Chapter XIV. Of Sa-wi-etsi-tsita, how She Made Us Jars; and Somewhat of Zuñi Babies


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DEEP in a hillside at the foot of the pueblo is the great well of Zuñi. Here sometimes we would sit of a morning to watch the fashion in water-jars. The Zuñi water-carriers are invariably women or girls, and Rebecca at her well was not a fairer sight, we fancied, than some of those Indian maidens in their picturesque pueblo dress. Here all day they came and went, singly or in couples, pausing for a moment's gossip in the cool cavern of the shady well before setting their brimming jars upon their heads. Then, erect as arrows and without touching hand again to their burdens, they mounted the broad stairway and climbed the hill to home.

The making of pottery is to the Zuñis what blanket-weaving is to the Navajos. It is their characteristic industry. The material used is a bluish clay, which is obtained from the summit of Towa-Yálleni, several miles distant, and brought laboriously home slung in a blanket upon the potter's back. The clay is powdered on a stone metate to the fineness of meal, mixed with water, and kneaded until the mess resembles blue cornmush. The building-up of the jar is done entirely by hand, excepting the base, which is moulded upon the bottom of an old pot. There is a concavity in the bottom which just fits the head of the carrier and helps hold it steady there. Upon this base, coil upon coil of the plastic mud is built up, the creases of conjunction being smoothed away with a bit of gourd. The jar is then set aside to dry thoroughly.

Women burning pottery, Zuñi.


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One day we saw one in this unfinished stage in Sa-wi-etsi-tsita's house and asked her if she would let us watch her decorate it, to which she consenting, we came with candy for the babies and spent an afternoon. The colours used in decoration are made from minerals found in the hills about Zuñi, and are white, red, and a brown that is almost black. Sa-wi-etsi-tsita is an artist and feels the inspiration of appreciative visitors, her face glowing with content and the joy of creation as she works. She sits flat upon the floor, and after


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covering the jar with a coating of white, and polishing it with a smooth stone until the surface shines, she lays on the figures of the decoration with a sliver of yucca leaf, shredded at the end to make a brush of it. Out of the storehouse of her memory the design grows without an error, and is balanced in all its parts as perfectly as though the jar had first been measured and sectioned off for it with rule and compass. The design may be purely geometrical, symbolic perhaps of clouds and rain; or it may be of conventionalised leaves and flowers; or it may be—and her Zuñi soul loves this above all—representative of swimming ducks and of deer with visible hearts; but whatever the design, once started it is worked out on certain conventional lines which have come to her by tradition and cannot be arbitrarily varied. Sa-wi-etsi-tsita made several pieces of pottery for us during our stay at Zuñi, and of one the pattern was so exceedingly plain, in severe lines of brown on white, that we asked her not to do that for us again but always to put in some red decoration, too. Our American ignorance disappointed her, for did we not know what every Zuñi knows, that that design never permits red?

The final stage of pottery-making is the firing,


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and when this is reached, the entire female portion of the household is agog. The decorated jar is carefully borne into the street, a place protected from wind and travel is chosen, and the jar is set mouth down upon a circle of small stones or scrap iron. Then a cylinder of dry sheep-manure chips is built up around the jar. Kindling of cedar shreds is laid within, together with a sheep shank or head (why, quien sabe? Sa-wi-etsi-tsita only knows it makes the fire burn better), and the whole is fired. Little by little the flame spreads and fattens upon the unpromising fuel, and, through the open chinks of the chips, one may see the pot brightening in the intense heat, as safe as Daniel in his fiery furnace. When the fuel is consumed, the jar is carefully lifted out and set aside to cool, when it is ready for service.

Woman's invasion of man's time-honoured vocations has not yet reached Zuñi. There the old-fashioned partition of life's labours between male and female is as it was in the days of the ancients. Men plant the corn and harvest it; the women grind it and make the bread.1 Men tend the


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sheep and cattle and go rabbit hunting; the women cook the meat. The women are the potters and blanket-weavers; the men are the silversmiths, and do the knitting and moccasin-making and most of the sewing on the American machines, which many households possess. The men build the houses; the women plaster them and build the ovens, and bitterly disappointed would they be if they should not be allowed to put these finishing touches to houses to be consecrated at Shàlako time by the presence of the Tall Gods and their attendant maskers.

As to the babies, everybody has a care of them. Their lives are one round of pleasant happenings. When they are not sleeping, they are eating, and when they are doing neither of these, they are taking the air—so runs their infant world away. To the little girls and the grandfathers falls the lion's share of nursing the little folk; but it is no unusual sight to see smiling middle-aged or young fathers striding along about their business, with a baby in a blanket swung upon their backs. The men cannot bear to hear a child cry, and we have seen them stop their work to pick up a fretting baby and take it out for a walk. How the babies got on the back was as much of a puzzle to us, until we saw the deed done, as was the apple in the dumpling to the old philosopher. The man humped himself as for leap-frog, swung the delighted infant so that it lit lightly on its stomach upon the broad of his back, its arms and legs spread out like a swimming frog's, and then the blanket was caught under and around the child so as to hold it as in a sack.

A Zuñi man knitting his wife's leggings. The men also run the sewing-machine, when a household owns one.


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In Zuñi, the baby is never in the way—of all the blessings of the gods it is the most desired and the most cherished. High up on the Mountain of the Sacred Corn is a double spire of rock, which according to Zuñi folk-lore represents the metamorphosed bodies of two children sacrificed in ancient days to save Zuñi from a flood. Dick pointed them out to us one day.

‘‘Zuñi man and woman,’’ he remarked, ‘‘they get mallied. Bimeby, no have any chillen. They solly. They come to mountain, climb 'way up—put on player plumes—'way up. Then next year mebbe have chillen, and all happy.’’


Notes

1. ‘‘They make the best corncakes I have ever seen anywhere,’’ writes Coronado from Zuñi in 1540, ‘‘and this is what everybody ordinarily eats. They have the very best arrangement and machinery for grinding that ever was seen.’’ And the fashion in corncakes is still as it was in Coronado's time.

Up: Contents Previous: Chapter XIII. Of Housekeeping in Zuñi, and how Zuñi Dick Helped Us to Buy Meat Next: Chapter XV. Of a Zuñi Grinding Song, and of Prayer Plumes




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