Tag Archives: Sacred Mountain

Mount Diablo and Runaway Indians

Mount Diablo is a 3,849 foot tall mountain in the East San Francisco Bay Area. According to the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, the name comes from a successful act of resistance by “runaway” mission Indians:

The reference to “diablo” or “devil”, can be traced back to 1804 or 1805, when a Spanish military expedition visited the area in search of runaway mission Indians. At a willow thicket near present-day Buchanan Field, the soldiers encountered a Village of Chupcan people and surrounded it. But night came, and evidently all the Indians escaped, unseen. Angry and confused, the Spanish called the site “Monte del Diablo”, or “Thicket of the Devil”.

Later, English-speaking newcomers mistakenly assumed the word “monte” to mean “mountain”, and applied the title to this prominent east bay peak. A linguistic accident thus gave California its Devil Mountain.

The Mount Diablo Interpretive Association also lists several earlier names for the mountain:

Although we know this place as Mt. Diablo today, the mountain has had many Indian names. They include: Tuyshtak (Ohlone/Costanoan), ‘Oj-ompil-e (Northern Miwok), Supemenenu (Southern Miwok), and Sukku Jaman (Nisenan).

An early Spanish name for the peak was “Cerro Alto de los Bolbones”, or “High Point of the Volvon Indians”. At one time, most of the mountain lay within the homeland of the Volvon, a Bay Miwok group.

The label “runaway” refers to the fact that once a native was baptized at a mission, they were not allowed to leave. In “Indian Labor at the California Missions: Slavery or Salvation?” Robert Archibald wrote:

Before baptism, neophytes were warned that once they had become Christians their lives would be restricted to the mission compound. […] Absence, equated with apostasy, was punished swiftly and certainly. Either soldiers from the escolta, or mission guard, or soldiers from a presidial company were assigned the task of tracking and capturing runaways. The result was a whipping administered by a soldier or mission Indian, sometimes to the point of death.

A large number of natives ran away from the missions despite these risks:

Desertion was not an occasional occurrence but rather a persistent problem. Records enumerating apostates were not kept. Consequently only an approximation can be arrived at by comparing population increase with the difference between baptisms and deaths for a stated period. The result is a figure varying somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. This number includes only those fugitives who were able to successfully elude constant pursuit. A much greater percentage made aborted attempts at escape.

Absent Indians were hunted down by other mission Indians, soldiers, or a combination of both. Escapees in concert with non-mission natives frequently made violent and sometimes successful resistance to recapture. Truancy became so common that it was customary to send presidial soldiers after the fugitives at stated intervals and round up as many as possible at one time to be sent back to their respective missions. Disaster was sometimes the result of these expeditions.

The Walk for the Ancestors report “They tell on themselves: Stories of runaways and soldiers at Mission San Miguel” shares more stories of repression and resistance.

For example, “In 1798, Father Antonio De la Concepcion Horra, one of the first padres assigned to San Miguel, authored a letter to the viceroy [ruler of New Spain] reporting on the conditions of the California missions,” in which he wrote:

I would like to inform you of the many abuses that are commonplace…The manner in which the Indians are treated is by far more cruel than anything I have ever read about. For any reason, however insignificant it may be, they are severely and cruelly whipped, placed in shackles, or put in stocks for days on end without even a drop of water. (Quoted in Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions by James A. Sandos, pg. 272)

Fermín Lasuén, Junipero Serra’s successor as head of the California mission system, protested a proposal to withdraw Spanish soldiers from Alta California in 1797 on the grounds that soldiers were required to keep converts from running away:

The majority of our neophytes have not acquired much love for our way of life; and they see and meet their pagan relatives in the forest, fat and robust and enjoying complete liberty. They will go with them, then, when they no longer have any fear and respect for the force, such as it is, which restrains them. (Quoted in American Colonies by Alan Taylor, pg. 463)

And with the destruction of their original home villages by disease and conversion and raids by Spanish soldiers, many runaways formed new communities:

“Like runaway slaves in the American South, many struck out for distant parts, then congregated in remote areas, and formed large fugitive communities. By the end of the mission era, hundreds of runaway neophytes from Santa Barbara, San Miguel, and San Luis Obispo missions had accumulated in a swampy area of the southern San Joaquin Valley, near what later became known as Buena Vista Lake. According to Padre Mariano Payeras, they reverted to their pagan state and fought off soldiers sent to fetch them back, forming what Payeras described as “a republic of hell and a diabolical union of apostates.” (Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913 by Richard Street, pg. 70)


Mt. Kinabalu

Credit: Oscark.

