CHAPTER XI. THE HOPI (OR MOQUI) (Continued).


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The Snake Dance (Continued.)—Description of by Capt. John G. Bourke—Order of the Procession—The Female Detachment— The Snake Carriers—Behavior of the Snakes—Conclusion of the Dance.

Captain J. G. Bourke's description of the snake dance, mentioned above, is not given in the Extra Census Bulletin on the Moquis by Mr. Donaldson, but is contained in Captain Bourke's work, “The Snake Dance of the Moquis,” written by him in 1884, and follows:

“A whirring sound resembling that of rain, driven by summer gusts, issued from the arcade; with this came the clanking of rattles and gourds filled with corn. The dancers were moving down toward us.

“First came a barefooted old man, crowned with a garland of cottonwood leaves, holding in his hands in front of him a flat earthen bowl, from which he sprinkled water upon the ground, very much as a Catholic priest would asperse his congregation.

“The second old man carried a flat basket of fine cornmeal.

“The third held his left hand up to a necklace of bears' claws, while with his right he gently rattled an instrument shaped thus, T, painted white.


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“The next five men were armed with the same odd-looking rattles, but as they marched close behind one another in single file they were not considered as holding the same rank or as discharging functions of an importance equal to those of the old men who advanced alone.

“Numbers 9 to 17 inclusive were little boys, from four to seven years old, marching in single file, each bearing one of the T-shaped rattles.

“An interval of five paces separated them from the grown men who had preceded them, and a like distance intervened between them and an old man who bore aloft in his left hand a bow (one of those so gayly ornamented with feathers and horsehair which had been noticed upon the upper end of the Estufa ladders).

“With his right hand this old man rapidly twirled a wooden sling, which emitted the shrill rumble of falling rain so plainly heard as the head of the procession was emerging from the arcade.

“This was the first division of the dance.

“The second and last was composed of fortyeight persons, two of them children, and all males; each bore wands of eagle feathers in both hands. The last man of this division bore a bow, the counterpart of that carried by the sling-twirler of the first division.

“All the dancers wore, tied to the right knee, rattles made of tortoise shells and sheep or goat toes, which clanked dismally whenever the leg or body moved. Small bunches of red feathers were attached to the crown of the head, their long black hair hung loose down their backs,


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their faces were blackened from brow to upper lip, while mouth, lower lip, and chin looked ghastly by contrast with the kaolin daubed over them. Collars of the white seashell beads of their own manufacture hung around their necks, and nearly all wore abalone shells glistening on their breasts. Sashes of seashell beads covered their bodies from the right shoulder to the left hip.

“Their bodies, legs, and arms were naked and greenish-black, without mark or design. Kilts of painted cotton cloth hung from waist to knee, and dangling down to the heels in rear were skins of the fox and coyote. Red buckskin fringe hung from the waist in most cases; and in others, again, cotton-ball pendants ornamented the girdles. The feet were covered with red buckskin moccasins, fringed at ankles, and broad white armlets encircled the elbows.

“Each division marched solemnly around the sacred stone and between it and the sacred lodge and tree, the first division completing this formula shortly before the second.

“The first division aligned itself with back to houses, but quite close to them, and with its right abutting against the lodge and tree.

“The old ‘medicine-man,’ or priest, whom for the sake of convenience we have called No. 1, stood in front of and facing the lodge, holding well before him the platter of water and eaglefeather wand.

“When the second division had finished its tour it formed in two ranks facing the first division, and not more than four paces from it.


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When this alignment was perfected the men and boys of the first division shook their rattles gently, making the music of pattering showers. This movement was accompanied by the men of the second division who waved their eagle feathers from right to left in accord with the shaking of the rattles.

“This was repeated eight or ten times, all singing a refrain, keeping time by stamping vigorously with the right foot: ‘Oh-ye-haw, oh-ye-haw, ha-yee-ha-ha-yee-ha-ha-yi-ha-a-a-a,’ chanted a dozen times or more with a slow measure and graceful cadence.

“This part of the ceremony over, the old man in front of the cottonwood tree and lodge began to pray in a well-modulated and perfectly distinct voice, and sprinkled the ground in front of him with more water, while the second medicine man scattered cornmeal from the platter he was bearing.

“Except the water sprinkler, No. 1, and the sling-twirler, No. 8, all the first party wore red plumes in hair, red moccasins, and white cotton kilts; and their bodies, as already stated, were naked and greenish-black.

“The first division remained in place, while the second, two by two, arm in arm, slowly pranced around the sacred rock, going through the motions of planting corn to the music of a monotonous dirge chanted by the first division.

