Polyvalent Metaphors in South-Central California Missionary Processes

Robinson, David Wayne orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0729-5011 (2013) Polyvalent Metaphors in South-Central California Missionary Processes. American Antiquity, 78 (2). pp. 302-321. ISSN 0002-7316

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/ 10.7183/0002-7316.78.2.302


The Spanish missionary entrada (A.D. 1769 to 1833) along the California coast created a series of complex encounters between multiple cultural discourses. The Franciscan mission system directly brought colonial and indigenous cultural metaphorical understandings into play. Missionary and indigenous discourse interacted largely via the media of material culture, animals, embellished architecture, and landscape— media interpreted through preexisting cultural metaphors and understandings. Investigating how metaphors played a role in constituting colonial entanglements is important in understanding cultural interactions and change. Metaphors structured colonial interactions, simultaneously hindering and enabling missionary-indigenous relationships. These relationships created parameters for unforeseen transitory configurations: a process best theorized under the term polyvalence. By adopting polyvalence, the processes of colonialism can be approached without usage of ethnic or racialized terms such as creolization, hybridity, or amalgamation. In the case of indigenous south-central California, it is suggested here that widely different forms of evidence can be better appreciated without recourse to terms laden with racial or ethnic connotations. The evidence suggests that while missions may have failed to create entirely new ethnic groups, missionary endeavors did result in unanticipated outcomes, presenting problems and creative opportunities for indigenous groups living within immediate coastal and extended interior populations.

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