Saturday, June 20, 2009
The Zuni, A:shiwi
Nestled in the red banded mesas of Northwestern New Mexico is the Zuni Pueblo, largest of New Mexico's nineteen Pueblos and, being geographically isolated, the most traditional. The Zuni, like the Hopi and other Pueblo Peoples, descended from the Ancient People, sometimes known as the Anasazi. Culturally and linguistically, the Zuñi (according to the Spanish) or A:shiwi (their tribal name, Shi'wi, meaning “the flesh”) are unique among the People probably because of their isolation.
The Zuni have lived in this area for at least 1,300 years. When the Spanish invaded around five hundred years ago, led by none other than the tyrant Coronado, the Zuni lived in six different villages, but after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Zuni retreated to the top of the mesa Dowa Yalanne, Corn Mountain, for twelve years. After the return of the Spanish and a "truce" offered by the general Diego de Varga in charge of the reconquest they came down from Dowa Yalanne and established the present day Pueblo, Halona:wa known simply as the Zuni Pueblo.
Through the continuous attempts of Christianization first by the Catholic Spaniards and later the Mormon and Presbyterian homesteaders, the Zuni have remained autonomous and deeply spiritual. The People of Halonawa are mostly artisans of silver, ceramic and fetishes. The snake and horny toad fetishes my mother bought in Gallup when I told her I was trans were made by a Zuni artist. The snake and horny toad actually appeared to me at dawn the day I was to return to Texas.
Beginning on the full moon, the A:shiwi began their annual fasting in preparation for the summer solstice, called Deshkwi, in which no money can be exchanged. A few days before I arrived, the A:shiwi danced the solstice Rain Dances.
Shevy drove me to Black Rock, a "suburb" of federal housing four miles outside the Zuni Village so called because of the outlying fields of rough volcanic igneous. I will be house sitting for a family who works with the hospital literally up the street. Everything is red except the deep azure of the sky, the ground, the mesas, the houses, the rock half walls and community buildings. From their yard, you can see a dried up reservoir to the East (Yuna:wik'o, Wolf) and to the South (Donashi, Badger) sits the sacred Dowa Yalanne, Corn Mountain, or DY according to the white people. Corn Mountain is a two mile walk from the house.
The father of the household, an osteopath at the hospital, got home late and had to return to the hospital to finish paperwork. He informed me that many of the patients he receives have been beaten to a pulp, mostly from domestic violence, or have complications from alcohol, such as cirrhosis.
At the end of the night, the mother told me that "They really like heavy metal here." Apparently, metal bands play in their garages up and down the street.
I silently rejoiced. How very like home this would be.
The rain woke me this morning, pouring from the downspouts. The midsummer Dances called forth the green. The swallows dipped and glided around the house. I put on coffee and saw young Zuni running through the tall grasses before the red and green mesas, down the foot trails that run throughout the whole area. A Zuni Spirit came to me, a strange centipede with tall spidery legs like an Asian Dragon. The insect clamored toward my toes and then away to the corner of the room.
I pulled a book from the shelf and read of the Spanish Missions, Our Lady of Sorrows, one of which I remember seeing late one night on the way to Candy Kitchen and being spooked like hell. My sister, Sashenka and I had planned to camp in the Manzano Mountains State Park. But it was late at night and the cemetaries and missions that were nestled in with the brown camping signs were haunted with an evil that spooked us so terribly that we decided to drive though the night to Shevy and Max's instead of staying there. This book finally told me why these missions haunted us so. The Native People were enslaved to build these missions, inspired by fear with hanging galleries and whipping posts.
Staring out at dawn on the mesas, I could not help but mourn. But the memories of last night's Rainbow Maidens, sacred also to my Scandinavian ancestors before they too, much longer ago, were subjected as mere savage Pagans, danced in the same sky before the Zuni Mountains. The Rainbow Maidens reminded me of the great Strength.