Maria Lepowsky

Position title: Resident Fellow (2010-2011)

Anthropology, Gender and Women's Studies, UW-Madison

Portrait image of Maria Lepowsky in front of library shelves

Toypurina and the Hidden Histories of California

This book project focuses on the historical and cultural legacies of a young indigenous woman, a shaman named Toypurina, who in 1785 led a revolt against the Spanish at Mission San Gabriel, nine miles from the newly founded pueblo of Los Angeles. Toypurina, the book shows, was an early prophet of a new religious and political movement that crossed ethnolinguistic boundaries on the California frontier. Nearly invisible to Spanish (and later Mexican) authorities, this prophetic movement linked a series of California mission revolts over several generations and was also a direct precursor of the far more famous Ghost Dance movement that spread eastward from California and Nevada in the late 19th century. This project combines archival and ethnographic approaches, analyzing overlooked historical documents, records of myths and sacred songs, century-old anthropological fieldnotes, and personal narratives. It traces Toypurina and her descendants, as well as her people, the Tongva, and their neighbors, from early encounters with Spanish soldiers and Franciscan missionaries to the cultural revitalization movements and hybrid ethnic identities of contemporary California. The book offers revealing perspectives on prophetic movements and indigenous resistance across time and space, the “intimate frontiers” of interethnic family life, women as political and religious leaders, intersections of gender and indigeneity, landscape and cultural memory, and contemporary cultural revitalization movements.

Maria Lepowsky is Professor of Anthropology and Gender and Women’s Studies at UW-Madison and a faculty affiliate of UW’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment and the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies. Her research and teaching focus on gender, historical anthropology, the interplay of culture and environment, mythology and ritual, the history of anthropology, and psychological and medical anthropology. She has conducted longterm ethnographic and archival research in the Pacific Islands and California. She is the author of Fruit of the Motherland: Gender in an Egalitarian Society, the first anthropological account of one of the world’s most egalitarian societies, on the small island known to its inhabitants as Vanatinai, in the Coral Sea east of New Guinea. She has written a memoir of her island research, Dreaming of Islands (forthcoming), and completed research for a book on early encounters between islanders and Europeans on the Coral Sea frontier and their cultural consequences. Her fascination with the ongoing legacies of such early intercultural encounters led her to research on the indigenous people of the Los Angeles Basin, the Tongva (Gabrielinos) and their neighbors, the Acjachemen (Juaneños), and the legacies of their catastrophic encounters with Spanish, Mexican, American, and other newcomers over multiple generations. Her newly uncovered accounts of accommodation and resistance reveal hidden histories of California whose consequences continue to shape cultural landscapes in this bellwether state. Maria Lepowsky (A.B., M.A., Ph.D., M.P.H. University of California, Berkeley) has been supported in her research on California and the Pacific by an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship and Henry E. Huntington Library Fellowships, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Haynes Foundation and Historical Society of Southern California, the Autry National Center for the Study of the American West, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, the American Council of Learned Societies, the University of California, Berkeley; and the Graduate School and William F. Vilas Trust of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.