Homecoming: Journey to Limuw
Every year, members of the Chumash community undertake a traditional tomol journey to their homeland in Limuw, now also known as Santa Cruz Island. "Paddling in, there's no other homecoming like that," says paddler Eva Pagaling. Hear the Chumash paddlers' stories in this Story from the Blue – Homecoming: Journey to Limuw.
The Chumash people were on Limuw a beautiful island, and really provided very well for the people. Kakunupmawa created this rainbow bridge. Kakunupmawa told the people, "Don't be scared, just don't look down." But of course some people did look down and some of them fell into the ocean drowning and calling out for Kakunupmawa to save them. He took pity on them and turned them into dolphins.
[Reggie Pagaling] Water is life. Life is water. You know, we all have a balance in it. It is part of who we are. It is part of our relationship with all the ocean creatures as well as those that fly. It's a annual trek in which we recognize our former villages that are out there and the journeys that our people, my tribal people, learned how to develop their maritime skills. And we continue to do that now.
[Toni Cordero] The crossing, it means a lot of different things to different people. It's partly about reclaiming our maritime culture and it's very important because we lost it for so long. We were still a people but it was hard for us to find ways to express that and this is something that we do as a community and we do it for our community and for the ancestors and we paddle out to Santa Cruz Island. We are very closely tied to the ocean. I personally feel like I get strength, calmness, serenity, healing from the ocean.
[Reggie Pagaling] At the time we begin our journey, over on the islands we have people who have started a sacred fire. And on that fire they're praying for us to be safe going across. We have a saying among canoe families that every paddle is a prayer. So as we go through the dark water we're praying the whole time and there's nothing I can put into words that would really fully describe it other than that this part of the spiritual journey, this is where we can go ahead and connect with our spirit. Completing the cycle.
[Eva Pagaling] One of the things that my stepmom taught me is that if you ever really want to have a heart-to-heart with someone, have a conversation with them in the dark. And being out in dark water is like having a heart-to-heart with yourself because there is nothing else around. When we're first out there initially, that's your time to be with your ancestors and to resolve any issues that may be going on, like any negative thoughts that comeup, I use that as as my pull. and that's how the water has been so healing for all of us. Especially in dark water. The dark water crew knows that if they're paddling then there is something weighing them down that they have to let go of. And spiritually that's your time to do that.
[Alan Salazar] It's so dark you can't see 10, 20 feet in front of the tomol. So you have to be in rhythm with the paddler in front of you, the whole team, all six paddlers.
The first crew has to paddle until it gets light because we can't make a crew change until it gets light. And it's a little bit tricky, so it takes some help.
[Steve Villa] Once we change to the final crew we'll be heading into Limu and into the village of Swaxil and then that's where our families are waiting for us there and all night they're praying for us to have a safe journey because when it comes down to it we want to go from point A to point B safely.
We're grateful to the vessel here, the Channel Islands sanctuary, and everybody that has helped us and that was all due to the partnership together with the Chumash peoples at that that time, it started with the Chumash Maritime Association.
I think it's very important for fragile ecosystems everywhere, and ours is one of them, to be protected. And so I'm grateful for Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Protecting our marine resources and ecosystems is something that we've done for millennia. and something that we think is obviously very important.
That partnership is exactly what the word is. It's a partnership that has happened between the two entities to create everything that's going on right now, and they rely upon each other. We're just grateful that we've been able to be together on this journeyand it's a journey for both of us.
[Toni Cordero] The very first time I paddled, I just had this incredible connection with the ocean, the air, the sunlight, the breeze, the sound that the waves made lapping against the side of the tomol. It felt like coming home. For many people it's a return to where many of our ancestors came from.
We are not a relic of the past. We continue to exist now. Our culture, it continues to exist. And that this is not a reenactment of a crossing, this is a crossing. This is not a replica of a tomol, it is a tomol. We are not just descendants of Chumash people, we are Chumash people. And I think there's a tendency of the non-native community to think of us in terms of having existed in the past. Our culture is alive. It's continuing, it's growing, it's thriving. And one of the things that we do to make sure that it does continue and that it does thrive are things like the tomol crossing. But it's the dozens of people who are out on the island who are spiritually making this crossing with us and we are making it for them and all the ancestors who we are in communion with when we do this. 7:30 in the morning, got less than six miles to go
[Reggie Pagaling] 7:30 in the morning, got less than six miles to go!
