Cibola 102

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 101 of 119 in the series Cibola


Pekwin (a.k.a. Sun Priest, Word Priest) (cont’d)

The other night in the kiva as
a few of us sat & smoked,
the daylight priest of Kechipawa reminded us
of what happened last year at the Yaaya festival.
The Helix Society had set up the fir tree
& all the townspeople were out
dancing, they’d linked arms
& formed the four concentric rings
alternately turning
in opposite directions–entrancing
spectacle for old Knife-Wing, no doubt,
peering down through his smoke hole
in the sky. Everyone’s there, from all
the six towns, dancing, when
the Helix People bring out the masks,
the Horned Ones outside
& the six Shumekuli at the center
circling the tree.

But one of the maskers has, it seems,
an improper thought.
The White Shumekuli mummer
suddenly remembers some transgression–
the night before, let’s say,
he slept with his wife. The mask
goes mad. The masker screams,
claws at his face
but it sticks tight.
He runs full tilt at the inner circle
& the circle breaks,
they try to catch him but the mask
has turned savage, roaring
like a trapped bear, smashes through
the next circle & the outer
two rings of dancers falter
& give way. The Shumekuli
who lives in the East has decided
to take his mask & go home.
Caught up in his guilt, the dancer
has forgotten who
gives life to whom: acts
like a child tagging after
an angry parent. He runs pell-mell
& the crowd dwindles.

The story about the White Shumekuli mask comes from Zuni oral tradition, as presented in two separate sources.

Cibola 103

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 102 of 119 in the series Cibola


Pekwin (a.k.a. Sun Priest, Word Priest) (conclusion)

As they pass south of Kyakima,
a boy herding turkeys on the hillside
hears the commotion, looks,
scrambles down to head
off the mask. He tackles it,
the others help him wrestle the man
to the ground, this poor thing
with no words
of his own remaining.
A mind given over
wholly to the elder brothers,
the eaters-of-raw-food.
They have the mask down but it won’t
come off. They pull & tug
& it screams curses in
the sacred language of the East:
it’s stuck fast.
The masker gasps for breath,
he’ll suffocate! They tug
& pull & stretch.

With one last scream the mask
comes loose, a layer of flayed skin
sticking to its back.
The mummer has become the Man
Without a Face, an impossible being.
Despite all the doctors can do
he dies four days later.

They try to clean the Shumekuli mask
as they would any other, scrubbing off
the paint, the pattern of raincloud steps.
Does a masker keep the god’s
turtle-shell rattles on his legs,
the spirit gourd in his hand
for everyday use?
The sacred & the common must be kept apart.

Except this mask,
the White Shumekuli–
a mask that should never
be worn lightly–
it won’t give up its newest
layer of skin.

The story about the White Shumekuli mask comes from Zuni oral tradition, as presented in two separate sources.

Cibola 104

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 103 of 119 in the series Cibola


Reader (17)

Is there a significant difference between Marcos, who saw a city where there was a group of Zuni villages, and a modern ethnographer such as [Ruth] Benedict, who . . . lost sight of Zuni history and the complexity of Zuni culture, subsuming it into an Apollonian stereotype?
“Anthropological Analysis of Exploration Texts: Cultural Discourse and the Ethnological Import of Fray Marcos de Niza’s Journey to Cibola”

Nunqua trobé en sieglo logar tan deleitoso,
Nin sombra tan temprada, ni olor tan sabroso . . .
(Never had I found on earth a spot so delightful,
Nor shadows so cooling, nor odors so delicious . . . )
Milagros de Nuestro Señora

Thy purpose–still one shore beyond desire!
The sea’s green crying towers a-sway, Beyond
And kingdoms
           naked in the
                       trembling heart–
The Bridge

Cibola 105

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 104 of 119 in the series Cibola


Marcos (6)

Spirit, guide me now,
direct my steps.
Out of the thirty elders who joined us
for the last leg of the trip–crossing
this high despoblado lousy
with lightning-scarred little trees
tortured by the wind–
only two have stayed with me.
They scarcely bother to hide
their disgust.
As if I, from a week’s
journey away, could’ve saved
their townsmen from the Cibolans’
clubs & arrows!
Every time I move my lips in prayer
I get black looks. Good thing
that thunderstorm hit when it did,
the downpour turning the embers
of rage to melancholy.

If I die short of completing this mission
& submitting a final report, no matter.
Others will come & see
what I’ve seen–a mission field
fertile beyond belief. I know
my Redeemer liveth . . .

But these poor Indians
so many hundreds of leagues
from their homes–& so far,
yet, from the blessed
assurance of heaven–I can’t
abandon myself to God
while their souls still need my guidance.
Faithful beyond any I’ve
missionized among, these Sonorans.

And when Coronado comes,
he won’t be merciful
if I’m not alive
to stay his hand: so even
these other Indians, little though
they know it, need me,
a living dog.

when Coronado comes: Marcos will in fact accompany the Coronado expedition to Cibola the following year, and will suffer humiliation and ostracism when “Cibola” turns out to hold no treasures whatsoever, contrary to his glowing report. He will, however, help to prevent Coronado from wreaking vengeance on the Ashiwi for their initial resistance to conquest.

a living dog: “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.” Ecclesiastes 9:4.

Cibola 106

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 105 of 119 in the series Cibola


Marcos (6) (cont’d)

Beyond this bluff they say we’ll get
a view. There

on the plain. Fields
already green, a distant river glinting . . .

See how that hill rears up
like the hull of a capsized galleon!

And floating in its lee, the long-
sought citadel.
From here it looks like four, five,
six–yes, seven layers
mounting up like clouds
swollen with rain,
shot through with light.

I’ve never seen such an absolutely clear,
such a clean air
as this! And it smells
so sweet, simply to breathe
could require a hundred Hail Marys
in penance. It makes
the city seem close, as if I could stretch
out a hand & pinch between finger
& thumb those ant-like figures
swarming up & down the walls–
Lord forgive me.

Was Mexico in its heyday ever
so salubrious, so full of industry?
St. Francis, I give this whole land
thy holy name. Perhaps
through its power these people
can be tempered
like the wolf of Gubbio.
God willing, thy mendicants
can come to all these principalities
& bring them under the gentle
yoke of Christ. Can instruct them
in the holy days & fast days,
the Sabbath, the communion.
Give them better
tools & crops, perhaps
even sheep . . .

Though they may be less
in need of correction than most.
Who can blame them for being hostile?
The Spanish have been in New Spain
for twenty years, they must’ve
heard something.

No doubt the Negro was simply
too bold, too wild. Too free
with the fair sex–though of course
no conquistador. And as much
as he claimed to cure
through faith, he sure
made a show of his prowess
with pagan rattles. It’s not
for me to judge, of course–
& Scripture shows
God sometimes
loves a scoundrel . . .

it smells so sweet: Thanks to the recent thunderstorm. “I don’t know how a person could ever describe that scent. It certainly wasn’t sour, but it wasn’t sweet, either, not like a flower… To my mind it was like nothing so much as a wonderfully clean, scrubbed pine floor.” – Barabara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

like the wolf of Gubbio: According to legend, St. Francis once tamed a wolf that had been preying on livestock and people around the Italian city of Gubbio, negotiating a peace deal whereby the wolf ceased all predation in return for regular feeding by people.

Cibola 107

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 106 of 119 in the series Cibola


Marcos (6) (conclusion)

Well, no sense
in testing the patience of my guides
any further. I don’t know
at what distance the Act
would lose its efficacy: from this
promontory I ought to be able
to establish the crown’s claim to all
the souls in three directions.

This looks like a good spot for a cross, plenty
of oblong rocks to pile up. Odd,
though, how some look almost
like animals, six-knobbed–
like this gray-green stone
in my hand: a carver’s
discarded blank, I guess.
I turn it over

& over. These tensed limbs,
if that’s what they are, the low-
slung head & suggestion of a tail
put me in mind
of something swift & strong.
It slips easily
into my lambskin wallet:
a memento to cheer me on the long
road back.

I want to keep this clarity as long as I live.

the Act: I.e., the Act of Possession. See here.

some look almost like animals: the Zuni regard their famed fetish stones more as found objects than works of art; their unfinished appearance is partly what identifies them as raw beings. They are believed to have once been living animals, turned to stone by bolts of lightning from the twin war gods in order to prevent them from ravaging human beings, and to give hunters access to their superior predatory power.

Cibola 108

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 107 of 119 in the series Cibola


Reader (18)

I took a rib from my body and made of it a fire stick.
I took it in my hands and set out over the whole earth . . .
In the shelter of the trees I traveled,
Seeking everywhere what I did not find.
I came to a great plain and I fell prone upon my face and slept there.
There my brother came to me, face to face.
I threw out my arms to embrace him,
But they closed empty on my own breast.
My face was streaked by my tears . . .
“Orphan Boy” recitative (traditional O’odham oratory), translated by Ruth Benedict with unknown Pima collaborators

Here the statements of the Pimas . . . are of special value. . . . [They claim] the [Hohokam] pueblos fell one after the other, until the Pimas, driven from their homes, and moreover, decimated by a fearful plague, became reduced to a small tribe.
Fifth Annual Report of the Archaeological Institute of America, 1883-1884

Cibola 109

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 108 of 119 in the series Cibola


Owl-Meeter Shaman

Again at dusk Blue Mockingbird alights
on the topmost twig of the mesquite tree
that stands on the western edge
of Rain Plaza. He preens
& pirouettes, hangs upside-down
as he holds forth once more
on his favorite theme:
Nights are for singing, days are for gathering songs.
How many medicine men do the packrats need?

