Tucuk Bird Singing: Elders Room -Wellness Conference 2008

By Roy Cook

Each year Vickie Gambala has been asked to organize the Elders room at the Women’s and Men Wellness Conference. She has displays; craft projects and a very relaxed place to just relax and think about the day. American elders appreciate the less hectic pace and chance to talk about their grandchildren and where they come from in Indian country.

Each year she has asked for singers to come in and present the local culture for those visitors to San Diego and for our San Diego county Tribal people to be acknowledged. Tribal elder, Jane Dumas from Jamul, has advised and consistently requested local California Indian representation.

Jane Dumas is often the first person called to mind when anyone needs a local reference about tribal issues. She is a humble person who would rather work for the improvement of situations rather than confrontation and attention of self. She grew up in a dirt-floored home, hauling water by the bucket. She spoke Kumeyaay and Spanish before English. Jane Dumas is a member of the Jamul Band of Kumeyaay Indians in East County. She is a well-known and widely respected elder, teacher, and leader in San Diego's American Indian community and in San Diego at-large.

For decades, Jane has been speaking in classrooms and at public events, sharing her knowledge of Kumeyaay culture and medicine, and stressing the value of traditional language and history in today's urban and American Indian societies. In 1981, Jane helped found the San Diego American Indian Health Center, and since 1986 she has been described as an "anchor, leader, peacemaker, and bridge between Indian and non-Indians in the areas of medicine and education" and believes that "we can become healthier as both individuals and as a community by incorporating traditional knowledge and spirituality." She has been ill recently and we were all delighted to see her attend this morning presentation.

Larry Banegas from Barona Reservation and his wife Carol organized a visual presentation of the historical background of the Kumeyaay and a short version of the Creation story. He was also on deck to lead the songs until the other singers arrived. Ben Nance and Roy Cook were there in support of the singing and Vickie Gimbals’ Elders room. Larry finished his story about the two brothers:

When Tu-chai-pai made the world, the earth is the woman, the sky is the man. The sky came down upon the earth. The world in the beginning was pure lake covered with tules. Tu-chai-pai and Yo-ko-mat-is, the brother, sat together, stooping far over, bowed down under the weight of the sky. The Maker said to the brother, "What am I going to do?"

"I do not know," said Yo-ko-mat-is.

"Let us go a little farther," said the Maker.

Then they went a little farther and sat down again. "Now, what am I going to do? " said Tu-chai-pai.

"I do not know."

All this time Tu-chai-pai knew what he would do, but he was asking the brother.

Then he said, "We-hicht, we-hicht, we-hicht," three times; and he took tobacco in his hand, and rubbed it fine, and blew upon it three times, and every time he blew the heavens rose higher above their heads. Then the boy did the very same thing, because the Maker told him to do it. The heavens went high, and there was the sky. Then they did it both together, "We-hicht, we-hicht, we-hicht;" and both took the tobacco, and rubbed it, and puffed upon it, and sent the sky up, so-- (into a concave arch).

Then they placed the North, South, East and West. Tu-chai-pai made a line upon the ground.

"Why do you make that line?"

"I am making the line from East to West, and I name them thus, Y-nak, East; A-uk, West. Now you may make it from North to South." Then Yo-ko-mat-is was thinking very much.
“I’ll stop here but there is much more to the story.” said Larry.

Larry got his gourd rattle and started off some songs he was comfortable with and soon we were all looking for a lead singer to show up. This day, Louis Guassac from Mesa Grande Reservation joined us. He brought with him two young men, Fred Largo from Campo and Devin Alto from Manzaita. They have all been studying with Leroy Elliot-Lead Bird song singer, Chairman of the Manzanita Band. We had a good time singing these traditional songs and a couple of real tricky two step ones too.

Bird songs and Bird Song singers are a vital element in the educational social structure of the Yuman-Kumeyaay custom and tradition. Bird Singers occupy responsible roles. Traditionally, early in life, potential singers are introduced to established lead singers. During these associations young singers are evaluated to determine; commitment, capacity to learn, and qualities essential to group singing as opposed to individual performance. The Elders danced and we all felt better and stronger spiritually.