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Full text of "The urine dance of the Zuni Indians of New Mexico"

99 




3D 315 



THE URINE DANCE 



OF THE 



ZUNI INDIANS OF NEW MEXICO 



NOT FOR GENERAL PERUSAL 



THE URINE DANCE 



OF THE 



ZUNI INDIANS OF NEW MEXICO 

BY 

CAPTAIN JOHN G. BOURKE 

THIRD CAVALRY, U. S. ARMY 
FROM THE ETHNOLOGICAL NOTES COLLECTED BY HIM 

UNDER THE DIRECTION OF 

LIEUTENANT GENERAL P. H. SHERIDAN, U. S. ARMY 

IN 1881. 



PRIVATELY PRINTED 

1920 



/- 



THE URINE DANCE OF THE ZUNIS 

by 
JOHN G. BOURKE, Captain, Third Cavalry, U. S. Army 



On the evening of November 17, 1881, during my stay in 
the village of Zuni, New Mexico, the Nehue-Cue, one of 
secret orders of the Zunis, sent word to Mr. F. Gushing 
(whose guest I was) that they would do us the unusual 
honor of coming to our house to give us one of their char 
acteristic dances, which, Gushing said, was unprecedented. 

The squaws of the Governor s family put the long "living 
room" to rights, sweeping the floor and sprinkling it with 
water to lay the dust. Soon after dark the dancers entered; 
they were twelve in number, two being boys. The center 
men were naked with the exception of black breech-clouts of 
archaic style. The hair was worn naturally with a bunch 
of wild turkey feathers tied in front, and one of corn-husks 
over each ear. White bands were painted across the face 
at eyes and mouth. Each wore a collar or neckcloth of 
black woolen stuff. Broad white bands, one inch wide, 
were painted around the body at the navel, around the arms, 
the legs at mid-thighs and knees. Tortoise-shell rattles 
hung from the right knee. Blue woolen footless leggins 
were worn with low-cut moccasins, and in the right hand 
each waved a wand made of an ear of corn, trimmed with 
the plumage of the wild turkey and macaw. The others 
were arrayed in old cast-off American army clothing, and 
all wore white cotton night-caps, with corn-husks twisted 
into the hair at top of head and ears. Several wore, in addi 
tion to the tortoise-shell rattles, strings of brass sleigh-bells 
at knees. One was more grotesquely attired than the rest in 
a long India-rubber gossamer "over all" and a pair of 
goggles, painted white, over his eyes. His general "get-up" 
was a spirited take-off upon a Mexican priest. Another 
was a very good counterfeit of a young woman. 

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 



M261 150 



THE URINE DANCE OF THE 



ages. Their song was apparently a ludicrous reference to 
everything and everybody in sight, Gushing, Mendeleff, and 
myself receiving special attention, to the uncontrolled merri 
ment 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 dif 
fused 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. 

The dancers suddenly wheeled into line, threw themselves 
on their knees before my table, and with extravagant beat 
ings 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. 

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, Gushing 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 



ZUNI INDIANS OF NEW MEXICO 



sugar. As they were about finishing this a squaw entered, 
carrying an "olla" of urine, of which the filthy brutes drank 
heartily. 

I refused to believe the evidence of my senses, and asked 
Gushing if that were really human urine. "Why, certain 
ly," replied he, "and here comes more of it." This time, 
it was a large tin pail-full, 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. 

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 neighbors in feats of 
nastiness. One swallowed a fragment of corn-husk, saying 
he thought it very good and better than bread; his vis-a-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 
honor to eat the excrement of men and dogs. 

For my own part I felt satisfied with the omission, par 
ticularly 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. 

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. 



THE URINE DANCE OF THE 



Religion in its dramatic ceremonial preserves, to some 
extent, the history of the particular race in which it dwells. 
Among nations of high development, miracles, moralities, 
and passion plays have taught, down to our own day, in 
object lessons, the sacred history in which the spectators be 
lieved. Some analogous purpose may have been held in 
view by the first organizers of the urine dance. In their 
early history, the Zunis and other Pueblos suffered from 
constant warfare with savage antagonists and with each 
other. From the position of their villages, long sieges must 
of necessity have been sustained, in which sieges famine and 
disease, no doubt, were the allies counted upon by the invest 
ing forces. We may have in this abominable dance a tradi 
tion of the extremity to which the Zunis of the long ago were 
reduced at some unknown period. A similar catastrophe 
in the history of the Jews is intimated in II Kings, xviii, 27: 
"But Rab-shakeh said unto them: hath my master sent me 
to thy master, and to thee to speak these words? hath he not 
sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat 
their own dung and drink their own piss with you?" In the 
course of my studies, I came across a reference to a very 
similar dance, occurring among one of the fanatical sects of 
the Arabian Bedouins, but the journal in which it was re 
corded, the London Lancet, I think, was unfortunately mis 
laid. 

As illustrative of the tenacity with which such vile cere 
monial, once adopted by a sect, will adhere to it and become 
ingrafted upon its life, long after the motives which have 
suggested or commended it have vanished in oblivion, let 
me quote a few lines from Max Muller s "Chips from a 
German Workshop," "Essay upon the Parsees," pp. 163, 
164, Scribner s edition, 1869: 

"The Nirang is the urine of cow, ox, or she-goat, and the 
rubbing of it over the face and hands is the second thing a 
Parsee does after getting out of bed. Either before apply 
ing the Nirang to the face and hands, or while it remains on 
the hands after being applied, he should not touch anything 
directly with his hands ; but, in order to wash out the Nirang, 



ZUNI INDIANS OF NEW MEXICO 



he either asks somebody else to pour water on his hands, or 
resorts to the device of taking hold of the pot through the 
intervention of a piece of cloth, such as a handkerchief, or 
his sudra, I. e., his blouse. He first pours water on his hand, 
then takes the pot in that hand and washes his other hand, 
face, and feet." (Quoting from Dadabhai-Nadrosi s De 
scription of the Parsees.) 

Continuing, Max Muller says: "Strange as this process 
of purification may appear, it becomes perfectly disgusting 
when we are told that women, after childbirth, have not 
only to undergo this sacred ablution, but actually to drink a 
little of the Nirangj and that the same rite is imposed on 
children at the time of their investiture with the Sudra and 
Koshti, the badges of the Zoroastrian faith." 



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