By Tom R. Kennedy & Dan Simplicio
According to the Creation Epic of the A:shiwi people, recent time began when they emerged onto this the Fourth World at a place in the Grand Canyon. After an arduous migration across much of what is now the Southwest, the A:shiwi people were led by the A:hayuda Twin War Gods to their destined home Halona:wa Idiwana, the Middle Place – present-day Zuni Pueblo. Eventually, six A:shiwi villages were established which became centers of trade. The Zuni traded salt, turquoise, cotton, and bison skins with people from Sonora in Mexico for shells, copper, parrots, and quetzal feathers.
In Colonial times the lure of silver and gold and the fabled “Seven Cities of Cibola” brought Spanish conquering-explorers north. From Spanish accounts, a fabulous place of wealth existed somewhere to the north of New Spain (present day Mexico). Stories told by Native traders to early Spanish explorers including Cabeza de Vaca described a place of great wealth with a large population living in many cities where people dressed in cotton, worked with copper, possessed precious stones, and grew corn. At various times during the 1530s, small, ill-equipped Spanish expeditions had attempted without success to discover Eldorado, the “seven cities of wealth,” the Seven Cities of Cibola – imagined places of gold and riches.
In 1539 Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza dispatched an exploratory party led by Fray Marcos de Niza (of Nice, France) and guided by the African Esteban, a slave who had arrived in New Spain with Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. A small contingent of Indian porters and curious followers completed the assemblage. The sketchy details of this expedition challenge the imagination.
Esteban de Dorantes, also known as Esteban the Black, Estebanillo, and Estebanico was from the small mountain village of Azamor in what is now Morocco and became a personal slave to Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, a Spanish captain on the ill-fated Narváez expedition sailing for the “New World.” The expedition was shipwrecked on the Gulf Coast. After several other disasters, four members of the expedition survived, including Esteban and Cabeza de Vaca, who set off on foot in an attempt to return to New Spain somewhere to the west.
The trek took eight arduous years traveling through mostly hostile Indian territories. Cabeza de Vaca, later detailed their adventures in his own writings. In addition to gaining new knowledge about the people they encountered, they also heard stories about the “lands of wealth.” Once back in New Spain, Esteban was sold to the Viceroy Mendoza who eventually commissioned the explorations north.
Esteban proved to be an able guide, both leading the party north as well as translating information learned from the Indian communities that they encountered. Esteban reported to Fray Marcos that Indians along the route called the place they sought “Cibola” – a name loosely translated as buffalo in the A:shiwi language. Ironically this name is similar to tsibolo:wa, which is what Zuni called the Spanish, in reference to their burly facial hair. Indian traders described Cibola as having a vigorous trade in buffalo hides as well as in turquoise and other trade goods.
As the lands of Cibola drew close, Fray Marcos dispatched Esteban and small contingent of Indians to explore ahead. Each day’s findings were to be reported back to Marcos by a messenger carrying a white wooden cross. The size of the cross would indicate the importance of that day’s discoveries.
Esteban arrived at Hawikku some time in advance of Fray Marcos, making first contact with the people of Zuni. Esteban, who had adopted a pastiche of native attire from his years wandering through the territory of many tribes on his travels from the gulf coast to the Southwest, attempted to make inroads at Zuni with his outlandish attire, gourd rattle, and bold demeanor. He failed to impress the Hawikku leaders who demanded that he remain outside of the walled village while they discussed his fate. Esteban’s claim that he came from a land of white men, as well as his demand for women and valuables did not sit well with the Hawikku leaders and he was reported to have been killed as he boldly attempted to enter the village.
The killing of Esteban forever immortalized him within Zuni ceremonialism through reference and portrayal but also in a larger historical context. As the first African to set foot in the American Southwest, he holds a critical place in African American history. Unfortunately, his misreading of Native culture resulted in his death. Esteban's demand for Zuni women violated the strict customs of a matrilineal society.
On learning of Esteban’s encounter with and ultimate death at the hands of the A:shiwi, Marcos hastened his return to New Spain, very possibly without ever having seen Hawikku. Nonetheless, Fray Marcos enhanced his report with an embellished description of Cibola as larger than Mexico City.
