East-central California on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains
(Fresno & Tulare Counties)
Language: Uto-Aztecan family
1770 estimate: 4,000 (western & eastern Mono)
1910 Census: 887
The Monache, also known as the Mono or Western Mono, were connected by language with the Eastern Mono and other Paiute Indian groups living on the east side of the Sierras.
There were at least six groups of Monache. Their settlements were on the west side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, at elevations from about 3,000 to 7,000 feet. Their neighbors lower down the western Sierras were the Foothill Yokuts. Monache villages were along the North Fork of the San Joaquin River, on the Kings River, and on many creeks running down from the mountains. The settlements were small, usually made up of several villages with three to eight houses in each village.
Some of the Monache followed the Miwok and Yokut custom of dividing the people into two divisions, with each division being connected with certain animals, called totems. A family's totem animal was considered a source of power for that family, and was protected. The headman of a Monache settlement usually came from the Eagle line. The messenger, who helped him, came from the Roadrunner or the Dove line. In some villages, there were headmen from both of the divisions. It was the job of the headman to decide when to hold ceremonies, and to give advice to the people.
The name Monoche may have come from the Yokut word used to refer to these people. The people called themselves nümü, which meant persons.
In some Monache settlements, the house was cone-shaped, about 6 to 12 feet in diameter, with the floor dug out about a foot below ground level. A frame of poles was tied together at the top, leaving an opening for a smoke hole. The frame was covered with bundles of grass and small branches. Somewhat larger, oval-shaped houses were made with a ridgepole supported by posts; poles were leaned from the sides to form the walls. The poles were connected with flexible willow branches, and covered with bundles of grass. A woven mat covered the doorway.
In the higher mountains, large pieces of bark were used to cover the framework of cone-shaped houses. The floor of the house was at ground level, and earth was often put around the outer wall for extra warmth. Most houses had a shade roof extending from the house, to make an outdoor working area.
Most villages had a sweathouse, made like the larger oval-shaped houses but smaller and earth-covered. A fire was built in a pit inside the sweathouse, and men of the village gathered there in the afternoons.
Monache hunters worked together to track down deer and bear, which were killed with the bow and arrow. Hunters sometimes wore a deer mask so that they could get closer to the deer and drive them into a trap. Bears were often caught as they came out of their caves in the spring. The hunting party shared the deer and bear meat. Smaller animals such as squirrels and rabbits were smoked out of their holes, or trapped between stones. Pigeons were caught with a rope noose (loop). Tame pigeons were kept in cages and used to attract the wild pigeons. From the creeks, the Monache got fish by building small fences across the creek, and then using a harpoon to spear the fish.
Acorns were found only in the lower elevations of Monache territory. The people made trips to gather acorns in the fall. They also went over the crest of the mountains to the east side to gather pine nuts. The supply of nuts was stored in a granary built on a platform about six feet off the ground. Willow mats formed the sides of the granary.
Other foods eaten by the Monache included insects, seeds, berries, and roots. A sweet drink was made from manzanita berries. Wild honey was collected whenever it was found.
Monache women probably wore the double apron typical of many early California groups, and men may have worn a similar front apron or piece of deerskin fastened around the waist. They usually did not wear anything on their feet. The women may have worn a basket cap, used to cushion the forehead for the strap of the carrying baskets, which rested on the forehead. Both men and women often had tattoos on their faces, and wore ornaments in their ears and noses.
The baskets made by the Monache were done by both the twining and coiling methods, and were used for all carrying, storing, cooking, and serving of food. Mush was cooked in a basket by placing stones, heated in a fire, into the cooking basket. Two pine sticks were used to lift the hot stones from the fire. A mush stirrer was made from a stick that was bent into a loop at one end.
Besides baskets, the Monache made containers of pottery and of steatite. Steatite, or soapstone, was carved out into a bowl shape and used for cooking. Pottery was made by coiling strips of clay into the desired shape. The pot or bowl, after being fired in a pit, could be used for cooking on an open fire.
A special kind of basket was the baby cradle. The type made by the Monache was flat with a curved hood that kept the sun off the baby. Woven into the cradle was a design that showed whether the baby was a girl or a boy.
Bows used in hunting and warfare were three to four feet long and made of California laurel or juniper wood. For the string on the bow, a piece of sinew (animal tendon) was used. Arrows used in hunting birds and small animals had pointed ends but not arrowheads attached to them. Those used in hunting larger animals or in warfare had points made of obsidian (volcanic glass), which was gotten in trade from the Eastern Mono. Obsidian was also used to make knives, scrapers, and spear points. Most arrows had feathers attached to them. Arrow tips could be poisoned with venom from rattlesnakes.
String and cord were made from milkweed fibers and from willow bark. Pieces of fiber or thin bark were rolled on the thigh to twist them into cord. The cord was used to make nets and straps, and to fasten things together. Though women carried the heavy loads in baskets, men sometimes used carrying nets with a strap that went around the forehead.
The Monache traded with the Eastern Mono on the other side of the mountains. From the Eastern Mono they got pine nuts, obsidian, and rabbitskins in exchange for acorns. The Monache also traded with the Yokuts, in the valley below them, and carried items between the Yokuts and the Eastern Mono. From the Yokuts, they got freshwater mussels.
There were not many important ceremonies held by the Monache. They did not have special assembly or dance houses, but held community games and feasts in the open. The headman was in charge of inviting people to a feast.
People from one settlement often visited other settlements. One reason for a visit was to display birds, especially eagles, that they had captured. Dances were held in connection with the bird displays, and the owner of the bird was given gifts and money.