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ETHNONYMS: Diegueño, Ipai, Kamia, Nytipai, Quemaya, Tipai, Yaguin


Identification. The Kumeyaay are an American Indian group located in southern California and often called the "Diegueño" or "Tipai-Ipai." The Spanish recorded dialect variants of "Kumayaay," the people's name for themselves. "Kamia" is a Mohave variant. The San Diego Mission named the nearby Indians "Diegueño." Dialect variants of "Ipai" mean "people." Some sib names: "Kwash," "Kwamaay," "Kuñeil," "Akwa'ala" (southerners) used by Kumeyaay for southern villages.

Location. At contact, Kumeyaays held the area from below Todos Santos Bay, Baja California, to above Agua Hedionda Lagoon, California, approximately 31° to 33°15 N. The northern boundary extended along the southern divide above San Luis Rey River to Palomar Mountain, across Valle de San Jose, to the desert along the northern divide above San Felipe Creek, then to the sand hills west of the Colorado River, and south to the river below Yuma. From south of Todos Santos Bay, the southern boundary angled northeast to the Colorado River above the Cocopa. Today, the Kumeyaay have thirteen small reservations in San Diego County and four in Baja California.

Demography. In 1980, approximately 1,700 lived on or near Kumeyaay reservations in San Diego County and 350 in Baja California. These figures exclude those on mixed-tribe reservations and those living away, possibly another 1,700. In 1769, approximately 20,000 existed, based on mission birth and death records and the 1860 federal census.

Linguistic Affiliation. Kumeyaay belongs to the Yuman language family, Hokan stock. Each village had its dialect with differences increased by distance.

History and Cultural Relations

Linguistically, about two thousand years seem to separate the Kumeyaay from the Quechan on the Colorado River. Some archaeologists recognize a gradual material culture change from 5000 b.c. to that recognized as "Diegueño" by 100 b.c. Mythology and southern band territories suggest that the ancestors of some Kumeyaays were there by 5000 to 8000 b.c. At contact, tribal neighbors in Baja California were speakers of Yuman languages: Cochimi, Kiliwa, Paipai, and Cocopa; to the east were Quechan and Mohave. On the north, Takic-speaking Shoshonean peoples entered about two thousand years ago, Luiseño on the coast, Cupeño at Warner Springs, and Cahuilla in the mountains and desert. Relations with neighbors alternated between war, trade, intermarriage, and ceremonial exchange.

In 1769, continuous contact with Europeans began when Franciscans founded San Diego Mission with a military post, San Diego Presidio. Soon after, Dominicans established missions in northern Baja California. Except for the 1818 foundation of Santa Ysabel Assistancia, Spanish and Mexicans controlled only coastal and near-coastal areas. Raids, Revolts, and fugitivism characterized Kumeyaay-mission relations. Unlike other missions, San Diego and San Luis Rey kept only unmarried women, the sick, and the elderly at the missions owing to lack of agricultural land nearby. They brought in a group, taught them Catholicism, European agriculture, and crafts, and then returned them to the village Except for labor drafts and special ceremonies. After mission secularization, most Kumeyaay fled and revolted, holding Mexicans to the coast.

America's entrance in 1846 did not cause much land loss until the Civil War ended. The few 1875 executive order Reservations were insecure until trust-patented in 1891, when additional lands were reserved for some villages. By then, most were pushed to dry slopes above their original well-watered agricultural valleys. Many received no reservation: some took refuge in a cemetery, Jamul, receiving federal recognition in 1976, and others fled to Baja California, where non-Indian settlers did not crowd them until after 1940.


Until evicted by settlers, villages were near permanent water sources, rivers, or springs. Depending upon a valley's richness, band territory extended ten to thirty miles on both sides of a stream to divides above the valley. Band population ranged from three hundred to more than five hundred Persons. The Kwaaypaay (band chief), priests, and environmental specialists lived in a central village; each family had a separate homestead near subsidiary water sources. Central villages held ceremonial grounds and meeting areas, and were surrounded by a cactus fence or nearby palisade refuge. Mountain villages were near fortified rocky peaks. Large villages had an area for trade or ceremonial visitors. European disease and starvation owing to land loss drastically reduced the number of villages and populations. On reservations, families follow the pattern of scattered homesteads with a central ceremonial and meeting area. If possible, economic developments are away from homes.

