This character was first mentioned in a description of the beliefs of the native peoples who were associated with the mission of San Juan Capistrano in accounts written by the Franciscan missionary Jerónimo Boscana in the 1820s. One version of Boscana's manuscript was subsequently published by Alfred Robinson (1846), who gave it "Chinigchinich" as a title. Some subsequent scholars have characterized Luiseño religion in general, or certain portions of it, or a set of some more widely shared traits, as a Chingichngish cult (DuBois 1908; Kroeber 1925; Moriarty 1969).
Chingichngish, also known as Tobet, Saor, and Kwawar, was not the Luiseño creator, nor was he their earliest personified deity. Rather, he was a culture hero figure who made humans and established some elements of their lifeways. The claim that traditional Luiseño religion was monotheistic is without foundation. However, some Indians suggested that Chingichngish could be identified with Christ.
Beliefs associated with Chingichngish seem to have reached the Luiseño from the Gabrielino, whose traditional religion is much less well known. John Peabody Harrington (Boscana 1933) thought that Chingichngish might have been an historical figure, but most scholars have interpreted him as a deity. Alfred L. Kroeber (1925) suggested that Chingichngish beliefs were an historic-period native response to cultural shock of the missions, and Raymond C. White (1963) thought that they might have arisen in response to earlier contacts with European sailors along the California coast.
The most distinctive characteristic of Chingichngish beliefs concerned the existence of a set of "Chingichngish avengers" who spied on human beings and enforced the moral code. These figures included Raven, Rattlesnake, Bear, Mountain Lion, and others. There were also ceremonial items sacred to Chingichngish, including mortars and winnowing trays. Chingichngish beliefs were associated with the initiation ceremonies for adolescent boys, during which the hallucinogenic plant Datura (toloache, jimsonweed) was ingested, but elements of these ceremonies were much more widely shared than were belief in the specific character of Chingichngish.