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Dances & Customs of the Indians of the South West

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Dances & Customs of the Indians of the South West
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): John G. Bourke
Date Published: 2012/04
Page Count: 168
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-796-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-795-1

Seminal works on the tribes of the South West by one of its earliest authorities

The author of this book is a well known and highly regarded author on the history of the American south-west during the 19th century. His works—On the Border with Crook and An Apache Campaign in the Sierra Madre (both published by Leonaur)—concerning the wars fought by the United States Army against the Apache Indian tribes, and based on his experiences whilst a serving cavalry officer on General Crook’s staff, are rightly considered classics of the subject. Those who know anything about the author know that Bourke not only fought the Apache and served with Apache scouts but also developed an abiding affection for them as a people and an interest in the culture and customs of the indigenous Indian tribes of the region in general. This resulted in the writing of several small works of ethnography which have been gathered together in this special Leonaur edition—possibly for the first time.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

To the accompaniment of an oblong drum, and of the rattles and bells spoken of, they shuffled into the long room, crammed with spectators of both sexes, and of all sizes and ages. Their song was apparently a ludicrous reference to everything and everybody in sight, Cushing, Mendeleff, and myself receiving special attention, to the uncontrolled merriment of the red-skinned listeners. I had taken my station at one side of the room, seated upon the banquette, and having in front of me a rude bench or table upon which was a small coal-oil lamp. I suppose that in the halo diffused by the feeble light and in my “stained-glass attitude” I must have borne some resemblance to the pictures of saints hanging upon the walls of old Mexican churches; to such a fancied resemblance I at least attribute the performance which followed.<br>
The dancers suddenly wheeled into line, threw themselves on their knees before my table, and with extravagant beatings of breast began an outlandish but faithful mockery of a Mexican Catholic congregation at vespers. One bawled out a parody upon the Pater Noster, another mumbled along in the manner of an old man reciting the rosary, while the fellow with the India-rubber coat jumped up and began a passionate exhortation or sermon, which for mimetic fidelity was inimitable. This kept the audience laughing with sore sides for some moments, until at a signal from the leader the dancers suddenly countermarched out of the room, in single file, as they had entered.<br>
An interlude followed of ten minutes, during which the dusty floor was sprinkled by men who spat water forcibly from their mouths. The Nehue-Cue re-entered; this time two of their number were stark naked. Their singing was very peculiar and sounded like a chorus of chimney-sweeps, and their dance became a stiff-legged jump, with heels kept twelve inches apart. After they had ambled around the room two or three times, Cushing announced in the Zuni language that a “feast” was ready for them, at which they loudly roared their approbation and advanced to strike hands with the munificent Americanos, addressing us in a funny gibberish of broken Spanish, English, and Zuni. They then squatted upon the ground and consumed with zest large ollas full of tea, and dishes of hard tack and sugar. As they were about finishing this a squaw entered, carrying an olla of urine, of which the filthy brutes drank heartily.<br>
I refused to believe the evidence of my senses, and asked Cushing if that were really human urine. “Why, certainly,” replied he, “and here comes more of it.” This time, it was a large tin-pailfull, not less than two gallons. I was standing by the squaw as she offered this strange and abominable refreshment. She made a motion with her hand to indicate to me that it was urine, and one of the old men repeated the Spanish word mear (to urinate), while my sense of smell demonstrated the truth of their statements.<br>
The dancers swallowed great draughts, smacked their lips, and, amid the roaring merriment of the spectators, remarked that it was very, very good. The clowns were now upon their mettle, each trying to surpass his neighbours in feats of nastiness. One swallowed a fragment of corn-husk, saying he thought it very good and better than bread; his vis-à-vis attempted to chew and gulp down a piece of filthy rag. Another expressed regret that the dance had not been held out of doors, in one of the plazas; there they could show what they could do. There they always made it a point of honour to eat the excrement of men and dogs.<br>
For my own part I felt satisfied with the omission, particularly as the room, stuffed with one hundred Zunis, had become so foul and filthy as to be almost unbearable. The dance, as good luck would have it, did not last many minutes, and we soon had a chance to run into the refreshing night air.<br>
To this outline description of a disgusting rite I have little to add. The Zunis, in explanation, stated that the Nehue-Cue were a Medicine Order which held these dances from time to time to inure the stomachs of members to any kind of food, no matter how revolting. This statement may seem plausible enough when we understand that religion and medicine among primitive races are almost always one and the same thing, or, at least, so closely intertwined that it is a matter of difficulty to decide where one begins and the other ends.