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Week of May 11th: Director's Letter

Week of May 11th: Director's Letter

A Message from Shelby Tisdale

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

I hope my message this week finds you well and staying safe during these trying times. Even though the Center of Southwest Studies remains closed we have explored new ways to keep you informed and engaged through Facebook, Instagram, and emails. We now have our own YouTube channel where you can see our interviews with the two curators of the PIVOT exhibit. Over the weekend I received a text from my dear friend, Arden Kucate, who is a Zuni tribal councilman and served on the Indian Advisory Board when I was the director of the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. As you may know the Native nations in New Mexico and Arizona have been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 virus. Fortunately, Mr. Kucate and his loved ones are doing well and staying safe. Thinking of my many friends at Zuni brought back memories of one of my trips to Zuni in the summer of 1985. I was working at the Indian Arts Research Center at the School of American Research in Santa Fe and one of my volunteers, Marianne Kocks, and I went to visit the Nahohai family at Zuni. The Nahohai’s were known for their beautiful pottery and we wanted to get a sneak preview of what they were making for the upcoming Santa Fe Indian Market. As we arrived in Zuni and started to go across the bridge on our way to the Nahohai’s home we were stopped as a group of Zuni men led by a giant Shalako Katsina came across the bridge into the old part of the village. The men were dressed in white and carried live turtles in their hands. They were returning from a pilgrimage possibly to the Lyman Lake area in Arizona. We then drove on to the see the Nahohai’s and when we arrived, they told us that we should stay because after these men had lunch, they would be changing into their dance regalia and would be dancing in one of the plazas. We couldn’t pass this up, so we ate our picnic lunch and then to the plaza where the dance was to be held. The Nahohai’s had also suggested we come back to their house for dinner after the dance. The dancers were bare chested and wore embroidered kilts and sashes and moccasins. Colorful parrot feathers were tied to their hair and each man held live turtles in one hand and gourd rattles in the other. They danced in long lines in the plaza and sang in a soft rhythmic way while shaking their rattles. The little Fire God danced in front of an altar inside one of the houses. The Koyemshi (Mudheads) provided cues for the dancers and served as clowns on occasion. After the dance we went back to the Nahohai’s for dinner. A Koyemshi came into the house and everyone stood up. Milford Nahohai was sitting next to me and he said that Marianne and I should remain seated. We watched as each family member went up to greet the Koyemshi and he blessed each one with his prayers. It was then that I realized how important the Koyemshi are in terms of their spiritual role in the community. After dinner there was another dance and because it was getting so late the Nahohai’s invited up to spend the night at their home. I slept in a room that had a Katsina mask hanging on the back of the door. I won’t go into the dream I had that night but let’s just say it was unlike anything I had ever dreamt before or since. Some dreams seem so real that you are never sure if certain things happened for real or not.


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