Tongva (Gabrielinos)

The Tongva (or Gabrielinos) were the people who canoed out to greet Spanish explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo upon his arrival off the shores of Santa Catalina and San Pedro in 1542. Cabrillo declined their invitation to come ashore and visit. Their original name having been lost to cultural assimilation into Spanish and Mexican culture, they came to be called Gabrielinos because of their close association with the Mission San Gabriel. They once inhabited all of Los Angeles County and northern parts of Orange County. There were an estimated 5,000 Tongva in the region when the first Spanish settlers arrived in 1781. There are 31 known sites believed to have been Tongva villages, each having had as many as 400 to 500 huts. Hereditary chieftains who wielded almost total authority over the community led the villages.

Warfare was not frequent for the Tongva and robbery, murder, and incest was rare.

Tongva religious ceremonies were held in a circular structure within the village. The structure could only be entered by select males of status in the community and close relatives in the event of funerary ceremonies. Female singers were also allowed.

The Tongva believed in a supreme being that brought order to the chaotic world by setting it upon the shoulders of seven giants made for that purpose. The Supreme Being went on to make animals, man, and woman. The Tongva believed that humans originated in the north where the Supreme Being lived and that the Supreme Being himself led Tongva ancestors to Southern California. The Tongva did not believe in evil spirits or any concept of a hell or devil until Spanish missionaries introduced these ideas. Porpoises and owls were highly esteemed and were never killed. The practice of medicine and healing was the responsibility of the medicine man.

To fail to show courage was the height of disgrace among the Tongva. Men would deliberately lie on top of red anthills and have handfuls of ants placed in their face as a demonstration of courage.

The Tongva introduced boys to manhood through fasting, hallucinogenic rituals and trials of endurance. An experienced elderly man served to instruct the boys in the legends of the world’s origin and their future. The boys sought visions of their own special animal protector. These ceremonies were believed to provide the boys with a spiritual nature. The boys were also tested for courage by facing trials by fire, whippings, and lying on anthills. Boys who failed to endure these trials earned reputations of weakness and cowardice.

Tongva communities and culture fell into a rapid decline with the arrival of the Mission de San Gabriel in 1771. Many of the Tongva joined the mission (and the Missions San Fernando and San Juan Capistrano) and, upon their conversions, were compelled to abandon their villages and culture. It was their association with the Mission San Gabriel that gave the Tongva their Europeanized name Gabrielino. By the time the first American settlers arrival in the Los Angeles area in 1841, Tongva survivors were scattered and working at subsistence level on Mexican land grants. Disease further decimated the Tongva population. Today, it is estimated that a few hundred to a few thousand Tongva still live in California.

Source: Los Angeles Almanac.


Gabrieleno/Tongva Nation web site

Gabrielino/Tongva culture (1991). Videorecording. George Angelo, Jr. Lincoln, NE : Native American Public Telecommunications : Vision Maker Video.

Bean, L. and C. Smith (1978). ‘Gabrieliño’. Handbook of North American Indians, edited by R. F. Heizer. Vol. 8, California: 538-549. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute Press.

Blackburn, T.C. 1963. Ethnohistoric descriptions of Gabrieliño material culture. UCLA Archaeological Survey, Annual Report 5: 1-50.

Castillo, Edward D. (1999). Blood came from their mouths: Tongva and Chumash responses to the pandemic of 1801. American Indian Culture and Research Journal 23. 3 (Summer): 47. Abstract.

Johnston, B.E. (1962). California’s Gabrieliño Indians. Frederick Webb Hodge Anniversary Publication Fund, vol. VII. Los Angeles: Southwest Museum.

La Lone, M. (1980). Gabrieliño Indians of Southern California: An Annotated Ethnohistoric Bibliography. Occasional Paper 6, University of California, Los Angeles, Institute of Archaeology.

McCawley, William (1996). The First Angelinos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles. Banning, CA: Malki Museum Press and Novato, CA : Ballena Press.

Weaver, J.D. 1973. El Pueblo Grande: Los Angeles from the Brush Huts of Yangna to the skyscrapers of modern Megalopolis. Los Angeles: Anderson, Richie, and Simon.

See also general bibliography.







Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles