THE CHILDREN OF ZUÑI

BY MARIA BRACE KIMBALL
"Little Indian, Sioux or Crow,
Little frosty Eskimo,
Little Turk or Japanee,
Oh, don't you wish that you were me?"


SO says the well-fed, well-dressed, well-housed little Scotchman in Robert Louis Stevenson's rhyme. But I don't believe that the small Indians of Zuñi would care at all to change places with the little "me" of Edinburgh or New York. In their village of mud and stone, on the sunny plains of New Mexico, they have lived for centuries in perfect contentment. Fine houses, green parks, and merry streets would be nothing to them; hats and parasols, candies and ice-cream would make them stare; and mere cleanliness would only astonish them. Indeed, if they saw us washing our faces and brushing our hair every day, they would probably one and all cry out in Zuñi words:

"Oh, don't you wish that you were me?"

The little half-civilized children of Zuñi so aroused our curiosity that we drove through forty miles of sand and sage-brush, from the railroad at Fort Wingate, to pay them a visit. As the Indians do not provide for travelers, we took our hotel with us—tents, beds, and food—and camped just outside their village. The village looks like a huge beehive made of clay and stuck fast to the top of a sandy knoll. The hive is filled with a mass of cells—three hundred single rooms, placed side by side and piled in rows one on top of another. In each of these rooms lives a Zuñi family. There are no inside stairways leading from story to story, but if the boys and girls living in one row wish to pay a visit to a house above them, they must go outdoors and climb a ladder. On the slope between the village and the Zuñi River are a number of small vegetable-gardens, each one inclosed by a mud wall. Zuñi has no inns, no shops, no saloons, not even proper streets, but only narrow alleys that thread their way through the strange town. As we walked through the village, all the world came out to see us. Girls and boys clustered on the roofs or sat on the ovens,—queer little cones of mud which seem to grow up out of the house-tops,—while fathers, mothers, and babies peered out from dark doorways, to stare at the visitors. When we had finished our tour of the roofs and alleys, we were hospitably invited indoors; even there the children followed us, and as we glanced up to a hole in the ceiling which served as a window, a girl's laughing face filled the opening. We must have looked strange enough in our hats and gloves and long skirts.

The Zuñi child spends his early days in a cradle. But a cradle in Zuñi-land does not mean down pillows, silken coverlets, and fluffy laces; it is only a flat board, just the length of the baby, with a hood like a doll's buggy-top over the head. Upon this hard bed the baby is bound like a mummy—the coverings wound round and round him until the little fellow cannot move except to open his mouth and eyes. Sometimes he is unrolled, and looks out into the bare whitewashed room, blinks at the fire burning on the hearth, and fixes his eyes earnestly on the wolf and cougar skins that serve as chairs and beds and carpets in the Zuñi home.

A ZUÑI FAMILY ON THE MARCH A ZUÑI FAMILY ON THE MARCH

By the time he is two or three years old, he has grown into a plump little bronze creature, with the straightest of coarse black hair and the biggest and roundest of black eyes. He is now out of the cradle, and trots about the house and the village. When the weather is bad he wears a small coarse shirt, and always a necklace of beads or turquoise.

As he grows older, he adds a pair of loose cotton trousers to his costume, and, if anything more is needed to keep him warm, he girds on his blanket, just as his forefathers have done in all the three hundred years since white men first knew the Zuñis. His long hair, either flying loosely in the wind or tied back with a band of some red stuff, serves him both as hair and as hat.

His little sister, however, has a more elaborate dress. Her mama weaves it for her, as she does her own, in a rude loom. She makes two square blankets of black cotton, finishes them neatly across top and bottom, sews them together at the sides with red yarn, and the dress is ready to try on. It always fits perfectly, as the part which forms the skirt is simply held in place by a sash, and the waist is made by drawing two corners of the blankets up over the left shoulder. The sash, woven in gay colors, is also the work of Mama Zuñi. A long, narrow piece of cotton cloth is draped from the other shoulder, and swings easily about, serving as pocket, shawl, or pinafore. In cold weather, moccasins, leggings, and blankets are also worn. These articles, too, are made at home. While the mother is the dressmaker and tailor, the father is the family shoemaker. A few of the Zuñi girls have dresses like those of American girls. These clothes have come to them through the mission-school which adjoins the village.

