Skip to main content
Select Source:

Maidu

Maidu (mī´dōō), Native North Americans belonging to the Penutian linguistic stock (see Native American languages). In the early 19th cent. they were located on the eastern tributaries of the Sacramento River. Maidu culture was typical of the California area: the people lived in brush shelters, gathered acorns, and practiced the spirit-impersonating Kuksu religion. Of the three divisions of the Maidu—valley, foothill, and mountain groups—the valley group, or Nisenan, were the most prosperous and culturally developed. The Maidu numbered about 9,000 in the late 18th cent. In 1990 there were some 2,000 Maidu in the United States, most of them living on several reservations in California with other Native American groups.

See A. L. Kroeber, Valley Nisenan (1929); R. L. Beals, Ethnology of the Nisenan (1933).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Maidu." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Maidu." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maidu

"Maidu." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 11, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maidu

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Maidu

Maidu

The Maidu (Pujunan), including the Nisenan (Southern Maidu, Nishinam) and Konkau (Concow, Konkow), live in the drainage area of the Feather and American rivers in north-central California among other Indians and Whites. They spoke languages of the Maidu (Pujunan) family of the Penutian phylum. The number of Maidu today is not known, but may be over one thousand.

Bibliography

Riddell, Francis A. (1978). "Maidu and Konkow." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 8, California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, 387-397. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Maidu." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Maidu." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maidu

"Maidu." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved December 11, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maidu

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Maidu

Maidu

Name

The name Maidu (pronounced MY-doo ) comes from the tribe’s term for “person;” the word maidüm means “man” in their language. The Northwestern Maidu were called Konkow or Concow. Southern Maidu were known as Nisenan.

Location

The Maidu’s traditional lands were in the northeastern and north-central parts of present-day California. In modern times they live on and around the Rancherias (small ranch) of United Auburn, Berry Creek, Chico, Enterprise, Greenville, Mooretown, and Susanville, and on the Round Valley Reservation, mostly in Plumas and Butte counties.

Population

In 1846 there were about nine thousand Maidu. In 1910, there were about 1,100. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 2,334 people identified themselves as Maidu. The 2000 census showed 2,281 Maidu, and 3,857 people who had some Maidu heritage.

Language family

Penutian.

Origins and group affiliations

The Maidu, who have lived in California for thousands of years, consisted of three groups: the Mountain Maidu, Concow (or Konkow), and Nisenan. Today the name Maidu is used to refer to all three groups. The Maidu were friends with the Paiute (see entry) to the east, but harbored ill will toward the Washo, the Achumawi, and the Yana. In the early twenty-first century they live on rancherias with the Miwok, Pit River, Pomo, Paiute, Wintun, Washoe, and several other tribes.

In the high mountain meadows, valleys, and foothills of the Sierra Nevada range, to the floor of the Sacramento Valley and along the Sacramento River, the Maidu lived a fairly comfortable and peaceful existence of hunting, gathering, and fishing. They enjoyed a generally mild climate, plenty of food, and a rich spiritual and cultural life—until the invasion of gold miners in 1848. Life changed for the tribe then, and much of their culture was lost during the early reservation years. Now the Maidu are working to restore their traditions and language. Some Maidu history and landmarks have been preserved at Plumas National Forest. They can be observed along the 67-mile (108-kilometer) Maidu Indian World Maker Route.

History

Early lifeways

The Maidu once controlled a large amount of territory in what is now California and were one of the most populous groups there. Their homeland in northern and central California has been inhabited for at least eight thousand years, and other peoples may have lived there before the Maidu.

Because they did not have to travel far to search for food, the Maidu built permanent villages. The majority of these hardy people usually stayed in their villages to face the winter. When the season was right, they set up temporary camps near hunting and gathering areas.

Although the California tribes tended to be the least warlike of Native American tribes, the Maidu sometimes engaged in warfare with their enemies or in feuds among themselves. They fought over such issues as trespassing on hunting grounds. Sometimes they carried out sneak attacks or kidnapped or murdered hostages, but enemies often made up and resumed trading and gambling with one another.

