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Pablo Tac, Indigenous Scholar Writing on Luiseño Language and Colonial History, c.1840, Including the complete manuscript of Pablo Tac

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The Life and Writing of Luiseño Scholar Pablo Tac, 1820-1841

Lisbeth Haas

As a historian and scholar, Pablo Tac defied the dominant ideas expressed about Luiseños and other indigenous people under Spanish colonialism. His work used categories of analysis such as "dance" that offered an indigenous way of understanding Luiseño society during the colonial and Mexican eras in California, from 1769 to 1848. Born at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in 1820, Tac devised a way to write Luiseño from his study of Latin grammar and Spanish, and in so doing he captured many of the relationships that existed between Luiseños during his youth. Drawing on local knowledge, traditions, and ideas, his writing leaves traces of Luiseño spiritual practice and thought, while also revealing the relations of power and authority that existed within his indigenous community.

Tac passed down a way of understanding Spanish colonialism that placed Luiseños at the center of the story. His writing about language and history has wide purposes for readers today, because it constitutes an indigenous record that recasts the past. In translating between Luiseño and Spanish in his grammar and dictionary, he identified the distinct cultural concepts expressed in each language. The vivid examples Tac used to define the words in his dictionary and Luiseño forms of speech can be read as a cultural history, narrating aspects of the Luiseño world available only through his experience.

Tac wrote his manuscript for the linguist and Vatican librarian Cardinal Carlos Giuseppe Mezzofanti while studying for the priesthood in Rome; it would become one of hundreds in Mezzofanti's collection. Tac's manuscript, however, was unique, not only for his voice, humor, and tenacity, but also for his inclusion of a history.1

Tac himself created the written form of Luiseño that he used, and he translated itinto Spanish and Latin. Although he made Luiseño conform to Latin grammatical constructions, his word choice and his narrative form, along with his continual translation between Luiseño and Spanish, establish an indigenous framework for understanding Luiseño. Tac emphasized Luiseño equality and power, a perspective that has no precedent in the Spanish documents produced in California during his youth.

Born into an era when indigenous people had just become citizens of an independent Mexico (which included Alta California), Tac seemed determined to integrate Luiseño language, history, and oral traditions with global processes. As a nineteenth-century cultural figure, Tac worked among international scholars in Rome. He studied with young men who similarly came from distant empires and new nations in political turmoil. This context may have reinforced the sense of Luiseño equality and dignity that he conveys. His dictionary includes words such as alauis, or "liberal" (fol. 110v), that are not found in later Luiseño dictionaries.2

Tac wrote far from his territory and tribe. It took almost a century for his work to be published, and the form of publication further distanced Tac from his language and place in history. During the 1920s the Italian linguist Carlos Tagliavini divided the manuscript into three articles that he edited and published separately, thus losing the work's internal integrity, original form, and interconnected meanings.3 As a result, scholars questioned the accuracy of Tac's representation of Luiseño culture. Alfred Kroeber referred to a dialogue Tac wrote as something "concocted in Rome," doubting its relationship to Luiseño culture-as if the culture remained stagnant, and something apart from Tac himself.4 Above all, discussions of the manuscript have circumvented the ideas Tac put forth, ideas that could produce new ways of seeing colonial society. Scholars read Tac's published history in a form edited to fit a standard Western narrative, and removed from the rest of the manuscript, where Luiseño words temper and qualify Tac's Spanish. To highlight the knowledge Tac presents, this book integrates Tac's words and ideas by publishing the manuscript in its original form and with English translation.

Growing to Adulthood in Mission San Luis Rey

Mission San Luis Rey had been established in the territory of Tac's ancestors in 1798, twenty-two years before the birth of Pablo Tac.But the Spanish presence went back farther, to the time when the Franciscans established the first missions in California beginning in 1769-the year of the birth of Tac's paternal grandmother, Pitmel. For almost thirty years Pitmel and other Luiseño people who lived in autonomous territories on the mesas and coastal valleys in western Luiseño territory witnessed the constant incursion of caravans that moved north and south through their land on El Camino Real. They also witnessed the San Diego revolt of 1775 and endured widespread illnesses even before the mission was founded. Tac noted-perhaps from oral history and official records-that five thousand people were living in Luiseño territory before the Spanish arrived (fols. 75r, 80v, 92r). Of that number, he wrote, two thousand perished from illness, leaving only three thousand (fol. 92r). Although the Spanish traveled through Luiseño territory from the presidio and mission of San Diego and all points north for nearly thirty years after 1769, their own records make no note of these illnesses. The Spanish rarely commented on the Luiseño society they passed through.

Perhaps the slow shift in power relations regionally, together with the spread of disease among Luiseños, created a "time of little choice," so that by 1795, some Luiseño leaders were willing to allow a mission to be established in their territory.5 Indeed, a few of them had already been baptized by the late 1780s. Some Luiseños had affiliated with Mission San Diego de Alcalá, to the south, or the missions San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel Arcángel, to the north. By 1798, the chief of Quechla-the territory of Tac's forebears-had likewise agreed to the founding of a mission within his jurisdiction. His was one of more than twenty-seven politically independent but interconnected Luiseño territories.6

Construction of the mission began in 1798. Inhabitants of the nearby mesas and valleys joined the church first; within a week, seventy-seven persons had been baptized, and twenty-three others had received instruction on site. Fray Fermín Lasuén wrote that "larger numbers are not admitted to instruction for it is impossible to maintain them in the customary manner because of the grave and unavoidable inconveniences," especially the difficulty of feeding a large group of new converts, five troops, two missionaries, and thirty indigenous translators and aids from San Diego and San Juan Capistrano.7 By 1 August 1798 three principal Luiseño chiefs and their wives from neighboring villages lived at the mission and received instruction, together with twenty-nine others.8 By early September Fray Lasuén saw the mission "progressing in spiritual and temporal matters in extraordinary and admirable ways."9

A blind prayer leader from Mission San Juan Capistrano, a native of Luiseño territory, helped translate the prayers and doctrine into Luiseño and instructed adults "in their own language."10 The adults attended instruction "punctually morning and evening from the very day of the foundation." The prayer leader and his cotranslators from San Juan Capistrano came from strong religious traditions, including that of Chanichñis (fig. 1).11 These translators placed the Christianity that Luiseños accepted in baptism into a framework that offered great latitude for interpretation through their perspectives. 

