Carrillo Wilson was a godparent to Jose Ramon Ijinio Dana; both the Wilson’s were godparents for Adelina Elisa Dana (#2) and David Amos Dana. The Danas in turn served as godparents for two of the Wilson girls. Being a godparent was a very serious commitment to make sure the child was raised in the Catholic faith. [Early California Population Project database]
Richard Henry Dana made a return trip to California in 1859 and recorded a chance meeting with Captain John Wilson (who had captained the Ayacucho) on 20 August 1859 aboard the Senator, traveling from San Francisco to San Diego. [History of San Luis Obispo, p. 55]
They lived at the Adobe or on the Rancho:
Maria Isabel Ayala (bapt. 19 Nov 1836—May 1918): Isabel’s parents were Juan Jose Gervasio Ayala and Maria Rafaela de Jesus Arellanes (or Arrellanos). Her father was married to another woman at the time. This couple also had another child, Juan de los Dolores Ayala, born in 1839 and died in April 1841 on the Rancho Nipomo. Isabel’s family stories (and her obituary) have her becoming a ward of the Robbins and Dana families. She was taken into the Dana Family after age 11 “as a daughter.” She reportedly had “several conversations with Capt. John Fremont,” which places her at the rancho in December 1846. She was listed on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census with the Dana family in Nipomo. We have a photograph of Isabel and five small children identified as the Dana children, including a young Adelina Elisa (age about 2 years), placing the photograph about 1850. In 1855, Isabel Ayala was married to Felipe Grajada (abt 1812—1889). Her uncle, Francisco Arrellanos, took her to be married from the rancho to the Mission Santa Barbara on horseback over San Marcos pass. The couple made their home in Santa Barbara, where Mr. Grajada worked on the Mission aqueduct system. The Grajada family settled later in El Rio area of Ventura County. [Sources: correspondence from Isabel Ayala’s descendants, Isabel Ayala Grajada’s obituary, and research by Barbara Watson, Susan Gray, & Colleen Beck]
Josefa O’Brien (abt 1845–?): Josefa was listed as part of the Dana family after Isabel Ayala’s name on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, dated Oct. 6, 1850. Was she another “adopted” Dana child? There was also Augusta (?) Ortega, age 21, female and born in California listed before the girls. Both girls would be topics for further research.
Maria de la Encarnacion Carrillo de Robbins (March 24, 1814–June, 1876): Encarnacion was born just after her sister, Maria Josefa, and they were likely very close as young girls in Santa Barbara. She married Thomas M. Robbins on February 3, 1834 in Santa Barbara. Between 1823 and 1829 Robbins had been involved in the sea otter trade and served as a mate on the Waverly between 1826 and 1828. Unfortunately, Robbins passed away July 15, 1857 in Santa Barbara leaving his widow Encarnacion with 10 children to support. About 1861, Encarnacion was forced to sell their various properties in the Santa Barbara area to support her family. During the same year, Encarnacion and several of her children moved to the Nipomo Rancho and remained there until about 1864 when their house burned down. She later moved to Arroyo Grande with several of her remaining unmarried children. [The Middle of Nowhere, p. 20-21, 36]
According to an article written by Doris Olsen for the South County Tribune, “…Mrs. Robbins brought her younger children to the Nipomo ranch of her widowed sister, Mrs. William Goodwin Dana, in 1861. The family remained there until after the marriage of Isabelle Robbins to Ramon Branch  and Maria Antonio Robbins to Leandro Roman Branch [Oct. 1864] and then moved to a new adobe home situated in what is now the village of Arroyo Grande. After the move another daughter, Concepcion Robbins, married Frank Branch .”
