Puvunga: Unraveling the Sacred Past of the Tongva Nation

SITES

Norine Holguin

8/18/20232 min read

Puvungna land mark of village, photo by Catherine Auman
Puvungna land mark of village, photo by Catherine Auman

Journey back in time to explore the ancient village and sacred site of Puvunga, a place of great significance for the Tongva and Acjachemen, the Indigenous people of the Los Angeles Basin and Orange County, respectively. Puvunga holds a unique place in history, acting as a symbol of cultural identity, resilience, and spirituality for the Native communities. Let's dive into the story of Puvunga and the ongoing efforts to preserve its legacy.

Unveiling the Past: Puvunga's Origins and Location

Puvunga holds deep historical roots, extending far beyond its contemporary location within California State University, Long Beach, and the surrounding area. It was a thriving village and a major trading and ceremonial center for the Tongva and Acjachemen before European settlers arrived. The village's presence was first uncovered in 1952 during the construction of a housing development, followed by further excavations in 1974 when portions of a burial site were found on the university campus.

The Birthplace of Legends: Unraveling the History of Puvunga

Puvunga, also known as Puvungna or Povuu'nga, is a site of deep cultural and spiritual importance for the Tongva and Acjachemen. This ancient village played a pivotal role as a regional trading and ceremonial center which intrinsically tied to the livelihood and beliefs of the Indigenous communities. The legends of the First Beings and the prophet Chingishnish shaped the narratives of Puvunga. For the Tongva people, Puvunga is revered as the "place of emergence" where they believe their world and lives began. The village holds a special place in their cultural heritage as home to Wiyot, one of the First Beings and their sacred leader. In Tongva narratives, Puvunga is also connected to Chingishnish, the prophet or deity who appeared after Wiyot's demise, guiding the community to sustain themselves.

Struggles of Preservation: Threats and Resilience

Despite its historical and cultural significance, Puvunga faced numerous threats over the years. In 1992, the university attempted to challenge its historic designation to build a strip mall, triggering protests and legal interventions by Indigenous groups and the ACLU. In 2019, the site faced further challenges when dirt and trash were dumped on its sacred grounds, leading to a legal battle by local tribes to halt the dumping.

Cultural Legacy and Ceremonial Significance

Puvunga continues to serve as an essential ceremonial site for the Acjachemen, Tongva, and Chumash communities. It remains a place of intertribal gatherings and the ending point of an annual pilgrimage that begins at the village site of Panhe, now located in San Onofre. The preservation of Puvunga is not just about protecting a historic site; it is about preserving a living cultural legacy and honoring the spirituality and traditions of Indigenous communities.

Educating for Respect: CSULB's Responsibility

California State University, Long Beach, as the current custodian of Puvunga, holds a great responsibility to respect and preserve this sacred site. Initiatives are underway to educate the campus community about the significance of Puvunga and prevent further damage. Understanding and honoring the spiritual and historical value of this site are crucial steps toward promoting inclusivity and acknowledging the profound contributions of Indigenous communities to the region.

Conclusion

Puvunga stands as a symbol of resilience and cultural richness, reminding us of the deep connection between Indigenous communities and their ancestral lands. As we celebrate the heritage of the Tongva and Acjachemen, let us unite in preserving and respecting Puvunga as a timeless testament to the enduring spirit of the First Peoples. Together, we can honor the "place of emergence" and ensure that its sacred significance remains cherished for generations to come.

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