A year later on July 7, 1540, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado arrived on the plain of Hawikku with a well-armed expedition of Spanish horsemen and foot soldiers and a large entourage of Indian porters, followers, and livestock. Zuni oral history describes how a small group of Zuni men on their annual pilgrimage encountered the Spanish expedition. The Zuni leader silently laid a line of corn meal on the sand in front of them, indicated their solemn task at hand and cautioned the newcomers not to cross the line. Coronado and his men disregarded A:shiwi and Native sovereignty, crossed the line, and proceeded to attack Hawikku.
Spanish accounts describe a fierce battle involving several hundred Zuni warriors who eventually fell back to the walled village. The intensive battle and siege led to the deaths of at least twenty Hawikku warriors as well as a near fatal attack on Coronado himself, who was knocked from his horse. Coronado later noted that his own bright armor and plumed helmet undoubtedly presented him as an obvious target. The next morning, the Spanish reported that the inhabitants of Hawikku had withdrawn, leaving the village undefended. Coronado entered the village of Hawikku and claimed the region and its inhabitants for the Spanish Crown.
The beleaguered and starving Spanish force was pleased to find Hawikku's ample stocks of stored corn, beans, and turkeys. Though he described the village in mostly disparaging terms, Coronado was impressed enough with its size and architecture to rename it New Granada, saying it resembled that important Spanish city. Hawikku’s inhabitants soon returned to the village on the promise of no further retribution and agreed to cooperate henceforth. They informed the Spanish that prophecies had foretold of their coming fifty years before!
Reports in Mexico that there were indeed seven settled Indian villages in the north but no gold, silver, or riches of any kind, led to the ostracism of Fray Marcos, his reputation as a liar, and ultimately to his seclusion in a Monastery in Xochimilco until his death in 1558. Coronado left behind at Hawikku three Mestizos – Indians of mixed blood – who probably shared much of their knowledge and insights about the Spanish. Over the next ninety years, however, there were very few visits from the Spanish.
By 1629, Spanish Franciscan missionaries had begun building missions at Hawikku and at nearby Halona:wa, present-day Zuni with A:shiwi labor. This period of more or less permanent Spanish presence among the A:shiwi people introduced many new ways. In addition to the Catholic religion and Spanish language, the Franciscans introduced other cultural traditions including construction technologies such as hooded fireplaces and the massive architecture of the mission buildings. They also introduced new foods such as wheat and leavened breads, peaches, domestic animals such as sheep, pigs, cattle, and horses, new cooking methods using bee-hive-shaped ovens, and new forms of bureaucratic government. Though the A:shiwi undoubtedly recognized the value of many of these new ways, such innovations challenged former ways of living, speaking, and thinking.
Advantageous as they may have been, domesticated animals also presented a dichotomy that effected both time and space and altered the physical landscape. Domesticated grazing animals competed with the wildlife for sustenance decimated grasslands. Although the newly introduced livestock and agricultural produce were of great benefit to the A:shiwi on one level, they also were precursors to a market economy that had resources flow from Native people to new comer Europeans, enriching the latter at the expense of the former. The introduction of the horse ultimately altered notions of space and time for the A:shiwi. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the Zuni and other Natives of this continent traversed the landscape on foot. The horse changed travel time enormously as did the utilization of animals for wheeled transportation. Traveling the landscape not on foot and at a faster pace changes ones perception of the landscape and ones place in it. Ceremonial practice and pilgrimages continued to be mostly undertaken on foot.
After almost five centuries of contact with the outside world, the A:shiwi people can still proudly assert their presence, identity, and continuity of culture in the face of monumental social changes. However the trauma of those first centuries of Spanish domination can be noted in the absence of many oral histories describing this time and the common refrain: “Zuni people do not choose to remember those difficult times.” But, the legacy and challenges of European contact remain deep and continuing. Yesterday’s cultural collisions continue to be reflected in the agendas of current tribal leaders and their communities.
Two examples that clearly illustrate the aftermath of the cultural cataclysms of European contact at Zuni include: The restoration of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Old Zuni) Mission and the development of the Hawikku: Echoes from Our Past exhibit at the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, Zuni’s community museum. In the heart of Halona Idiwana, Zuni’s historic middle village stands the Old Zuni Mission: the ubiquitous symbol of outsider influence and domination. For almost four centuries, generations of Zuni have fulfilled life-long cultural obligations in the shadow of this mighty adobe structure. Once a flagship of Franciscan faith, the Old Mission today, struggles from benign neglect and community controversy.
