Getting to know Mt. Kuchumaa—our “Guardian Angel,” as co-founder Deborah calls it.
We take a break during the next few newsletters from the historic doings of mere mortals to honor a great landmark in proximity to Rancho La Puerta: 3,885’ Mt. Kuchumaa (also known as Tecate Peak on the U.S. side, for it straddles both sides of the border). Our founders, our guests, and many generations of Native Americans have felt both the physical and spiritual power of Mt. Kuchumaa—this grand mountain that rises above our fertile valley home at the foot of its eastern slopes. A good source of information on the mountain is a National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (a nomination form) prepared by the U. S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, in 1992. Let’s take a look inside its pages….
As a sacred mountain to the Kumeyaay Indians, Kuchamaa (sic) … has a “quality of significance in American culture which possesses integrity of feeling and association, and which is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our (Native American) history.”
Kuchamaa is of paramount religious importance to the Kumeyaay people of today as it was to those of the past. Use of the mountain has attracted Native Americans from both southern California and northern Baja California. For these people, the peak is a special place … for acquisition of knowledge and power by shamans. Oral tradition tells of important shamans who used Kuchamaa as a center to instruct their initiates.
Imbued with power by one of the Kumeyaay creator-gods, the mountain was and remains the site for important rites and rituals, including vision quests and purification ceremonies. Contemporary Native Americans most frequently use Kuchamaa during periods of full moons and equinoxes. At these times Native Americans pray for renewal of Earth Mother and peace.
The spirituality of the mountain could well make it the ultimate Kumeyaay cultural resource because it is “where you get your power,” [according to the late tribal elder Mrs. Rosalie Robertson, 1918-1984].
During an interview atop Tecate Peak, Mrs. Robertson stated that, ”This is one of the biggest ones here. I would have heard something if there were other mountains. This is one of the main places where you get your power.”
Our primary informant, Mrs. Rosalie Pinto Robertson, was born in 1918 on the Campo Indian Reservation in San Diego County, the great granddaughter of Pio Hilmeup, the last traditional (hereditary) Tribal Chief of the Kumeyaay.
Several interpretations have been proposed for the word Kuchamaa. The noted linguist, John Harrington, considered the term to mean “exalted high place”. Ruth Almstedt provides an alternate translation: “the ones that cure” or “the ones that lift up.”
Local folklore provides other possibilities regarding the meaning of Kuchamaa. Ella McCain believed that the term originated from an Indian named Chuchamow who lived on the side of the mountain. She knew this man in 1878 when he was quite old. Oral traditions also tell of an Indian bandit, known as Kuchamaa, who used the mountain as a stronghold. Historian W.Y. Evans-Wentz, however, points out that the peak was named Kuchamaa well before the time of this individual. Most probably these individuals were named after the mountain, not vice versa.
Next month: A creation story… and the shamans’ use of Kuchamaa.