Frank Hamilton Cushing on Zuņi
From "Outlines of Zuñi Creation Myths," Thirteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1891-1892 (Washington, D.C., 1896), p. 362.
As every living thing they observe, every animal, has form, and acts or functions according to its form--the feathered and winged bird flying, because of its feathered form; the furry and four-footed animal running and leaping, because of its four-footed form, and the scaly and finny fish swimming, because also of its fins and scales and form appropriate thereto--so these things made or born into special forms [through] the hands of man also have life and function variously, according to their various forms.
As this idea of animals, and of things [as animals of another Sort] is carried out to the minutest particular, so that even the differences in the claws of beasts, for example, are supposed to make the difference between their powers of foot (as between the hugging of the bear and the clutching of the panther), it follows that form in all its details is considered of the utmost importance to special kinds of articles made and used, even of structures of any much used or permanent type. Another phase of this curious but perfectly natural attribution of life and form-personality to material things is the belief that the forms of these things not only give them power, but also restrict their power, so that if properly made, that is, made and shaped strictly as other things of their kind have been made and shaped, they will perform only such safe uses as their prototypes have been found to serve in performing before them. As the fish, with scales and fins only, can not fly as the duck does, and as the duck can not swim under the water except so far as his feathers, somewhat resembling scales, and his scaly, webbed feet, somewhat resembling fins, enable him to do, thus also is it with things. In this way may be explained better than in any other way, I think, the excessive persistency of form survival, including the survival of details in conventional ornamentation in the art products of primitive peoples-the repetitions, for instance, in pottery, of the forms and even the ornaments of the vessels, basketry, or what not, which preceded it in development and use and on which it was first modeled. This tendency to persist in the making of well-tried forms, whether of utensil or domicile, is so great that some other than the reason usually assigned, namely, that of mere accustomedness, is necessary to account for it, and the reason I have given is fully warranted by what I know of the mood in which the Zuñis still regard the things they make and use, and which is so clearly manifest in their names of such things.
Form and the Dance-Drama
From "Outlines of Zuñi Creation Myths," Thirteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1891-1892 (Washington, D.C., 1896), pp. 374-77.
WITH other primitive peoples as with the Zuñis, there seems to be no bent of their minds so strong or pervasive of and influential upon their lives as the dramaturgic tendency--that tendency to suppose that even the phenomena of nature can be controlled and made to act more or less by men, if symbolically they do first what they wish the elements to do, according to the ways in which, as taught by their mystic lore, they suppose these things were done or made to be done by the ancestral gods of creation time. And this may be seen not only in a searching analysis of the incidents and symbolisms in folk-tales as well as myths of such primitive peoples, but also in a study of the moods in which they do the ordinary things of life; as in believing that because a stone often struck wears away faster than when first struck it is therefore helpful in overcoming its obduracy to strike it--work it--by a preliminary dramatic and ritualistic striking, whereupon it will work as though already actually worked over, and will be less liable to breakage, etc. . . .
At this point it seems desirable that the sense in which the terms "drama," "dramatic," and "dramaturgic" are employed in relation to these ceremonials be explained. This may best be done, perhaps, by contrasting the drama of primitive peoples, as I conceive it, with that of civilized peoples. While the latter is essentially spectacular, the former has for its chief motive the absolute and faithful reproduction of creative episodes-one may almost say, indeed, the revivification of the ancient.
That this is attempted and is regarded as possible by primitive man is not to be wondered at when we consider his peculiar modes of conception. I have said of the Zuñis that theirs is a science of appearances and a philosophy of analogies. The primitive man, no less than the child, is the most comprehensive of observers, because his looking at and into things is not self-conscious, but instinctive and undirected, therefore comprehensive and searching. Unacquainted as he is with rational explanations of the things he sees, he is given, as has been the case throughout all time, to symbolic interpretation and mystic expression thereof, as even today are those who deal with the domain of the purely speculative. It follows that his organizations are symbolic; that his actions within these organizations are also symbolic. Consequently, as a child at play on the floor finds sticks all-sufficient for the personages of his play-drama, chairs for his houses, and lines of the floor for the rivers that none but his eyes can see, so does the primitive man regard the mute, but to him personified, appliances of his dance and the actions thereof, other than they seem to us.
