Wokas in process of grinding on a mealing stone


Fresh wokas seeds, in which the kernels are still moist, are in the condition necessary for manufacture into what is called lolensh (lo-lensh’). This condition exists in spokwas and in the two grades of seeds, nokapk and chiniakuni, derived from cooked pods, or away described below. The dried seeds, lowed and stontablaks, can not be made into lolensh.

The fresh seeds are placed in a frying pan, one or two quarts at a time, and held over a fire for perhaps ten minutes, constantly stirred or shaken. This operation dries and partially cooks the seed, leaving the shell brittle and the kernel in a tough, elastic condition. In early times the cooking was done in a wicker tray with live coals, as described below under shiwulinz.

The removal of the shells is accomplished by grinding the seeds lightly on the ordinary mewling stone and then winnowing them. The lower meeting stone (lmach) is a piece of flat lava rock commonly about a foot and a half in length and about 10 inches in width. The upper stone (si-lak’-al-ish), also of lava, is much smaller and has usually two nibs upon the back which fit into the hands of the user as she sits or kneels on the ground. The seeds to be ground are placed, a few handfuls at a time, on the end of the lower stone next to the grinder. The seeds on that side of the pile farthest from her are spread out in a thin layer reaching to or beyond the middle of the stone. She seizes the upper stone in both hands and rubs it lightly over the lower and over the thin layer of seeds upon it. The forward stroke does the grinding, while the deft backward stroke serves to catch between the stones a small amount of seeds from the thin edge of the pile on the lower stone. The product of the grinding accumulates on the end of the lower stone farthest from the grinder and is shoved off upon a circular mat or very shallow, tightly woven dish, commonly known as a wokas shaker, described below, upon which the end of the mewling stone has been placed.

Wokas in process of grinding on a mealing stone
Wokas in process of grinding on a mealing stone. Beneath the end of the lower stone (lmach) is a shaker (p’ahla), into which the meal is shoved when ground. The broken shells are afterwards winnowed out.

The notable feature of the grinding of these seeds is that the shells are cracked so that they can be removed, while the kernels, from the tough, elastic texture they have acquired through their partial cooking and from the lightness of stroke exercised by the grinder, are not cracked as are thoroughly dried or roasted seeds when similarly manipulated upon the mealing stone.

The next process is that of winnowing, by which the loose pieces of broken seed shells are separated from the seed kernels. The implement employed is a winnowing tray, known to the white people of the Klamath Lake region as a wokas shaker (p’a-hla). This is a broad, circular, very shallow dish closely woven of a cord twisted from narrow strips of tule stems, from the great tule marshes of the Klamath Lake and Marsh country. The wokas shaker has commonly a diameter of 22 to 30 inches, and sometimes has some slight adornment in figures lighter or darker than the main body of the shaker. Ordinarily, Indian winnowing trays are of rigid construction, but the wokas shaker, which is the general winnowing implement used by the Klamaths and Modocs for the preparation of a wide variety of seed foods, is flexible, a characteristic which gives it a more varied usefulness than an ordinary stiff tray.

About a quart of the seeds, after cracking on a mealing stone, as already described, is placed on the shaker. This is seized by the operator in both hands, at opposite points of the margin, each hand, palm upward, grasping from beneath a radial fold in the margin, the end of the thumb usually extending up over the Margin and occupying the inside of the fold. The woman sits with her back to the wind, and, grasping the shaker in the manner just described, proceeds by a series of skillful movements to separate the broken shells from the rest of the seed. One of these movements is the rotation of the shaker back and forth upon its own center as an axis. This accomplishes a general shaking up of the contents, through which the seed shells accumulate at the surface. A second movement is a circular motion of the whole shaker, which makes the seeds travel about in it like water in an eddy, the shells gathering in the center. The shells are then shifted to the farther margin by a jerk of the shaker, when they are tossed into the air and are carried away either by the wind or, when there is no wind, by blowing. The broken seed shells (tsi’-hlak) thus winnowed from the seeds are used in dyeing, in a manner to be hereafter described.

In the stage of preparation which they have now reached the seeds are known as lolensh. This may be made immediately into parched wokas or shnaps, or it may be spread out upon a mat in the sunlight to dry and then stored in sacks, to be parched later as used.

Coville, Frederick Vernon, Honorary Curator, Division of Plants. Wokas A Primitive Food of the Klamath Indians. From the Report of the United States National Museum for 1902, pages 725-739 with 13 plates. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1904.

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