William Rich Hutton (1826—1901): Surveyor Hutton was 21 years old when he arrived in California in 1847. Hutton was a friend of Capt. Henry W. Halleck, with whom Henry Tefft had stayed while serving as delegates to the California Constitutional Convention. Early in 1850 while in Monterey, we speculate that he made the acquaintance of Henry A. Tefft, the future son-in-law of William G. Dana. In May 1850, Hutton writes his mother about his trip south to San Luis Obispo with Tefft. Hutton accepted a commission to survey the 38,000 acres Rancho Nipomo for Capt. Dana. “…I found Capt. Dana an excellent, good natured old gentleman, and his daughter is a favorite with all who know her.…Since I have been here they have treated me kindly, and they live comfortably. I sent up to San Luis for my things, and have commenced on this farm, as I cannot well do anything in San Luis until Capt. Wilson comes down. The farm is about 10 miles long and, I believe, nearly as many broad, though a third of it is hilly and good for nothing. The air is filled with the fragrance of the different species of clover, and in some places the oats are 4 feet high.” Hutton served as Henry Tefft’s best man for his marriage to Maria Josefa Dana in July 1850 and in his later years wrote a description of the wedding. Hutton was confirmed as the San Luis Obispo County surveyor in Sept. 1850, which he served until August of 1851. He left California in 1853. [Research by Barbara Watson]
Henry Amos Tefft (1825-1852): Henry was a young lawyer recently arrived from Wisconsin, who settled in the San Luis Obispo area in 1849. Tefft became acquainted with William G. Dana, and lived at Dana’s home in Nipomo for a four-month stretch. During this time, Henry Tefft practiced law and became known and respected in the area.
Due to his blossoming reputation and Dana’s support, Tefft was elected as San Luis Obispo’s delegate to the state’s Constitutional Convention in Monterey. This convention was seated in August 1849 with the Constitution of California completed on October 12, 1849. Tefft was a vocal participant in the convention, arguing in favor of the right of Native Americans to vote, property rights for women, the establishment of county schools, and a “Homestead Exemption” clause enabling a homeowner to have his home declared exempt from seizure for the payment of debts. After October, Tefft rode south, taking responsibility of distributing copies of the Constitution to the southern part of the state.
After the convention, Tefft was elected as San Luis Obispo County’s first assemblyman. Later when the state legislature divided the state into judicial districts, Tefft was elected as the first district judge of the Second Judicial District (comprised of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties). In July 1850, Henry married Maria Josefa Dana in a wedding ceremony conducted at Rancho Nipomo.
Henry and Maria Josefa settled into the Casa de Dana in Nipomo. Tragically, Tefft died just a year and a half after his wedding. On February 6, 1852 (the dates vary by accounts), he was aboard the coastal steamer Ohio when it entered the harbor of Port San Luis amid high waves, heavy surf, and inclement weather. Tefft reportedly was planning to pick up Maria Josefa and then head on to San Francisco to take the train back to Wisconsin for a visit with his parents, and insisted on going ashore. The captain sent Tefft and five sailors on a boat headed to shore. Within 100 yards of the sand…the boat suddenly turned over, dumping everyone into the pounding surf. Tefft and four of the sailors drowned. By all accounts, his wife was expecting their first child, Henry Tefft Jr., who was born after his death. There are stories that Maria Josefa Tefft was not told of her husband’s death for a while. Henry Tefft’s body was not recovered for burial.
Samuel Adams Pollard (1824-1904): A Virginia native, Sam Pollard served in the Mexican-American War sometime between 1846 and 1847. After the war, he was working as a clerk in New Orleans when news reached him of the discovery of gold in California. He briefly settled into clerking San Francisco, but…“The city was then wild with dissipation, and I got very tired of it. Having a chance to open a store on the shares down the coast, I accepted it and did very well,” recalled Samuel Pollard. About May 1849, S. A. Pollard and his partner, William L. Beebe began building an adobe store in San Luis Obispo at the corner of Monterey and Chorro streets.
After finishing the store, the partners found nearly all their money was sunk in adobe, and they had little left for purchasing stock. In order to get stock from San Francisco, it was a lonely 300-mile mule ride. “Our first district judge was Judge Tefft, who had accumulated a back salary of $3,000, but had no way to collect it without the bother of a land journey.” Pollard agreed to collect the salary if Tefft would give the partners use of it for six months without interest. “So, we got our stock,” remembered Pollard. When the SLO Post Office established on 28 July 1851, Samuel A. Pollard was appointed its 1st postmaster and operated out of his store under 1853.