House structures varied with the environment: earth-covered in the desert, A-frame covered with cedar bark in mountains, and brush- or reed-covered willow branch domes near the coast. Building size varied from those holding four or five people to those holding forty. Settlers evicted them from the rectangular adobe homes introduced by the Spanish. Most modern reservation houses were built by Indians. The Bureau of Indian Affairs built some with the cost charged against Indian claims awards. Some Department of Housing and Urban Development housing also exists.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Southern California Indians had a mixed economy: plant husbandry, agriculture, and collecting, combined with hunting and fishing. They tried all food, medicinal, and technological plants in every ecological niche from the Colorado River to the coast, increasing plant diversity to protect against famine during droughts. Techniques included planting seeds, vegetative cuttings, transplanting, various water guidance systems, and controlled burning in sequences of from one to fifteen years according to foods planted in an area. Staples were acorns, an extinct grain, and a small white bean, with maize and squash added in mountain and desert areas having summer rain or irrigation water. Game included deer, antelope, mountain sheep, rabbit, and fowl. European crops, fruits, and domestic animals expanded beyond the missions. When American armies and settlers entered, southern California Indians began commercial agriculture along immigration routes and near settlements. By 1870, settlers had taken their best land. In 1891, commercial farming and ranching started again on trust reservations, combined with wage labor. Crops included fruits, nuts, vegetables, chickens, sheep, and cattle. Then non-Indians diverted water from reservations and the Indians lost their orchards, crops, and animals. Labor for non-Indians increased to include skilled and professional positions. Now income comes from off-reservation employment, reservation economic development, Social Security, retirement pensions, and some government jobs and grants.

Industrial Arts. Finely coiled baskets designed in tans, red, and black ranged from a few inches to over two feet in diameter. Women from leadership families made ceremonial basket hats with small colored feathers woven in the design. Abalone pendants and elaborate shell necklaces were made. Other crafts included pottery, manufacture of stone beads, pendants, and arrowshaft straighteners.

Trade. Using shell money or barter, extensive intra- and intertribal trade existed between coastal and inland villages and the Southwest. The Spanish complained of the Indians' trading acumen.

Division of Labor. Women planted and harvested most crops, gathered shellfish, and caught small game. They prepared and cooked food, made clothes, basketry, pottery, nets, and the tools they used. Men made their own tools, nets, weapons, and sacred equipment, and hunted, fished at sea, participated in the harvest of grain, acorn, and pine nut crops, cleared fields, and managed controlled burning. Men were political, military, and religious leaders, healers, and economic (ecological) specialists; many women were also healing specialists. The missions and Mexicans demanded heavy labor from both men and women, such as pulling plows and making adobes. Now both men and women are in skilled and professional positions, and participate in tribal Government.

Land Tenure. National, band, family, and individual territory existed. National territory, open to all Kumeyaay, included trails between villages, sacred mountains, and certain mountain, desert, and coastal areas considered wild, except for tribal controlled burning. Each band had a primary village territory and specific mountain, desert, and coastal areas. Within the band territory, the band-owned land included trails, religious and band meeting areas, and harvest areas used and tended by the group under the chief's direction. Bands had sacred solstice and equinox mountains, sacred healing areas, and an eagle's nest. Each sib lineage owned land divided between families as strips extending from valley bottom to ridge top. Each family tended and harvested its own land. Specialists individually used and owned specific sacred or healing plants or other resources. Water sources and springs were owned at each level from individual to tribal. Some reservations were allotted when trust-patented, and each allottee received inheritable trust ownership of the allotment. Some had trust homesteads outside reservation Boundaries. The federal government is trustee of reservation land, allotted and unallotted, and homesteads. Few allotments have been taken out of trust or sold (a sole-survivor claimant took one reservation out of trust). Some have used wages to purchase and pay taxes on nontrust land.


Kin Groups and Descent. In a.d. 1769 an estimated fifty to seventy-five patrilineal sibs existed as named groups, each descended from a mythical ancestor. Each village, or band, had ten to fifteen sibs represented by a lineage within which descent was traced and kinship terms used. A sib managed Inheritance only if family or lineage lacked direct heirs. The sib system facilitated visiting and movement between bands and ecological areas.

Kinship Terminology. While data are unclear, a variant of the Omaha system seems to have existed.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The traditional system forbade marriage to a sib mate. Today, Kumayaays claim marriage was forbidden to all traceable relatives of both parents. But in the traditional System, cross cousins were not related and mission records reveal cross-cousin marriage was possibly favored. The levirate and sororate provided a replacement for a deceased or disabled spouse. Leaders often had several wives. Leaders' families intermarried with those of distant bands and tribes. Formerly, families arranged marriages and the groom presented gifts to the bride's parents. Residence is generally patrilocal, though a couple may reside on either spouse's reservation or elsewhere. Children are likewise registered on either reservation.

Domestic Unit. Traditional extended families consisted of grandparents, one or two sons, their spouses, and children. Nuclear families now predominate with relatives' homes nearby.

Inheritance. Individual and family lands, water, and resources were inherited. Originally land went to whichever child remained to care for elderly parents, often the youngest son or daughter. Leadership, religious, and specialist positions were inherited by the most capable son or daughter trained in the specialty. At death all personal property was destroyed, including the house, clothing, tools, songs, stories, and dances. Today, personal property is burned and Household furnishings given away. If a will is absent, the federal government follows state probate law.

