After moving to Santa Barbara I soon got into the habit of hiking on nearby Hendry’s beach. There, below the indulgent cliffs of fossil-laden beach cobble and soft sedimentary rock carved out millennia ago, I could enjoy wet sand and sea fog, driftwood, flotsam seaweed, and shore birds poking about for sand crabs in the dithering surf.
Plate I. Mercator projection relief map of the
world dating to around 6,000 BC when the
Littoralae are believed to have first emerged.
This idyllic place, both the coastal mainland and Santa Barbara Channel Islands, was for some dozen or more millennia, home to the Chumash people, California natives just like you or me. Since food was abundant year-round, the Chumash were able to stay put, avoiding seasonal migrations. With the arrival of the Europeans everything changed, and the Chumash were compelled to move on.
Nowadays, you seldom see Chumash at the beach. About two hundred of them, the Santa Ynez Band, inhabit the 120-acre Santa Ynez Reservation thirty miles from here.
What on earth could be going on?
The tribal narrative memorialized on this stone is absorbing, but before going further, we ought first consider what we mean by lost tribe.
Lost tribes are of two basic types: those that on account of circumstance slip from historical notice and those that because of, say, geographical isolation have received no notice at all – the latter often described as “uncontacted” (Plalte VII).
|Plate IV. Obelisk-like monument to legendary |
tribal queen, Parturitia the Plentiful, “mother
of her nation.” Littoralae society is matrilineal,
but you probably wouldn’t know it from this.
History is replete with examples of both. The Mechta-Afalou or Mechtoid are an extinct people of North Africa who flourished during the late Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods before vanishing. Several tribes of ancient Judaea-Sumeria – Canaanites, Hittites, Moabites, Midianites, Israelites (ten tribes of them, purportedly*) – extant before about 700 BC, subsequently disappeared.**
During the Middle Ages, many tribes of what was then Russia went extinct.
As Europeans colonized the New World, destruction of indigenous cultures became rampant. In Brazil alone, many thousands of native tribes dissolved, 87 of them between 1900 and 1957.
Surprisingly, even today uncontacted communities are to be found in densely forested areas of South America, New Guinea and India, among them the Sentineli who’ve inhabited their island in the Andamans (Bay of Bengal) for 60,000 years. The provinces of Papua and West Papua, New Guinea, are home to some 44 uncontacted tribal groups.
Which brings me back to the Littoralae – still an uncontacted tribe themselves, it appears, since nobody’s ever seen them!
The Great Lodestone is not just some striated rock form; its etched with barcode-like writing lately dubbed Linear ABC by Professor Jean-François Champignon of the Paris Institut, the first to decipher it. Thus, it’s to him and this extraordinary chunk that we owe our knowledge of the Littoralae.
Among the legends inscribed on the stone are two creation myths, one predating the other by centuries. According to the earlier version, the first Littoralae were born of sea foam like the Roman goddess, Venus, and subsequently adapted to life on dry land (and then again to the life aquatic as they took to warring with the “Dungeness Creatures”).
In the more recent account, however, the tribe voyaged to California long ago aboard primitive stone spacecraft from their home world, Planet Hollywood, in a galaxy far, far away. This version of the beginning times, now considered apocryphal and the work of a skillful graffitist with a knowledge of barcode, nonetheless makes for interesting reading and remains the more popular of the two – so much so that a large number of Littoralae, known as the Assemblage of Littoral Belief, have come to accept it as literal truth
“Believing your own myths is one thing, but somebody else’s graffiti? What the hell?!” marveled Professor Champignon, who rather precipitously moved on to another project.
They’re a peaceable folk, largely agrarian and vegan, though with one notable exception: predation upon their crustacean neighbors, the Dungeness Creatures. This conflict (Plate II), which has raged for generations on more or less unequal footing, has seen the Dungeness get the worst of it.
|Plate IX. Reminiscent of Peru’s Nazca |
Lines, this zoomorphic geoglyph seems a
reflection of coastal culture. Or could the
Nazca and Littoralae simply have been
influenced by the same band of ancient aliens?
Still, nobody’s perfect. On balance I do hold the tribe quite in regard. I’m crazy about crab cakes myself, you see, and I’m also a tin-plated cynic.
And then there’s the final line of the Lodestone that reads: “The greatest of all virtues is kindness.”
*As it happens, the word “Chumash” also means Torah. Ten Lost Tribes theorists are welcome to take it from there.
**Perspective, too, plays a role in this. Some disappeared Sumerian tribes – the Malachites and Dolerites, for example – may not have been considered missing at all, at least not the time. The former, green-eyed malcontents the lot of them, and the latter, endlessly disconsolate over something or other, vanished but went un-missed by anyone, their scarcity deemed more boon than privation. You’re not lost, in other words, until somebody thinks you are.
“A new beginning shall I sing, for the Hog Farm of the Virtuous is at hand, when the shoat shall praise the day.”
-- Swami Deepsheesh Rajathustra, speaking (after a toke or two) at the dedication of the Blind Pig Ashram, Great Salt Lake