Besides operating the store in San Luis Obispo, S.A. Pollard was very active in early city and county government. On 14 April 1850, he was appointed the County Recorder. During this period, William G. Dana was also serving as the San Luis Obispo county Treasurer. Having been acquainted with and having done business with both her father, William G. Dana, and her late husband, Judge Henry Tefft, it is no surprise that Samuel A. Pollard became acquainted with the widowed Maria Josefa de Tefft . He courted her and they were married on 20 December 1854 in the Mission San Luis Obispo. The couple lived at the Dana Adobe on the Rancho Nipomo for a time after they married. The couple eventually raised five children together. Reportedly, Samuel ran the store at the Rancho for a time. Sometime after Captain Dana passed away in 1858, the Pollards settled in the San Luis Obispo area as noted in Maria Josefa Pollard’s letter to her family in the early 1860s.
Manuela Antonia Carrillo Jones de Kettle (1820—1900): Maria Josefa Carrillo Dana’s younger sister, Manuela was born in June, 1820. She married John Coffin Jones, Jr. (1796—1861), a Massachusetts trader, who had served as the U.S. Consular Agent for Commerce and Seamen in Oahu, Sandwich Islands. Jones and Alpheus B. Thompson went into partnership, mainly in commerce trading in Santa Barbara. Unlike his brothers-in-law (Dana, Thompson, Robbins and Burton), Jones had no formal residence for his family, no Mexican citizenship, and bitterly disliked California. In 1846, Jones, Manuela, and two children sailed for Boston leaving Thompson to manage their Santa Rosa Island stock ventures and keep the books. The Jones family settled in West Newton, Massachusetts where Jones “farmed” until this death in 1861. After five years, widowed Manuela remarried to George Nelson Kettle, an Englishman and widower with three children. While he had investments in Massachusetts, the Kettles spent most of their time in Europe. The San Luis Obispo Tribune of May 18, 1883 included a personal notice of the Kettles “stopping with the Danas in this county…After an absence of thirty-eight years she has returned to the scenes of her youth to find all her sisters, excepting Mrs. [William] Dana, dead. The meeting between the two sisters is said to have been very affecting.” This meeting was most likely at the Casa Grande in Nipomo where Maria Josefa Dana lived. Manuela Kettle died in Nice, France at eighty years of age. [Ynez Durnford Haase, The Middle of Nowhere: the Carlos Carrillo Adobe, The Carrillo Family & Their Rancho Sespe, p. 22-24; History of San Luis Obispo County,p. 106]
Hubbard C. M. Ely (c. 1818-1889): Hubbard C. M. Ely was born and named Elihu Ely, junior, in Binghamton, New York. Elihu Ely Jr. was the great nephew of William Ely, who married Clarissa May Davis and was thus a relative of William Goodwin Dana. Based on the date of his passport, Ely traveled most likely to California for the first time at the beginning of the Gold Rush. Elihu Ely Jr. is noted as a bookkeeper at the Custom House in San Francisco in 1850. In March 1851, Elihu Ely petitioned the California government to officially change his name from Elihu Ely to Hubbard C M Ely. This was approved 28 Mar 1851.
About the 17th Apr 1853 H C M Ely set sail from (possibly) San Francisco for New York via Panama and arrived in New York about 16 May 1853 [NYT]. On board were the Dana brothers, Henry Camilo Dana (Enrique), noted as age 19, and Charles William Dana (Carlos), noted as age 17, perhaps traveling with Ely, who they knew from home. The Dana boys are on their way to school in New York to stay near their aunt, Adelina Eliza (nee Dana) Darling. Ely wrote a letter to Carlos Dana from San Francisco in 1854 reporting happenings on the rancho.