Important Dates

1848: Gold is discovered in Maidu territory.

1851: The U.S. government negotiates a treaty that forces the Maidu to relocate to a reservation.

1958: Congress passes the Rancheria Act, terminating several Maidu rancherias.

1990s: Terminated rancherias are federally recognized again.

2002: The U.S. government places 49 acres in trust for the United Auburn Indian Community.

European contact

The Spanish were the first to build large-scale settlements in California, beginning in the 1700s, but the Maidu had little if any direct contact with them. They caught diseases such as smallpox and malaria from American trappers and traders who passed through their territory in the early 1800s, and many Maidu died. For the most part whites did not explore the Maidu lands until the mid-1800s because it was mountainous and difficult to travel.

The destruction of the Maidu way of life that began with the epidemics (outbreaks of diseases) increased after the discovery of gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in 1848. The Maidu knew about the gold, but considered it of no value. Far more interesting than gold to the tribe were the miner’s ropes, which made better bridges than the grape vines they had been using.

Gold fever

Thousands of people from all over the globe with poured into Maidu lands. Many merely wanted to get rich quickly and leave, giving no thought to the feelings and traditions of the native peoples whose land they destroyed. The miners often treated the Natives with violence. The discovery of gold was a disaster from which the Maidu never recovered. From an estimated population of 9,000 in 1846, just before gold was discovered, the Maidu population fell to 1,100 by 1910.

Careless gold miners polluted the streams that supplied the Maidu with food and drove away game animals. Settlers arrived, and their cattle ate local plants and their hogs foraged for the acorns so important to the Native diet. Unable to feed themselves, some Maidu were forced to leave their villages to work in the cities or to work on ranches and farms. They soon found themselves competing for jobs with disappointed gold miners.

Government intervention

In 1850, only two years after the discovery of gold, discussions began over what to do about the “Indian problem” in California. The U.S. government’s solution was to isolate California Natives on reservations. Government officials claimed it was for the Native Americans’ protection because it would prevent the extinction of Native tribes by hostile white settlers.

Eighteen treaties were drawn up between the government and California tribes—including the Maidu—beginning in 1851. The tribes agreed to give up most of their lands to the U.S. government in exchange for about 7.5 million acres that would be set aside for reservations. The treaty the Maidu made with the federal government gave them a large reservation on land where there was no gold. The government expected the Maidu to farm this land.

Settlers were upset that so much land was being given away to the Native Americans (about eight percent of the state). They pressured the U.S. Senate to reject the treaties. Shortly after that, only 1.2 million acres were set aside for reservations. The Maidu received a 227-square-mile reservation away from their traditional homeland, where they would be confined with other tribes.

Refusal to cooperate

Over the next several years U.S. soldiers repeatedly escorted the Maidu people to the new reservation, which was called Nome Lackee by the Wintun tribe of Maidu who originally owned the land. Repeatedly the Maidu left the Nome Lackee Reservation to return to their homeland. White settlers complained about the Maidu’s refusal to settle down.

In 1857 U.S. soldiers again rounded up a large group of Maidu, mostly women and children, and forced them to return to the Nome Lackee Reservation. According to Maidu who made the trip, young women had to spend the nights in trees to protect themselves from the soldiers.

Over the next four decades the Maidu and other California Natives faced constant violence at the hands of white settlers. In 1858, 461 Natives (including some Maidu) were rounded up and forced to endure a five-day walk to Round Valley Reservation in present-day Mendocino County. Almost half of them were murdered or died on the way. Those who made it did not like conditions there. Some escaped and fled to remote areas where they tried to avoid contact with settlers. By the beginning of the twentieth century the Maidu found themselves landless and homeless.

Rancherias established

In 1906 a system was established to address the problem of still-homeless Natives in California. The government bought small parcels of land for them, called rancherias, a Spanish term for a small ranch. Much of the rancheria land was located in isolated areas, was too poor to farm, and often lacked developed water sources. Several families from the same tribe settled on each of these parcels.

