North America - Part 3 - The Chumash
The Chumash people lived on the western coast and islands near Santa Barbara 'Antap - a religious cult of ritual specialists - observed the phases of the moon and the movement of the sun to see when public activities in honour of the celestial bodies should be held. These 'Antap monopolized astronomical knowledge and had both political and religious power among the Chumash. Information on their astronomical knowledge is scarce because early Franciscan priests and Spaniards suppresed their practices. Much of the infomation we have today comes from anthopological deduction based on investigation and research done by J.P Harrington with the people. The Chumash had a cosmos that consisted of
This universe of theirs was constantly in flux and required human intervention to prevent things from turning chaotic. 'Antap astronomers, known as 'Alchuklash, were believed to possess supernatural powers which allowed them to cause rain or divert it. Their duties consisted of naming children according to their birth date, overseeing puberty rituals and taking charge of religious events.
The greatest Chumash god was the Sun, who was also the most dangerous. During the winter solstice the people would all stay indoors to avoid being eaten by him. The 'Antap would lead ceremonies such as honoring the deceased. On the first day of the solstice they would settle all their debts. According to Ray Williamson in his book Living the Sky (1984), some of the rituals that took place on the second day included a ceremony to pull the sun back northward. It involved the chief priest, the Image of the Sun, and his 12 assistant Rays of the the Sun, chanting and making a ritual speech around an erected sunstick to coax the Sun back to the north. During the night, the people would dance clockwise (sunwise) around decorated poles called Sunpoles. After midnight, they would dance anti clockwise. It kind of reminds us of the pagan May day festivals in Europe, where children hold streamers tied to the top of a pole and dance around till the pole is wrapped, then dance in the opposite direction to unwrap it.