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4.2a.4 Danse des habitantes de Californie a la mission de San Francisco

Image of Native people performing a dance outside Mission San Francisco. A large crowd is gathered outside the mission for the occasion. Some Native peoples are seated and some stand. A cross and mission buildings are visible in the background. Item is also available through the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.
Choris, Louis, 1795-1828
circa 1815

Choris, Louis. Danse des habitantes de Californie a la mission de San Francisco, ca. 1815. Published in Voyage pittoresque autour du monde… [Picturesque Voyage around the World]. Paris: Firmin Didot, 1822. VAULT 910.4 C45, California Historical Society.

An artist named Louis Choris visiting California in 1815 1816 painted this picture of a dance outside Mission San Francisco. Native people in California sang and danced for many reasons, including to honor those who had recently died, to help spirits pass on, and to mark the changing seasons. At many missions, Native people continued to practice dances like the one we see in this painting either in the open or in secret, depending on the reactions of the Spanish priests.


What does this dance tell us about the things that stayed the same, and what changed, for Native people living in the missions? Keep in mind that the painting is from 1815, nearly 50 years after the Spanish built the first missions in Alta California.

Missionaries left many writings that explain their dislike or their discomfort with Native people continuing to dance and sing. Some missionaries allowed public dances, and others responded harshly to Native people who continued to practice their dances, songs, ceremonies, and other important customs. By the mid-1810s there were many instances of Native people leaving missions out of a desire to return to their old ways of life, or out of dislike for the life required of them in the missions. The Spanish had a difficult time stopping Native people from practicing their culture, in part because the high death rate of Native people in the missions forced the priests and soldiers to find new potential converts in villages farther and farther from the mission. These new people had very close ties to their languages, cultures, customs, and religions. The persistence of indigenous forms of song and dance in the missions is an example of how Native people maintained aspects of their culture in nontraditional settings.

Note: The Spanish named the Ohlone people in the greater San Francisco Bay Area “Costanoan.”  This is not a word that Native people in the area use to refer to themselves today.

par Franquelin d'apres Choris.
Lith. de Lanlume rue dl'Abbaye N 4

Danse des habitantes de Californie a la mission de San Francisco