The California culture area has the widest variety of native languages, ecological settings, and house types of any North American culture area.
One of the displays in the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, California, is entitled Sacred Earth and subtitled Understanding our past and honoring cultures that thrive today. Shown below are some artifacts associated with historic Southern California Indian cultures.
Throughout the world it is common to find ceremonies in which the participants seek to renew the world, its resources, and thus continue their prosperity and good fortune. Among the Indians of Northern California—Karuk, Yurok, Hupa, Tolowa, Wiyot –the World Renewal or Big Time ceremony seeks to renew the world through a series of complex dances, speeches, and displays of high status items. The ceremonies are held to prevent sickness, to bring happiness, and to bring good weather. The death and rebirth of the world can be seen in the ceremonial rebuilding of ceremonial structures such as the sweathouse, ceremonial house, and dance areas.
While the Plains Indian feathered headdress has become the stereotypical image of American Indian headgear, there is little awareness of the headgear worn by Indian women. In the far west—in the Northwest Coast, Plateau, and California culture areas—Indian women wore basketry caps.
Many museums, including the Maryhill Museum of Art near Goldendale, Washington, have displays of Mission Baskets. The designation “Mission Baskets” was developed by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber in 1922.
Throughout the world, different religious and spiritual traditions have used hallucinogenic drugs to enhance the mystical experience. These drugs can trigger the experience of flying or floating. In Southern California, many tribes traditionally used jimsonweed (a part of the nightshade family Datura, also known as toloache and datura) to help produce visions. Most frequently this was used during the initiation of boys into full manhood. During this time the initiates would drink an infusion made from jimsonweed root. The visions received at this time would guide people for the rest of their lives. In recognizing the spiritual power of jimsonweed, the tribes also knew that the plant could be deadly if used incorrectly and thus it was used only in ceremonial context and administered by knowledgeable elders. Even with these cautions, there were occasional deaths from using the plant.
Briefly described below are some of ceremonial uses of jimsonweed by California tribes.