Between 1906 and 1934 seven rancherias were purchased for the Maidu people. Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and missionaries from various churches taught the Maidu to farm and tried to make them more like white Americans in other ways, a policy known as assimilation. The Maidu, however, found it nearly impossible to support themselves, and many people moved away from the rancherias or became dependent on government handouts.

Termination of rancherias

Government officials decided assimilation would take place faster if people lived and worked in cities. So they adopted a policy called termination. Termination ended the relationship between the federal government and Native tribes, and the Natives would become subject to state laws instead. Tribes would receive no government assistance, and tribal landowners would pay state property taxes on their land. Since most Natives lived in poverty, taxation and no assistance meant that eventually they would lose their land.

Four Maidu rancherias accepted termination before the policy changed. Many tribal members lost their land when they could not pay property taxes. The rancheria at Mooretown became a ghost town.

Modern times

The termination policy soon came under heavy criticism, and support for it died. The civil rights movement of the 1960s ushered in a new era of government programs and policies for Native Americans. Tribes were urged to take more responsibility for their own communities and were given funds to assist them. In the early twenty-first century the U.S. government maintains relations with tribal governments at all Maidu rancherias. Despite the poverty and oppression they have endured, the Maidu people have preserved many ancient customs, which they have adapted to modern times.

Religion

Beliefs

Among the most important of the Maidu gods was their Creator, usually called World Maker, who made a first man,called Kúksu , and a first woman, called Morning Star Woman. Next World Maker created a new race of people and told Kúksu and Morning Star Woman to teach them everything they needed to know about survival, law and order, dancing, and ceremonies. The new race of people—the Maidu—were sent out into the world, speaking various languages to form many tribes. The Maidu believed they were the center of all creation.

World Maker intended for people to live easy, eternal lives, so death did not exist at first. It was introduced by Coyote, a fun-loving character who sometimes helped people, but also made mischief. One example of the trouble he caused the Maidu was changing the California landscape so it became more rugged, thus making life harder for the tribe.

Most Maidu believed in an individual soul, which they called the heart. When a person died, his or her heart was said to have left. The soul of a good person traveled along the Milky Way until it reached World Maker. The souls of bad people were reborn to live forever as rocks or bushes. The Maidu also believed that every object had a soul, which was set free when the object was destroyed.

Religious leaders and ceremonies

Maidu priests had mystical powers and could communicate with spirits. Some had both healing power and spirit power, while others had one power or the other but not both.

At their frequent religious ceremonies, the Maidu made offerings to World Maker and to earth spirits; sometimes they acted out stories about their gods. In return for their offerings, the people expected a good relationship with nature. This good relationship brought an abundance of game animals and wild foods and sufficient rain.

Some Maidu embraced the Ghost Dance religion in the 1870s, adding variations of their own. Because of the efforts of missionaries to suppress Maidu religious beliefs and their expression, the people today tend to keep their beliefs to themselves.

The First Ghost Dance Movement

The Ghost Dance of 1870 was a religious movement founded by a member of the Paiute tribe (see entry) named Wodziwob (died c. 1872). He was born in about 1844; by most accounts he died in about 1873, but some say he lived into the twentieth century. Wodzibwob was also known as “Gray Hair” and “Fish Lake Joe,” and he lived on the Walker River Reservation in Nevada.

In the late 1860s Wodziwob’s people were mourning a number of calamities that had befallen them. They had lost much of their land and their way of life because of the westward expansion of American settlers. They were experiencing a drought and many were starving. Diseases had greatly reduced the population.

Wodziwob brought a welcome message to these suffering people. He said that he had died and visited the spirit world, but had then come back to life and had many tales to tell of his experience. He brought messages for his people from their dead friends and relatives. He said the Indian dead were planning to come back to life and when they did, they would cause great fear among white people. He told his followers that if they performed the Ghost Dance, it would hasten the day when the Indian way of life would be restored, and everyone would be happy once again.

