March 28, 2010

Legends of Chief Matilija

Over the weekend I drove two hours north to my sister's home in Chumash territory (Ojai). We were gathering to celebrate my mom's 80th birthday.

At one point Sis and I went out to buy some oranges. I asked her what the name of her street, Matilija, meant. She didn't know.

I figured it was Spanish for an obscure kind of fruit or something. Not so. Here's the story of Matilija:

Glory from Old California–The Matilijas are in BloomThe name Matilija originates with the Chumash Indian Chief Matilija and his tribe, who lived in the hills and valleys of Ventura county during the early 1800s. Numerous legends from Old California tell of the story of his daughter Amatil and her lost love. In most versions, Amatil falls in love with a young brave, is kidnapped by Spaniards to work at Mission Buenaventura, longs to return to her tribal home, Ojai (the Nest), and finally flees the mission only to find her lover mortally wounded after a fierce battle with the Spaniards. The lovely Matilija flower is said to symbolize the tears of Amatil and her heart of gold.

The legends seem to have some base in history—like many California tribes, the Chumash resisted the influence of the Spaniards and their Mission culture, and Chief Matilija is known to have fought a major battle with the Spanish near Mission Buenaventura in 1824. To this day, many creeks, canyons, natural and man-made landmarks, streets and businesses near Ojai and Ventura are named after Chief Matilija.

A longer version of the legend with a slightly different ending:

Legend of the MatilijaWell, many years passed before a stranger climbed the stairway to the headlands. (As I told you, all this was long before my time.) And what do you think he found there? To this day, white flowers of the Matilija poppy cover the grave of the lovers, a more beautiful burial shroud than the hand of man could devise....This legend has Chief Matilija dying in the Spanish attack. Another legend adds a twist:

Chief Peak AdventureThe legend says Chief Matilija, nearing death, was brought to the top of the mountain so he could look up at the sky. After his death the mountain was transformed into an image of the chief. He lays on his back in full headdress, looking up to the you see him?

Scouting in CaliforniaVentura County Council

Order of the Arrow

Topa Topa Lodge #291

Many years ago the Chumash Indians roamed the forests and hunted game in the bountiful Ojai Valley. When a bad omen came to the tribe, the great spirit sent two white gophers to Chief Matilija. The gophers instructed the chief and his people to perform acts of unselfish service and sacrifice. Chief Matilija perished in a great calamity, but with the acts of service and devotion done, the great spirit sent Chief Topa Topa to the Chumash to save the worthy people from an evil horde. In the 1920s the spirit of unselfish service was rekindled at Ventura County Council's Camp Grey. There, the "Tribe of Matilija" was founded as the honor camping organization of the council. The tribe had as its purpose to promote camping at Camp Grey. The Order of the Arrow in Ventura County was established in June 1944, when ceremonies were conducted during the Camp-O-Ral at Steckel Park to induct 13 selected scouts as charter members of Topa Topa Lodge #291 of the Order of the Arrow. Thus the Order of the Arrow came to replace the "Tribe of Matilija." The new lodge took its name from the legendary Chief Topa Topa.
Comment:  As usual, the Boy Scouts' reason for appropriating Indian culture is weak or nonexistent.

So my sister's street is named after a chief, a flower, and a Boy Scout troop. It's yet another example of how our culture is built on Indian cultures and we don't even realize it.

For more on the Chumash, see Chumash = "Fluffy Indigenous Kittens"? For more on the Boy Scouts, see Indian Origin of the Boy Scouts and Scout Society Stereotypes Indians.

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