I can perhaps make my meaning more clear by analyzing such a conception common to the Zuñi mind. The Zuñi has observed that the corn plant is jointed; that its leaves spring from these joints not regularly, but spirally; that stripped of the leaves the stalk is found to be indented, not regularly at opposite sides, but also spirally; that the matured plant is characterized, as no other plant is, by two sets of seeds, the ears of corn springing out from it two-thirds down and the tassels of seeds, sometimes earlets, at the top; also that these tassels resemble the seed-spikes of the spring-grass or pigeon-grass; that the leaves themselves while like broad blades of grass are fluted like plumes, and that amongst the ears of corn ever and anon are found bunches of soot; and, finally, that the colors of the corn are as the colors of the world--seven in number. Later on it may be seen to what extent he has legendized these characteristics, thus accounting for them, and to what extent, also, he has dramatized this, his natural philosophy of the corn and its origin. Nothing in this world or universe having occurred by accident-so it seems to the Zuñi mind--but everything having been started by a personal agency or supernal, he immediately begins to see in these characteristics of the corn plant the traces of the actions of the peoples in his myths of the olden time. Lo! men lived on grass seeds at first, but, as related in the course of the legends which follow, there came a time when, by the potencies of the gods and the magic of his own priests or shamans, man modified the food of first men into the food of men's children. It needed only a youth and a maiden, continent and pure, to grasp at opposite sides and successively the blades of grass planted with plumes of supplication, and walking or dancing around them, holding them firmly to draw them upward until they had rapidly grown to the tallness of themselves, then to embrace them together. Behold! the grasses were jointed where grasped four times or six according to their tallness; yea, and marked with the thumb-marks of those who grasped them; twisted by their grasp while circling around them and leaved with plume-like blades and tasseled with grass-like spikes at the tops. More wonderful than all, where their persons had touched the plants at their middles, behold! new seed of human origin and productive of continued life had sprung forth in semblance of their parentage and draped with the very pile of their generation. For lo! when the world was new all things in it were k?yai'-una, or formative, as now is the child in the mother's womb or the clay by the thoughts of the potter. That the seed of seeds thus made be not lost it needed that Pai-a-tu-ma, the God of Dew and the Dawn, freshen these new-made plants with his breath; that Te-na-tsa-li, the God of Time and the Seasons, mature them instantly with his touch and breath; that Kwe'-le-le, the God of Heat, ripen them with the touch of his Fire-brother's torch and confirm to them the warmth of a life of their own. Nevertheless, with the coming of each season, the creation is ever repeated, for the philosophy of ecclesiasticism is far older than ecclesiastics or their writings, and since man aided in the creation of corn, so must he now ever aid in each new creation of the seed of seeds. Whence the drama of the origin of corn is not merely reenacted, but is revived and reproduced in all its many details with scrupulous fidelity each summer as the new seed is ripening. And now I may add intelligibly that the drama of primitive man is performed in an equally dramaturgic spirit, whether seen, as in its merely culminating or final enactment, or unseen and often secret, as in its long-continued preparations. In this a given piece of it may be likened to a piece of Oriental carving or of Japanese joinery, in which the parts not to be seen are as scrupulously finished as are the parts seen, the which is likewise characteristic of our theme, for it is due to the like dramaturgic spirit which dominates even the works, no less than the ceremonials, of all primitive and semi-primitive peoples.
So also it seems to the Zuñi that no less essential is it that all the long periods of creation up to the time when corn itself was created from the grasses must be reproduced, even though hastily and by mere signs, as are the forms through which a given species in animal life has been evolved, rapidly repeated in each embryo.
The significance of such studies as these of a little tribe like the Zuñis, and especially of such fuller studies as will, it is hoped, follow in due course, is not restricted to their bearing on the tribe itself. They bear on the history of man the world over. I have become convinced that they thus bear on human history, especially on that of human culture growth, very directly too, for the Zuñis, say, with all their strange, apparently local customs and institutions and the lore thereof, are representative in a more than merely general way of a phase of culture through which all desert peoples, in the Old World as well as in the New, must sometime have passed. Thus my researches among these Zuñis and my experimental researches upon myself, with my own hands, under strictly primitive conditions, have together given me insight and power to interpret their myths and old arts, as I could never otherwise have hoped to do; and it has also enlarged my understanding of the earliest conditions of man everywhere as nothing else could have done.
Thus, with the aid of nature's hand, without plow or harrow, the Zuñi fits and fertilizes his lands, for the planting of May-time, or the Nameless month.