Wodziwob’s movement came to be known as the Ghost Dance. It soon spread to the California tribes and the tribes of the Great Basin. Just as the movement was fading in the late 1800s, another Ghost Dance movement began; it is known as the Ghost Dance of 1890 and was revived by another Paiute, Wovoka (c. 1856–1932), whose father, Tavibo, had assisted Wodziwob.

Language

Versions of the Penutian language were spoken by a large number of California Natives. Although all the versions were closely related, groups who spoke them often could not understand one another. Today there are very few speakers of Maidu left alive; some say that William Shipley, a professor at the University of California Berkeley from 1966 to 1991, may be the last living speaker. Shipley has translated a number of Maidu myths and stories into English and published them in a book called The Maidu Indian Myths and Stories of Hanc’ibyjim (1991). The stories were told in 1902 to representatives of the American Museum of Natural History by Hanc’ibyjim, said to have been the last great Maidu storyteller.

Maidu Words

  • maidüm … “man”
  • küle … “woman”
  • söm … “dog”
  • pokom … “sun”
  • pōmpokom … “moon”
  • momim … “water”
  • wiiti … “one”
  • pēne … “two”
  • sāpwi … “three”
  • tsöye … “four”
  • māwike … “five”

Government

Before they had contact with gold miners, the Maidu were organized into tribelets—one main village surrounded by a few minor outlying villages. Communities ranged in size from one hundred to five hundred persons and were loosely headed by a headman or chief, who lived in the large central village. He had little authority except when major decisions had to be made or during ceremonies. In some tribelets the chief (usually a man, but sometimes a woman) handed down his position to his children. In other tribelets the chief was selected by the villagers or by a powerful person who had received a message from the spirits. The chief often acted with the advice of a council of elders.

The Indian Reorganization Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1934, encouraged tribes to form tribal governments that more closely resembled the American system of elective government. In modern times Maidu rancherias elect members to a council that handles tribal government affairs.

Economy

For thousands of years the Maidu economy depended on hunting, gathering, and trade. After settlers came and made the traditional economy impossible, many Maidu took jobs as farmers and loggers. In the early twenty-first century some Maidu are still employed in the forestry business and others do seasonal work in canneries. Other sources of employment include tourism and recreation, real estate development, service and retails businesses, mining, and government jobs. Casinos provide jobs and much-needed funds on some rancherias.

Daily life

Education

Traditional methods

Maidu children were expected to imitate adult behavior. As soon as they learned to walk, they had the run of the village and ate and slept wherever they wished. They learned many life lessons from their grandparents, and there was a strong bond between the two generations.

When children misbehaved, their grandparents explained to them the consequences of future bad behavior. They were told, for example, that they might be kidnapped by a fearsome old lady who lurked in the woods.

Young boys in some tribelets were expected to choose a skill they wished to develop, such as fishing or hunting. Girls learned all the skills necessary to be a Maidu Indian woman, which included a thorough understanding of plants, basketmaking, and gathering.

Modern methods

The U.S. government got involved in the education of Maidu children around the turn of the twentieth century when they established schools like the Greenville Indian School, where boys were given a military-style education. Girls were trained to be servants. The Greenville Indian School was later destroyed in a fire.

At government schools children faced harsh treatment. They were forbidden to speak their own language and observe other Native customs. Most government schools are no longer in operation, and children attend public schools in cities near the reservation. Some Maidu parents feel the public schools do not serve their children well, so the Round Valley Reservation opened the Eel River Charter School for their students. They also operate Round Valley Educational Center, a resource center that offers programs to promote Native American achievement. Susanville Rancheria supplements public school education by offering a cultural program for children during the summer months.

Buildings

Winter homes

The Maidu built permanent winter homes and summer shade dwellings. Winter homes, which were partly underground, were built in the spring when the ground was soft enough to dig to a depth of 2 to 4 feet (1 meter). They were small cone-shaped dwellings of cedar bark covered with earth to keep them well insulated.

