Mexico – Baja California – Kilwa Indians

Native American ǀ American Indian

Map showing the location of the Kilwa tribe in Baja California

The Kiliwa (Kiliwa: K’olew) are an indigenous people of Mexico living in northern Baja California. Historically they occupied a territory lying between the Cochimí on the south and the Paipai on the north, and extending from San Felipe on the Gulf of California to San Quintín on the Pacific coast. Their traditional language is the Kiliwa language,one of the Yuman languages, which include also the Paipai, Kumeyaay (Kumiai), and Cocopá (Cucapá) tongues. Using the controversial technique of glottochronology, it has been estimated that the initial separation of the Yuman family into different languages occurred perhaps 2,500 years ago. The Cocopá and Kumiai languages are believed to be very closely related to each other, separated by perhaps about one thousand years of independent development.

The Kiliwa first encountered Europeans when Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo reached the San Quintín area in 1542. In 1596, King Felipe II of Spain ordered the colonization of the Baja California Peninsula.  Six years later, Sebastián Vizcaíno made his famous voyage to Baja, exploring the present-day site of Cabo San Lucas, where he was confronted by a force of 800 native warriors.  Vizcaíno managed to build a fort at La Paz, but after a skirmish with local natives, the post had to be abandoned by the Spaniards. In October 1697, Jesuit missionaries started arriving in the southern Baja peninsula with the intention of establishing missions. The Jesuit missions played an integral role in the Christianizing of the indigenous peoples.  However, to accomplish their objectives, the missionaries resettled and congregated many of their converts in rancherías that were located close to the missions.  The concentration of the natives had a devastating effect on the aboriginal groups and made them more susceptible to smallpox, typhus, measles and other infectious diseases. The most serious epidemic was the typhus epidemic of 1742-1744, which probably killed 8,000 Indians. In June 1767, King Carlos III of Spain expelled all the Jesuit missionaries from México. Eventually, the Dominicans continued the missionary efforts of the Jesuits, especially in the territories of the Cochimí, Kiliwa, Paipai, and Kumeyaay. However, by this time, southern Baja’s indigenous populations had declined to the point of no return. The Kiliwa were one of the few Baja groups that was able to hang on, albeit precariously. In 1840, the Kiliwa, who lived in Baja’s northeast corner, successfully rebelled against the Dominicans and fled into quiet isolation. This seclusion enabled the Kiliwa to survive into the Twentieth Century. In 1938, University of California Berkeley anthropologist, Peveril Meigs, searched the entire Baja Peninsula for surviving bands. At that time, he located and did studies on a small band of about fifty Kiliwa living in the east-facing canyons of northern Baja’s mountains.

Mexico – Baja California – Kilwa Indians population data are based on blood samples obtained from 14 unrelated individuals living in the Southwestern United States in 2016.

Source publication: Native American Population Data based on the Globalfiler autosomal STR PCR Amplification Kit, Forensic Science International, 2016, 12-13.  

 [Population 478]