Credit: Oscark.

Mt. Kinabalu is located on the island of Borneo, in the East Malaysian state of Sabah. According to the BBC, it is a sacred site for the Kadazan Duzun tribe:

“It is our temple,” said Dr. Benedict Topin, executive secretary of the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association.

“When we die, our souls will journey upwards towards our creator in the sky, Kinohiringan. But we are not perfect, so our souls rest on the peak of Kinabalu and await for emancipation. It is like our purgatory.”

Priests and priestesses, called Bobolians, help these spirits go to the sky by performing purification rituals.

Kinabalu’s name is derived from the tribe’s phrase “Aki Nabalu”, which means resting place of the souls of the departed.

Locals believe it is also named after a god, Aki Nabalu, who together with another god Odu Nabalu, take care of the mountain.

The mountain has a direct link to the tribe’s central belief that the sky deity Kinohiringan and his wife, the earth deity Umunsumundu, together created the universe.

Kinohiringan was embarrassed when his clouds were too small compared with the earth. To soothe his hurt pride, Umunsumundu re-made the world and in the process created Kinabalu, which she designated as the world’s centre.

Locals believe that the spirits of the mountains should be respected and honored properly:

Locals believe that every visit is an intrusion into the world of the spirits and thus they must be placated.

Guides used to perform a ritual called the Monolob at the foot of the mountain before every climb, as a way to appease the mountain gods and spirits and ensure a safe journey.

One of the first documented instances of this ritual was by British administrator Sir Hugh Low, who climbed the mountain in 1851 and saw a guide slaughtering chickens and offering prayers.

With Kinabalu becoming a popular climbing destination, locals now conduct the Monolob just once a year during the tribe’s Community Day in December, The New Straits Times reported.

A Bobolian makes an offering of seven white chickens accompanied by seven chicken eggs, betel nuts, tobacco, limestone powder, and betel plant leaves.

The Bobolian then leads a chant and the chickens are then slaughtered, cooked, and given to the ceremony participants to eat.

On May 30, ten Western tourists climbed the mountain and then stripped naked, despite the pleas of their guide not to do so. Some of the tourists urinated on the mountain, and they posed naked for photographs. On June 5, an earthquake struck the mountain, causing landslides which killed 18 people, including “young students from Singapore who were on a school excursion.”

According to The Straits Times, some people have linked the two events, while others have criticized the tourists without implying direct causation:

In the wake of the disaster, Malaysian social media users and some Sabah officials have focused on the nudists, suggesting that their actions angered the spirits and led to the earthquake.

But [Sabah provincial tourism minister] Masidi said the idea that the tourists’ actions had caused the earthquake was “misconstrued.”

“I never said that they actually caused the earthquake but their actions were against the people of the largest tribe in Sabah. The mountain is a revered and sacred site,” he said.

A traditional inter-faith cleansing ritual is expected to take place at the mountain site soon involving Muslims, Christians as well as tribal leaders, according to Masidi.

Tindarama Aman Sirom Simbuna, a Bobolian, stated in an interview that “the tourists who angered the guardian of the mountain should pay for their mistakes by giving sogit. This fine, called sogit in the native tongue, should be in the form of 10 male or female buffaloes.”

Four of the Westerners–Briton Eleanor Hawkins, Canadians Lindsey and Danielle Peterson, and Dutchman Dylan Snel–were arrested, plead guilty to “committing an obscene act in public,” and were sentenced to time served and a fine of 5,000 Malaysian ringgit (£860/$1,330) each.

Another Canadian, Emil Kaminiski, exacerbated the situation by insulting the local culture:

The travel blogger posted a video in which he criticised officials for linking the stunt and the earthquake. “To say something that fucking stupid you really need to have lobotomised yourself on a piece of heavy machinery,” Kaminski said.

“Jesus Christ people, it’s just a fucking mountain,” he said, before reading out some of the insults he had received in response to an earlier post about the affair.

It is unclear whether Kaminski was actually involved in the stunt, or is seeking to profit from its notoriety.

The International Business Times reports that Kaminiski, who was “pretending he was one of the naked hikers,” has “admitted his story was a hoax and that he left Malaysia before the controversy began.”