H C M Ely, Esq. conducted a number of business transactions for Capt. Dana in 1853 and 1854. He aided William Goodwin and Maria Petra Josefa Dana when they deeded to Maria Josefa (their daughter) a large chunk of property in SLO (including the Dana Hotel) on 12 Nov 1853 and some Rancho property on 6 Dec 1853. The other signature, either serving as law clerk or district attorney on these deeds, was Hubbard C M Ely. [SLO County Deed Book #A]
In August 1854, he handled the scrip and other documents for Wm. G. Dana in his controversy with the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors in regard to the rent of the courtroom. [Angel, 171] Ely was possibly living in San Francisco later in 1858. Ely returned east sometime afterwards and died in Wilmington, Delaware on the 25th of Nov 1889.
La Catrina: Mexico’s grande dame of death
Christine Delsol, Special to SFGate
Published 10:41 am, Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Jose Guadalupe Posada’s original ‘La Calavera Catrina,’ circa 1910. Jose Guadalupe Posada’s original “La Calavera Catrina,” circa 1910. credit: Courtesy Mexican Museum Photo: Courtesy Mexican Museum
In many years of traveling to Mexico I’ve often encountered a tall, elegantly attired female skeleton sporting an extravagantly plumed hat — in books, in cartoons, on posters, in figures and in the works of some of Mexico’s greatest artists. I gradually realized that she is not just one among the proliferation of skulls and skeletons in Mexican art and lore, but a distinct figure named La Catrina.
It took San Francisco’s Mexican Museum to drive home just how beloved and deeply rooted in the Mexican psyche La Catrina is. For its Oct. 29 fundraiser launching a final push to complete its new and greatly expanded home in the Yerba Buena Arts Center, the museum is holding a La Catrina party. “La Catrina: Keeping the Spirits Alive” will invoke all the traditional Day of the Dead elements, re-creating a Mexican village whose paths are lined with marigold-strewn altars created by local artists to remember loved ones who have died. Mariachi and salsa tunes will fill the air, with the promise of a spin around the dance floor with the flirtatious, fabulously dressed skeleton.
Why Catrina? I asked curator David de la Torre. “Catrina has come to symbolize not only El Día de los Muertos and the Mexican willingness to laugh at death itself, but originally catrina was an elegant or well-dressed woman, so it refers to rich people,” de la Torre said. “Death brings this neutralizing force; everyone is equal in the end. Sometimes people have to be reminded.”
Born of revolution
La Catrina as we know her originated with Jose Guadalupe Posada, considered the father of Mexican printmaking. Born in 1852, he apprenticed to a local printmaker and publisher when he was just 14. Moving to Mexico City in 1888, he soon became the chief artist for Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, publisher of illustrated broadsides, street gazettes, chapbooks and other popular forms of literature, including songbooks for the popular corridos. He became famous for calaveras (skulls or skeletons) images that he wielded as political and social satire, poking fun at every imaginable human folly. His influence on Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and other great artists of their generation was incalculable. La Catrina isn’t your typical revolutionary babe, but her appearance has everything to do with the Mexican Revolution. Posada’s working life paralleled the reign of dictator Porfirio Díaz, whose accomplishments in modernizing and bringing financial stability to Mexico pale against his government’s repression, corruption, extravagance and obsession with all things European. Concentration of fantastic wealth in the hands of the privileged few brewed discontent in the hearts of the suffering many, leading to the 1910 rebellion that toppled Diaz in 1911 and became the Mexican Revolution.
Posada’s illustrations brought the stories of the day to the illiterate majority of impoverished Mexicans, both expressing and spreading the prevailing disdain for Porfirio’s regime. The image now called “La Calavera Catrina” was published as a broadside in 1910, just as the revolution was picking up steam. Posada’s calaveras — La Catrina above all, caricaturizing a high-society lady as a skeleton wearing only a fancy French-style hat — became a sort of satirical obituary for the privileged class. But his Catrina cast a wider net: His original name for her, “La Calavera Garbancera,” used a term that in his day referred to native Mexicans who scorned their culture and tried to pass as European.
Lineage begins with the Aztecs
“La Catrina has been iterated over time,” de la Torre said. “It’s not just Posada and his work in 1910. There are layers of history. The image and the woman in death goes back to the ancient Aztec period. Posada took his inspiration from Mictecacihuatl, goddess of death and Lady of Mictlan, the underworld.” Also known as Lady of the Dead, Mictecacihuatl was keeper of the bones in the underworld, and she presided over the ancient monthlong Aztec festivals honoring the dead. With Christian beliefs superimposed on the ancient rituals, those celebrations have evolved into today’s Day of the Dead.
