Chapter XII. Of Zuñi in the Rain, and of Zuñi Dick


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THOUGH the sun shines upon New Mexico three hundred days on an average out of the three hundred and sixty-five, it was raining on the October evening when we arrived at Zuñi. The next morning, the rain still descending, we decided it would be more comfortable out in the real thing than in our adobe room, where from a variety of leaks in the roof an intermittent drip fell emphatically upon the floor, unless intercepted by some part of our bodies. So, clad in rubber, we went forth to investigate the old pueblo.

There was a streak of light in the west, where the sky bent down to Arizona, but in the east, Towa-Yálleni—Mountain of the Sacred Corn—was still wrapped in mists, out of which diverse winds blew shrewdly—one, colder than its predecessor, now and again turning the rain to short-lived spits of snow. The tortuous little streets were gummy, as only adobe can be on a wet day, and deserted of life. Even the pigs, dogs, and burros were hidden away under lee walls, and the turkeys lurked disconsolate in the covered alleys. But human Zuñi was as gay as though the sun shone. Its good humour was but increased by the wet, which meant the showered blessings of the gods, filling the springs and making the earth fruitful.

Tówa-yálleni, Zuñi's sacred mountain, in the snow.


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A dusky face beneath a crown of glossy black hair, filleted about with a bright magenta headband, looked out at us from a half-opened doorway, and the smiling Zuñi man said: ‘‘You happy? Where you go?’’

We stopped and smiled back.

‘‘I, Zuñi Dick,’’ continued the Zuñi. ‘‘You no hully?1 You come in my houses.’’

The door was hospitably opened; one puppy was lifted by the nape of its mangy neck and deposited outdoors, while another was shunted under the table, and we were invited to sit down in the household's two cherished American chairs. It was a typical Zuñi interior, with clean, whitewashed walls and a beamed ceiling of unhewn logs.


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At one end of the great room were the mealing stones—a half-dozen square slabs of malpais, dipped to the floor at an angle of forty-five degrees and boxed about with stone. At one of them a young girl knelt, and with a smaller stone was rubbing corn up and down, as on a washboard, and crushing it to meal. The air was fragrant with the sweetness of the bruised grain and musical with the hum of the stones in contact. About the room at the base of the walls ran a low bench of whitewashed adobe, which served as a seat as well as a shelf for the blankets that, by night, were spread on the floor for beds. Tacked to the wall, beside a bundle of gourd rattles and a leather pouch for sacred meal, was a row of coloured covers of magazines and weeklies whose publishers little suspected the extent of their circulation. A row of water-jars with decorations in red and black gave a bright touch to their corner, and a gaily-coloured blanket, still in the loom, flamed out from one of the walls. A triangular fireplace, built into the corner near the door, was aglow with a leaping fire of juniper wood set on end, while in a pot cocked against the blazing sticks, roasting piñon nuts were being stirred by Dick's wife, who


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with a deft toss of her head as we entered had caused her long hair to fall modestly over her face to veil it. It was a scene in our twentieth-century America not essentially different from scenes with which the old Conquistadores of three centuries ago were familiar. Zuñi is conservative.

‘‘I all a time busy,’’ remarked Dick complacently, as he rubbed bits of turquoise beads upon a flat stone in his lap to make them smooth. Then, as he prattled on, we gathered that he was local policeman, by the grace of the Indian agent at Black Rock, and wore a blue coat with brass buttons and a Kossuth hat with gold cord. The duties of this office consisted principally in convoying to the Government school truant little Zuñis who, preferring sunshine and freedom to paleface knowledge, vanished from sight when the school-bell rang. It was a busy life, this, of rounding-up these luckless young savages, involving not only exercise of leg but nimble argument with conspiring matrons, who wanted to keep their progeny uncontaminated by influences which made for bad manners and for skepticism regarding the red gods of their fathers. Saturday and Sunday, however, were holidays, and Dick was then free


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to follow his own devices—one of which was to cultivate the acquaintance of white visitors to Zuñi, and let them into such of its mysteries as he thought suitable for white folk to know.

Perhaps, then, he could take us where we could watch a Zuñi silversmith at work? We wanted to see a Zuñi man make a bracelet.

‘‘Ye-es,’’ he said indulgently, ‘‘I show you. When you want to go, you come to my houses.’’

When we came out of Dick's "houses," the clouds had parted and the sun was shining gloriously in the blessed blue. Doors stood open that had been shut against the rain; men were astir catching donkeys to ride, on one errand or another; the turkeys and the pigs and laughing children were abroad again. A bright-faced woman was patiently leading a blind man to a warm corner, where he might bask in the sun while she went to the town well to fill her jar, the gourd dipper clinking within it as she walked.

The silversmith was a young man with the face of an angel and huge turquoise earrings. His shop was set up in the one room of his house, for, excepting Nick, the storekeeper, who wears white man's clothes and a hat, and was once strung up


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for a witch, and lives out of his shop, no Zuñi man divorces business and home.

‘‘You want 'im make lil' closses like ol' time?’’ asked Dick, to whose Zuñi heart the characteristic double-barred crosses of his people were very dear, ‘‘or necklace of beads with piece of moon on end, or you want 'im blacelet with pictu' put on?’’

We explained that what we desired was a bracelet with ornaments stamped on it.

‘‘You want 'im make blacelet,’’ pursued Dick. ‘‘You give 'im money—dolla'—half-dolla'—I dunno—you know. Pully quick he make blacelet—you see—you give 'im all same money again—you take blacelet.’’

We understood enough of this to realize that it was needful to supply the craftsman with the raw material at the outset; so we produced a Mexican silver half-dollar and taking two proffered chairs sat down to abide the issue.

Said Dick: ‘‘You stay and see—no be aflaid—all same home—good-by,’’ and departed.

The silversmith blew up the fire in a little forge which stood against the wall, and into a small crucible which he picked from the ashes of a previous fire, he dropped our coin to its melting.


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Then he poured the puddle of molten metal into an oblong depression of the forge hearth and the result was a short pig of silver. This he placed upon an anvil and hammered patiently, heating and reheating it as it cooled, until it had become a flat, narrow strip of bruised and blackened silver, which, bent into a circle until the two ends all but touched, would fit the wrist. (Unlike the bracelet of civilisation, the Indian bracelet has a gap in its circle, through which the wrist is passed.) The blank surface was then ready for decoration. Our smith took from a basket a handful of small iron punches, each of which bore at its tip a die of different design from its fellows—dots, variously arranged, combinations of slashes, crescents, stars, and what-not. With these he composed an elaborate ornamentation, punching it upon the silver with hammer taps. Finally, the bracelet was dipped in boiling water in which a lump or two of a cleansing white earth, gathered in the neighbouring hills, had been dissolved, and was handed to us unsoiled and fresh as from the mint. We paid another half-dollar for the work and the negotiation was completed.


Notes

1. The Zuñi language has no sound of r, which the Zuñi tongue, like the Chinese, pronounces as an l.

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