The Yucca Project


For more than a year, photographer Carlos Puma  and I have been chronicling the age-old relationship between Southern California Native Americans and the native yucca plant. 

From the masterful and beautiful arts of basketry and cordage, to the utilitarian arts of tools, essential food arts, and much more, yucca is Southern California’s super plant of fibers and foods. This relationship began in prehistoric times, and surprisingly, continues today, hundreds of years later.

As far as we can tell, we are the first to document and unify in one place the uses of yucca in numerous Native traditional arts. We focus especially on Yucca whipplei, known as 'umuch in Serrano, and panu'ul in Cahuilla. This yucca is the signature springtime plant of the chaparral landscape. Each plant takes years to start shooting from the ground. Once it does, every single part of the yucca plant through all its growth stages, even after death, supports a different, purposeful traditional art that is significant to Native cultures throughout Southern California. 

We are working closely with Elders as they share this traditional knowledge vital to cultural identity and history. Recently, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts honored us with a grant via the nonprofit Dorothy Ramon Learning Center. We are grateful that the Living Cultures Grant will enable us to publish what the Elders teach.

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