Spanish Franciscan missionaries strategically placed their missions throughout the Southwest to limit if not eliminate indigenous religious practices. With the placement of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission over the pueblo’s existing burial grounds, Zuni ceremonial and sacred space was compromised. The desecration of Zuni and other pueblo sacred spaces eventually led to the destruction of
Catholic missions throughout the Southwest and to a legacy of ill will and controversy within Native communities.
From its founding in 1629 to its virtual abandonment in the 1820s, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission was nurtured by a cadre of dedicated Spanish missionaries. The Mission at Zuni received special attention from Spanish religious authorities, if not always from the local A:shiwi community. Noted Spanish cartographer and artist Bernardo Miera y Pacheco created the elaborate baroque altar around 1776, which was clearly described in Spanish accounts and photographed as early as 1873. However, for almost one hundred fifty years after the end of the Spanish era in 1821 until its restoration in the late 1960s, the Old Mission experienced continual decline. A collaboration led by the National Park Service with the Gallup Catholic Diocese and the Zuni Tribe sought to restore the Old Mission to some semblance of its former glory for use by both the local Parish as well as to serve as a historic landmark to spur tourism.
Soon after the restoration of the Old Mission, artist Alex Seowtewa at the invitation of the Parish priest began what has become his monumental life’s work, painting murals on the church walls. These life-size renderings of Zuni Ko’ko or Kachina dancers on the north and south walls represent the annual cycle of Zuni ceremonial observances in full color and detail. Though the artist easily explains this juxtaposition of cultures and beliefs, traditionalists in the Zuni community and even many of the Catholic faith view these images with alarm.
As the images grew in size and dominance on the Old Mission walls, so did their notoriety. Now nearing forty years old, the murals have taken on a life of their own, first as a compelling attraction for visitors and secondly as a source of continuing concern for the community. Given the growing visitation to the Old Mission by tourists from around the world and due to the dominating presence of scaffolding, equipment and paints, the Zuni Catholic Parish found continued use of the building increasingly difficult to justify, and in 2004, returned the building to the Tribe. As an art historian involved in researching the Old Mission’s history remarked, “the Ko’ko won!” This story, however, like history generally is more complex when all of the cultural layers are brought to light. The mission as a symbol of conquest and empire is problematic for many people in the face of tribal sovereignty and religious freedom.
Somewhat less problematic has been the continued deterioration of the Old Mission adobe structure due to moisture retention within the walls – an inherent vice caused by the misguided restoration technique of cement-plastering over adobe walls. Now both structural walls as well as interior plaster on which the murals lie are seriously threatened. These issues represent a collision of past and present cultural realities.
For Zuni traditionalists, unhappy about the representation of sacred images on the Mission walls, view the deteriorating condition of the structure as nothing more than Nature taking its course; the Ko’ko calling their images home! The traditionalists as well as others feel that nothing should be done to conserve the paintings or interfere with this natural process. On the other hand, the so called “progressive” group within the Zuni community side with conventional historic preservation notions of conserving significant structures for their educational value as well as the economic potential from tourism. The complex dilemma thrusts itself before Tribal Leadership for solution but these pervasive factional disputes threaten the social fabric of the pueblo and represent the continued fallout from that first contact.
Another example deeply intertwined in the history of first contact is the story of Hawikku, itself the emergence of anthropology as a discipline, and the closely associated museum enterprise of representation. The telling of the Hawikku story through a major exhibition was an obvious priority of the new A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center. Of critical importance was the existence of 20,000 artifacts excavated from Hawikku and now in the collection of the newly established National Museum of the American Indian. The artifacts had been excavated and removed from Zuni early in the 20th Century, had been researched and well documented, but had never been featured in a major exhibition. It was right that Zuni take the lead in telling its own story.
From the earliest accounts of the Seven Cities of Cibola, the Zuni region and people have captured the imagination of the outside world. Not coincidentally, the disciplines of cultural anthropology and archaeology have included Zuni in their own myths of origin. From the young Frank H. Cushing in the 1880’s whose “participant observation” became a cornerstone of anthropological methodology through a who’s who list of anthropologists and archaeologists in the first half of the 20th Century: Research at Zuni became a rite of passage in the Southwest. A library worth of publications and reports attempted to capture the essence of the Zuni culture. This almost relentless attention caused a Tribal official to exclaim, “We don’t need this – we have been studied to death – We know who we are!”