“A detachment of twenty squaws, maids and matrons, clad in rich white and scarlet mantles of cotton and wool, now appeared, provided with


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flat baskets and platters, from which they scattered cornmeal in every direction.

“This ended the first act.

The first division remained aligned upon the sacred rock, the head priest, No. 1, intoning a long and fervent prayer, while the second division quietly filed off, going through the arcade. The interlude was very brief. The second division re-emerged from under the arcade, marching two and two as before; but in this section of the programme the left hand files carried snakes in their hands and mouths. The first five or six held them in their hands with the heads of the reptiles to the right. As the procession pranced closer and closer to where we were seated we saw that the dancers farther to the rear of the column were holding the slimy, wriggling serpents between their teeth! The head of the animal in this case also was held towards the right, the object of this being very manifest. The Indians in the right file of the column still retained the eagle wands which their companions had discarded. With these wands they tickled the heads, necks and jaws of the snakes, thus distracting their attention from the dancers in whose teeth they were grasped so firmly.

“The spectacle was an astonishing one, and one felt at once bewildered and horrified at this long column of weird figures, naked, all excepting the snake-painted cotton kilts and red buckskin moccasins; bodies a dark greenishbrown, relieved only by the broad white armlets and the bright yellowish-gray of the fox-skins


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dangling behind them; long elfin locks brushed straight back from the head, tufted with scarlet parrot or woodpecker feathers; faces painted black, as with a mask of charcoal, from brow to upper lip, where the ghastly white of kaolin began, and continued down over chin and neck; the crowning point being the deadly reptiles borne in mouth and hand, which imparted to the drama the lurid tinge of a nightmare.

“With rattles clanking at knees, hands clinched, and elbows bent, the procession pranced slowly around the rectangle, the dancers lifting each knee slowly to the height of the waist, and then planting the foot firmly upon the ground before lifting the other, the snakes all the while writhing and squirming to free themselves from restraint.

“When the snake-carriers reached the eastern end of the rectangle they spat the snakes out upon the ground and moved on to the front of the sacred lodge, tree, and rock, where they stamped strongly with the left foot twice, at the same time emitting a strange cry, half a grunt and half wail.

“The women scattering the cornmeal now developed their line more fully, a portion occupying the terrace directly above the arcade, two or three standing on ladders near the archway, the main body massing in the space between the sacred rock and the sacred lodge, and two or three, reinforced by a squad of devout old crones, doing effective work at the eastern end of the rectangle. Nearly all carried the beautiful, closely-woven, flat baskets, in red, yellow and


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black, ornamented with the butterfly, thunder bird or deer. These baskets were heaped high with finely-ground corn-flour, which from this on was scattered with reckless profusion, not, as previously, upon the ground, but in the air and upon the reptiles as fast as thrown down.

“This cornmeal had a sacred significance, which it might be well to bear in mind in order to thoroughly appreciate the religious import of this drama. Every time the squaws scattered it their lips could be detected moving in prayer.

“In the religious exercises of the neighboring Indians, the Zunis, the air is fairly whitened with the handfuls of the ‘Cunque,’ as they call it, flung upon the idols, priests and sacred flute-players. In all the Pueblos along the Rio Grande, or near it, the same farinaceous mixture (since it is generally a mixture of cornmeal, pounded chalchihuitl, and other ingredients) is offered as a morning sacrifice to the god of day. Go into any house in Jemez, Zia, Santana, San Felipe, Acoma, or Zuni, and you will find in a convenient niche a small bowl or basket filled with it to allow each person in the family to throw a small pinch to the east upon rising in the morning. The Zunis and Moquis are never without it, and carry it in little bags of buckskin tied to their waist belts.

“The use of this sacred meal closely resembles the crithomancy of the ancient Greeks, but is not identical with it. Crithomancy was a divination, by throwing flour or meal upon sacred animals, or upon their viscera after they had been sacrificed; the forms or letters assumed by


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the meal gave to the soothsayer the clue to the future of which he was in quest. While the Greek priest scattered meal upon the sacred victims, it goes without argument that he prayed, and up to this point the resemblance is perfect; beyond this it would be rash to say that any parallelism exists. The Moquis do not attempt to foretell the future by this means, or at least if they do, my researches have been misleading.

“After a snake had been properly sprinkled, it was picked up, generally by one of the eaglewand bearers, but never by a woman, and carried up to the Indians of the first division, which, as was remarked, had preserved its alignment near the sacred lodge. Most of the snakes were transferred to the infant grasp of the little boys who had come in with the first division. One five-year-old youngster, in the fearlessness of infancy, stoutly and bravely upheld the five-foot monster which, earlier in the day, had so nearly scared me out of my senses.

