“Becoming ’Amuwu: Socioeconomic Transformation and Persistence of the Chumash Community at Mission La Purísima Concepción, AD 1813-1848”
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“Becoming ’Amuwu: Socioeconomic Transformation and Persistence of the Chumash Community at Mission La Purísima Concepción, AD 1813-1848”


In 1963/64, James Deetz led a team in the excavation of the Chumash Family Apartments at Mission La Purísima Concepción. He suggested that the individuals who lived there had lost traditional lifeways by demonstrating more enculturation into the mission system than what was observed in the outlying Chumash village of Soxtonokmu’. In the last few decades, recent research has demonstrated the inherent problems with acculturation frameworks. As opposed to top-down processes of cultural domination over passive groups, scholars investigating colonial encounters demonstrate how indigenous peoples were active agents in constructing and negotiating their daily lives, communities, and futures both inside and outside of colonial institutions. Within this most recent realm of scholarship, there are two distinct approaches to understanding the social constructs of identity: “continuity” and “transformation.” Continuity focuses on the ways local peoples navigated colonialism on their own terms. While change is inevitable in culture contact situations, researchers taking this approach illustrate how practices that involve alteration are rearticulated through indigenous meanings and values. Transformation investigates broad-scale social and economic change initiated through community notions of identity construction and maintenance. It focuses on the creation of entirely new social entities. The philosophical trajectories from these two schools of thought help frame an updated interpretation of archaeological assemblages at Mission La Purísima Concepción and the Native community that lived there referred to as ‘Amuwu. This dissertation conducts both horizontal and diachronic analyses to track change and continuity through time and across space. It draws on multiple lines of evidence to demonstrate a richly complex understanding of Native life entangled with broader colonial structures and linked to a deeper ancestral past. Using a fine-grained analysis of museum collections integrated with recent field work, the archaeological record reveals how the community of ’Amuwu maintained connections to ancestral locations on the landscape and with hinterland communities. However, the distinguishable patterns identified in the mission suggests a cultural transformation occurred as well. Compared to other Chumash villages occupied during the Historic period in the Santa Ynez Valley and Purisemeño territory, and more broadly across the Chumash homeland, the material signature left behind by individuals at ’Amuwu speaks to a reorganizational strategy linked to both Spanish and Mexican colonialism. Distinct chronological and spatial contexts within the Native rancheria at the mission exemplify how the community re-organized, transformed, and evolved in tandem with broader colonial structures. The results lend important insight into arguments for and limitations of schools of continuity and transformation, specifically as it relates to Native-lived experiences in the mission and the effects of sustained face-to-face interactions following relocation programs and broader colonial policies. Rather, these studies and their theoretical trajectories can inform one another. A serious consideration of indigenous experiences in the mission system demands a thorough investigation of archaeological data considering broad-scale community-level change under colonialism and the distinct ways indigenous groups found ways to persevere. What emerges is a multi-scalar understanding of identity in this historical and situational context. The becoming of ’Amuwu was tied to the creation of new identities linked to the construction of a new place in a colonial setting nestled within a long history of internal understandings of cultural knowledge and community. From here, we have a better grasp on identity issues in mission contexts in California that can help move forward conversations of transformation and persistence, which continue to reverberate in the present day. 

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