Inside were shelves that held large baskets full of acorns. Chairs and beds were made of a plant material called tule (cattails). Beds were covered with blankets made from duck and goose down. Near each dwelling were thatch-covered basketware containers for more acorns.

Summer homes and other buildings

When the Maidu were on the move for hunting and gathering season, they built simple shade shelters. These were basically flat-roofed canopies made of oak branches and supported by wooden poles.

Other buildings might include a roundhouse or dance house, where ceremonies were held and the headman of the largest village often lived; sweathouses used by up to four or five men at a time to purify themselves; huts where women were confined during their menstrual periods; and stations for butchering meat, cleaning fish, cutting wood, and storing acorns.

Food

Acorns

The climate of central California was usually mild, and in most years there was an abundance of food to be found within a short distance of Maidu villages. Their major source of food was acorns. Insects and worms that got into the acorn flour during the wintertime were eaten either dried or roasted. Those who did not collect a sufficient supply of acorns were forced to seek shelter with relatives in other villages during the winter months.

Other plants

In spring the Maidu gathered wild rye and other grass seeds in the valleys. They took to the foothills to gather pine nuts, whose shells were made into beads; the nuts were eaten as is or ground into flour. Some Maidu also gathered hazelnuts, buckeye nuts, and nutmeg. Mint tea and cider made from manzanita berries were favorite beverages. Because of their custom of digging for roots, the Maidu were called “Diggers,” by gold miners. Other menu items included stewed eel and dried salmon.

Tobacco was the only plant grown by the Maidu. Priests offered tobacco smoke up to the spirits, and others used tobacco as a painkiller and at bedtime, because it made them sleepy.

Hunting techniques

Some Maidu left their permanent villages in the summer to hunt for deer and bear in the mountains. Groups of five or six men would gather in front of the cave of a bear about to end its winter hibernation. First the men performed a ceremony in which they requested that the bear stand up and allow itself to be shot. Then they hid behind trees. One man at a time showed himself to the bear and shot it with an arrow or two. The bear chased the shooter, who led the bear to another hunter, who in turn shot it once or twice, until finally the bear was bristling with arrows and gave up. Some groups of Maidu would not eat the bear, but removed its hide to use as a costume in ceremonies.

Sometimes deer drives were organized with surrounding villages. One hunting technique was to entice a deer to approach by dressing like one. The hunter wore a deer mask and a rabbit-skin blanket; he smeared a substance on his body to disguise his own scent, and then moved in on his prey while making movements like a feeding deer. Sometimes deer were driven into a ring of fire, and then killed with bows and arrows.

Clothing and adornment

Maidu men, women, and children wore little clothing year round. Men sometimes wore buckskin breechcloths (a garment with front and back flaps that hung from the waist), and younger women sometimes wore small aprons that hung from the waist in front and back and were made of buckskin, grass, or tree bark. In very cold weather they might wear deerskin leggings and ankle-length deerskin moccasins stuffed with grass. In extremely severe weather they added cloaks made of feathers or the skins of rabbits, deer, or mountain lions. Snowshoes were used in winter.

Hair was worn long and loose by both sexes. A hat made of tule was favored by some Maidu women. Their ears were pierced, and their earrings were made from bone or wood decorated with woodpecker skulls or quail tips. Men preferred pierced noses. Both sexes wore necklaces made from shells and animal teeth. Tattoos and body paint added color.

Healing practices

Maidu healers, called shaman (pronounced SHAH-mun or SHAY-mun ), could both cure and cause illness. In fact, shaman were so powerful they could make entire villages sick.

Shaman cured by piercing the skin and sucking out the substances that caused diseases. As late as the 1950s some Maidu men had scars from having been cured this way. The sickness-causing agents were actually stones, crystals, bones, or even live animals that the shaman brought with him to the sickbed. Some Maidu groups also had female shaman. While some people believed women shaman were poisoners, other Maidu groups preferred them to male shaman.

