Book: Zuni Ritual Poetry
Author: Ruth L. Bunzel

Zuni Ritual Poetry By Ruth L. Bunzel

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 191
Publication Date: 1929-1930

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This book is a detailed ethnographic account of Zuñi religious beliefs and practices, taken from The Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1929-1930, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Chapters include: Prayers to the Ancients; Prayers to the sun; Prayers to the Uwanammi; Prayers of the war cult; Prayers and chants of priests of masked gods; and, Prayers of the medicine cult.

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Spoken prayer in Zuñi is called t?ewusu p?ena:we, "prayer talk." This includes personal prayers, all the set prayers of rituals, chants, the origin myth in its ritual forms, the "talk" of komosono and other set speeches. It is also used for urgent requests. (t?ewusu p?eye?a--" he speaks prayers, i. e., begs, implores.")

Prayer is never the spontaneous outpouring of the overburdened soul; it is more nearly a repetition of magical formulae. A good deal has already been said (p. 493) about the rôle of prayer in the ritual. The prayers constitute the very heart of a ceremony. Like fetishes, they are sacred and powerful in themselves. Their possession is a source of power; their loss or impairment a great danger. Zuñis will describe esoteric ceremonies fully and vividly, but there are two thing which they are equally reluctant to do--to exhibit sacred objects or to repeat the words of a prayer. There is much less reticence about songs, except for a few special, secret songs. Prayer frequently forms part of set rituals. Then whether publicly declaimed or muttered so as to be inaudible to profane ears, the efficacy of the prayer depends in no small measure on its correct rendition. The prayers for individual use, such as accompany offerings of prayer meal, food, or prayer sticks, requests for medical service, etc., are also fixed in form and content, although they are individually varied in degree of elaboration. "Some men who are smart, talk a long time, but some are just like babies." There are certain other occasions on which men can display their skill in handling the poetic medium when they are visited in their houses by the katcinas; when they are called upon to take part in the games of the Koyemci; when they are appointed to office; or otherwise signaled out for honor or blessing by the supernaturals. In such cases one must improvise quickly and handle correctly the ritual vocabulary, rhythms, characteristic long periods, and, above all, speak without any hesitation or fumbling and for as long as possible. There is no time limit, no admonitions to be brief and to the point.

The set prayers must be formally learned--they are not just picked up. The most formal instruction is that connected with the transmission of the prayers of the Ca?lako. Each kiva has a Ca?lako wo?le, who, among his other duties, keeps the prayers. Immediately after the winter solstice the Ca?lako appointees come to him to be taught the necessary prayers. The wo?le meets with them for the four nights following each planting of prayer sticks, and as often besides as may be necessary. The Saiyataca party, whose ritual is the most elaborate, meets every night. Most of this time is given to the "long talk," the litany that is declaimed in the house of the host on the night of their final ceremonies. There are many other prayers that accompany all their activities-prayers for the making and planting of prayer sticks, for getting their mask from the people who keep it and returning it, for various stages in dressing and in their progress toward the village, for the dedication of the house, for blessing the food, for thanking the singers and the hosts, for going away. How ever, the "long talk" and the "morning talk" are chanted aloud in unison and must be letter perfect. The method of instruction is for the wo?le to intone the prayer, the pupils joining in as they can. One-half of the chant is taken each night. The phraseology of the prayers is so stereotyped that the principal difficulty in learning a long prayer is to keep the sequence. For this purpose certain cult groups have special mnemonic devices. The K^äklo "talk" recorded in text by Mrs. Stevenson is such a record. It is an outline naming in order the various personages called and the places visited, it being assumed that the performer can fill in the outline from his knowledge of the poetic forms. It takes the men appointed to impersonate the gods all of the year to learn their prayers. As the time for the ceremony approaches great concern is felt, and sometimes the ceremony is postponed because the men are not ready. On the night after the ceremony the men go once again to the wo?le and give the prayer back. They recite it for him. At the close he inhales, and they do not, and so he takes from them the spirit of the prayer.

The instruction in prayers that are not publicly performed is less formal. Boys learn the a, b, c's of religious participation, including elementary prayers, from their fathers. After initiation into a medicine society a man goes at once to his ceremonial father to learn to make the prayer sticks of the society, and at the same time learn prayers for the making and offering of prayer sticks. He makes some payment to his father for this information--a shirt or a headband or a few pieces of turquoise. Women do not make their own prayer sticks, but they go similarly to their "fathers" to learn the required prayers. So every additional bit of knowledge is acquired. As more esoteric information is sought, the expense for instruction increases greatly. A certain old man in one of the priesthoods knew a particular prayer and the order of events in a rarely performed ceremony. He refused to teach these things to anyone. When he was very old and his death was expected his colleagues wished to learn this prayer from him. He was finally persuaded to teach them for a consideration. The woman member of the priesthood contributed a woman's shawl, the men things of greater value, to his fee. He taught the prayer but withheld the other information, and finally died without communicating it. Sometimes a man who is apt and curious and wealthy may collect prayers, the way men in other societies accumulate oil paintings or other works of art, and eventually turn them to profit. The cost of most information is not so excessive that a poor man can not, with the practice of a little thrift, acquire whatever he wishes to know. He can, if he wishes, and if he has friends, learn the prayers of the Ne?we:kwe without actually joining their society. His ceremonial affiliations restrict his right to use these prayers, but many men go to expense to learn prayers they have no intention of using. The Saiyataca texts recorded in the following pages and many others were given me by a man who had never impersonated Saiyataca and never expected to. They were verified after the informant's death by the Saiyataca wo?le, who wondered how and why the informant had learned them. I myself heard the actual chant twice after recording the text and know it to be correct.