A Story That Will Never Vanish

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Tombs of the Vanishing Indian, which takes place in Los Angeles during the 1970s, features a character referred to as the Lone Woman. She is a young mother who appears to the character Janey to guide her through her own suffering. The Lone Woman imbues Janey with the strength she needs to survive the life that's been handed to her - a life of abandonment and loneliness, of disappointment and seeming hopelessness.

In reality, the Lone Woman led a desolate life. A part of the Gabrielino Tribe, she and her people lived in peace on San Nicolas Island. That is, until the Russian and Aleut hunters stumbled upon the island in the early 1800s and decimated the Nicolenos who were trying to prevent them from hunting the nearby sea otters. Due to the violent nature of these encounters, the missionaries ordered that the remaining island Gabrielinos be brought to the mainland, ostensibly to keep them safe.

In 1835 or 1836, Captain Sparks landed on the island for this very reason. As the Nicolenos began to board the ship, a young woman was allowed to return to her hut allegedly to get her child whom was accidentally left behind. While the woman was away, a storm began to pick up and Sparks was forced to leave the island in order to save his ship, crew, and everyone else on board. The young woman was left behind and her memory became the legend of the Lone Woman. Years later, she was found and brought to the mainland only to die seven weeks after her "rescue."

When Sparks first arrived on the island, he reported that there were about 18 Nicoleno men, women, and children. Can you imagine: a whole culture left to only 18 people to sustain? It's pretty daunting. Needless to say, when these 18 men, women, and children arrived on the mainland, they were forced to assimilate to the dominate culture, coerced to forget their own way of life.

Native Voices exists to allow those who were formerly forced into silence to finally have a voice for their own stories. When playwright Marie Clements wrote Tombs, she included the Lone Woman to represent those who were made to "vanish." Inadvertently, by including this woman in her work, Marie has immortalized her so her story and the story of her people will live in perpetuity. Not only that, but this past summer Marie worked closely with Virginia Carmelo of the Gabrielino/ Tongva Nation to translate all of the Lone Woman's lines into Gabrielino further solidifying this culture's history. Working alongside Marie and Virginia were Assistant Director Jennifer Bobiwash and, of course, the actor who portrayed the Lone Woman, Carla-Rae.

To read about Jennifer's experience regarding the translation of this "dying language", please visit her blog "Floating... around..." The following is Carla-Rae's reflection of this incredible "honor":
What an honor to have been asked to play the role of the Lone Woman in the staged reading of Tombs of the Vanishing Indian by Marie Clements this past summer. 
Little did I know, as I devoured every word of the script, that I would be asked if I would be willing to play my character using the language of the original Gabrielino/ Tongva people. Joy, excitement, honor, and fear all mingled together as I heard my mouth say, "I will be glad to." The joy and excitement came because, as an artist, it is always fun to add new layers to the color and facets of a character. Fear, because as a cultural performer, the thought of “slaughtering” a culture’s language is totally, frightening. However, the honor of being given the privilege of trying speak the language, with all of its nuances, as the character of the Lone Woman, was what motivated me to do it. 
Virginia Carmelo, the wonderful woman who translated the work and helped me bring it to life, was such a joy to work with. When she had to leave to go home during the rehearsal process I felt as though she was entrusting me with a valuable gift. In essence, she did entrust me with a language that is tirelessly being revived by her people. It is a gift and one that I share with honor, to the Gabrielino/ Tongva people, each time I am given the privilege to perform it before an audience of new ears. 
It is my sincerest hope that I bring justice and honor to this beautiful language.


CarlaRae said...

Thank you for allowing me to share my experience of learning and using the language for this role.

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