Posada’s image was basically a head shot, unclothed except for the elegant hat. It took Diego Rivera to portray a full-length figure, put her in an elegant dresss and, by some accounts, to dub her “La Catrina.” In the center of his 50-foot mural, Sueño de una tarde dominical en la AlamedaCentral (“Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park”), Catrina holds the 10-year-old Rivera’s hand while Frida Kahlo in traditional Mexican dress stands behind them. None other than a dapper Posada himself stands to Catrina’s left, offering her his arm. The symbolism — and this is but a fraction — is staggering. Rivera painted the mural in 1947 at the Hotel del Prado, which stood at the end of Alameda Park. The mural survived the 1985 earthquake, which destroyed the hotel, and later moved across the street to the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, built after the earthquake for that purpose.
Grande dame of death
La Catrina’s vacuously grinning skull fell inevitably into the role of literal and metaphorical poster child for the Day of the Dead, symbolizing the joy of life in the face of its inevitable end. But La Catrina is the beloved grand dame of Mexico’s dance with death 365 days a year, appearing in at least two movies, graduating from drawings to sculpture, and taking on such roles as mermaids, brides and the all-around icon of the recent Bicentennial celebrations.
The Day of the Dead brings into focus one of the greatest differences between Mexican and U.S. cultures: the 180-degree divide between attitudes toward death. Mexicans keep death (and by extension their dead loved ones) close, treating it with familiarity — even hospitality — instead of dread. La Catrina embodies that philosphy, and yet she is much more than that. A product of the irrevent spirit and rebellious fervor that ignited a revolution, lovingly kept alive and evolving over time, she remains as relevant today as she was a century ago. She is all the more endearing for reminding us of one more Mexican characteristic that sits 180 degrees from today’s U.S. population: The ability to extract humor from protest, to poke fun at the powers that be and at sacred cows of any description with no concern that someone might take offense.
As de la Torre observed, “It’s about class and society, and we can draw relevance in today’s world about that, too. There are some very real similarities.”
Viva La Catrina.
SHAMANS – The spiritual leaders who are ambassadors to the gods, shamans preside over ceremonies, recite the divine passages, cure the sick, interpret dreams, etc. They are believed to have supernatural powers and insights in the metaphysical world that are considered out of reach for normal humans.
SPIRIT GUIDES – Intermediaries between human and spirit realms, the guide can take the shape of half-human, half-animal being. These figures appear in visions and dreams and remain with each shaman even after apprenticeship is over.
FIRE – Considered a very valuable gift from the gods, fire is called Tai. Tai is believed to enable the Huichol to have visions. The fire god, Tatewari, is always honored at Huichol ceremonies, and receives many offerings such as corn meal, sacred water and much of the art that they make.
HEALING WANDS – Called Muvieri, each shaman carries a wand in their medicine basket. They are made of pairs of eagle or hawk feathers attached to ceremonial arrows, and are used in rain making ceremonies and other divinations.
PATH OF LIFE – Wavy lines represent the “vine of life”, which the Huichol Goddess of Life gives to every soul (plant, animal, human) at birth. This vine is the soul’s spiritual connection to the breath of the goddess in the ethereal realm. When people chose to follow her “path of flowers”, they receive her blessings: prosperity, abundance, creativity, health, and their hearts’ desires.
WOLF PEOPLE – Believed to be the earliest ancestors, they spoke and lived like people. Tacutsi, the goddess of life, first taught them how to live well and overcome hunger and cold.
PRAYER ARROWS – Used to express gratitude or requests to the gods, called Urus, prayer arrows, like gourd bowls, are ceremonial objects through which the gods are believed to give their blessings. Special prayer arrows have crystals attached to them, representing the spirits of departed ancestors.
PEYOTE CACTI – Symbol for life, sustenance, health, success, good luck, and acquisition of shamanic powers, the peyote appears in practically all Huichol art and is considered a gift from the gods to the people to enlighten their lives and bring them into the mystical realm.
