Lucile Hooper and the Desert Cahuilla

Lucile Hooper and the Desert Cahuilla

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An unknown Cahuilla man

Agua Caliente Cultural Museum.

All Rights Reserved Gift of Frank Bogert

Lucile Hooper (1892-1983)

Lucile Hooper received her M.A. in anthropology from UC Berkeley in 1919—a time when most women did not even attend college. She wrote The Cahuilla Indians in 1918 as a University of California research fellow in anthropology. Her research goal was to determine if the Desert Cahuilla, living in Indio and around the Salton Sea area, were more culturally affiliated with the Tribes east of the region or the Tribes west of the region. She chose to study the Cahuilla bands in this area because she believed them to be less influenced by the Euro-American culture than the other bands of Cahuilla in the mountains and pass region.

Hooper stayed at a ranch in Coachella for six months and studied the Cahuilla people’s daily life, ceremonies, and political and social systems; and, she made field recordings of songs and ceremonies on cylinder, which are now held in the UC Berkeley archives.

“Her work was short but seminal, presented for the first time, essentials about the Cahuilla culture which some of its most important leaders chose to relate.”

– Lowell J. Bean

To view the list of Hooper’s audio recordings held in the UC Berkeley archives, please click here.

The Desert Cahuilla Person from whom Hooper Gained Information

Even though there were differences in dialects, the Cahuilla were not categorized into three distinct groups—Desert, Pass, and Mountain—until W. D. Strong, an anthropologist, came to the region in the 1920s. Desert Cahuilla are those who live near Indio, CA and the Salton Sea; today, the bands considered Desert Cahuilla are the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, and the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians.

Although, Lucile Hooper did not record the name of the person she acquired the creation story from, nor did she indicate whether a translator was required during the interview, some facts can be reasonably assumed about who this Cahuilla narrator may have been. Based on the work done by anthropologist William Duncan Strong, who followed Hooper to the region 6 years later, one might assume that she too gathered her information from a Cahuilla net (ceremonial and clan leader). It was the net’s duty to learn and know the creation stories precisely, and to preserve and teach the history of their people. The hereditary role of net was normally passed from father to the oldest or most capable son, however, female nets were not unknown in Cahuilla history.