"Chemehuevi" has multiple interpretations. It is considered to either be a Mojave term meaning "those who play with fish;" or a Quechan word meaning "nose-in-the-air-like-a-roadrunner." The Chemehuevi call themselves Nüwüwü ("The People", singular Nüwü) or Tantáwats, meaning "Southern Men."
The language, Chemehuevi, is a Colorado River Numic language, in the Numic language branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. First transcribed by John P. Harrington and Carobeth Laird in the early 20th century, it was studied in the 1970s by linguist Margaret L. Press. whose field notes and extensive sound recordings remain available. The language is now near extinction; during the filming of Ironbound Films' 2008 American documentary film The Linguists, linguists Greg Anderson and K. David Harrison interviewed and recorded one of the last 3 remaining speakers.
In 2015, the Siwavaats Junior College in Havasu Lake, California has been established to teach children the language. A Chemehuevi dictionary with 2,500 words is expected to become available in 2016.
The Chemehuevi were originally a desert tribe among the Southern Paiute group. Post-contact, they lived primarily in the eastern Mojave Desert and later Cottonwood Island in Nevada and the Chemehuevi Valley along the Colorado River in California. They were a nomadic people living in small groups given the sparse resources available in the desert environment. Carobeth Laird indicates their traditional territory spanned the High Desert from the Colorado River on the east to the Tehachapi Mountains on the west and from the Las Vegas area and Death Valley on the north to the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains in the south. They are most closely identified as among the Great Basin Indians. Among others they are cousins of the Kawaiisu.
The most comprehensive collection of Chemehuevi history, culture and mythology was gathered by Carobeth Laird (1895–1983) and her second husband, George Laird, one of the last Chemehuevi to have been raised in the traditional culture. Carobeth Laird, a linguist and ethnographer, wrote a comprehensive account of the culture and language as George Laird remembered it, and published their collaborative efforts in her 1976 The Chemehuevis, the first – and, to date, only – ethnography of the Chemehuevi traditional culture.
Describing the Chemehuevi as she knew them, and presenting the texture of traditional life amongst the people, Carobeth Laird writes:
The Chemehuevi character is made up of polarities which are complementary rather than contradictory. They are loquacious yet capable of silence; gregarious yet so close to the earth that single families or even men alone might live and travel for long periods away from other human beings; proud, yet capable of a gentle self-ridicule. They are conservative to a degree, yet insatiably curious and ready to inquire into and even to adopt new ways: to visit all tribes, whether friends or enemies; to speak strange tongues, sing strange songs, and marry strange wives.
Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. Alfred L. Kroeber estimated the combined 1770 population of the Chemehuevi, Koso, and Kawaiisu as 1,500. The combined estimate in 1910 dropped to 500. An Indian agent reported the Chemehuevi population in 1875 to be 350. Kroeber estimated U.S. census data put the Chemehuevi population in 1910 as 355. Population as of 2016 is in the 1000s.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chemehuevi.|