Saturday, October 19, 2013


Mataayuum is the Kumiai gathering in San Diego,  near Lake Cuyamaca.  The last time that there was a large cross border Kumiai event like this was ten years ago.  
I had the opportunity to volunteer as an interpreter.  
I felt as though I should have had to pay to be part of such an event.  It was life changing.  
I helped unwrap pieces of art and get this table set up and organized.  

These pots are not painted. The pottery is fired in a special process that involves placing them, wrapped in leaves, directly into a fire.   Incredible markings remain as a result.  Every single one is unique.  Every single one is more beautiful than the last.  

This woman made rope out of agave fibers.  I tried to do this and it was nearly impossible.  She was almost mad at me for not being able to.  
How quickly one forgets what it is like to be five.  

Agave fibers (which is an entire process on its own).

I spent most of my time on this rock with Norma and her sister Yolanda, from a Kumiai community in Baja.  We cracked and peeled acorns one by one in order to prepare them for consumption.  These acorns have been drying for two years.  It is quite a process because many of the acorns are moldy or discolored and are not edible, but you do not know until you open them.  Also, there is a skin on them which does not always come off easily.
 Kumiai people have been using this rock to grind acorns for generations (you can see one of the grinding locations right behind the first pile of acorns).  

I cannot believe that I sat on a rock that has been there for hundreds of millions of years preparing acorns with Kumiai women whose ancestors have been coming to this very rock for thousands of years.  

I gave some of the kiddos who wanted to help a job.  They had to make sure that no acorn skin was in the basket which was about to be ground.  

One of my favorite things about this event was the communication. The Baja Kumiai spoke Kumiai and Spanish, the US Kumiai spoke English and Kumiai, and the US citizens spoke English and some Spanish depending.  Together, with the potpourri of languages we made it work.  Together we were able to communicate, learning the process of their traditions, and their life stories.  

This woman was pulverizing clay that was brought to her as a gift from a woman whose great grandmother was Kumiai.  The clay was from the land that her mother used to use to make clay pots.  

Birdsong is men singing in unison, using rattles as percussion.  It is indescribable.  

I spent a lot of time with this Kumiai woman.  She was taught the method of basket making by her mother, just as she has taught her daughters.  This is what she does for a living.  She is able to continue making art because of organizations like the Community Museum of Tecate which helps to fund the community that she lives in, and sell her artwork.  She is so skilled.  She uses this knife to cut junko reed to make it more uniform, like someone would butter their toast.  It is so natural to her.  

After five and a half hours of labor and lots of help it was finally time to grind the acorns.  I did not see the next step because I had to leave but it involves soaking the acorns in water and then cooking them.  I asked if they typically do this at home and the answer is no.  It is too time consuming.  Throughout history Kumiai people have depended on acorns as a source of protein but now it is more convenient to make tortillas from maza flour.  

This area is so beautiful.  I had a once in a life time opportunity today to see how Kumiai people create their art, people whom have lived here for thousands of years.  
The world changes around them but they are able to maintain their traditional way of life, a way of life when people made a living making quality crafts.  
They can never stop doing this.  They can never lose their traditions.  
If artisans did not exist in the world it would not be such a beautiful place.  

1 comment:

  1. What a powerful and loved fill post about the Kumiai peoples. I can not wait to come with you to Tecate and learn more. I am moved my your passion and desire to preserve these people. This is an amazing posting. Thank you for sharing so much of something I knew nothing of.

    I love the overhead photo of the children on the grinding stone. Every photo tells such a thorough story. I am truly moved.


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