Central to this focus on Zuni was the excavation of Hawikku by archaeologist Frederick W. Hodge from 1917 to 1923. Interestingly, Hodge had served as Cushing’s field assistant at Zuni some thirty years before. Since Hawikku was a well-preserved site with great historic significance, Hodge’s goal was to uncover what life was like at the time of first contact. His multi-year excavations at Hawikku remain one of the largest archaeological endeavors in the Southwest, involving at least thirty-eight Zuni workmen and a virtual who’s who of early archaeologists. The excavation site did not disappoint, producing a steady stream of artifact laden crates, that flowed from Zuni to Gallup by wagon and on to New York City by train. Eventually a total of 20,000 artifacts arrived for caretaking at the Heye Foundation’s Museum of the American Indian. For the next eighty years, this Zuni patrimony was stored, isolated and cramped, on shelves in the heart of the Bronx. With the creation of the National Museum of the American Indian as part of the Smithsonian Institution in the late 1980s, some of Zuni’s patrimony was transferred and was seen as one step closer to home.
For the Zuni community of the time, the excavation at Hawikku was highly divisive and split the community between “progressives” who supported the endeavor and “traditionalists” who opposed it. Fortunately for the archaeologists, the ‘progressives’ in Tribal leadership positions at the time enabled the excavation to proceed. Until the loan to the A:shiwi Museum in 2001 of the two hundred or so Hawikku artifacts for exhibition, very few in the Zuni community even knew that this treasure of their cultural patrimony existed.
The opening of the Hawikku: Echoes from Our Past exhibit in 2002 represented a significant completion of a cycle of history by the Zuni community. Not only were some of Zuni’s “children” finally home – as one community member expressed it – but the story itself was of and by the A:shiwi people. Zuni was at last telling its story from its perspective. The adobe building housing the exhibit – Zuni’s first trading post located adjacent to the original Cushing house – had a direct connection to the early work of Cushing and Hodge but had been re-appropriated by the A:shiwi people.
The exhibit presents, from the perspective of Hawikku and its artifacts, the story of the A:shiwi people from the earliest Migration Epic through historic eras to present realities. Positive contributions as well as negative impacts of Spanish and American influence are portrayed. The literal and figurative turning point in the exhibit is the presentation of Hodge’s excavations at Hawikku. Though the Zuni community’s debate over the excavation failed to halt the endeavor, nonetheless, it served as an important step toward critically scrutinizing all subsequent excavations of ancestral sites. The exhibit closes with an examination of future opportunities for Zuni community members to take increasing control over their history and contemporary affairs.
But it is the list of issues on the Hawikku exhibit title wall that serves to ground the visitor’s experience in the realities of the present. These statements in both Zuni and English remind local and outside visitors that these echoes from the past are the latest links in the chain of events that began with first contact and continue to be the major concerns of the Zuni community and its leaders today. In this way, the Hawikku: Echoes from Our Past exhibit can serve as a powerful tool for community empowerment, progress, and resolution:
v Sovereignty ~ Hon Yamande Yanillaba ≈ How much do we control our own affairs?
v Land ~ Dehwa:we ≈ What is "our land"?
v Water ~ K’ya:we ≈ Who controls our river?
v Language ~ Bena:we ≈ What will ensure that Zuni language continues to be spoken?
v Religion ~ Dewsu’ Haydoshna:we ≈ How can we be both "traditional" and modern?
v Culture ~ Ko’ Le’ho
l Hon A:dey’one ≈ How much change can our culture take?
v Cultural Copyrights ~ Haydoshna: A:dehyakk’yanak’yanna ≈ How can we protect our cultural knowledge?
v Arts ~ Anikwa:we : How can we protect our arts economy?
v Population ~ Ko:wi’ho
l A:ho’i A:dey’ona ≈ Can we continue to support our population growth?
v Education ~ I:yanikk’yanakya ≈ How can we educate our youth in both modern and in our cultural ways?
v Health ~ Dikwahna’ Yan’illi:we ≈ What will end our community's epidemics of chronic diseases and social concerns?
v Environment ~ Ulohnanne ≈ How can we better care for our lands to honor Mother Earth?
Like the echoes from a distant cultural tidal wave, first contact continues to resonate and impact present generations of Zunis and other Native Peoples. Ground Zero at Hawikku for this cultural cataclysm remains a significant symbol of this momentous event that has forever altered all subsequent realities for the people of the Southwest, and the final chapters of this story continue to written.