Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor
Drawn From Life: California Indians in Pen and Brush. By Theodora Kroeber, Albert B. Elsasser, Robert F. Heizer. Socorro, New Mexico: Ballana Press, 1977. Bibliography. Illustration. Notes to the pictures. Maps. 295 pages. $8.95.
Reviewed by Frank R. LaPena, Director Native American Studies, Assistant Professor of Art, California State University at Sacramento; Author of Wintu Ethnography for the Smithsonian publication of The Handbook of North American Indians, and The Gift of Singing, Chalatian Press, 1976.
The American Indian suffered many losses of life through white contact. For over three hundred years, from the Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo expedition in 1542 to 1880, California’s land and people were victimized by conquest, desecration, and disease. As a result of this destruction, when the story of California is discussed, many interpretations are presented, but rarely is the California Indian point of view given.
The genocide of native California Indian people by foreign disease, destruction of natural resources, and manhunts, as well as forced assimilation, destroyed “irreplaceable” information of Indian elders, historians, doctors, and medicine people. Genocide largely destroyed the traditional transmission of oral history and philosophy and denied the native peoples’ “right” to their heritage.
The relationship between man and nature was an important spiritual concept to the California Indian people who identified themselves in reference to landmarks, directions of rivers, and the land around them. All the land of the state was “settled and used” by the native Indian tribes.
This book is an outgrowth of a successful exhibit at the Lowie Museum at the University of California, Berkeley. The exhibit did much to clarify some of the early influences of the Spanish and the Anglos on the native California Indian people. The book draws on the research, documentation and the organization of the Lowie Museum exhibit and fills a much needed part of history on the California Indian. The authors have presented a complex and historically rich heritage by organizing drawings and information by regions of the state of California.
Regardless of how many words are used to verbalize the existence of the California Indian, it is the pictures of the people that show us who they were. The way they are depicted also tells of the attitude of the artist or the attitude of the settlers during the period the drawings were made. The drawings cover domestic scenes, villages, landscapes, posed portraits, and changing customs of life style. How changes took place through contact is also shown. Because some of the works are sketches done with “stereotypes” in mind, they do not always give a true picture of the events or the people.
It is an impossible task to show a complete history of the California Indian people; not enough artists or journalist artists were active here. But what is shown is something which rarely has been portrayed before—the California Indian as a human being. The authors express an attitude sympathetic to the Indian in most cases. However, when using the word “frenetic” to describe scenes from everyday life, the authors are misleading. It is in these scenes of everyday activities in a village that we get a chance to glimpse the Indian’s home life. It was not frenetic.
The authors state that “in the face of gunfire the valley Indians laid down their bows and arrows, and their liberty, becoming the indentured serfs and slaves of the new valley people and so dying; most of them. Meanwhile the hill Indians opposed the conquest of their lands and people with as fierce a resistance as the pioneers were to encounter in their bloody trek across the continent. These Indians suffered annihilation, not submission.” (p. 121)
This statement becomes crucial if one realizes there are California Indian people alive today who maintain their cultural values and believe their customs and traditons to be still valid. The drawings in the book will allow Indian and non-Indian alike to glimpse who the California Indian was and is, and do it in a more humanistic manner. Such a book is long overdue.