Rugged Desert (1961)

History and culture of the Cahuilla, reenactment of typical days in the lives of the Cahuilla narrator's grandparents, hunting and gathering, also her family's diet, initiation rituals, games.

Opens with San Jacinto Mountain and surrounding landscape; a young Cahuilla boy (Jim) runs onto and down Belardo Road and passes the Desert Museum in Palm Springs, CA; he walks through the lobby, joins and stands very close to the narrator (Katherine Siva Saubel) an older woman (ñícił) and they inspect a a black smooth stone (arrow straightener) with their hands and she takes it into her own hand, close-up of Jim’s face as he watches, she places an arrow (húyal) in a groove in the rock where it can slide back/forth to smooth the raw arrow’s shaft (hul), and speaks as she demonstrates how it works; fade to a flashback to a desert canyon landscape where between large boulders a man (náxanish/náxaniš) shows three boys how to carve an arrow from a branch; close-ups of a boy watching and then of the man’s hands as he smoothes the shaft by sliding it back and forth in the groove in a stone like Jim has discovered;  back to a wider shot of the man and a boy watching intently and he then hands the objects to the boy who tries it out; various shots of the boy working on it; the man and boys walking through a canyon between brush, the boy carrying a bow (hul/chúki^napish) and arrow, walking around they look, and then he aims the weapon and releases; close-up of the man throwing what looks like a long boomerang-shaped stick and a group of three boys watches where it goes; a boy carries the “rabbit stick” (vukiva’al) as he walks across a rocky ledge and he throws it; a older woman (“grandmother” played by Saubel) and girl sit at the mouth of a cave next to a fire pit; then closer view of the pair as the woman stirs a clay bowl on the fire as the girl looks on; the girl places a shallow clay plate in her lap and runs her hands through what’s in it; close-up of grandmother/Saubel stirring a substance in the pot; the girl at the water’s edge dipping a large clay spoon (the bowl is large) into the water and filling up a large clay jug (olla) with a narrow neck, she then gets up and carries the jug on her shoulder as she walks; grandmother/Saubel and the girl concentrate on a task sitting outside of a teepee-shaped structure (kish) made of long strips of cedar bark and with an opening, large trees beyond; various shots of the pair as the girl rolls clay into coils and grandmother/Saubel builds the walls of a pot with them; shots of the woman using a small rounded white stone to smooth the inside of the pot, blending the edges of the coils; eventually the pot is fully formed and she applies water to the exterior and picks up a flat wooden, paddle-shaped tool to smooth; two finished pots of different shapes rest on a piece of flat wood; three pots partially exposed under coal ashes in a fire pit; she, followed by the girl, walks to the fire holding a stick which she then uses to lift the pots out of the fire onto the ground; sitting against a rock face doing something with her hands, a large basket, pot and girl nearby; then close-ups of the grandmother/Saubel and her hands weaving a small basket (nčat/né^at), then back to the wider shot and various close-ups; this woman walking in a grassy area with a basket hanging from her head pointing to the ground as the girl uses a hand-made broom sweeps chia seeds (pásal) into a flat basket, then grandmother/Saubel takes the basket and sweeper to demonstrate; close-up of the contents of the basket; then the pair at a honey mesquite tree (ily) gathering bean pods into a basket; close-up of the beans and of grandmother/Saubel tasting one; the girl holding the basket as the woman and girl throw beans in; the woman, girl, the three boys and the man walking into a forest of possibly black oak trees (wi'at/kwínyil); different shots of the man knocking the tree branches with a long stick while the others gather acorns from the ground into baskets; the group of gatherers in a circle hurriedly picking up acorns; close-up of a hand removing the top from an acorn (kwíñill); back to the group gathering; grandmother/Saubel walks over and picks up the basket from a net of rope that gathers into a handle and she attaches it to her head at the forehead; she and the group walk off; the woman and girl sit on a rocky ledge, trees beyond, where they remove the tops from the acorns and the woman raps an acorn with a round stone to crack it; close-up of her hands pulling the shell apart; various shots of the girl and grandmother/Saubel ramming round elongated stones or pestles (pául) into similarly-shaped holes or mortars (pa^píveva^al) carved into a flat bedrock hole to grind the acorn into flour; close-ups of same; the woman pours a bit of water from a jug into a small bowl and then over a pile of pulverized acorns in an indentation in a pile of sand, leaves twigs, etc.; she repeats; the boys and man walk back to the cave entrance where they hand the woman a rabbit (if a brush rabbit - tévit) they killed; shots of boys playing in a body of water beneath a waterfall (Tahquitz Canyon); the woman walks around the bend next to a rock face with petroglyphs in red; the girl runs up the path to the rock; close-up of the red glyphs; with a long stem of yucca leaf grandmother/Saubel stirs paint in a small bowl she holds in her hands as the girl watches, and then she gives it to the girl who reaches towards the rock face; close-up of grandmother/Saubel smiling and speaking; then grandmother/Saubel guides the girl’s hand as the girl paints a glyph onto the rock face; close-up of the girl’s hand as she adds to an existing design; and back to the pair; grandmother/Saubel gently shaking a flat basket with the dark chia seeds back and forth in her hands; overhead shots of grandmother/Saubel kneeling near a small campfire protected by a circle of larger rocks, removes small heated stones and places them onto the seeds, and stirs the rocks through them with a stick; at the cave entrance, various shots of grandmother/Saubel using a larger basket to flip and sift honey mesquite beans (menyikish/menyakish), then chooses a couple to put into a hollowed out tree trunk-type barrel, and begins to grind them with a large smooth wooden pestle; wider view of the girl watching same; closer view of grandmother/Saubel grinding and a close-up of the ground seeds and pestle working; grandmother/Saubel back next to the fire pit drips a bit of water from a bowl into one in which she is mixing the ground seeds, now flour; closer shot of her mixing it and patting it into little round cakes; the man and three boys sit in a clearing as the various shots of the man creating different shapes with a rope between his two hands (cat’s cradle); the man, boys, grandmother/Saubel and the girl sitting around the campfire as the woman gives out bits of meat from the roasting rabbit on a bbq spit; closer shot of the same, and then of her knife work slicing the roast, and then handing a piece to the girl and a boy; an elder medicine man wearing a headdress and a sash adorned with eagle feathers moves a bundle of herbs and/or feathers and then bends over to move some campfire coals around with a stick before picking some up with his bare hands; he then blows on them briefly and puts them into his mouth; close up of the fire and embers; back to the group looking as he puts the edge of the bundle into his mouth and bends over to perhaps release something from his mouth into the fire; close up of the fire; back in the museum Jim stands next to a man who is looking at hunting artifacts and grandmother/Saubel walks up and they inspect the arrow straightening stone from the beginning of the film; close up of its museum label as a hand replaces the stone next to it; close up of Jim smiling; wide view of the local desert landscape. End credits over an image of San Jacinto Mountain and surrounding landscape: “Educational Horizons Films”; then over a plain background: “A film by Cynthia Chapman, Arthur Evans, Richard Harber, Harry James; Consultants: C.E. Smith, PH.D., Lowell Bean, M.A.”