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Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region (1933) by S. A. Barrett and E. W. Gifford


A number of generic terms for parts of conifers were used. Sowi (C) is the term for cones, sakku (C) denotes nuts, also those of other plants. Perhaps this is a term originally applied to the digger pine nuts and later extended to all nuts. Thus, soloku sakku is hazel nut. Yutu (C) is the pitch, sakuta (C) the gum, hose (C) the needles, semmila (C) the bark, of pines; ene'na (N, C, S) the bark of the incense cedar (Libocedrus decurrens Torr.), mō'nōku (N, C, S). The gum was usually found near the base of a tree, especially one which had been burnt. It was chewed, particularly by young people. Gum of the western yellow pine was specifically mentioned.

A heavy smudge of pine needles was applied to the wound of a person bitten by a black spider. Anyone might do this for the patient.

The two pines largely sought for edible nuts were the Digger Pine (Pinus sabiniana Dougl.) of the Upper Sonoran foothills and the Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana Dougl.) of the Transition mountains.

Digger Pine (Pinus sabiniana Dougl.). Sa'kk (P), ca'k (P, N), sa'k (N), ka'wil (N), sakku (C), sa'kū (N, S). The Digger Pine is the characteristic pine of the Upper Sonoran zone and its blue-green needles make it conspicuous.

The nuts and the pith of the cones were eaten, the needles used for thatch, bedding, and floor covering; the bark for house covering, the twigs and rootlets as sewing material for coiled basket, and charcoal from the nut meats was crushed in the hand and applied to sores, burns, and abrasions. In spring the green cones were collected for nuts and pith. The cones could not be knocked off with sticks, but had to be twisted off by hand. Men usually climbed for them. The green cones were beaten with a stone until the covering split, when it was easily peeled off. The nuts were soft-shelled at this stage and shell as well as meat was eaten. Green cones and soft-shelled nuts were called ellati (C). The pithy center of the green cone is called tcuku (C). It was roasted some twenty minutes in hot ashes, yielding a brownish, pithy, sweetish food, to a slight extent syrupy.

The fully mature brown cones and nuts fallen to the ground are called lippasi (C). They attain maturity in September. The nuts were stored in hupulu coiled baskets. The cones were placed in a fire long enough to burn off adherent pitch, so as to facilitate handling. The cone was then split open with a stone and torn to pieces to extract the nuts. These were sometimes eaten raw, but were usually parched with live coals in the flat parching and sifting basket.

Western Yellow Pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl.). This common pine of the Miwok mountain country is called wa'ssa (C). Because of the smallness of the nuts the natives seldom gathered the cones either green or ripe. When gathered they were dried in the sun to extract the nuts.

Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana Dougl.). Caa'kū or sa'agu (N) and hi'atcī (C) are the terms for both old and young sugar pine trees. This species, like the digger pine, supplied a much relished nut. The cones were not twisted off by hand, but by imparting to the limb to which they were attached first a swaying, then a rotating, motion which caused the heavy cones to twist themselves off. In order to do this it was necessary for men to climb the tree and use the hand or foot to get the branch into motion. This was done when the cone had turned brown, but just before it was mature enough for the nuts to fall out. Green cones were not gathered. If a tree presented a great expanse of smooth trunk, a small dead tree was set against it to serve as a ladder (tcone, C), or a special climbing pole (au, C) was used. Smaller trees were scaled without any type of ladder.

After the sugar pine cones were all shaken down, as much as half a ton had been accumulated in some cases. They were collected by the women and stood together upside down, sometimes in two tiers. Dry pine needles were then spread over them and ignited, to burn off the pitch, a process called hiatci mulu (C). Sugar pine needles were used for no other purpose.

The sugar pine cones were next hammered top down on a rock so that they split down the middle. The nuts were then removed by pressing down each projecting point on the cone so that the nut would roll out. The nuts were still warm and some might be eaten at once, although pressing and blowing of the eater by a shaman was regarded as necessary at first, as with most first fruits among the Miwok.

The nuts were next shaken in a winnowing basket to get rid of any chaff or empty shells. The wind was the draft of air that removed the waste.

As a rule the man who climbed the tree divided the nuts among the men and women of his party.

In addition to shelling the nuts, which are soft shelled, and eating the meat whole, the Central Miwok pulverized the nuts, shell as well as meat, in a mortar until they had the consistency of peanut butter, but a darker color. This sugar pine nut butter was called lopa (C), a generic term for all such preparations. Sugar pine nuts were prepared as lopa especially for feasts (kote, C). Digger pine nuts could not be prepared as lopa, because their shells are too hard and thick. Sugar pine lopa was eaten with the fingers along with acorn soup (nppa, C), or with manzanita cider (sakema, C).

Sugar pine sugar was dissolved and used as a wash for sore or blind eyes. It was also eaten as a delicacy.

Sierra Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis Hook.). What an informant said was juniper is the tree called setekine (C). The nuts were eaten when thoroughly ripe. The several nuts in each cone were cracked with the teeth and eaten without further preparation. The nuts seem to have been less troublesome to get than pine nuts, because of the lack of pitch. The tree produced no gum. Aside from the seeds no parts of the tree were used.

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