How did native people live at Mission Santa Inés? What languages did they speak? What foods did they eat? How did they dress?
One of the things people often ask about is what life was like on the California missions, especially Indian life. Some of the most important accounts of native life at the California missions come from the Interrogatorio (Questionnaire) that the Spanish Government sent to the priests of the California missions in 1813.
Each mission answered the questions with more or less detail depending on the temperament and experience of the missionaries.
The padres recorded their observations of the life of the native people at the mission and often wrote down what they understood about indigenous customs outside the mission boundaries.
What follows are excerpts from the replies written by Fr. Estevan Tapis and Fr. Francisco Xavier Uría about Native American life at Mission Santa Inés. They wrote wrote their replies in March of 1814.
Mission Santa Inés was founded as the 19th mission in Alta California. It is located in what is today the town of Solvang.
Fr. Tapis helped found Mission Santa Inés in 1804, on the site of a native village named Alajulapu, though he only served at Santa Inés for about a year, between 1813 and 1814. Fr. Uría served at Santa Inés from 1808 to 1824. The translation of their answers is taken from the book As the Padres Saw Them; California Indian Life and Customs as Reported by the Franciscan Missionaries 1813-1815, by Maynard Geiger.
For a general overview of daily life for native people at the California missions, read Indian Life at the California Missions.
Who was living at the mission?
Mission Santa Inés was founded within the territory of the Chumash people, and at the time of its founding, there were around 14 villages within thirty miles of the mission. Chumash territory was vast, and extended from what is today San Luis Obispo down to what is today southern Ventura County.
In addition to the Chumash and the Franciscans, there were other people living at the mission.
The population of this mission is divided into Europeans, Indians and gente de razón. The two missionary fathers are Europeans. The last mentioned are all those not Indians and they comprise a corporal and five leather-jacket soldiers, married men with the exception of one of the soldiers, who compose the guard at this mission. Also in the latter class are included six families who live on a ranch a little over three leagues from the mission…Some have a brown complexion, others are white. All are considered Americans. The majority were born in this province, their parents having come here from Old California and Sonora.”
“The Indians of this mission are natives of the surrounding villages, children of pagan parents, excepting those born at the mission during the nine years since its founding.”
What languages did the Indians speak?
There were at least Chumash languages spoken at the time of the missions, and the Chumash near Santa Inés had their own language, which scholars have called Ynezeño.
The language generally spoken is the native tongue of the area. Some of the Indians understand and speak Spanish.”
The padres were able to teach some of the younger natives to read.
For the last four months certain Indian boys have been selected to read the catechism. They offer hope that it will not be long before they read it perfectly. This may lead to their understanding and reading Spanish. Generally speaking, these neophytes have neither spoken nor understood Spanish. The reason for this is that the majority came to us from paganism in their adult age. And among them are many of quite advanced age.”
As followers of St. Francis of Assisi, the padres were impressed with the way the native people of the area offered hospitality and generosity to others:
The virtues practiced by these Indians are patient suffering in hardship, infirmities and adversities: humility, obedience and submission. Both sexes are quite charitable and compassionate.”
The friars observed that married couples were caring toward one another:
In general these Indians love their wives, especially when they have children and both parents are fond of their children.”
Typically three meals a day were administered at the missions. Native people ate both the mission food as well as their own traditional foods:
They regularly have three meals a day. In the morning before they go to work, at noon, and in the evening. The types of food they eat are wheat, Indian corn, or peas, beef cattle, all of which is seasoned accordingly as they wish. Nor are they deprived of the primitive foods of acorns, wild grasses and seeds when they have the opportunity of obtaining them. Since the harvests of the above–mentioned grains have been abundant in these last years we have kept no account of what the Indians consumed. Each family takes from the common storeroom whatever quantity of wheat, Indian corn, or peas it desires in the presence of the alcalde or regidor. For feeding a little over 600 persons, adults and children, which is the mission’s population, we slaughter every week sixteen head of choice cattle from the herd.”
In their pagan state these Indians neither knew nor played any musical instruments with the exception of a wooden tube after the fashion of a flute open at both ends which made a…buzzing sound to the ear. They also had a whistle of the bone of a bird.”
They now sing sacred songs and play harmonized instruments. The bass fiddle, the contrabasso, the violin (instruments all manufactured by the neophytes, as also the drum); the sweet German flute, the trumpet, the bandola, are the instruments they now know and play in church celebrations. They are inclined to music and easily learn how to play by heart the sonatas they hear and which we teach them.”
Native people at Mission Santa Inés wore the same type of clothing as at other missions.
The men wear a woolen shirt with sleeves which reaches to about the waist. They wear the breechcloth or sapeta. It is of cotton or wool about a yard and a half long and over a half yard wide. This piece of cloth is relatively shorter and less wide for the boys. Also they wear a blanket. The women also use a blouse and blanket and a woolen skirt. All these articles of clothing are made on the looms of the mission by the neophytes who are assigned to this work.”
These are only a few of the answers about Indian life at Mission Santa Inés, but they give us a basic idea about some important aspects of life on a mission.
The best way to visualize mission life is as a working farm or ranch. It was a life harder than what most of us are used to, but not an unusual one for the time.