Ocean Beach Was Called “Ahapai” or “People’s Water” by Kumeyaay

by on September 18, 2015 · 5 comments

in California, Culture, Economy, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

OBHS 9-17-15 jl Carrico2

Prof. Richard Carrico. All photos by John Loughlin

Editor: The following is a report by OBcean John Loughlin on a presentation made by Prof. Richard Carrico a year ago – not the one he presented last night, Thurs., Sept. 15, 2016.

Originally published September 18, 2015

Prof. Carrico’s Presentation on the Kumeyaay Universe Covers Their Coastal Lifestyles

By John Loughlin / Special to the OB Rag

OB Historical Society’s September talk from last night – Thursday, Sept 17th – was given by Professor Richard Carrico titled “Kumeyaay on the Coast – Overlooked Aspects of Native Fishing and Maritime.”

A ‘recovering archaeologist’ Prof Carrico explained how anthropology and oral traditions are combined with the analysis of historical artifacts to draw a more complete understanding of the Kumeyaay/Diegueño tribes.

Small bone objects thought to have been awls used for basket weaving could have been gorgets used for fishing. What some archaeologists classified as abalone earrings could have been fishhooks.

OBHS 9-17-15 jl audienc

Audience reacts to Carrico comment.

Many of the OBceans in the audience could remember gathering clams and abalone 50 years ago. It’s hard to imagine the abundance of local fish that were available thousands of years earlier.

Richard began with an overview of the Kumeyaay Universe and the seamless blending of land to ocean to sky. Whereas our European traditions lead us to separate geography from oceanography and astronomy, to the Kumeyaay these ‘worlds’ are treated as one connected universe.

There were almost 100 settlements in San Diego County with a couple of hundred people per village, an estimated 20,000 indigenous people at the time of first contact with Europeans.

Richard discussed many of the place names – appropriately Ocean Beach was called Ahapai, or People’s Water. The pronunciations differ between the Tiipay and Iiipay. (The Barona Cultural Center and Museum has produced an Inter-Tribal Dictionary that is available from their museum store.)

OBHS 9-17-15 jl slideThe coast provided the Kumeyaay more than an abundance of food.

– Shallow and Deep Water Fish (45 varieties)
– Beachfront and Bay Shellfish (60 varieties)
– Seasonal Waterfowl (Ducks and Geese)
– Salt
– Kelp
– Medicinal Plants from the Salt Marshes
– Shell (Abalone and Olivella) for Ornaments
– Shell (Pismo) for Scoops and Spoons
– Asphaltum (Tar) for Use as an Adhesive

The Kumeyaay built boats from reeds for navigating the coast, lagoons and sloughs. They were not ‘simple’ hunter/gatherers but sophisticated stewards of natural resources. They understood the life-cycle of clams and were careful not to overfish except at times of hardship.

In 1778 the Kumeyaay are recorded as supplying the Presidio and Mission with fish and shellfish. Richard suggested they kept the best for themselves and provided the Spaniards with inferior tasting species, as well as negotiating prices.

OBHS 9-17-15 jl audienc2-edFar from being subsistence farmers and benefiting from Spanish agricultural know how, it was the Kumeyaay that helped the Spanish survive. Even after being driven away from the coast and to the back country in the census of 1833 the few remaining Kumeyaay are listed as Pescadores or fisherman. By the 1870s the Chinese further displaced the Kumeyaay from the coast.

Richard took questions from the audience and in answer to what the Kumeyaay can help teach us today provided two insights:

  • the tribes never attacked each other over ‘religious’ differences, they were tolerant of other ‘stories’;
  • they understood fire management, purposefully setting fires alternative years to clear out dead branches and kill bugs but not the trees

He contrasted their knowledge of the environment with that of the Lamborghini owning class.

OBHS 9-17-15 jl Kumeyaay

Abel Silvas or “Running Grunion”

In the audience was Abel Silvas  or “Running Grunion” who Richard invited to the microphone to announce he will be appearing on KUSI TV on September 25, for the California Native American Day Celebration discussing Father Serra and cultural genocide.

Richard will also be taking part in a panel discussion together with Iris Engstrand and Jim Downs, author of The Real World of Mission San Luis Rey, at San Diego State University today Friday Sep 18 for the Archaeological Institute of America San Diego Society meeting to discuss what really happened to the San Luis Rey area Indians after the arrival of the Franciscans at the Old Mission San Luis Rey — from 1767 to 1875. More details .

OBHS 9-17-15 jl Pat James

Pat James

Pat James, President of OBHS, announced that October’s presentation will be “The Sisters of Ocean Beach” and will still at the P.L. United Methodist Church,1984 Sunset Cliffs Blvd., O.B.
The NOVEMBER OBHS program is on Sunset Cliffs Park will be at St Peter’s by the Sea Lutheran Church.next month’s meeting will be held at St Peter’s by the Sea Lutheran Church, 1371 Sunset Cliffs Blvd and will cover the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park more details will be posted on the website  .

Here’s a link to an audio recording of the presentation.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

John Loughlin September 18, 2015 at 11:34 am

ABEL SILVAS LECTURE POSTPONED – This just in from the San Diego History Center

Serra in San Diego: Two Views
We regret to inform you that the San Diego History Center is POSTPONING the lecture Serra in San Diego: Two Views with Abel Silvas and Dr. Iris Engstrand originally scheduled for FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25TH AT 5:30PM.

However the Junípero Serra Museum will still offer its extended hours of operation, increased amount of on-site tours, movie screenings, and expanded exhibits showcasing the impacts of Spanish colonization.

Due to heavy interest in the subject matter, as well as the complexity of the issues at hand, the San Diego History Center and presenters feel that this event requires a different, more accessible approach and that a traditional 90-minute program was not sufficient to provide rich explanation from multiple perspectives.

Please be on the lookout for upcoming news about an enhanced series of presentations related to Father Junípero Serra, Kumeyaay and other native tribes and descendants and their use of the San Diego River and Mission Valley during the Spanish colonial era.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

The History Center will refund admission for anyone who has already purchased tickets. You will receive confirmation within 48 hours.

For additional questions, please contact Matthew Schiff, Marketing Director (619) 232-6203 x149


Marc Snelling September 18, 2015 at 11:37 am

Refreshing to hear about Kumeyaay helping the Spanish colonizers instead of colonizer misconceptions about the Kumeyaay. The reference to the Lambo-owning class gave me a laugh!


Kathy Blavatt September 19, 2015 at 1:44 am

Richard Carrico presented a wonderful OB Historical Society meeting.
Correction to the article: Next month’s Thurs., OCTOBER 15, at 7 pm Ocean Beach Historical Society program is “The Sisters of Ocean Beach” still at the P.L. United Methodist Church,
1984 Sunset Cliffs Blvd., O.B.
The NOVEMBER OBHS program is on Sunset Cliffs Park will be at St Peter’s by the Sea Lutheran Church.
See http://www.obhistory.wordpress.com for details.


Robert Burns September 21, 2015 at 2:09 pm

Please continue with the history of Native Americans here, and near, O.B. I find it fascinating. I wonder what kelp was used for.


Colin January 4, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Thanks for providing the audio link, it’s a fascinating listen!! (Prompted a few additions to the old reading stack!)


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