The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1972, Volume 18, Number 2
James E Moss, Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

The Culture of the Luiseño Indians.By Philip Stedman Sparkman. Reprint edition of the University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 8, No. 4, August 7, 1908. (Ramona, Ca., Acoma Books, 1971). Notes. 47 pages. $2.50.

Reviewed by Florence C. Shipek, anthropologist on the faculty of the University of San Diego. She specializes in the ethnohistory and ecological anthropology of the Luise˜no and Diegueno Indians. She is the editor of The Autobiography of Delfino Cuero; A Diegueno Indian, and Lower California Frontier; Articles from the San Diego Union, 1870.

What a pleasure it is to be asked to review the re-publication of a book long considered a part of the basic literature on Southern California Indians. Philip Stedman Sparkman, the author, was an Englishman who migrated to California many years ago. He opened a store near Valley Center. He became acquainted with the Luiseño Indians who sold him their agricultural produce and bought other items from him. Sparkman was neither a trained anthropologist nor a linguist but he began learning and recording their language and customs. Alfred Kroeber, the leading figure for many years not only in California but in world anthropolgy, while on a trip into Luiseño territory met Philip Sparkman, saw his records and notes and was impressed. Kroeber encouraged him to continue and began to arrange the publication of a short grammar of Luiseño that Sparkman had written. Sparkman’s writings show an understanding and respect for the Indian people that was rare in those times. Following Sparkman’s untimely death in 1907, his papers were sent to the University of California and this manuscript was among them. It was published with only minor printing corrections in 1908. This work then has already stood the test of time; it is the basic work upon which all the more recent work relies. The material culture descriptions are excellent. All the basic technologies are described. The economy and subsistence of the people prior to the arrival of the Spanish are described. The ethnobotany is only one of the many details which would be difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate today. In these forty-six pages he has covered marriage customs, property concepts, religious beliefs, ceremonies and some of the more important legends of the Luiseño.

Like many of the professionally trained anthropologists of his time, he misunderstood the role of “chief” and the way in which the social, religious, political and economic structures were completely integrated. The analysis of this type of integrated structure and its ecological relationships had to await developing scientific and theoretical concepts about human societies and how they operate in relation to their environment. To gain an understanding of this aspect of Luiseño culture I would recommend watching for the publication by the University of California Press in 1972 of a work by Lowell J. Bean on Cahuilla ecology.

The other works necessary for understanding Luiseño culture are: Raymond C. White, Luiseño Social Organization, 1963, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 48, No. 2; J. P. Harrington, A new Original Version of Boxcana’s Historical Account of the San Juan Capistrano Indians of Southern California, 1934, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Vol. 92, No. 4; Villiana Hyde, An Introduction to the Luiseño Language, 1971, Malki Museum, Banning, California; Constance DuBois, The Religion of the Luiseño Indians, 1908, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology. This listing is a far cry from being a bibliography of the material on the Luiseño, but when these five works are used in conjunction with Sparkman’s The Culture of the Luiseño Indians a well rounded picture of the society begins to emerge.

For years the Sparkman book has been out of print and unavailable for use except at libraries or museums. Acoma Books is to be thanked for the service they have done for all interested in Southern California. Acoma Books has followed the format of the original University of California Publications in America Archaeology and Ethnology; the print is clear and the paper good. They reprinted in the paperback form thus keeping the price reasonable. It is hoped that they have embarked upon a successful “program” of reprinting these old classics books which have been unavailable for so long. It is also to be hoped that in the future they will add an introduction by a present-day field worker which will include a short bibliography and bring the reader up to date on important developments in that subject.