A drawing & what I learned from a Me-Wuk "sopapette"

I always forget that I know how to draw and that I actually enjoy it. When I was little I drew like crazy, but as I got older I drew less and less. Every once in a while I draw something and remember that I can. It's not that I can draw really well (as my sister PawPrint can), but I can at least get my point across sufficiently. So yesterday after I posted the drawings I'd made in December, I thought I might as well take pencil to paper and make another addition to my Miwok Picture Language Book.

I brought my Native American and Miwok books downstairs to our coffee table and began sketching, looking up words and images when needed. I copied the roundhouse from a drawing in a book published through Columbia Junior College called "Miwok" that Alexys's grandmother let me borrow. I collected the words from various sources: Alexys's knowledge of the Miwok language, the internet, Deeper Than Gold, the "Miwok" book, and a pamphlet from the Stanislaus National Forest titled "Shadow of the Miwok" about a re-created Miwok village in Pinecrest.

co-may: moon, molla: blue oak, nenga: man, oha: woman, haju: dog, lapisay: fish, suhssuh: firewood, umucha: cedar bark house, hangi: ceremonial roundhouse, walli: earth, chaw'se: mortar grinding stone, sykyineh: tattooed person, kiky: water, chuck-ah: acorn granary, wassa: Ponderosa pine

Over Spring Break, I had a chance to meet and learn some Miwok cultural information from Buddy, the sopapette, or dance leader, at the Tuolumne Me-Wuk Reservation. He is Alexys's uncle's cousin and we were lucky enough to have a chance to meet with him in his home on the reservation. He taught himself much of his culture by researching it, which is so incredible. He is teaching it to the children on the reservation. It's so awesome that he is keeping the Miwok culture alive. It was a unique experience to learn from him, but I haven't shared much of what I learned because it was so special and it felt like something that shouldn't just be shared with the world via the internet. I likely won't share the experiences I had, but I will share the facts that I learned.

I learned that acorns are stored for a year before they are consumed as ule, acorn bread, or as nupa, acorn mush. Sifting baskets that were used by the Me-Wuk had different designs that represented different things. Various colors were used in making baskets to give certain patterns. Acorns were ground, as most people know, in mortar cupules called chaw'se. Rock pestles, kawachi, were used to crush the acorns into flour. The chaw'se were arranged in the shape of a constellation or in a pattern to indicate the direction to the next village. I had never realized that before! One of the last times that I visited with city naturalist Eric Nicholas at the Alviso Adobe Community Park, he said he wished he had thought of arranging his grinding stone cupules in the shape of a constellation. At the time, I didn't realize that it was a traditional practice. (He is making his own chaw'se at the park so he can demonstrate how acorns were ground. When he teaches various programs, he has kids take turns pecking at the new depressions in the rock so they'll eventually become deep enough to be used. There is an ancient mortar cupule at the park, but it is a historic site that was actually used by the Ohlone, so it can't be practically utilized. For more information about the Alviso Adobe and the Ohlone, see this post.)

This set of mortar cupules, found at the Alviso Adobe Community Park, could possibly date back to 3,000 BC, according to a sign nearby. The sign states that it was used to crush acorns, but city naturalist Eric Nicholas believes it was used in ceremonial plant preparations. This bedrock mortar is listed on the California Historic Register.

I also learned that the Me-Wuk used lava rocks (found in the area from the volcanic activity in the past) to heat their water. The practice of heating rocks in fire and putting them in baskets to boil water is widespread, but I didn't realize the Me-Wuk used lava rocks. I learned from Eric Nicholas that the rock would be heated in the fire and then carried with a hoop stick to a basket of water to clean it off. The rock was then lifted into another bowl of water to boil it for tea or for food. As one rock cooled, another hot one would be added and the rocks were stirred in the water.

In the above picture, you can see a hoop stick on the right, with the rock on the hoop end. The large stone bowl is bedrock mortar and the stone in it is a pestle. Abalone shells on the left hold acorns. The brushes near the bottom of the picture are soaproot brushes made from the fibers of the soaproot plant. This display is set up at the Alviso Adobe Community Park.

I will later post the other information I learned.

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal


You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters.
St. Bernard


  1. Thank you for sharing your artwork in this post and the last post. You have great detail and the visuals help communicate your message(s) very nicely.

  2. Hi there! This article couldn't be written any better!

    Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He constantly kept talking about this. I am going to forward this article
    to him. Pretty sure he's going to have a great read.
    Thanks for sharing!

    my website ... Green Coffee Diet


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