In modern times a high percentage of Maidu people suffer from diabetes. This is not uncommon among Native Americans, whose death rate for diseases such as diabetes and tuberculosis is much higher than for other Americans. The people have their health care needs attended to either at clinics on the rancherias or in health care facilities in nearby towns.

Arts

According to some versions of the Maidu creation story, the Creator sang the world into being. Songs and music were an important part of all Maidu festivals and ceremonies. Maidu drums imitated the sound of bears. Their rattles sounded like pebbles swishing and were sometimes made from insect cocoons attached to long wooden handles and decorated with feathers and shells. Flutes, whistles, and a type of one-stringed bow were also played.

The Horrible Bear

The Maidu, who lived in grizzly bear country, had a great respect for bears and even had a special dance they hoped would protect them from a bear attack. While many Native American stories tell of a person marrying a bear, the story below is about a squirrel who married a bear.

There is a story told of a ground squirrel who had taken a mean old grizzly as his wife. One early morning when he had left for a day’s hunting, the squirrel’s home was visited by his half-brother, a bat. This creature was also very mean, and as he threw himself down on a bed of skins, he demanded to be fed. Growling with irritation, the grizzly supplied her brother-in-law with some acorn soup, jerky, and hazel nuts.

The bat began to throw the hazel nut shells into the face of his reluctant hostess, whose growls became increasingly threatening. Suddenly, she leapt at the bat. But he was ready for her attack. When the squirrel arrived home he found his wife dead from a poisoned arrow, and the bat gone.

Today’s travelers into grizzly bear country are hopefully aware of additional ideas on coping with this beast. From the Maidu comes this traditional advice: if you drop a piece of meat on the ground, don’t pick it up and eat it—or a “grizz” will one day eat you.

Jewell, Donald P. “The Horrible Bear.” Indians of the Feather River: Tales and Legends of Concow Maidu of California. Menlo Park, CA: Ballena Press, 1987.

Customs

Marriage

Marriages between Maidu often began with the couple moving in together, at first with the bride’s family for a short time and then with the groom’s family. In some groups, though, contact between a mother-in-law and a son-in-law was considered bad, so the couple lived apart from the bride’s family and the husband avoided any contact with his wife’s mother.

A man could choose his bride from within his own village or from another village. A husband who was a good hunter was especially prized by his wife’s family because he sometimes provided them with food. No woman had to accept a man she did not find pleasing. If either party desired a divorce, it was easily accomplished. Important men occasionally took several wives.

Pregnancy and babies

Pregnant women ate special diets that often excluded meat and fish. When her time drew near, the Maidu mother-to-be was restricted to her home, and her husband might stop hunting and fishing. An experienced older woman assisted in the birth. If a baby was stillborn, both mother and father fasted for a period ranging from one to three months. Some groups considered twins unlucky, so they sometimes killed both the mother and the babies.

Names were very important and were changed several times during a Maidu’s lifetime. At first a girl received a baby name, such as “girl,” “daughter,” or “niece.” The name then changed at important life events: at puberty, when she gave birth for the first time, and when she reached old age. A boy also received a baby name, such as “boy,” another name at about age three, and yet another name if he joined a religious society (see “Puberty”). Some examples of Maidu children names were “climbing girl” and “snoring bird.”

Puberty

During her first menstrual period a girl withdrew from the community—either to her home, to a menstrual hut, or to a place in the mountains with her mother. Afterwards there were joyous ceremonies involving singing, dancing, bathing, face and body painting, and ear piercing.

Some very young Maidu boys were invited to join a secret religious society called the Kuksu Society. After several years spent in training, at puberty the boys took part in a secret ceremony and became members of the society.

Ceremonies and festivals

The Maidu welcomed spring with a Toto Dance. Female dancers shook beaded belts in rhythm with the music provided by the men on drums, rattles, flutes and whistles. Some groups still celebrate spring with this dance, and some still hold the bear dances that kept people safe from bear attacks.

The modern Maidu hold Maidu Indian Day in October. It features storytelling and demonstrations of traditional crafts and skills such as acorn cooking and making baskets and flint tools.

