Opening of a new exhibition at the Barona Museum and Cultural Center

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Sitting on the tree trunk bench, the faint scent of a burning campfire and sage wafts through the air as audiences at the Barona Museum and Cultural Center watch a film of the history of the creation of Kumeyaay projected onto the rounded wall of the new theatre. On the floor is a fake glowing campfire, and the tribe’s traditional constellations are traced on the ceiling.

Inside this newly built mini-theater on the Barona Indian Reservation, the museum last week presented its film telling the story of the tribe’s traditional creation. “Nya’waap Illyuw Uuchyuwp – Our Way of Knowing” is a 20-minute semi-animated film.

“This is a momentous day for our people,” said Raymond Welch, president of the Barona Band of Mission Indians. “The story of our creation was nearly lost to colonization, genocide and forced assimilation, and it has been immortalized in this short film.”

Traditionally, the story would have been passed on to the youth of the community in a four-day ceremony held in the fall to commemorate their coming of age, said Steve Banegas, chairman of the museum’s committee and member of a tribe of the Barona Mission Indians. member

The oral tradition was disrupted in the 1800s, due to the impacts of the Spanish Catholic missionary system when traditional Kumeyaay religious practices were forcibly replaced by Christian ideology. Generations of children have not had the opportunity to learn the traditional stories, language and culture of their elders, and they in turn have not been able to pass them on to their children and grandchildren.

“(The movie) is not just for the next generation, but also for my age and the ages before us,” Banegas said. “There are a lot of old people who have never heard the story.”

The project was supported by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the San Manuel Mission Indian Band, as well as donations from Barona tribal members. To create the film, the Barona Museum Committee collaborated with Split Rock Studios, exhibit designers and film producer Winikur Productions.

Years of research have gone into piecing together the history of community elders who knew sections of it and recorded ethnographic records in the 1920s and earlier.

Narrated by Barona Elder Patrick Curo, the film tells the story of the Kumeyaay Creators – brothers Tu-chai-pai and Yo-ko-mat-is — rising from the ocean to create the earth, the sun (‘Enya) and the moon (hellya), as well as animals, plants and people. Through several individual tales woven together, he shares the history of animals, constellations, and the societal morals of people.

Admission to the Barona Cultural Center & Museum is free and the gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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