|Native American Stories and Songs
Loren Bommelyn / Tolowa from Crescent City, California
Crescent City is a pretty little town on the far northern coast of California almost into Oregon. It is a fishing town, and the wharves are full of fat sea lions that bark and sleep thier days away. Loren Bommelyn is a Tolowa Indian who lives with his family in a nice house down a quiet cul-de-sac in the town. He is originally from the small fishing village of Nelechundun on the Smith River. He walks in two worlds and is both an eloquent, educated man and a traditional Tolowa.
The drum he beats is a square one, common to the coastal people. It is stretched with rawhide rather than a tanned hide. He says that the drum is only used for gambling songs. Other songs are voice-only or they use a deer hoof rattle. Loren began singing as a young boy and made his first public debut when he was about thirteen.
His parents saw the changes sweeping the culture and went to work trying to get the elders to teach the young people, to make sure the songs, dances and ceremonies didn’t die out with the elders. Loren used to go and sit with an elder named Sam Lopez and, from him, learned many of the songs.
Today, Loren and his extended family host two dances a year in order to reintroduce the people to the songs and dances of his tribe. He regrets that there are so few singers and drummers and wants the opportunity to sing with many, as in the old days.
The Tolowa were hunter-gatherers who reaped the bounty of the land and waters. “Salmon was our buffalo,” says Loren. The only crop they cultivated was tobacco. The original territory of the Tolowa was the far northern coast of modern day California along the Smith River. They were a coastal culture rather than a river culture, however, and were scattered across seven or eight original villages. “Tolowa” was not the name the people gave themselves. They referred to themselves simply as “people” or “person,” and the name “Tolowa” was given to them by other tribes. It may have referred to a village next to a nearby lake.
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