Pitmel, Tac's grandmother, took her son to be baptized as Pedro Alcántara Tac, on 19 October 1801, shortly after his birth. Four years later she would receive her own baptism, and the baptismal name Liberata. The family probably moved from her village to the mission village at that point. The mission had settled in Quechla, Pitmel's territory and the name of the indigenous village at the mission. When Tac writes that they called their territory Quechla, he speaks both of his ancestral land and the mission proper (fols. 65v, 78v, 92r).

The rapid rate of baptisms suggests the degree of economic, political, and physical disruption caused by the growth of colonial society in and around Luiseño territory after 1769. Within eight years of its founding, by 1806, the mission registered 1,158 people baptized-the vast majority of people who lived in the valley, in territories near San Luis Rey. Most had by then relocated to the mission (fig. 2).12

Tac's mother, Ladislaya Molmolix, was among those who relocated during the valley's early population shift to the mission. She came from the territory of Pumusi, to the south of San Luis Rey. Baptized on 3 July 1804, she moved to the mission sometime thereafter. There she met Pedro Alcántara Tac. They married around 1818 and would have at least six children, including Pablo Tac. They baptized their daughter Dionesia on 7 October 1819; their son Pablo on 15 January 1822; their sons Julio and José on 16 February 1827 and 1829, respectively; and their daughter Teófila on 10 January 1831. After Tac's departure his parents had a sixth child, José Fermín, baptized on 8 July 1833.13

Agapito Amamix, who would leave San Luis Rey and study in Rome with Tac, likewise had parents from Quechla and Pumusi. But Agapito's mother, Gerónima Atuma Mainamman, had relocated to San Juan Capistrano before the founding of Mission San Luis Rey, as did twenty-six other people from Quechla. She left Quechla at eighteen and was baptized at Mission San Juan Capistrano on 12 September 1797. The following year, when Mission San Luis Rey was founded in Quechla, she moved back to her territory to settle at the mission. She probably became one of the first translators of Catholicism, instructing the new converts in Luiseño dialects.

Gerónima would have six children. She bore five with her first husband, Camilo Pihungani, who was also from Quechla: Gabriel (1802), María Presentación (1807), Casilda (1810), Gerónima (1813), and Camilo (1816), the last born shortly before his father died.14 By 1820, Gerónima married the widower Vicente Amamix, who brought his daughter Evita into the household. The girl's mother, Vicenta, had died sometime between 1816 and 1820. Both Vicente and Vicenta came from Pumusi and had received masculine and feminine forms of the same name at their respective baptisms, in June and July of 1805. Gerónima and Vicente had one son, Agapito Amamix, whom they baptized on 6 August 1820. Gerónima died soon thereafter.

Left without their mother and having lost their father earlier, Gerónima's daughters moved to the girls' dormitories at the mission, while her oldest son married an indigenous woman raised at Mission San Gabriel. Agapito Amamix remained with his father and his half-sister, Evita. Vicente remarried around 1824. His third wife, Pia Chenvaugan, also a widow, came from Jalpay, a borderlands village of Ipai speakers near the ocean. Some people from her village affiliated with Mission San Diego and others with Mission San Luis Rey. Pia had been baptized at the age of six on 12 September 1810 and bore two children by her first husband, Baltasar Chapugix: Dominga (1820) and Fermín (1822). Both children, as well as her husband, died before 1824. Pia herself did not live long after her marriage to Vicente Amamix, who followed her in death a few years later. Agapito, orphaned by both parents, went to live with other young men in the monjerio, where he began to assist the missionary Fray Antonio Peyri.15

A Shadow of Sorrow and Lament

These families experienced a high degree of trauma through occasional epidemics and endemic new diseases such as syphilis, dysentery, and the flu, which left many dead. By 1835, Tac's parents, Pedro Alcántara Tac and Ladislaya Molmolix, had lost all their children in death except Tac, then living in Rome. They stood among many families with similar losses. Agapito and his extended family of siblings saw their parents and stepparents die. Orphaned more than once, his siblings married into other mission Indian families of various descents.

"Poor and also orphaned" is how Tac translated the Luiseño word ahicho (fol. 109r). The pair of adjectives he brought together reveals how vulnerable Luiseño children found themselves without the network of family and the full set of ritualistic practices that had previously sustained them and enriched their future.

A shadow of sorrow and lament crosses the pages of Tac's manuscript. Tac uses the verb "to cry" relatively frequently in examples interspersed throughout the grammar. Ṅaṅiṡ means "to cry" for men and adults. For a man the verb ṅaṅiṡ expresses a greater degree of sorrow, as in Yaas op Ṅaċ, "the man cries" (fols. 69r-v). Among his grammatical examples, Tac writes, "For you he always cried" (fol. 35r) and "My mother cries for my older brother" (fol. 69r). The verb first appears toward the beginning of the grammar, in the example "There was a man who always cried," which Tac contrasts with the example of "another who always laughed" (fol. 27r). But crying reappears in many more examples, while laughter does not.

One grammatical example reads, "Why do you cry? I cry for my father who was eaten by the wolves" (fol. 97r). In an earlier example Tac writes, "They say that over there in that place there are wolves, and that they paint, write, and sing very well ... who believes it?" (fol. 72v).The Spanish used painting, writing, and singing as a cultural basis for Christianization. Translators gave a single Luiseño word, nauiṡ, three equivalents in Spanish: "to signal," "to paint," and "to write" (fol. 82r). Luiseños did not have a tradition of writing, canvas painting, or melodic song. Those three activities remained associated with the Spanish. In Tac's grammatical example above, he suggested a connection between death and the Spanish through the figures of wolves. In the same set of grammatical examples Tac writes, "He said he wanted to kill all the foreigners approaching his country" (fol. 72v).

Peyri chose Tac and Amamix, both young men from among the first families who formed the mission community in Luiseño territory, for entry into the priesthood. They probably began assisting Peyri around the age of eight or nine. They continued to do so in Mexico City, home to the oldest Franciscan institutions of indigenous education in the Americas, where they first went to study.

Peyri's own departure, as well as the preparation of Tac and Amamix for the priesthood, responded to changing conditions in Alta California after Mexican independence from Spain on 16 September 1821, Mexico announced its intention to emancipate California mission Indians from neofía, or their legal tie to the mission, and to secularize mission property. After turning most of the land over to the Mexican state, the missions were to become parishes. In response to this impending change, Peyri and many other missionaries expressed a desire to leave California.16 But before he left, Peyri defended the indigenous land rights of Luiseños in the inventories he drew up of the San Luis Rey and Pala mission properties in 1822 and 1828. He stood almost alone among missionaries and settlers in Alta California to insist that Luiseños and other California Indians were the collective owners of the vast lands claimed by the mission.17

Tac and Amamix were originally expected to return from Mexico City to San Luis Rey, where they would be priests at the parish church that was to replace the mission. After the California territorial government finally issued the Emancipation and Secularization Decree in 1834, Luiseños, who had been politically active to establish the terms of their freedom, retained a far greater amount of land, tribal property, and power than did many California peoples following their colonial encounters. But by that time Tac and Amamix were on their way to Europe.

Mexico City, 1832-34

Peyri finally received permission to return to his home in Catalonia, Spain, in 1829, and began his journey more than two years later, accompanied by Tac and Amamix. The three left the mission on 17 January 1832, sailing south from San Diego to Mexico City, their initial destination. There they settled at the Iglesia y Colegio de San Fernando, located near the northwest end of the Alameda Central, a large public park created in 1592 by Viceroy Luis de Velasco, not far from the Zócalo, at the heart of the colonial city. Franciscans founded the Iglesia y Colegio de San Fernando in 1755 to train missionaries to work with indigenous people in Mexico's north, where new missions continued to develop. Fray Junípero Serra and other missionaries who founded California missions had studied at San Fernando.

The Iglesia de San Francisco stood near the southeast end of the Alameda, built on land that Hernán Cortés had granted to the Franciscans in 1521. Its grounds held the former San José de los Naturales (1529), an open-air church that served an Indian parish near the Zócalo and the first monastic school for indigenous scholars, established by Franciscan Fray Pedro de Gante during the same early era after the conquest. The magnificent structure of San Francisco still encompassed nearly a city block when Tac arrived in 1832, but the Franciscan college for the indigenous nobility no longer existed.18

Although indigenous peoples of the Spanish Americas had legal rights to education and property, and the Spanish Crown promoted the education and ordination of the native elite, many in the church sought to reserve the priesthood, with its social and economic privileges, for Spaniards and those of Spanish descent born in the colonies.At the archdiocese of Guadalajara, for example, only about 5 percent of the priests in the late colonial period identified themselves as Indian, and few of this group identified as mestizo or casta.19

Indigenous priests often claimed noble ancestry and legitimate birth. Many originated in the Indian barrios of Mexico City or the pueblos of the Valley of Mexico.They often earned a language degree (a título de idioma), preparing them to work with the diverse linguistic populations of Mexico. Those who held a título de idioma spoke at least one indigenous language in addition to either Otomi or Nahuatl, as well as Spanish and Latin. Despite their scholarly degrees, their knowledge of languages, and their vows to the priesthood, they generally remained assistants to other priests.20 Similarly, very few convents would accept indigenous women, and then only if they came from elite families.21 Despite the many ways Spanish colonial society excluded the indigenous elite from formal power, the rights of indigenous people to education enabled some to become scholars who documented their communities' histories, languages, and ways of seeing. Their work furthered indigenous representation and authority in the colonial Americas.

Neither Tac nor Amamix descended from ruling lineages, nor had they received advanced education at Mission San Luis Rey. Moreover, secularization threatened church property there as well. The political upheaval left the two young scholars in uncertain circumstances.22 Thus, in February 1834 they sailed with Peyri to Spain, arriving in Barcelona on 21 June . Peyri secured their entrance to the Collegium Urbanum de Propaganda Fide in Rome, where they enrolled in early September 1834.23

Rome, 1834-41

Tac brought very local and specific formative experiences among his people to his scholarship. He moved across difference quite early, learning Spanish and working for Peyri. Tac and Amamix left the mission sometime after they had reached the age for induction into manhood in Luiseño society. In Mexico they experienced life at the center of the new republic, where they could read and hear about dramatic political conflict over the rights of indigenous citizens. They witnessed conflicts between church and state in Mexico, Catalonia, and Rome. The political histories they had come to know at firsthand resembled those of many students they would meet in Rome.

Tac and Amamix enrolled at the Collegium Urbanum de Propaganda Fide as Cheegnajuisci in California-"people from Quechla"-as Tac later put it. Quechla at once referred to their ancestral territory and to the land on which the mission settled (fig. 3).24 This demarcation of origin also reflected Tac's sense that Luiseños continued to possess their ancestral territories, in contrast to the claims made by Spain and Mexico to the land. Being identified as Cheegnajuisci in California acknowledged their territory and suggested the intellectual space of affirmation that opened for both young men in Rome.

The pope gave the congregation of Propaganda Fide the right to train young men from poor mission regions for the priesthood. The congregation founded the Collegium Urbanum de Propaganda Fide in 1627.25 Students from around the world studied and lived at the large complex, a structure that occupied a city block of Vatican land in Rome. The Collegium rose up around a central patio and had an internal courtyard for horses and carriages. Facing the Piazza di Spagna (Plaza of Spain), with its steps leading up to an old church overlooking Rome, the neighborhood had long been an international quarter. Foreign embassies to the Vatican were interspersed with a dense cluster of churches, monasteries, shops, and residences, all built on narrow streets that wound up hilly inclines.

Twenty-nine other young men entered the college in 1834, often arriving in pairs, like Tac and Amamix, from places defined by political conflict in former empires and new nations. They came from Albania, Persia, Cypress, Mesopotamia, Constantinople, Bulgaria, and other areas of the Ottoman Empire where Roman Catholics formed a minority population. Wars and rebellions from internal and external challenges to Ottoman rule engulfed many areas. Although the independence forces eventually lost, Albania, Bulgaria, and Cypress allied with Greece and rose up against the Ottomans in the 1820s. Bulgaria experienced a growth of national culture and language but would not gain independence from Ottoman control until 1878.

Christian populations had long existed in places like Persia (today's Iran), Mesopotamia (Iraq), and Constantinople (Istanbul). Numerous revolts consumed Persia in the wake of the government's attempt to unify the region from Tehran. Mesopotamia carried out extensive modernization around 1834. Constantinople remained on the outer reaches of the Ottoman Empire. These students had therefore seen various kinds of anticolonial movements, and attempts to form new geopolitical entities, conflicts that must have shaped their sense of political rights.

Students from impoverished circumstances came from western Europe as well, and from the Russian and British empires, where Roman Catholics formed minority populations. In their first year Tac and Amamix had classmates from Dalmatia, Scotland, Dublin, and Byelorussia, and even Charleston (South Carolina), Baltimore, and Cincinnati. Dalmatia, long part of the Venetian Republic, suffered the political and economic tensions common in other areas of Italy, and by 1815 it belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Scotland sent two students from poor families. The students from Dublin knew the civic strife of the movement for Irish Catholic independence from the Anglican United Kingdom. Byelorussia, with a long history of cultural nationalism, engaged in insurrection against Russia during the early nineteenth century.

Three native youths from the United States studied at the Collegium during these years along with Tac. The college's roster of students listed Patritius Lynch, a Cherokee (designated Cheraw) from the Carolinas, who enrolled in 1834. He began his studies in the first year of theology, an advanced course.26 Iacobus MacCollion and Guilielmus Monfort, both from the Ohio Territory (Cincinnati), began their studies in 1836.27 Long-established Jesuit missions existed among the indigenous and settler populations in the former French possessions of the Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes region. Indigenous-French trade relations initially structured the colonial economy, but violent conflicts and U.S. nation building brought migration into an area where many indigenous populations had predominated.28

China had sponsored Jesuit priests in its court for centuries, and two students came from China: Franciscus Leang, from Canton, began his studies in the more advanced class of rhetoric; Ioachimus Huo, from Huguang, studied advanced Latin.29 Unlike the famous John Hu from Canton, who arrived in Europe with a Jesuit missionary in the 1720s but ended up in a French psychiatric hospital,30 these young men arrived prepared to be scholars and priests.

Peyri reported that the Collegium welcomed the two Luiseños for being "from distant lands, indigenous and of legitimate birth, and well mannered,"although this wording may have reflected Peyri's own concerns.31 Tac and Amamix's fellow students, who like them came from minority populations in former empires and new nations, might have understood the limits of colonial perspectives more readily than Peyri, offering Tac a dialogue and a space to conceptualize his place as a Luiseño, and as an author, in Rome.

The students all had different levels of schooling, and most would return home as priests working among religious minorities in Islamic and Protestant societies. During their first year at the college, Tac and Amamix studied closely with nine students who also began their course work in Latin grammar, including young men from Baltimore, Bulgaria, Constantinople, Mesopotamia, Ireland,and Cypress.

Other students began with the more advanced classes of rhetoric, humanities, and philosophy. Tac later took those classes as well. Amamix studied Latin grammar in 1834 and 1835, but he fell ill and eventually was sent to convalesce in Tusculano, a monastery held by the order just outside Rome. Unfortunately, Agapito Amamix died on 26 September 1837, almost three years after enrolling in the college, and was buried in the subterranean crypt of the monastery church.32 Although Tac had lost his companion, and his last contact with anyone who spoke Luiseño, he left no record of his response to this loss.

Tac continued to study Latin until 1838. By then literate in Latin, Spanish, and Luiseño, as well as fluent in vernacular Italian, he took yearlong courses in Latin on rhetoric (1838-39), humanities (1839-40), and philosophy (1840). On 2 February 1839 Tac made his first vows to join the priesthood. He survived a life-threatening fever but died in December 1841.

Cardinal Mezzofanti's Archive

As Tac studied, he wrote. He produced his manuscript for Cardinal Mezzofanti, the Vatican librarian and linguist who worked with Tac and other young men from around the world. In 1814 he began to work for the Vatican in Rome. In 1833 the pope appointed him custodian of the Vatican Library. He received the title of cardinal in 1838.33 In Rome, he collected the writing of the students with whom he worked, and he also had assistants copy language fragments and manuscripts for his archive. Mezzofanti set up multilingual poetry readings with students and kept copies of poems in languages as diverse as English, Ethiopian, Russian, Swiss and Tac's californese, as Mezzofanti called Luiseño.34

Mezzofanti possessed "the mimetic faculty. The languages that he learned, he generally learned by the ear."35 Excellent oral ability, pitch, and understanding of grammatical constructions enabled him to speak many languages, and he encouraged their expression and writing. Mezzofanti's knowledge of the various languages he archived differed in degree and depth. The fact that Tac wrote notes to Mezzofanti in Spanish and Latin suggests that those languages, rather than Luiseño, constituted their means of communication.36 In collecting this material, Mezzofanti acted as an Enlightenment thinker and curator of colonial pasts. He supported the recording of unwritten languages, and he preserved fragments of the past that form part of the colonial archive of the church.

Mezzofanti's language files held grammars and dictionaries-often partial-as well as poetry and prayers in languages that included Chinese, Danish, Greek, French, English, Arabic, and Italian. He also had manuscripts in most of the world's languages, including Latin, Kichwa, Tagalog, Turkish, Valencian, and Persian, and a range of other materials, such as a copy of a dissertation about a Mexican codex belonging to the University of Bologna.37

Other indigenous languages from the Americas in Mezzofanti's collection include Algonguin, with a catechism in the language, sixty-two pages of grammatical notes in Algonquin and French, a thirty-two page grammar in Algonquin and Italian, and an eleven-page Dictionnaire algonquin.38 The grammars and dictionary appear to have been copied by more than one person; the first-person narration and personal voice found in Tac's writing are absent.

A fourteen-page Aymara grammar from 1844, by contrast, could have been written by an Andean student. It presents carefully written Aymara grammar, mostly translated into Italian, with some pages translated into French.39 But the Quechua grammar, like the majority of grammars, lacks the voice of a native speaker. It includes notes on Quechua translated mostly to French, and fourteen pages of a Quechua-Spanish dictionary.40 More than one person contributed to the notes, which scribes copied from written sources. The archive also has files with words for God, the saints, and prayers in Luiseño and other American languages, or lingue americane.41

Tac's manuscript is unique among Mezzofanti's language files for its author's sustained personal relationship to the language he recorded and to the project of writing. While other students and aides to Mezzofanti had produced partial grammars and dictionaries, none offered anything near the length and depth of Tac's work. Nor did other language files include a history, as Tac does. Tac's large file contains an exceptional array of material, including the grammar, historical and ethnographic writing, a dialogue, and a prayer (fig. 4).

Knowledge and Truth

Tac wrote a statement to Mezzofanti that characterized his personal voice and revealed something about his intent and process of writing.

I have taught Your Excellency all that I know about this language; and if something is missing, as I believe it is, which happens many times when one writes, at another time it can be finished. I would have liked to teach you more, but who can teach others what they don't know? So what I knew, I taught; what I didn't know, I've left out. It is better to be quiet than in speaking to tell lies.

Now it is necessary to collect all the papers and begin once again begin to write the rules as we are able. (Fol. 96r; see fig. 5)

If Tac expressed doubt about the thoroughness of his rendition of Luiseño grammatical rules, which constituted a mode of analysis that he learned in Rome, those hesitations did not extend to his presentation of history. Tac's note to Mezzofanti also has a playful element characteristic of his humor. After implying he has written everything he knows, he proceeds "to collect all the papers and once again begin to write the rules." The passage hints at the haphazard order in which he seems to have written the manuscript.42

Above all, Tac's paragraph above speaks to the way truths and lies remained a central concern to him. Baptized as an infant, Tac grew up in the new republic of Mexico, a nation that extended equality and citizenship to the indigenous majority. He lived through an extraordinary decade of political upheaval and change, as people tried to shift away from the colonial relations that often persisted long after Mexican independence. Tac witnessed the collapse of Spanish political dominance in California, the end of the Spanish Empire in Mexico, and the political chaos in Catalonia, Spain. He saw the contending claims for power that consumed new republics like Mexico. He watched as Luiseño elders made demands for the return of their land, claimed it as their own, and exercised their legal rights. Those experiences seem to have given Tac a radical sense of indigenous equality: a perspective that equality existed within (and despite) difference.43

His sense of equality within difference reveals a native politics, expressions of which existed in indigenous communities throughout the new Republic of Mexico.An idea of equality and other concepts about native rights took shape, though often at odds with the definitions that became dominant. For the national elite, equality came to mean an expectation of sameness with regard to a certain type of citizen. This definition excluded women of all backgrounds and cast doubt on indigenous equality, given the difference that Indian scholars and politicians articulated. The Mexican nation began to discuss "the Indian question" as if those articulations of difference might somehow challenge indigenous qualifications for citizenship.44

In writing, Tac sought to situate himself beyond the deceptive representations of Luiseños that often came from the missionaries and from Mexican and military officials both before and after Mexico declared indigenous equality. Tac's history, for example, focuses on the knowledge, power, and skills held by Luiseño elders-characteristics that Peyri, at the mission since 1798, had failed to see in 1814. Peyri wrote that the natives "never had any men among them distinguished for wisdom or for letters." Surprisingly unable to comprehend the most elementary aspects of Luiseño thought, Peyri asserted that "as to the origins of these Indians, we know nothing; nor is there any tradition in that regard among the Indians." Peyri relegated the dances and other rituals that indigenous people performed to "superstitious practices" that he called "infirmities, idolatries, and witchcraft." He confessed that he could "only manifest my ignorance regarding their practices. For they will not reveal more about these than they can help. Peyri lamented that although the missionaries tried to dissuade the Christian Indians of their beliefs and practices, "they always remain Indians."45

The Grammar and Dictionary

Against the grain of this kind of colonial writing, Tac asserted the power held by Luiseño elders and newer authority figures who, as Tac did with writing, found ways to move between cultures and leave a record of their influence. In the first pages of his manuscript, Tac uses the Latin verb flectere, "to bend," to signify translation; this indicates how difficult his task would be (fol. 2r). Tac begins his grammar in Latin and Luiseño and ends it with an ethnographic sketch of California Indians in Latin. He uses the Latin diacritics established at the beginning of the manuscript, where he writes out the Luiseño alphabet (fols. 1, 2, 3, and 19), as well as Spanish phonetics and orthography with some influence of Italian, to produce Luiseño sounds in writing. His use of diacritics and his spelling of certain Luiseño and Spanish words is, however, inconsistent. The inconsistency is especially notable is the dictionary, where Tac writes Luiseño with Spanish diacritics instead of the Latin ones used in the grammar.

Latin proved too far a stretch from Luiseño, and Spanish predominates over Latin in the manuscript. The history, interspersed in the grammar, is written solely in Spanish, Tac's second language. Of course, Tac's nineteenth-century Spanish differs from contemporary Spanish, and Luiseño is no longer written as he wrote it either. Tac's is the only grammar and dictionary that translates between Spanish and Luiseño; subsequent works translate between English and Luiseño.

It is important to consider Tac's Spanish-Luiseño grammar and dictionary in the context of the role of grammar in the formation of empires, new nations, and tribal sovereignty. The construction of a Spanish grammar proved crucial for the Spanish Empire to unite itself as an administrative and cultural unit. At the same time, as words, people, and goods traveled back to Europe, Spanish took on borrowings from Nahuatl and other indigenous and Caribbean languages. The writing of indigenous grammars also sustained the empire as it created a native lingua franca. Nahuatl and Otomi become standard indigenous languages throughout Mexico.46 The clergy studied them and spread their use. On the one hand, native scholars formed part of the cast of scribes and translators involved in the creation of the empire through the written word. On the other, without a written grammar, indigenous societies remained less able to document their histories and claim their legal rights.

Tac records the translations made before his birth, when his elders first began to render Luiseño and Spanish mutually intelligible, translating the prayers and catechism into their native language, both orally and in writing. The imposition of Spanish and Catholicism produced vast changes in indigenous societies in California and the Americas, as well as seemingly irreparable losses to indigenous languages.47 Yet many scholars emphasize the influence indigenous translators had in representing their languages and defining the words that entered them. Writing about the first major evangelization in central Mexico after the conquest of Tenochtitlán in 1521, Louise Burkhardt emphasizes the dialogue that took place between two cultures and systems of thought when Nahuatl scholars worked with Spanish missionaries to translate Christian doctrine. Because Nahuatl named a different set of objects and ideas than in Latin or Spanish, and did so in accordance with a particular ideology, translation gave Christian thought a new and distinct form.48

William Hanks has shown how Mayan translators and populations responded to Spanish, turning a language of domination around to make it speak to their interests and visions.49 After studying missions in many areas of the world, Lamin Sanneh concluded that "mission is translation." Sanneh asserts that Christianity cannot escape the cultural framework of the people it seeks to convert, so that the religion assumes the features of the cultures under conversion.50 Vincent Rafael has found that in the Philippines, Tagalog speakers used translation "less as a process of internalizing colonial-Christian conventions than of evading their totalizing grip by repeatedly marking the differences between their language and interests and those of the Spaniards." He concludes that it took two centuries for Tagalog conversion to coincide with, rather than simply circumvent, Spanish intentions.51

This process allowed the meaning of Spanish words to give way to native ideas and understandings, as is particularly evident in the dictionary words that Tac records relating to the world of the sacred. In his history Tac states in Spanish that Luiseños gave their allegiance to Dios (meaning God). But Dios is translated in his dictionary and written in the Luiseño grammar as Chanichñich, a central figure in a set of indigenous ritual practices and beliefs alive throughout Southern California during the colonial era and the nineteenth century.52 (Note the distinct spellings of Chanichñich on fols. 2v, 24r, and 35v, for example, as Tac developed his Luiseño orthography.) Not only was Dios equated in translation with Chanichñich, but the thought and practices surrounding Chanichñich persisted alongside Catholicism and often imparted new meaning to it.

For the native population one of the means to power after Spanish settlement was dance, a practice through which the body produced knowledge, hope, and healing.53 The dictionary illustrates how translators brought dance into the daily life of Luiseño Christians. The noun cheiis meant "the act of dressing" and also referred to the cheiat, a headpiece of precious feathers worn for important dances (fol. 126v). Wearing the clothing made at the mission and purchased through trade constituted a symbol of being Christian. Using the noun cheiis for the Christian practice of dressing would have brought remembrance of dance ritual into the daily language at the missions. In the early twentieth century, Luiseño speakers again used the word cheiis only for dance regalia; it no longer referred to the general act of dressing.54

Tac's dictionary records many words related to dance. He defines the noun aluiis as"the act of looking up" (fol. 110r).Dancers looked up in Chanichñich dance. The dictionary records fourteen additional entries related to aluiis, or looking up (fols. 110r, 110v). The word caquis meant mimicking the caw of the raven, a sacred bird in Luiseño religion connected toChanichñich ritual. Dance, song, and other ceremonies required the voice of the raven. The many forms based on this word included "to order that one mimic the caw of a raven," "person who ordered [the caw of a raven] be mimicked," and "person who made the caw of a raven many times." Nine noun and verb forms existed for the practice (fols. 119r-v).

Frequent traces of the Luiseño sacred world appear in Tac's dictionary, where many words have a ceremonial meaning, even though Tac translates them with a simple Spanish equivalent.55 Assuot refers to the golden eagle; Tac translates it as "eagle," leaving the sacred word unwritten (fol. 112v). He translates chàcajis as "to cry," even though the word refers to deep sorrow expressed through ritualistic weeping (fol. 120v). Tac translates chappiis as "the act of rain stopping," words related to ceremonial power rather than mere descriptions (fol. 121v).He translates chuiis as "to burn," but it refers to cremation of the dead, practiced widely before the Christian era (fol. 136v). The Spanish replaced Luiseño cremation with Christian burials whenever possible.

Though the word refers both to domesticated animals and to the shaman's familiar, a supernatural figure that imparts knowledge and skills, Tac translates as "animal"(fol. 112r).Yet it is important to know that during the colonial period horses and cows-both introduced into the New World-became shaman's familiars, along with the native animals. The metamorphosis of domesticated animals associated with Spanish dominance into shamans' spirits suggests an appropriation of Spanish power.

Many words, such as and chocorris, had religious significance that could not be conveyed in Spanish. The word chocorris, "to make like a mountain or wooded hill," for example, had five related forms, including chocorrimocuis, which, extrapolating from similar entries in the dictionary, would mean "person who makes them act like a mountain or wooded hill"(fol. 134v). But Spanish culture had no equivalent practice, and Tac gave no translation for the related forms that he wrote in Luiseño. In rendering the meaning of words, Tac both revealed things and left silences.

Tac's remarkable Luiseño-Spanish dictionary illustrates the care with which he selected entries and wrote them out. It consists of three discrete booklets, listing Luiseño words more or less alphabetically from A through Cu (fig. 7). He carefully bound each one with white linen on the left side. Each booklet contains about twenty-five pages (fols. 107r-142v).Luiseño words, in rough alphabetical order, run down the left side of the page. Tac meticulously drew dashed lines to the Spanish equivalents on the right. Tac listed approximately two thousand Luiseño words but left about one fifth of them untranslated. About two hundred separate words are translated, while the rest are either related to translated nouns and verbs or are not translated.

The dictionary also records the way Tac made Luiseño conform to Spanish. Luiseño has no infinitive. Verbs always relate to the person who conducts the action rather than to the action itself. Tac devised infinitives for each verb. He also provided multiple forms of usage. The number of ways that he represented a verb or noun suggests that some words and actions remained more prominent in his memory. These words may also have been frequently used during the 1820s.

Linguists and anthropologists have favorably evaluated Tac's dictionary and grammar. Sandra Chung writes that Tac's view of Luiseño "corresponds reasonably well with what we know from the later descriptions."56 She notes that his writing also illustrates some grammatical rules and uses simplified or eliminated since Tac's time. Alfred Kroeber found Tac's "attention to grammatical details," and the information he supplies, to be in "substantial accord or exact identity" with subsequent grammars in the areas he covered.57

These comments confirm the accuracy that Tac achieved, but his grammar and dictionary have wider purposes for readers today. They speak to the ethnohistory of Luiseño society under Spanish domination and to the equality Tac established when moving between different linguistic systems. His explanations for the differences between Spanish and Luiseño illustrate two distinct ways of understanding and relating to society, politics, and culture. The elaboration of those differences suggests that Luiseños continued to organize themselves around particular relationships and practices despite Spanish colonialism.

Writing History

I call the part of Tac's manuscript that is written in Spanish and titled "Conversion de los San Luiseños" a history of Luiseños under colonial rule, because history concerns questions of power.58 Tac told a story about his people's conversion that emphasized different forms of power that they held in the past and present, notwithstanding statements about the defeat of his ancestors by the Spanish. His historical narrative is circular and repetitive. It begins with the abbreviated title "Conversion of the Sanl," at the top of folio 59, and an apparently truncated discussion of dance. Tac then turns to "The Ball Game" (fig. 8). 

The overall form Tac uses to write the history defies Western linear thought. It may reflect the influence of a Luiseño narrative style by which histories are sung in stories that are repeated, with variations, in order to articulate concepts and precepts.59 Tac presents an idea rarely found in missionary writing in California: that Luiseños retained forms of power through their leaders, and that they continued to possess their territories and produce the wealth of the mission. Those who held authority included the elected alcaldes who, by Spanish law, represented their respective indigenous constituents.60 Traditional leaders who inherited their position by lineage and those who became leaders because of their knowledge and skills continued to hold power. Tac focuses on traditional leaders, including political and ritual leaders and the father and mother in their home, in his stories "On the Dance of the Indians" (fols. 104r-106v) and "What is Done Each Day" (fol. 66r). He focuses on traditional and new authority in the story "The Ball Game." Tac begins with the remark, "Now let us look at the games, that here serve the San Luiseños ... and how well they serve us" (fol. 59r), implying that the games offer sustenance to individuals and the community that derived from indigenous culture. Tac also gives a detailed portrait of the mission, including the names of indigenous territories where the mission had fields and pastures. The stories he tells focus on the ordering of indigenous labor, daily life, ceremony, knowledge, and hierarchies at the mission among Luiseños and between Luiseños, Spaniards, and the missionary.

In the overarching history of conversion, the traditional authority of a central Luiseño leader forms the core of the story about the encounter between Spaniards and Luiseños. Tac emphasizes three times that the leader's friendship is what enabled the Spanish to settle (fols. 63r, 75r, 78r). In the third version of the story about "Conversion," Tac gives a traditional Spanish historical explanation for the settlement of Luiseño land, but he repeats his story of encounter thereafter (fols. 78r, 80r). Like other native scholars, Tac worked in dialogue with Spanish historical narrative, inserting his own history and place of origin.61 Tac also portrays the relative loss of authority of the former political leaders. At the end of the history, he writes of the Luiseño leader who had been crucial to Spanish settlement: "The Captain dressed like the Spaniards, still remaining a Captain but not ordering his people, as in older times." Instead, the alcaldes had assumed he position of intermediaries and conveyed the missionary's orders to the population (fol. 92v).

Tac's history, set in Quechla, includes the ball field, the locus of the dance, and an Indian home in the mission village. Such places seldom figured in other documents written during the era and never took precedence as significant spaces.62 In these spaces Tac shows that native authority presided, and people found access to formal power, emotional sustenance, and indigenous ways of relating. Tac's events focus on indigenous people, rarely on Spaniards, unlike Western histories, in which Indian-Spanish relations are often foregrounded. Tac works with his own categories in introducing these spaces. Like other indigenous writers, he offered categories of analysis specific to the concerns of his history and language.

Tac writes about dance a number of times (fols. 59r, 61r, 61v, 104r-106v; see fig. 9).63 His sections ondance celebrate the ritual authority and knowledge of village singers and other village elders. Dance offered an ongoing way for indigenous populations at the missions to continue to access power despite the political losses they suffered to the Spaniards. Fray Gerónimo Boscana of Mission San Juan Capistrano, just north of Mission San Luis Rey, similarly emphasized the constant presence of dance. He wrote of dances that lasted for days on end. "Hardly a day passed without some portion of it being devoted to this insipid and monotonous ceremony," Boscana wrote. "As on all the feast days of the Indians, dancing was the principal ceremony."64 Like Peyri, his contemporary at Mission San Luis Rey, Boscana wrote of dance taking place for every conceivable reason, including the attempt to rectify existing conditions through its spiritual and political uses.

Tac writes of three specific dances, two of them for men only and one with older men and women. He notes that women had their own dances but does not elaborate on them, because they are outside his realm of experience and field of knowledge. Within the tradition that Tac knew from indigenous California, dance produced knowledge and could regenerate power. The figure Chanichñich had given Luiseños and Juaneños some of the most important dances performed during the colonial and Mexican eras. Chanichñich conveyed the laws and established rites and ceremonies for the preservation of life through dance.65 In a broader sense, dance rendered the spiritual world into corporal existence.

Tac's historical imagination embraces forms of relating to the world through the transmutation of people and things, and the animation of the natural and animal worlds. Tac relates a dialogue between a rabbit and blood, in which the two go hunting (figs. 10 and 11). The rabbit refers to his own changeable state: "I am a rabbit, my name is, but I am not a true rabbit" (fol. 74r). Both blood and rabbit have human qualities, logic, and lifeways. Tac's ways of perceiving history rely on non-Western assumptions about reality.

Tac suggests he is not an expert when writing an ethnographic sketch about California Indians for Mezzofanti in Latin (fols. 152r-153v). His sketch describes ten different groups of people, including those from missions San Fernando, San Diego, San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel, and Santa Barbara. He also comments on the Apaches and Yuma. Tac emphasizes that his knowledge is based on opinion; his remarks reflect common ideas about Apaches in Mexico during his era. Tac wrote to Mezzofanti:

Your Eminence, I have put forth an individual opinion on the characteristics of the Californians, down to language differences (insofar as it seemed to me to be true). If some expert will perhaps deny it to be true, whether by adding or subtracting as much as seems to him wrong, I regret it and shall accede to their claim, go by whatever is said, and change my opinion. (Fol. 152v)

Still interested in truth, as in his previously quoted statement to Mezzofanti about writing, Tac seems to be resisting the kinds of information Mezzofanti wanted. He appears reluctant to engage in the production of knowledge that requires assumptions about culture and facts that Tac did not possess.

