History of the Kumeyaay at Cabrillo


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Fifth Nation


Excerpt from Cabrillo National Monument Website

As Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed north, he knew that the land he was to claim for Spain was already occupied by people called Indians.  When he entered the harbor here, he saw several Kumeyaay Indians waiting on shore and was greeted by three of them.  They had long hair, some in braids and adorned with feathers or shells.  Some men wore capes made from the skin of sea otter, seal, or deer.  By mimicking men with lances on horseback and demonstrating armor and the slashed sleeves worn by Spanish soldiers, the Kumeyaay indicated that other Spanish were several days’ journey inland and that they had killed many Indians.  “They showed that they (the bearded men) had crossbows, and made gestures with their right arm as if they were spearing,” Cabrillo wrote.  “They went running as if they were on a horse, and for that reason they were afraid.”  Cabrillo, however, gave the Kumeyaay gifts and said he would not harm them.  He noted that they looked prosperous and sailed far out to sea fishing in reed canoes.  The Kumeyaay lived well by understanding their environment.  They made pottery, baskets, and abalone and other shell jewelry that they traded to neighbors.

Today, descendants of the Kumeyaay people that Cabrillo encountered still live in San Diego County on thirteen reservations.  Tribal members are an integral part of the annual Cabrillo Festival Open House, along with representatives from the United States, Spain, Mexico, and Portugal.  Known as The Fifth Nation, the Kumeyaay share their traditions and stories with thousands of Festival visitors.

Last revised 17-Aug-13