PEOPLE OF THE EARTH
By Monique Garcia
“[Rancho Los Alamitos] has several areas that speak to the lengths of time that the Tongva people have been at Puvungna,” stated Katie Lowe, Manager of Education & Public Engagement. “We feel like having these areas on the tours is really important to help visitors understand what they are seeing and that we are on indigenous land.”
Back before Long Beach became the big city with the small town feel, it was a part of Tovaangar. What is Tovaangar?
Imagine… a landscape of endless prairies, rocky foothills, and a peaceful shoreline. Instead of concrete and asphalt, there are trading routes and scattered villages full of native people living off the land.
They were the first inhabitants of this land before Spanish colonizers “discovered” their tribes and began calling them ‘Gabrielinos’. Tongva, which means “People of the Earth” in their native language, lost their name as well as their land with the arrival of the Europeans.
Eyoo ooxon (Our Land) is what the Tongva people called Tovaangar. The historic area covered most of modern-day Los Angeles County as well as parts of Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino.
Within the city of Long Beach, there were at least three established Tovaangar settlements: Ahwaanga, Tevaaxa’anga, and Puvungna,
Tevaaxa’anga was an inland settlement located near the Los Angeles River. The exact location of Tevaaxa’anga is unknown, but historians place it near what we now know as Rancho Los Cerritos.
The gardens around the beautifully preserved adobe home at Rancho Los Cerritos are the perfect place to visit if you want to see the plants the Tongva people used for food, medicine, and tools. From either a docent-led or self-guided tour, you can learn how the Tongva people used the natural world around them to thrive.
Puvungna was a coastal village that occupied the land of Cal State Long Beach and Rancho Los Alamitos. You may already be familiar with Puvungna from the legal battle surrounding its land use with CSULB. For Tongva people today, there is a deep cultural, historical, and spiritual connection to the land, which is now reduced to a small plot of land surrounded by parking lots and concrete.
It is the place of creation, emergence, and gathering for the Tongva people. The village, which once housed almost 300 kiche (homes), is believed to be the birthplace and home to prominent spiritual leader, Chinigchinich. The land is considered a sacred site due to this and the countless ceremonies and rites that were performed.
Both villages were also thriving trading centers in the region thanks to the bountiful natural resources and proximity to the ocean.
Traditional Tongva homes were called kiches. A kiche was a domeshaped shelter usually made from tree branches and covered with mats weaved from reeds, grasses or animal hides to protect against nature. Similar to many other California natives, the Tongva weaved beautiful and intricate komiimes (baskets) to store food or supplies, or for use as cooking pots.
As a hunter-gatherer society, Tongva people lived with the land rather than “terraforming” it like Spanish missionaries later did. In order to do so, they had to be resourceful and knowledgeable about the plants and trees around them.
From the Coast Live Oak, they collected their primary food source, acorns. These acorns were used to make soups, bread, flour, and mush. But Tongva people didn’t just survive off of acorns, they had a well rounded diet that consisted of berries, shellfish, clams, seeds, roots, and smaller game. Depending on the season, they would fish or occasionally hunt deer or seals.
Elderberries, an ingredient that is still used today, were used as medicine to treat anything from a fever to an upset stomach. Ironwood trees were used to make sturdy tools and weapons. If you plan on visiting Rancho Los Cerritos, something I highly recommend, you have the opportunity to see and feel ironwood trees and coast live oaks.
Their ability to understand nature surrounding them directly affected their ability to survive. Without this connection to their land, many would have suffered and died during the harsher months of the year.
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
In 1771, Spanish missionaries founded the San Gabriel Mission. During the next 50 years, much of Tongva culture would be destroyed and forgotten as native tribes in the region were forced to assimilate into this foreign society. The population was heavily impacted due to disease, violence, and hate. Mission life and economy survived off the labor of Native American workers at the cost of their culture, language, and way of life.
One can only imagine the devastation the Tongva people lived through after losing their land; a land they had such a deep connection with. In the span of a few decades, generations of Tongva history were destroyed and future generations were left to collect bits and pieces of their own heritage.
The Tongva today are still fighting to protect their stolen land and for recognition as a people. Many Tongva leaders still work in the Los Angeles community to educate the public on their history and culture, as well as keep their traditions alive.
A special thanks to Rancho Los Cerritos, Rancho Los Alamitos, and the Historical Society of Long Beach for providing so many wonderful resources. I hope learning about the history of the land your home stands on strengthens the connection you feel to the community around you.