Socialization. Grandparents trained children to participate in hunting, fishing, and harvesting, and to be able to survive alone by age five. Village members shamed unruly Children who were strictly taught to be polite to elders, obey religious leaders, and not interfere with adults. Keeping Children in Indian boarding or day schools and forbidding all Religious practices destroyed the strict socialization customs. A permissive system similar to that of non-Indians now exists.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Organization was hierarchical, with status conferred by inherited position and special knowledge. Those developing new environmental knowledge, craft skill, or running speed acquired status. Hard work, precision, neatness, and industriousness contributed to status and wealth. Individuals could shift from band to band if land were available and the new group willing. Subservient landless persons existed and had no voice in band affairs.

Political Organization. Each band was independent, but was part of a Kumeyaay federation under a tribal leader, Kuchut Kwataay, who managed relations and ceremonies with other tribes, participated in solving interband disputes, organized defense, and managed tribal communications with a system of lookouts and relay runners carrying messages or warning of enemies. Each band also had a Kwaaypaay (capitan or leader), who managed band social, economic, Political, and religious affairs aided by a council of shamans (priests, singers, sun, and ecological specialists). Unlike the case in some neighboring tribes, a leader did not command, but was followed when found competent and knowledgeable. A primary duty was to adjudicate disputes within the band. At his death, all Kwaaypaay met to choose a successor from among their trained sons, one without sib mates or close kin in the band. By 1885, tribal and band leadership was underground, suppressed by Indian agents' requirements for annual elections of men obedient to the agent and by the attack on religion. Traditional leaders began organizations opposing government actions and bringing lawsuits against the government. Public Law 280 ended the need for opposition; Gradually, elected councils and chairmen began managing reservation affairs. Often they are descendants of traditional leaders.

Social Control. Social control devices included shaming and teasing for minor offenses, fear of witchcraft, whipping, and exile for major offenses, and death for murder and witchcraft. Under the Indian agents, untrained police were often abusive as were the opposition tribal police. Now civil and criminal offenses are under state law ineffectually enforced by county sheriffs and local courts. Because traditional sanctions are not allowed, in effect none exist.

Conflict. Conflict occurred over trespass by stealing plants from family, band, or tribal land, or hunting on another band's land. After 1846, conflict developed over how to deal with Indian agentswhether to obey them or fight them in courts and Congress. While most agree on desired results, disagreements continue over economic development and preservation of land, and for some, over major issues resulting from Bureau of Indian Affairs actions.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Kumeyaay worshiped a high god and his prophet, Kuuchamaa, who taught moral rules and proper behavior. Eagles, red-tailed hawks, and ravens were messengers between chiefs and God. Lesser spirits in all living things were placated by rituals. The spirits of the mythology resided in sacred places and were potentially available for aid. Secondary spirits dealing with humans and all other things were also recognized. Witchcraft caused evil and disease. Many myths taught children expectations of the behavior of others in an unstable, erratic, untrustworthy world. They saw Spanish missionaries and soldiers as evil, thieving witches. Most Kumeyaay are now Catholics, viewing their God as identical with the Catholic God and their prophets as valid as biblical prophets.

Religious Practitioners. Priests and singers were paid for services with valuables or food, as were ecological and curing specialists who managed their specialty through rituals validated by the religion.

Ceremonies. Ceremonies managed all life crises: naming, puberty (boys and girls), marriage, death, year after death, and a keruk for all who died over a several years' period. Ceremonials celebrated solstices, equinoxes, and new moons, called for and stopped rain, dew, and fog. Others prepared for war or celebrated victory and peace. Ritual began and ended all ecological activity: controlled burning, planting, harvesting, and group hunts. Now Catholic baptisms, marriages, Funerals, and memorials have varying combinations of Kumeyaay and Catholic ritual. Major events and yearly fiestas begin with a combination of Catholic and Kumeyaay prayer and ritual.

Arts. Rock art was probably ceremonial and included geometric designs, large mazes, and human and animal figures; some related to solstice ceremonies. Singers performed many elaborate four- and five-day rituals with songs timed by the movement of sun and stars. Men performed elaborate ritual dances, and women, complex social dances.

Medicine. Although all Kumeyaay used herbs for common ailments, men and women healers specialized in specific diseases, experimenting with the medicinal qualities of herbs. Improper behavior or witchcraft caused serious diseases. Some rituals were for psychological illness; others were combined with herbal medicine. Many still use efficacious herbs or modern medicine, depending on the problem.

Death and Afterlife. Formerly, at death a cremation Ceremony aided the spirit's journey to an afterworld in the south. Memorial services returned the spirits for a last time to enjoy life's activities: singing, dancing, peon (a gambling game of skill). Today, funerals and memorials are important to honor an individual and free the spirit from the earth.


Couro, Ted, and Margaret Langdon (1975). Let's Talk 'IiPaay Aa. Banning, Calif.: Malki Museum Press.

Gifford, Edward W. (1931). The Kamia of Imperial Valley. U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin no. 97. Washington, D.C.

Luomala, Katharine ( 1978). "Tipai and Ipai." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 8, California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, 592-609. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution.