Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Littoralae: Santa Barbara’s Lost Tribe

From here to antiquity

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.
Sometimes dolphins would navigate the narrow stretch between the kelp beds and shore, breaching in smooth, leisurely arches. In these sequestered channels, its said, they can rest up whilst avoiding sharks which tend to be kelp-adverse.

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.
Plate II. Stockade fortification used in time of war
with the Dungeness Creatures. When one of the
Dungeness exclaimed “Why can’t we just all get along?”
a Littoralae trooper is said to have muttered,
“Because you're delicious with a little salt and a dry
white wine.” Despite calls by the Dungeness for
stockades to be repurposed as “hermeneutic circles”
(centers) for the study of conflict, crab cakes remain
a tribal favorite.

Yet I gradually became aware of a tribal presence at Hendry’s, almost numinous, like the spirit or avatar of some more ancient aboriginal story. Small evidence of this seemed to crop up everywhere – dwellings, stockades, monuments, and even burial sites, but on a miniature scale (Plates II-V) – a kaleidoscopic jumble of diminutive structures appearing and disappearing with the rhythm of the tides.

What on earth could be going on?

Plate III. Littoralae dwelling. Constructed
in Proto-Gothic style but now in need of
repairs, this building is not unlike many
others in the greater Santa Barbara area,
perhaps reflecting a wider culture of the
fixer-upper home. Note Sears-like
About a year went by before I discovered the answer – happened across it in an obscure publication from the Institut pour la Communication Nonliminal, Paris, detailing the anthropological significance of a large beach stone I’d previously overlooked as an ordinary boulder: the Great Lodestone of the Littoralae (Plate VI), Santa Barbara’s lost tribe!

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.
Plate V. Stone-chambered burial cairn.
According to one interpretation of the Great
Lodestone, such burial sites are to be managed
on a timeshare basis.  Since the Littoralae
prefer to outsource custody of the deceased
during their time off, holiday periods for cairns are
much sought after. 

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!
Plate VI. The Great Lodestone of the Littoralae, “imparted
unto them” during an epiphanic cataclysm (probably a seismic
rock fall). Proportionately speaking, the stone is of an order
of magnitude comparable to Mount Rushmore and bears the
tribe’s complete religious canon and history. The inscriptions,
known as Linear ABC, have a symbology similar to bar code
(inset) and were first deciphered in 1999 by Jean-François
Champignon, Institut pour la Communication Nonliminal, Paris.
Unfortunately, reading the stone from top to bottom or left to
right yields meanings that contradict what one learns by starting
from the obverse directions. Littoralae scholars, however, point
out that not only does history repeat itself, it ends up in the hands
of revisionists. As for religion, well, today’s heresy is tomorrow’s

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.

Plate VII. Explorer anthropologist Dr. Njenga
Mbaru with the hitherto uncontacted Qaddy
people of western M’gmbique in 1954. A Qaddy
woman in native costume and sandal spikes used
for cultivation, offers Dr. Mbaru larvae of the
giant piebald Alopecia moth prepared in earthen
crockery (inset). Unfortunately, "half-baked social
mores" and rampant addiction to fermented bisquick,
Dr. Mbaru found, spelled dissipation for an entire
generation of Qaddy.
Even so, there’s much to admire about the Littoralae. For centuries they’ve lived self-reliantly, hidden in plain view as it were, their lives interleaved imperturbably with the Sturm und Drang of the larger world. Though to the unbeliever their religious ideas might seem ridiculous, they’ve made no attempt to impose them on others (those nice evangelists who keep ringing my doorbell have never hinted they might be Littoralae, though sometime I wonder).

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 VIII. Stone cairn memorials to Littoralae
leaders and glitterati. Note crab cakes wryly
stacked in cairn-like fashion (inset) – a sort
of backhanded tribute to tribe’s comestible foe,
the Dungeness Creatures. Even if well-intentioned,
however, such homages seldom survive mealtimes.
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?
Yet violence begets progeny of its own, in this case, a deforming of the Littoralae psyche by an almost involuntary cynicism. Unlike other Native Americans who were known to beg forgiveness from the spirits of animals they’d killed for food, the Littoralae instead stoop to subtle acts of distain for the fallen (Plate VIII) – and sometimes even to banal vulgarities (e.g., “Upon the plate doth rest thy fate!”).

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

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