Santa Lucia Mountains, near Big Sur, California – 1774
On arriving at the place of koxki asanax (hot water) Ishka, a young Ekheahan tribesman, slid his naked body into the steaming pool. When the water reached the wounds on his back, it stung like fire, but Ishka knew it was the beginning of healing and welcomed the pain.
In his language the word lasapa meant “to wash,” something the Españoles rarely did themselves, and would never allow the Indios to do. Of all the things Ishka missed, lasapa was one that he longed for the most. And as he lingered in the pool, he imagined he was washing away the nightmares of the last two years.
On the other side of the creek, on a small bluff overhead, Ishka noticed a young woman looking down at him. Her eyes were large; her skin smooth. He wondered if she was an isamis — a virgin. He could tell from her dress that she was Excelen. The Excelen were of the same people, but of a neighboring community. Technically, Ishka was on their land.
This was something he also missed. The touch of a woman. He motioned to her to come near.
Moments later, she stood over him, staring down into the roiling water.
“I am Ishka. I have fled from the Españoles. I was held at the Misión de Carmel for over two years. I escaped three days ago.”
The woman smiled. “I am Atimu.”
“I know I am on your land. I came into the mountains to find koxki asanax to wash my wounds.” Ishka stood up, revealing himself to Atimu. He turned around and showed her the places on his back where the whip of the padres had torn away his skin.
“I have fresh ami’ chanax (herbs) for healing. Let me help you,” said Atimu.
She knelt down and untied a small leather pouch from around her waist. She reached in and took out a handful of withered leaves and dipped them in the water.
“Come,” she said.
Ishka stepped backwards towards her.
“Closer,” she said.
He felt the hot juice from the leaves being squeezed onto his back. Then her soft hand touching him. Moments later she was in the water with him, her kisses bringing greater healing than the figwort or poppy ever could.
Later, as the two sunned themselves dry on a large flat rock, Ishka told Atimu his story.
“I was taken by the Españoles as I was carrying fish from the beach. On horseback, they surrounded me and two of my kinsmen. They threw ropes around us, and drug us through the sand, burning our skin. There were soldiers from the Presidio along with two priests. One they called Fermin. And then there was the tumasachpa — the devil — the one called Junípero. The one who wore the black rope around his waist.
“At the mission they put us into what are called dormitories. There was one for men and one for women and children.
“There, we were mixed with other tribes … Ohlone, Rumsen, Sarhentaruc. Some we understood; others we did not. But it did not matter, for we were all forced to learn the language of the Españoles. We were also forced to learn their religion – worshipping the man Jesús and his mother Maria.
“During the day we tended their herds and ploughed their fields. At sundown we were brought to the mission. We went to the chapel, prayed to Jesús on the cross and drank his blood from the cup.”
“You drank his blood?” asked Atami.
“Yes,” said Ishka. “We drank his blood and ate his body. These were just bread and the wine the padres made. But we were told they were real. And to keep from being beaten, we didn’t argue.
“After the chapel, we ate dinner. We ate whatever the Españoles fed us. Then we went back to the dormitories where we had no pace to wash. And when we urinated and defecated, it was into a common bucket.
Atami cringed at Ishka’s description of the mission. “How did you escape?” she asked.
“I tried two times before I succeeded,” answered Ishka. “On those times, after I was caught, I was brought back and whipped by the padre Junípero. On the third time, it was Junípero himself who caught me.
“I was tending sheep far away from the mission, in a pasture near the hills. I figured it would be an easy place for me to escape. As evening approached, I made sure I was at the edge to the pasture. When the others began moving back to the mission, I would simply slip away into the hills.
“I did so, but as I approached the hills, Junípero came riding towards me on horseback, along with one of the Mestizo foremen. This was my third time trying to escape I knew he would kill me.
“The Mestizo, his name was Carlos, roped me and pulled me to the ground, much the same way they had done when I was first captured. He dragged me to the fence and there they dismounted and Junípero took off the rope from around his waist and tied me around one the large fence posts.
“He then told Carlos to leave.
“With Carlos a distance away, Junípero took the whip hanging from his saddle and began lashing me. As he did so, I felt an immense anger well up inside. I suddenly felt strong. The power was coming from the rope around my wrists. It burned into my skin with a cold pain. In comparison, I was hardly even feeling the whip on my back. I was filled with a burst of power and I embraced the post in my arms and pulled it from the ground, swung it around, and knocked Junípero to the ground.
“Free from the post, I slipped the rope from my hands and ran.”
Atimu leaned over, kissed Ishka, and caressed his cheek.
“I should have taken the black rope,” said Ishka. “But I only wanted to be free of it. It made me hachoxpa. It turns a man into a devil.”