THE SUN – Brings light and illumination to the world. Tayaupa is father sun, master of the heavens, and his wife is the Eagle, mother of the sky and goddess of life. The Huichols believe all living things receive their power from the sun, and that He guarantees healthy crops and abundant food.
SNAKES – Instruct shamans to become healers. The rattle on the Rattlesnake is believed to be the tongue of the greatest shaman of all, which is the fire god. Snakes may also be associated with the rain goddess. The Mother Goddess of the Sea is pictured as a huge coiled serpent forming herself into a cyclical storm cloud from which rain falls. The Huichols believe that rain itself consists of millions of small snakes. They are valued for their work in the cornfields where they eat the rodents and pests harmful to the corn harvest.
DEER – The spirit guide Kauyumari, who leads the shamans on their visionary pathways and teaches them how to gain their special knowledge. One of the most commonly seen motifs, the deer, maxa, in Huichol, often appear in male and female pairs, symbolizing the unity between men and women on their spiritual journey. Legends about the deer abound in Huichol culture. The deer mother is the guardian spirit, the important animal in Huichol shamanism. She holds tobacco gourds and corn plant, both of utmost importance for Huichol survival. The Huichols believe that deer give their lives willingly to those who hunt them in a sacred manner. After a deer hunt, the hunters have to perform purifying rituals for many days to insure that the animals are properly thanked for giving their lives to the benefit of the people.
FLOWERS – Play a part in all Huichol ceremonies, and all flowers are considered sacred in healing rituals; the patient’s head is anointed with flowers. Shamans use them to prepare for the deer hunt and during harvest ceremonies to adorn the new corn. One flower that appears often is called Kiera, the tree of the wind. It is a hallucinogenic plant said to open the Huichols spirits to the highest level of enlightenment.
BIRDS – Believed to be messengers to and from the gods, all birds are held in great regard. The shamans use tail and wing feather of eagles and hawks in their rituals and ceremonial chanting. The double-headed eagle is another common design, representing the shaman’s omnipotent power to see in all directions.
TURTLES – Esteemed as assistants of the rain goddesses, turtles are believed to be responsible for replenishing the water of underground springs and the purity of all water sources.
WOLVES – Carrier of spirits, Kumukemai, the wolf, is honored in all peyote ceremonies. Many Huichols believe they are descendents of the “Wolf-People” of primordial times. Huichol shamans claim to possess the power to transform themselves into spirited wolves.
GOURD BOWLS – Used by shamans as containers filled with important symbols, such as corn, animals, and images of family members. Colorfully decorated, they are carried during ceremonies and prayer for protection, health, and abundance. The symbols themselves represent attributes of different gods and goddesses. They are placed in shrines and sacred sites throughout the Huichol homeland.
SCORPIONS – Used by shamans to repel evil and bad luck. They are both esteemed and feared. A deadly species of scorpion inhabit Huichol land and cause numerous fatalities every year. However, the Huichols believe that the scorpion spirit is a powerful ally that protects them as well.
SALAMANDERS – Agents of the rain mother, salamanders are connected with the water and rain, stirring up clouds and making rain fall.
JAGUAR – Messengers of the god of fire, Tatewari, they are guardians of the sacred vows taken by shamans during their years of initiation. Called Mayetse, they are given the power to devour the spirits of those who fail.
EAGLES – Believed to be the embodiment of a goddess known as Mother Eagle, Mother of the Sky and Queen of Heavens. Admire Werika, the eagle as the most magnificent among all birds.
CANDLES – Represent the illumination of the human spirit, Catira, candles hold the sacred gift from the sun and fire gods. Along with flowers and ribbons, attached candles serve as offerings and payment to the deities who have granted special wishes to a Huichol.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF COLORS:
The East, fire, masculinity.
The South, Pacific Ocean, water, rain, femininity.
The Earth, the Heavens, healing, the heart, grandfather, growth.
A special root from Wirikuta used for face paint in ceremonies.
“Wirikuta”, the sacred land where the Huichol believe life began and also where they gather peyote.