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Point Conception and the Chumash Land of the Dead: Revisions from Harrington's Notes


This article reconsiders anthropologists' depictions of Chumash people's past beliefs regarding the journey of the soul to the land of the dead based on the ethnographic fieldnotes of J. P. Harrington. Included is an examination of the microfilmed original Harrington notes that have not been altered substantively by anthropologists' editing, as have previously published versions. Fieldnotes that had been overlooked or hitherto unreported are incorporated into the picture, and once unavailable biographical information on Harrington's consultants is used to establish the sociocultural settings that influenced how they understood the past. The results suggest that recent anthropological reporting has distorted the ethnohistoric record, creating a certain image of Chumash tradition in the late twentieth century. Our findings challenge depictions of uniform past Chumash belief in Point Conception as a departure point for souls on their journey to the land of the dead, and contradict representations of Harrington's consultants as adherents to permission religious practices. We are left with a more diverse, yet somewhat vague, picture of past beliefs and practices.

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