“This part of the ceremony lasted scarcely a moment; the serpents were at once taken away from the boys and handed to the first old man whom we have learned to regard and designate as the head priest; and by him, with half-audible ejaculations, consigned to the sanctuary of the sacred lodge.

“From this the reptiles made no attempt to escape, the hairy coating of the buffalo skin which lined it keeping them from crawling up ward or outward. As fast as the members of the second division had dropped the first invoice of snakes they returned with more, repeating


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precisely the same ceremony following their first entrance, the only discrepancy being that in their subsequent appearances every man carried a sinuous, clammy reptile between his teeth; one of the performers, ambitious to excel his fellows, carried two; while another struggled with a huge serpent too large to be pressed between his teeth, which could seize and retain a small fragment of the skin only, the reptile meanwhile flopping lazily, but not more than half-contentedly in the air.

“The devotion of the bystanders was roused to the highest pitch; maidens and matrons redoubled their energy, sprinkling meal not only upon the serpents wriggling at their feet, but throwing handfuls into the faces of the men carrying them. The air was misty with flour, and the space in front of the squaws white as driven snow.

“Again and again the weird procession circled around the sacred rock. Other dancers, determined to surpass the ambitious young men whose achievements have just been chronicled, inserted two snakes in their mouths, instead of one, the reptiles in these cases being, of course, of small size. I must repeat that no steps had been taken to render these snakes innocuous, either by the extraction of their fangs or by drugs, and that if they were quiescent while between the teeth of the dancers, it was as much because their attention was distracted by the feather wands plied so skillfully by the attendants, as from any ‘medicine’ with which they had been bathed or fed; that as soon as they


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struck the ground, most of them began to wriggle actively and coil up, to the great consternation of the spectators in closest proximity, and that when so moving, the attendants first sprinkled them with cornmeal and then began to tickle them with the eagle wands to make them squirm out at full length, when they would pounce upon them behind the head, and carry them, held in this secure manner, to the little boys, who, grasping them in the same way, seemed to have no apprehensions of danger.

“Once or twice snakes of unusual activity had coiled themselves up in attitudes of hostility, from which they were driven, not by the ordinary eagle wand-bearing attendants, but by older and more dextrous manipulators, whom, it is fair to assume, were expert charmers. This impression, or assumption, will be strengthened by instances to be recorded later on in the drama.

“Two or three serpents struck viciously at all who approached them; one quickly wriggled his way in among the men packed on the outer line of the rectangle, at the crest of the precipice, and another one darted like lightning into the midst of a group of women corn-throwers. raising, especially in the latter case, a fearful hubbub, and creating a stampede, checked only by the prompt action of the charmers, who, without delay, secured the rebellious fugitives and bore them off in triumph, to be deposited in the buffalo skin sanctuary. After the snakes had all been carried in the mouths of dancers, dropped on the ground, sprinkled with sacred cornmeal, picked up, held by the small boys, passed to the chief priest, and by him been


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prayed over and deposited in the buffalo lodge or sanctuary, a circle was formed on the ground in front of the sacred rock by tracing with cornmeal a periphery of twenty feet diameter.

“The snakes were rapidly passed out from the sanctuary and placed within this circle, where they were completely covered up with sacred meal, and allowed to remain, while the chief priest recited in a low voice a brief prayer.

“The Indians of the second division then grasped them convulsively in great handfuls, and ran with might and main to the eastern crest of the precipice, and then darted like frightened hares down the trails leading to the foot, where they released the reptiles to the four quarters of the globe.

“While they were running away with the snakes, the first division moved twice around the sacred rock and buffalo lodge, the old man armed with the sling, twirling it vigorously, causing it to emit the same peculiar sound of rain driven by the wind which had been heard on their approach. In passing in front of the sacred rock the second time each stamped the ground with his right foot.

“The whole dance did not occupy more than one-half or three-quarters of an hour. The number of snakes used was more than one hundred; the dancers ran backwards and forwards so confusedly that it was not possible to determine certainly how many times the whole division had changed snakes, but it must have been not less than four, and more, probably as many as five times.


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“The opinions of the American bystanders varied as to whether or not any of the dancers were bitten. None was so reported by the Indians, and the proper view to take of this matter must be that while all, or nearly all, the snakes used were venomous, the knowledge and prudence of those handling them averted all danger.

“Williams and Webber said that while the dancers were gathering up the snakes to convey them from the sanctuary or buffalo lodge to the circle of cornmeal in the last act, one man held ten and another seven.

“After freeing the reptiles at the foot of the mesa the men of the second division ran back, breathless and agitated, to their homes.

“This was the Snake-Dance of the Moquis, a tribe of people living within our own boundaries, less than seventy miles from the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (now the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway), in the year of our Lord 1881.”

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