Funerals

Some Maidu groups cremated the dead. Those who buried their dead first dressed the bodies in fine clothing and wrapped them in animal skins. They buried the bodies in unmarked graves together with some of their possessions to use in the afterworld and with offerings made by mourners. What remained of a dead man’s property (hunting and fishing equipment, canoes, and clothing) was burned.

Special mourning ceremonies were held immediately following the burial and on anniversaries thereafter. At them, women wailed and emotional speeches were given. Afterwards, the people ate, played games, and sang. The names of the dead were never mentioned again, but sometimes the name was passed on to a young relative.

Current tribal issues

Some reservations and rancherias are facing problems with cleanup and soil contamination. Water pollution is also a major concern. On the Susanville Rancheria, for example, recent ordinances have been passed that will make discharging any “chemical, physical, biological, bacteriological, radiological and other properties” into the water will result in a fine of up to $1,000 a day.

In the later part of the twentieth century the Maidu displayed an renewed interest in their own culture. This led to a renewal of Maidu ceremonial practices, both social and religious. In addition to restoring its traditions, the tribe is also seeking to increase its landholdings because much of its land was lost during the reservation and termination eras (see “History”).

Notable people

The paintings of artist Frank Day (1902–1976) drew upon Maidu history and mythology. His father was a village headman, and Day inherited ceremonial knowledge and responsibilities from him. Day helped found a dance group called the Maidu Dancers and taught the younger dancers the songs, the meaning of the words in the songs, and the dance steps to use. Not only did he pass down Maidu traditions through dance, he also used his art to depict Maidu history and legends. He explained his interest in art: “Once in while I take up color and paint a little bit because if I do not do this, all things will be forgotten.” In the mid-2000s many of his three hundred paintings were in private collections.

Artist Harry Fonseca (1946–2006) is probably best known for paintings and other graphics depicting Coyote, the cunning and irresponsible trickster of Maidu mythology.

Other notable Maidu include: Tobu (c. 1793), who led a group of Maidu warriors against European grave robbers; Frank Tuttle (1957–), a Yuki-Wailaki-Maidu dancer, painter, basketmaker, and historian; and Maidu-Konkow lesbian poet Janice Gould (1949–).

Belting, Natalia. Whirlwind Is a Spirit Dancing: Poems Based on Traditional American Indian Songs and Stories. New York: Milk and Cookies Press, 2006.

Bibby, Brian. “Maidu.” Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. Editor Mary B. Davis. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.

Burrill, Richard, River of Sorrows: Life History of the Maidu-Nisenan Indians. Richard Burrill; 1988.

Lepena, Frank. Dream Songs and Ceremony: Reflections on Traditional California Indian Dance. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2004.

Riddell, Francis A. “Maidu and Concow.” Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 8: California. Ed. Robert F. Heizer. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.

Sarris, Greg, and Sara-Larus Tolley. Quest for Tribal Acknowledgment: California’s Honey Lake Maidus. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.

Shipley, William. The Maidu Indian Myths and Stories of Hanc’Ibyjim. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1991.

Wilson, Norman L., and Arlean H. Towne. “Nisenan.” Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 8: California. Ed. Robert F. Heizer. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.

Dixon, Roland B. “Maidu Texts.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. (accessed on September 4, 2007).

Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian. (accessed on September 4, 2007).

Greenville Rancheria. (accessed on September 4, 2007).

The Honey Lake Maidu. (accessed on September 4, 2007).

Konkow Valley Band of Maidu. (accessed on September 4, 2007).

“Maidu.” Four Directions Institute. (accessed on September 4, 2007).

“Memory and Imagination: The Legacy of Maidu Indian Artist Frank Day.” Oakland Museum of California. (accessed on September 4, 2007).

Edward D. Castillo (Cahuilla-Luiseño), Native American Studies Program, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California

Laurie Edwards

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Maidu." U*X*L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Maidu." U*X*L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maidu-0

"Maidu." U*X*L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. . Retrieved December 11, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maidu-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.