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Pablo Tac’s Writings, c. 1840

Excerpt from Pablo Tac’s writings on his homeland and Native leadership at the mission

Luna, James and Lisbeth Haas, Editors

"Tac, Pablo. Pablo Tac, Indigenous Scholar: Writing on Luiseño Language and Colonial History, c. 1840, Edited by James Luna and Lisbeth Haas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. "

Pablo Tac was a Native Californian (Luiseño) man who was born in 1820 and raised at Mission San Luis Rey, in northern San Diego County. Tac and another Luiseño boy named Agapito Amamix became apprentices to the priest at the mission around the age of 8 or 9. After helping the missionaries for a few years, both boys left California with Father Antonio Peyri to study for the Catholic priesthood in Mexico City and, later, in Rome, Italy. While in Rome, Tac wrote a dictionary of the Luiseño language. He wrote about experiences from his life he used stories he learned about the time before the missions to help explain the words and phrases in his dictionary. This source comes from these writings.

How did the Spanish impact the lives of people from Tac’s village? Who were the leaders at the mission? Why do you think it was important for the Spanish to have Native people work as leaders (alcaldes) at the mission?

Pablo Tac had the unique ability to write in Luiseño, Spanish, and Latin because of the training he received while studying for the priesthood during his fairly short life. He also created a written version of the Luiseño language, which did not exist before Tac made this dictionary. Tac’s written record is an important primary source that reveals the ways that Luiseño people, and Native people more broadly, experienced the missions and the impact of Spanish contact. There are no other known accounts written directly by Native people at the time of the missions. However, scholars use the testimonies and actions of Native people as recorded in the reports of European observers to better understand how indigenous people experienced the missions.

Although Native people did not historically have written languages, oral tradition was, and still is, very important to many Native Californian communities. Today many Native people continue to keep alive their oral traditions in the form of stories, songs, their languages, and by recounting the experiences of their ancestors. Other people in Native communities that lost the last speakers of their languages are using recordings and writings similar to Tac’s to lead language revitalization movements. This is currently happening among some Ohlone and Gabrielino-Tongva communities, as well as many others.

Consider talking to students about the unique work undertaken by Pablo Tac while in Rome. How can we see the influence of Tac’s Luiseño culture in this excerpt?

“Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was so named by the Fernandino Father [Catholic missionary].... But we call [the land] Quechla in our language…. In Quechla not long ago there were five thousand souls, with all the countries nearby; due to a sickness that came to California, two thousand souls died, and three thousand remained.
As the Fernandino Father was alone, and very accustomed to his Spanish soldiers, seeing that it would be very difficult to take charge of these people on his own— especially people who only a few years before had come out of the woods— he appointed alcaldes, chosen from the [Native] people themselves….
The chief alcalde was called the General and knew everyone by name, and when meals were taken together, he would name each of the subjects by their names. In the evening the alcaldes gather in the missionary’s house, bringing the news of the day, and if the missionary tells them anything that all the people of the country must know, they, returning to the mission villages, go about shouting: ‘Tomorrow in the morn[ing] . . .’” (181-183).