The loosely defined Jumano nation includes groups of southern Californian Pueblo and Red River-dwelling Wichita Indians, as well as other native groups hailing from Mexico to Colorado. The Jumano culture thrived from 1500 to 1700, but the beliefs held by its peoples before they came in contact with Western colonists are largely shrouded in mystery. In his book “One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West Before Lewis and Clark,” Colin G. Calloway writes, “Historians, anthropologists and linguists disagree about their precise identity.” However, historical accounts provide some insight into the culture's basic belief systems.

Shades of Society

Despite the lack of concrete information on Jumano beliefs, history provides us with a small selection of facts about their societal makeup. Early Spanish explorers describe Jumano villages led by a cacique, or chief. In some cases, two caciques -- one war chief and one peace chief -- presided over Jumano villages. Although they commonly lived as buffalo hunters, early Spanish explorers noted that the Jumano sometimes carried non-hunting weapons, including bludgeons and buffalo hide shields, indicating the presence of warriors among the tribe.

Relationships on Record

Although their culture predates recorded American history, the actions of the Jumanos provide insight about their philosophical beliefs, in terms of interactions with others. In contrast to neighboring tribes, the Jumano -- who often served as traders and middlemen -- were more receptive of early explorers, according to records of the Spanish Espejo expedition of 1582. Their reception of Western travelers even included gift-giving. Likewise, the Jumano were friendly with other tribes, constantly cultivating friendships, alliances and even intermarriages with neighboring native groups, such as the Humanas Pueblos. The tribe even shared styles of dress with the Apache de Los Llanos.

Exploring Spirituality

Priests in the 1600s witnessed the Jumanos and their companion tribes performing ritual dances known as catzinas, and they may have used kivas as chambers for religious rites, much like the Humanas Pueblos. The Jumanos traded hallucinogenics such as peyote, and they used the substance for spiritual purposes. Peyote played a role in the Jumano mitote, a ceremonial dance performed in honor of events ranging from celebrations to war.

Forays into Christianity

As the Jumanos were first written about by explorers and missionaries, much of what is known about their beliefs relates to their interactions with Christianity. This diverse tribe was historically receptive of Christian beliefs and missions, though their acceptance wasn't always spiritually motivated. In 1682, for instance, Jumano chief Juan Sabeata offered Spanish missionaries the souls of his tribe in exchange for protection from the Apaches. Although the first recorded Christian missionary attempts occurred in 1630, Franciscan missions reported that some Jumanos were already familiar with the basics of Christianity.

The Lady in Blue

Between 1620 and 1623, Catholic mother superior Maria de Jesus claimed to have been metaphysically “transported by the aid of the angels” to the Jumanos without ever leaving her home in Agreda, Spain. Her reports allegedly coincided with Jumano sightings of a young woman in blue robes -- the mysterious and beautiful "Lady in Blue" -- who encouraged Jumanos to seek out nearby missionaries. The legend, together with the positive intervention of Franciscan missionaries at the time, made the tribe extremely receptive to incorporating Christian beliefs into their lives.