Ah, my fallen nieces, my fallen nephews!
Since when can’t a shaman cure
his own ailment?
We tried to keep him
from making off with the better part
of the pueblo’s youth–at least until
I could assemble all my helpers,
send fog & nightmares down
on the warriors of Shiwanna.

He said If Owl,
if Rattlesnake,
if Gila Monster send sickness,
cut off their heads!
Surely a doctor
who spreads disease is no doctor.

The same way old Nawitsu talks: inside-out.
Up on Sun Plaza the priests smile
their tattooed smiles
& dribble coded messages
in colored sand; Nawitsu below
makes handprints, spits tobacco.
Straight-faced master of interpretation,
polished mask,
his medicine is proof against
excessive smoothness,
the dry scales of a snake
that nothing ever sticks to,
joy or pain.
            That’s what
I should’ve told the Black Shaman,
instead of impersonating
a respected elder with a set-
piece for the occasion:

(To be continued.)

Owl-Meeter Shaman: This fictional character was introduced in the song contest. In conformity with the conclusions of archaeologists, I picture Hohokam society as two-tiered. I further imagine a priesthood allied with the nobility, and medicine men and women of various kinds, similar to those who still exist among the O’odham, ministering to the needs of the common people. (There are many other examples in the Americas of native societies that persisted as hunting-gathering-gardening bands like the O’odham after the loss of priesthood, nobility and urban infrastructure to conquest and/or pandemics.)

Blue Mockingbird: A central figure in traditional O’odham oratory for the cactus wine drinking festival which doubles as a rain-bringing ritual.

If Owl, if Rattlesnake, if Gila Monster send sickness: The O’odham theory of disease attributes many illnesses to the involuntary giving of offense to a variety of animal spirits. Such illnesses can only be cured by all-night shaman-led rituals featuring, in homeopathic fashion, the chanting of songs given in dreams by the very beings responsible for the illnesses. Each shaman has ownership of the songs of one or more spirit being which he or she has personally received in a dream or vision-quest. Thus, an owl-meeter shaman is a master of owl songs. (See note to Cibola 83 for more on the owl-meeter shaman’s role.)

Nawitsu: The only mask traditionally worn by the O’odham. Nawitsu is referred to as a clown by anthropologists, though among Native peoples of the American southwest, clowns are far more sacred and powerful than the silly creatures usually meant by the English word. Here, I am imagining that Nawitsu’s role among the Hohokam was as a satirist and advocate for the common people, similar to the role of the Newekwe clowns among the Zuni.

Cibola 110

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 109 of 119 in the series Cibola


Owl-Meeter Shaman (conclusion)

Ah, my brothers & sisters,
my nieces & nephews whose scalps hang
in the eastern rainhouse,
go where they send you:
to the springs, to the great oceans. Swim
& burrow through the mud. Be happy
if you can.

I watched that red-faced chief encircle us.
Those he sprinkled water on–already
their shadows grow thin.
They drape the crossed sticks
with all the flowers they can find
but still their skins loosen.

In the smoke from my cigarette
I can see a bitter wind
building in the south,
scattering our ragtag remnants
across the desert.
In the crystal’s frozen kernel, a flood
that sweeps away towns
& buries villages. This time
it wasn’t the shaman who worked witchcraft.

Ah, my lost children,
be clouds, be rain–if you come back
wearing any other kind of feathers
I won’t be there to meet you.
Be siblings to the rainbow, to lightning,
to thunder that makes
the hollow mountains shake,
rattling their seeds.

The packrats have plenty of shamans.
Come visit us in the west
when the saguaro’s ripe.

the eastern rainhouse: I.e., Shiwanna.

that red-faced chief: I.e., Marcos de Niza.

if you come back wearing any other kind of feathers: I.e., as owls – a form frequently adopted by the spirits.

The packrats have plenty of shamans: Burrowing owls are sometimes referred to in O’odham lore as shamans for the packrats they live among (and predate upon).

Cibola 111

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 110 of 119 in the series Cibola


Reader (19)

A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness . . .
JOEL 2:3

The unofficial chronicler of Coronado’s expedition, Pedro de Castañeda . . . [when referring to de Niza’s expedition] speaks constantly of three priests, as though the friar had companions. . . . [T]his seems to be highly inaccurate because neither Marcos nor anyone else mentions any other priests after Brother Onorato [actually an oblate] was left behind early in the journey . . .
Adolf F. Bandelier’s The Discovery of New Mexico by the Franciscan Monk, Friar Marcos de Niza in 1539

To lose always and let everyone win is a trait of valiant souls, generous spirits, and unselfish hearts; it is their manner to give rather than receive even to the extent of giving themselves. They consider it a heavy burden to possess themselves and it pleases them more to be possessed by others and withdrawn from themselves, since we belong more to that infinite Good than we do to ourselves.
“Maxims on Love”