The Zuñis have a language of their own—no very easy one for boys and girls to learn, judging from its many-syllabled, harsh-sounding words. They also speak a little Spanish, as does nearly everybody in New Mexico.

The little Zuñis amuse themselves with running, wrestling, jumping, and playing at grown folks, just as civilized children do. They have their bows and arrows, their rag-dolls,—strapped like real babies to cradles,—and their shinny sticks and balls. The children also make themselves useful at home. The older girls take care of their younger brothers and sisters, and the boys tend the goats. There are large herds of goats belonging to the village, and they must be taken every morning to graze on the plain, and brought home at night to be shut up in the corrals, or folds, safe from prowling wolves.

The little children often go with their mothers to draw water from the village well, about a hundred yards from the houses. At the top of a flight of stone steps they wait, playing about in the sand, while their mothers go down to the spring. There the women fill the jars, then, poising them on their heads, climb the hill and mount the ladders to their homes. As all the water used by the village has to be brought to it in these ollas (water-jars), carried on the women's heads, it is not surprising that the boys' clothes are grimy and the girls have apparently never known what it is to wash their faces.

The ollas, which answer the purpose of family china and of kitchen-ware, are made by the Zuñi women from the clay of the river-bank. The wet earth is shaped by hand into jars of all sorts and sizes; the jars are then painted with gay colors, in queer patterns, and burned. It is a pretty sight, of an evening, to see the fires of the kilns dotted all over the terraces of the village. Each piece of pottery is shut up inside a little wall of chips, which are set on fire; when the chips are burned up, the article is baked and ready for use. The Zuñi mamas make not only the jars for family use, but also clay toys for the children, curious rattles, dolls' moccasins, owls, eagles, horses, and other childish treasures.

ON THE WAY TO FORT WINGATE ON THE WAY TO FORT WINGATE

The Zuñi has learned that American coffee and tobacco are better than Indian herb tea and willow bark. As he must have ready money in order to buy such articles, he has contrived various ways of earning a few reales (Spanish for shillings). When spring comes and the snows have melted, he collects the jars and bowls and trinkets that have been made during the winter, ties them up in the several corners of his blanket, and trudges off to market at Fort Wingate, forty miles away. Bows and arrows, and canes made from a singular cactus which grows near Zuñi, are also added to the stock in trade. If the Indian is lucky enough to own a burro, he and one of the boys mount the patient creature, while the family, big and little, with some of the neighbors, complete the party. Once in the garrison, the Zuñi family need only walk up and down to advertise their wares; the boys and girls help to carry the jars, while the babies follow. The group, with its bright blankets and gay pottery, soon attracts attention and sales begin on the sidewalks and verandas. Little is said by the Zuñi merchants, but when the bargaining is finished, they stand silent, waiting with a hungry look for the usual invitation to the kitchen. There, seated in a circle on the floor, they gratefully eat and drink whatever is set before them. Their store of words does not include "Thank you," but their faces brighten, and the older people politely shake hands with a "Bueno, bueno, señora" ("Good, good, madame"), while the babies munch and crumble their cake and cry for more, just as our own white babies do. The thoughtful mamas do not forget the miles of "home stretch" before the family, and wisely tuck away in their blankets the last bits of cheese and crackers.

When they have looked over the fort, tasted its bread and coffee, and sold their cargo, they cheerfully go home to their mud village and Indian habits. Old and young, they all are children, easily pleased, contented with things as they are, and quite certain in their own minds that the Zuñi way is the right way to live.