This is a traditional story of the Cahuilla, a people native to the area known as Southern California (Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Palm Canyons) today. There language Iviatim is still spoken by but a few elders.
One of the challenges about growing up today is that there are increasingly fewer and fewer referral points when discovering one’s place in the world. It is not appreciated enough by adults just how difficult it can be for young boys and girls today to have as their only reference point the media. Full of information and no knowledge, what is imparted by the media is whatever is the going currency. For young men A few stereotypes form a false sense of manhood, when they have never been given the opportunity to discover in real terms what manhood means.
This story reflects aspects of the past, where guidance came from a knowledge base, as a young man set out to discover himself!
Climbing the Mountain
By the Cahuilla People
Here in the dry desert, of the southwestern part of our country, there lived the Cahuillan Indian Tribe, and just to the north of them, off in the distance, was the very high range of mountains we today call the San Bernardino Mountains. It was considered a great and important achievement to be able to climb this mountain, and so all the young boys of the village looked forward to the day when they were old enough that they could try it on their own.
One night, during the Fall, the Chief called all the boys together and said to them:
“Now, boys, you are of the proper age to accept this challenge, and you may now all go out tomorrow and seek to climb that mountain with my blessings. Start right after breakfast, and each of you, go as far as you can, and, when you are tired, come back, but you must bring back a twig from the place where you turned.”
The boys were so excited they could hardly sleep that night.
The next morning, away they all went, full of hope and dreams, each feeling that he could surely reach the top.
Soon a fat, pudgy boy slowly returns, puffing and sweating all the way. As he stood before his Chief, he showed in his hand, that he held a piece of green Beavertail Cactus.
“My boy,” the Chief smiled in disbelief,
“I can see you did not reach the foot of the mountain.”
An hour passed. Then another boy returned carrying a twig of Black Sagebrush.
“Well,” said the Chief, “I can see that at least you did reach the foot of the mountain.”
Another hour passed, and a third boy returned. He held a young Cottonwood sapling.
“Good work,” said the Chief, “you got up as far as the springs! Very good!”
A while longer, there returned a boy with a part of some Buckthorn. The Chief smiled when he saw it, and said:
“You were actually climbing! I can see you were up to that first rock-slide. You are a hard working boy.”
Later in the afternoon, one arrived with an Incense Cedar frond.
“Well done, my boy,” said the Chief. “You made it half way up! You have seen the heart of the mountain. Very good job.”
An hour after that, one came with a branch of Ponderosa Pine, and to him the Chief said:
“Good job. You went to the third life zone. It looks like you made it three quarters of the way. I bet if you keep trying, next year you will undoubtedly reach the top!”
The sun was low, and even the Chief was starting to worry a bit. There were many pitfalls on that mountain to overcome, and the last of his boys had not returned to the camp. Could a Grizzly Bear have ambushed him? Or maybe he fell off a tall rock facing somewhere, never to be heard from again? Maybe he had lost his way, or ran out of water.
As it happened, just when the Chief was to send out a search party to look for the boy, he was returning.
He was a tall, splendid boy of noble character, everyone already knew he was marked to be successful in life. He approached the Chief and held out his hand. It was empty, but his face was glowing with happiness when the boy said:
“My Chief, there were no trees where I came from. I saw no twigs, no living thing up on that peak. And far away I could see the glorious sight of the sun shining off the sea.”
Now the old man’s face started to glow too! He turned around, and said aloud with an almost musical tone in his voice:
“I knew it! I just knew it when I looked upon your face. You have been all the way to the top! It was written in your eyes! It rings in your voice! And it is alive in the way you carry your body! My boy, you need no twigs for token. You have felt the uplift in your spirit because you have seen the glory of the mountain!”
My boys, keep this in mind, that the badges that are offered you for your achievements, are not “prizes” to be “won”. These badges, are just tokens, of what you have done, and where you have been. They are symbols of your trail, to show how far you got, during your climb to manhood.
N.B: The signs of achievement show in the countenance of the character, not in the possessions!
Ancient Times – The Years of the Cahuilla