Although the native peoples of the area, the Barbareno and Ventureno Chumash, had many stories about the islands, two are of particular interest here, and both were collected by anthropologist J. P. Harrington.
STORY 1: The first story concerns an Italian fisherman in the employ of a Chumash man. They go out to Santa Barbara Island during a fishing trip, and find a large rock containing a cave off of the shore of the island. The top of the cave contains a vent hole, and the Italian man climbs up to it and looks in. He begins acting strangely and returns to the boat. On the trip back to the mainland, the Italian tells his employer that he had seen two men in the cave, both Chumash, and that when water would rush into the cave, they would stand and begin blowing their ceremonial whistles. The Chumash employer returns home and tells his relatives of this. And elderly relative informs him that the whistling ceremony began on Santa Barbara Island, and that anyone who witnesses it will soon die. Not long after that the Italian man drowns while working off of the coast of Santa Barbara.
STORY 2: The second story concerns an Anglo-American (in the mid 19th century, these distinctions mattered) and a Chumash boy who went to Santa Cruz Island to gather abalone. The Anglo man found a cave in the rocks in which he saw two men with a bullroarer and an elderwood flute practicing ceremonial dances. When the water was at high tide, the cave was hidden, but at low tide it was exposed. As waves crashed into the cave, the two dancers were not affected. The man and the boy left to return to the mainland. On the way back, the man fell out of the boat and drowned. The boy returned home and told his grandmother what he had seen. She told him that he had seen the ‘Antap, a dangerous thing to see, and she gave him a potion made of toloache (Jimson weed) to prevent evil from coming to the boy.
Commentary: Probably the two most common things that one hears when an alleged haunting is discussed are: the location of the haunting is built on an “Indian Burial Ground” (usually nonsense), the other is that “The Native Americans have stories about this being a bad place” (also usually nonsense). There are many Native American stories about supernaturally dangerous places and things, but most of the popular ghost stories that claim a Native American link make that claim falsely. But not these two.
These stories, as noted, were collected by the early Californian ethnographer J. P. Harrington. Harrington was an odd and rather controversial figure who has gained both loyalty and notoriety amongst those with whom he lived and worked. ex-wife even wrote a tell-all book about her life with him in an age before tell-all books were the rage. The family of the woman who took care of Harrington in his old age, with whom I am acquainted, claim that the ex-wife’s book is all exaggeration and lies. Personally, I don’t claim to know, but I do know that he was a colorful character and a fascinating story in and of himself.
These stories are interesting because they show the continuation of older traditions, but also the way that those traditions were changed by the arrival of Europeans. The ‘Antap were an actual group in Chumash society – a religious/ritual organization that could only be entered if one’s parents paid for one’s entry during childhood. In order to rise through the ranks of Chumash society and become a person of high status, one must be a member of the ‘Antap. Like many traditional and “mystery cult” organizations, the ‘Antap held that it was dangerous for the uninitiated to witness ceremonies. As a result, the ‘Antap’s ceremonies, and many aspects of ‘Antap society, remained shrouded in secrecy, and the ‘Anatap themselves seem to have become boogie men towards the end of the prehistoric period. By the early 20th century, many have ceased viewing the ‘Antap as human shamans and ritualists at all, and have come to view them as supernatural beings, as seen in these stories (it should be noted, though, that many people continued to view them simply as powerful humans – shamans, sorcerers, or even assassins, but human nonetheless). As such, the ‘Antap had now become associated with places of magical danger.
SOURCE: Academic Publication