This week-end, CSUSM students from Joely Proudfit’s Political and Economic Development, Bonnie Bade’s Community Ethnobotany, and my Advanced Digital Arts classes will participate in an agave harvest and roast, organized by Lydia Vassar, Luiseño, and Daniel McCarthy, Tribal Relations Manager with the U.S. Forest Service.
In March 2006, Lydia helped Daniel organize a field trip to Anza Borrego Desert State Park to harvest the Agave deserti, once a vitally important Native American food source in southern California. These photos are a preview of this week-end’s fieldtrip.
In the photo above, Lydia and Armando Martinez are harvesting agave.
Here, Lydia demonstates the traditional harvesting method for agave using a long digging stick to her nephew Tristan, from the San Pasqual Band of Kumeyaay Indians and the youngest member of our gathering group.
Lydia revels in teaching Tristan about every aspect of the harvest, including its dangers. When one of our group accidentally impales himself on an agave thorn, Lydia calmly removes it from his hand. Agave thorns were used as awls in basketweaving, Lydia’s specialty. The thorns also were used for tattooing, and the ashes of burned agave stalks used as a dye for tattooing.
Dried agave leaves were pounded and the fiber woven into carrying bags, sandals, cordage, nets, women’s skirts, bow strings, and snares.
After harvesting the hearts of several agaves, we collect some of the leaves for their fiber, as well as for roasting in the earth roasting pit .
Two days later, after 30 hours of roasting the hearts and leaves, we celebrate with an agave feast on the San Pasqual Reservation. The photo above of Lydia gnawing on a roasted agave leaf is one of Lydia’s and my favorites of her.