[Eva Pagaling] I want to cry because paddling in, there's no other homecoming like that. There's nothing else in this entire planet I will experience like this. Being able to continue this journey and continue this tradition and then not only that, but bring it home. This has brought so many communities together and in a sense I think this is our tiny little version of tribal journeys because communities from all over the coast are coming together, not Chumash. And like my dad says all the time: water people. That's what it's been a part of, and our community has expanded, and we've been able to create such a big family, and there's absolutely nothing that you can compare this to. When you get to come home and not only see these faces that you love but also hear the songs, you know, that our ancestors were singing as they came home. That's special. It's really special. Yeah. That moment, homecoming, probably means everything to me and I can't wait until my son will be there. And I hope, you know, he's proud of me the way that my dad is proud of me now.
[Steve Villa] You can feel the spirit of the people there. Their singing. It's the pride of the people, the pride of the nation. through your heart, your mind, your eyes, all the senses come alive at that moment when they see you and you see them because they're just bursting with pride and so are you and they're just– I don't have words that can explain that. What I feel in my heart at this moment. But coming back into the sight of Swaxil, and having all the families there singing, knowing that they're there to welcome you after a long journey, but yet the journey that we're doing is for all of us. We carry their prayers, we carry their love with us across the channel for our ancestors and our future.
[Steve Villa}In my lifetime we didn't get to see a lot of this. We grew up being native, we grew up with words here and there, this is where we're from and this is what you are, Seeing my grandchildren here and even my son, their lifetime, all they know is know is Limuw, songs, and language. That's all they know. "Hasn't it always been like that, Dad?" "What do you mean it wasn't like that when you were growing up?" "What do you mean you didn't know all these songs and this language?" So they grew up in a world with this and now my grandchildren are on the island and they're growing up always knowing this. So this is just a beautiful adventure.
[Eva Pagaling] As he grows up I really want him to know, understand where he's coming from and what his family and friends and community members are doing to make sure that he never forgets that, just like they've done for me, you know, for my entire life. And then to be able to pass that on to our generations, like my dad has done for me, that's the goal you know. It's, if we're not doing it then it's gone.
[Alan Salazar] I'm doing this at this at this late stage in my life, hopefully long enough so that my grandson will be old enough and can see his Papa Alan paddle so I have to paddle for a couple more years to get my grandson out here. that's why I do this, to get the young people involved. I could walk away today and this could be my farewell "I'll see you guys all later," and I won't lose a minute of sleep, have a single ounce of regret because I know we have, you know, young people that are dedicated, that are going to carry it on.
The youth paddling now and the future of the paddlers, they're being taken under the wing from the older gentlemen. It's gonna be a bright future for paddling. I believe so. That's in my heart. I see it.
[Reggie Pagaling] We need to do what we do. We need to do it because we can. We need to do it because there are others that can't. We need to do it because our ancestors showed us and we need to show our children we're still part of that. And continuing our circle of education, life, and culture is an integral part of what we are
[Eva Pagaling] Being the next generation and my dad being the big deal that he is, I realized I will never ever ever be able to fill his shoes but I will be able to walk in his footsteps and I am proud being his daughter and I'm honored to be a part of this. He's never once turned me away or told me that I couldn't be here or that oh no this is only for the men. I basically grew up on this so to me it wasn't even a second thought of hey can I paddle this year, you know, and no one blinked. No one thought twice about it. That meant a lot to me you know because if there's, traditionally, women were not supposed to be paddlers. But this is all I knew. So for him to pass that on to me is exactly what I'm gonna do with my son because I have a one-year-old now and all the things that my dad's teaching me I'm gonna be able to pass that on and continue to keep our culture alive and that is something that is untouchable to anyone.