Old and New Traditions

In the old days, Ohlones considered great horned owls to be messengers of death. When, in 1994, a concerned Native woman asked that Ruth be warned about an owl perched in a tree above her activity area at the first-ever Gathering of Ohlone Peoples, Ruth was reassuring. She said the owl was the embodiment of her late mother, expressing her approval that Ruth was learning and sharing some of the old ways.

“My mom refused to have a picture or figurine of an owl in the house.”
—Ruth’s daughter Roberta, 2016

While Trina Marine Ruano did not continue the ancestral belief of owls as messengers, she taught her children that it was bad luck to have an owl in the house. Not just an actual owl, but any representation, including in magazines.

Ruth not only honors this tradition at home, but also in locations where she conducts cultural presentations. She once asked that an owl figurine be removed from a park where she often presents. Out of respect for Ruth, staff honored her wish.

“The one thing that my grandma always did when the babies were born—she would make sure we saved all the belly buttons…. You know how the belly button falls off…, We had to bury it. She believed in that…. That this part of them should go back in the earth.”
—Ruth’s daughter Roberta

“My grandmother…had this superstition about putting things up on a doorknob. I don’t know if it’s because she didn’t like to have things hanging from the doorknob…but to this day, I can’t hang anything on the doorknob! I take it off.”
—Ruth’s daughter Ramona

“Neither can I…. It’s in my soul.”
—Ruth Orta

While it’s unclear why this tradition became family practice, since the old-time houses lacked doorknobs, a cultural proscription against killing spiders centers on respect for living things. As Ruth explains, “I’ll scoop them up…and take them out…. It wasn’t a fear of the spider. You weren’t supposed to kill them because it’s bad luck.”

In the old days, the values of respect and restraint underpinned all of the rules, laws, and cultural proscriptions that guided everyone’s interactions with the spiritual, natural, and human world.

Perhaps for this reason, economic necessity, and her Catholic orphanage upbringing, Ruth’s mother instilled in her children the need to respect the food that nourished their bodies. Playing with one’s food was forbidden, a value Ruth instilled, in turn, in her own children. As Ruth explains, “Throwing food is wasteful, and God does not want us to be wasteful.”