Cibola 120

This entry is part 119 of 119 in the series Cibola


Cibola (cont’d)

The Ne-Witch dances
crazy–the feathers
on his arms flap,
the fetishes on his chest
flop & flash,
the rattlesnake rattles
on his legs clatter
like dry beans
being threshed. Then
the deus ex machina:
a loud thud, a cloud
of butterflies
& it’s Payatamu,
straight from
the Sun’s house
with his head on backwards,
turning somersaults.
He too reaches
between his legs, extracts
his trademark flute.
one high
& hideous note.
The Ne-Apacha topples over
to a chorus of cheers.
Leaps up
smiling his thanks,
falls back down:
cheers mixed with laughter.
(No witch stays dead
for long without
special measures.)
Six Newekwe in solemn
ceremony act out
his dismemberment
with children’s wooden knives.
One carves, another
rubs a growling belly,
a third, impatient,
tries to swallow
his own hand.
At last each takes
his cut & parades it
around the plaza:
nothing in fact
but clothes & calabash,
feathers & rattles & every
other trapping.
They wolf it down
in plain view, leave
no doubts about
their medicine power.
The clown who gets
to eat the gourd
first sits on it like an egg
then smashes it against
his forehead, stuffs
the fragments down
his gaptoothed maw,
burps extravagantly.
Another blast of the flute
& they scramble off.
*     *     *
A completely naked
sits up, stares vacantly around.
Stumbles to his feet.
The hushed crowd makes way
as he wanders slowly
out of town
heading west toward the river.
A small band of children
tailing at a distance
watch as he pauses,
spreads his arms
in a gesture that could
mean anything
& plunges in.


Payatamu: Payatamu may be compared to a cross between Apollo and Dionysius; in his Dionysian form (as here) he is often called Ne-Payatamu. The “Ne-” signifies the comic inversions identified most closely with the Newekwe clown order.

On the distinction between Payatamu and the New Age invention Kokopelli, see the very lucid explanation near the bottom of this page.

As mentioned elsewhere, “Apacha” is the Zuni word for “enemy,” applied without distinction to the various Diné (Navajo and Apache) peoples with whom they have had fraught, trading/raiding relationships over the centuries. Enemies are witches almost by definition.

For my Bahktin-influenced descriptions of the Zuni sacred clown orders, see Laughing in church and Houston, we have a problem…

Series Navigation← Cibola 119

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