Kuksu, as a faith, represents the bridge religion between paleolithic animist belief and the forcible conversion to Christianity that took place under the California mission system run by the Spanish. At it’s height, Kuksu was practiced by the Sierra, Plains, Valley, Bay and Coastal Miwok as well as the northernmost Yokuts (probably those whom most closely bordered the Miwok lands). In the North, Kuksu traveled through the Pomo lands along the coast, up through the valley Nisenan further east and was also prevalent among the Maidu peoples in the north. It would be fair to say that it was widespread among the Penutian and Hokan speaking people’s that made up a majority of Northern California during the pre-contact period although it’s exact origin is unknown.
Kuksu or Guksu (depending on the dialect) utilized an elaborate and complex oral tradition mixed with ceremonial dances. ‘Dancers were primarily men, initiated into a secret society called “Kuhma“’ which managed the ritual work and dance. Men were expected to join a secret society and various lodges existed that taught both the dance and shamanism related to its practice.
- Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington, D.C: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78; (Miwok chapter is available at Yosemite Online Library – discusses Kuksu)