Tac's writing conforms to many of the qualities found in other indigenous sources. James Lockhart and other historians working with Nahuatl documents argue that indigenous writing prioritized different categories, events, and places.66 The idea of Spanish conquest, for example, is virtually absent in native records, and it does not appear as "conquest" in Tac's narrative. Indeed, he implies more than once that the Spaniards were lucky the Indians allowed them to stay. Rather than describe communities living in fear or overwhelmed by the violence of Spanish intervention and settlement, indigenous writers and oral historians emphasized, as Stephanie Wood has found, "pride in their own leadership and ancestry ... the moments in history that strengthened their communities and autonomy, that pointed to their own heroism and even their own conquests."67

The narrative structure of native histories generally differs from that of Western history. Native histories are usually "encoded in physical space," such as the social geography of indigenous places that Tac establishes.68 Indigenous writers speak of intertribal relations and emphasize the rise of new political authority within their communities. They often relate the past through myth and ritual, condense time frames, and conflate time and space. Tac's writing shares these qualities.

Along with leadership and local knowledge, land rights are a frequent subject of indigenous colonial documents. Tac repeatedly spoke of Quechla, the mission settlement, as his ancestral land. In colonial Mexico indigenous scribes documented their communities' titles to ancestral land in títulos primordiales. The títulos recorded the land rights those communities held in former and new towns after the native population recovery began in the 1650s. Written in indigenous languages and primarily for native communities, these accounts were effectively municipal histories, presenting indigenous towns deeply engaged in the service of their patron saints that had been adopted after the Spanish invasion. Yet the títulos and other native documents minimized the effects of Spanish settlement, instead describing unbroken pasts.69

To Conclude

Pablo Tac's writing offers a sense of the "ongoing production of Indian histories" that Phillip Deloria and others discuss as taking place in native communities.70 Tac conveys the oral histories of his youth and knowledge of his culture through his narratives and discussion of language. Other indigenous writers from across the Americas have likewise presented the critical discourse, theory, and concepts to define native experience,71 but Tac's record has no parallel in California history.

Unfortunately,Tac never returned home to his tribe; he died of a virus in Rome on 13 December 1841. The death registry lists his place of origin as "Californiensis (Mexicanus) ex Missione St. Ludovici Regis."72 Recall that when he entered the college in 1834, the registrar marked his origins as Cheegnajuisci, a word for his tribal land where the mission settled. By 1841, the mission had been secularized and made the property of the Mexican state, and the Luiseño place name had been erased from the official record in Mexico and in Rome. Whereas the Luiseño place reference Cheegnajuisci left a trace of the precolonial and contemporary world of the 1820s and early 1830s in which Tac grew up, Californiensis does not. Further erasures of things native, and of indigenous pasts, occurred during the era of nation building. Moreover, Tac's death follows an all-too-common pattern among native scholars, diplomats, and translators who traveled to Europe: many died there, and their bodies never returned home. Although Tac is buried in Rome, his unique contribution remains because he took up the mandate of nauiṡ. Nauiṡ is a Luiseño verb that translates to Spanish as señalar (to sign, mark), pintar (to paint), and escribir (to write) (fol. 82r; fig. 12). Each of those three verbs had long histories in Western traditions, but in Luiseño culture, European painting and writing were introduced to signal new things. Luiseños painted in the precolonial era for other purposes. To signal change, they gathered, stored and passed knowledge through sand and rock painting, through oral formulaic patterns of storytelling, and through dance and healing ceremonies. Writing Luiseño gave Tac the ability to leave a sign about these Luiseños' cultural productions, concepts, and language at a time when his homeland seemed to be receding from him.

Tac wrote during an era when other indigenous scholars were likewise putting their oral languages into writing.73 The Cherokee scholar Sequoyah developed a Cherokee writing system in 1808, which the Cherokee nation adopted in 1821. Many Cherokees wrote to defend their land and political autonomy and to stop their forced removal from the South during the 1830s.B74/BUnder very different circumstances, prominent Hawaiian cultural figures-teachers of dance, song, and memory traditions who wrote down their languages for Hawaiian royalty in the nineteenth century-became some of the foremost translators of the Bible. Since they were among the most knowledgeable about their own societies, they often moved most easily between worlds.

Because of the importance of literacy in contemporary life, indigenous scholars continue to write down their languages today, but they and nonnative scholars now give new answers to the questions about how to write, standardize, and represent the languages visually.75 Contemporary Luiseñois written to conform to the mandates and thought processes embodied in the language itself. In contemporary Luiseño the word ahíichu (Tac's ahicho) still refers to an orphan or abandoned child, but it also defines abandonment and loneliness, described in one dictionary through examples from the song Nótma pí 'ahíichumay tamáawumal (literally, "my mouth is lonely," meaning "I have no one to talk to").76 These new definitions and spellings point out the vast differences in the worlds out of which written Luiseño emerged. In Tac's nineteenth-century writing, words have Latin and Spanish linguistic frameworks and reflect other colonial restraints. Contemporary Luiseño, in contrast, is spelled and conceptualized for writing and translation in a format that reflects Luiseño linguistic logic and current social norms.

The current language, which is being studied widely by Luiseños today, conforms to the sounds and visual signs chosen for Luiseño rather than ones used in English.77 Contemporary Luiseño stands outside and apart from a colonial framework. Current Luiseño-English dictionaries and grammars refuse the structure and assumptions of the Western dictionary.78 The written language, as well as its translation, is built around Luiseño concepts, linguistic practices, and historical speech.

The contemporary language seeks to avoid "bending" the words and sounds as Tac had to when he wrote. A simple example shows how Tac's word ajajot, defined as Spanishsabroso, changed in form but persisted in the language to describe delicious things. The contemporary equivalent word is written 'áx'aa-t, meaning "fine (of food), yummy," and 'áx'axwut, "delicious." An older pronunciation of this modern word is 'áx'aat, approximating the sound of Tac's word.79 Tac's work thus speaks to the present, as well as to the past.