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


FOODS AND MEDICINES

The food quest tied the Miwok more closely to their environment than did any other phase of culture. They levied widely upon the plant and animal worlds for their sustenance, for they were neither agriculturists nor herdsmen. Tobacco was the only plant cultivated, the dog the only animal domesticated. The plants and animals enumerated as food and medicine in the following pages by no means exhaust the list of life forms used. Apparently almost everything edible in the vegetable world was eaten. Moreover, seasonal movements to different altitudes considerably amplified the diet.

With the extensive utilization of wild plant foods and of those animals most easily caught went a lowly material culture, a combination which seems common the world over among the most primitive groups. Food specialization is usually coupled with general advance in culture, as well as specifically with cultivation of plants and domestication of animals.

Of vegetable foods manzanita berries were the “cheapest” and least desirable. Bulbs, corms, and mushrooms were next highest in ascending order of esteem. Certain seeds came next, but were considered luxuries. Acorns were regarded as the finest vegetable food. The person who had a sufficiency of both acorns and venison was considered well off. Black oak acorns and Godetia viminea seeds were the two most prized vegetable foods. Deer meat was the most highly regarded flesh, with the meat of the California Gray Squirrel (me'we, C)7 a close second. In the lower foothills salmon was the most prized fish, in the mountains trout.

The principal crops were as follows: mushrooms in winter, clover in spring, seeds in summer, acorns in fall. Plums and cherries were gathered between the seed harvest and the acorn harvest. Bulbs were gathered in the spring. In winter the diet was more largely of meat than at any other time of the year. The mammals, especially squirrels, were fat and nice to eat at that season.

Nearly all the mammals, birds, reptiles, and fishes, which could be caught, served as food, as did several kinds of insects. The carrion-feeding turkey vulture was the only bird specifically designated as not edible. Among at least some of the Central Miwok bears were not eaten, because the “bear’s foot looks too human.” These same people, however, ate the mountain lion, wild cat, coyote, dog, and skunk.8 The Southern Miwok ate the bullsnake and the striped watersnake, but the flesh of the rattlesnake was used only as medicine. Among the Central Miwok rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, frogs, and lizards were eaten by old people.

The feet of the Mud Hen (Fulica americana) were tapu as food. Birds’ eggs were not ordinarily eaten, but occasionally duck or quail eggs were roasted in ashes.

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7P, N, C, and S, after native words, indicate the dialectic groups: Plains, Northern, Central, and Southern.
8In spite of what Powers says to the contrary. Powers, 351.



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