THE BROWN STORY-TELLERS
Long before Cadmus invented letters (and I fear Cadmus himself was as much of a myth as was his dragon's-teeth harvest), long before there were true historians or poets, there were fairy stories and story-tellers. And to-day, if we would seek the place where fairy stories most flourish, we must go, not to the nations whose countless educated minds are now devoted to story-telling for the young, but to peoples who have no books, no magazines, no alphabets--even no pictures.
Of all the aboriginal peoples that remain in North[paragraph continues]
America, none is richer in folk-lore than the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, who are, I believe, next to the largest of the native tribes left in the United States. They number nine thousand souls. They have nineteen "cities" (called pueblos, also) in this Territory, and seven in Arizona; and each has its little outlying colonies. They are not cities in size, it is true, for the largest (Zuñi) has only fifteen hundred people, and the smallest only about one hundred; but cities they are, nevertheless. And each city, with its fields, is a wee republic--twenty-six of the smallest, and perhaps the oldest, republics in the world; for they were already such when the first European eyes saw America. Each has its governor, its congress, its sheriffs, war-captains, and other officials who are elected annually; its laws, unwritten but unalterable, which are more respected and better enforced than the laws of any American community; its permanent and very comfortable houses, and its broad fields, confirmed first by Spain and later by patents of the United States.
The architecture of the Pueblo houses is quaint and characteristic. In the remote pueblos they are as many as six stories in height--built somewhat in the shape of an enormous terraced pyramid. The Pueblos along the Rio Grande however, have felt the influence of Mexican customs, and their houses have but one and two stories. All their buildings, including the huge, quaint church which each pueblo has, are made of stone plastered with adobe mud, or of great, sun-dried bricks of adobe. They are the most comfortable dwellings in the Southwest--cool in summer and warm in winter.
The Pueblos are divided into six tribes, each speaking a distinct language of its own. Isleta, the quaint village where I lived five years, in an Indian house, with Indian neighbors, and under Indian laws, is the southernmost of the pueblos, the next largest of them all, and the chief city of the Tée-wahn tribe. 1 All the languages of the Pueblo tribes are exceedingly difficult to learn.
Besides the cities now inhabited, the ruins of about fifteen hundred other pueblos--and some of them the noblest ruins in the country--dot the brown valleys and rocky mesa-tops of New Mexico. All these ruins are of stone, and are extremely interesting. The implacable savages by whom they were hemmed in made necessary the abandonment of hundreds of pueblos; and this great number of ruins does not indicate a vast ancient population. The Pueblos never counted above 30,000 souls.
The Pueblo Indians have for nearly two centuries given no trouble to the European sharers of their domain; but their wars of defense against the savage tribes who surrounded them completely--with the Apaches, Navajos, Comanches, and Utes--lasted until a very few years ago. They are valiant fighters for their homes, but prefer any honorable peace. They are not indolent, but industrious--tilling their farms, tending their stock, and keeping all their affairs in order. The women own the houses and their contents, and do not work outside; and the men control the fields and crops. An unhappy home is almost an unknown thing among them; and the universal affection of parents for
children and respect of children for parents are extraordinary. I have never seen a child unkindly treated, a parent saucily addressed, or a playmate abused, in all my long and intimate acquaintance with the Pueblos.
Isleta lies on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, upon the western bank of the Rio Grande, on a lava promontory which was once an island--whence the town takes its Spanish name. Its Tée-wahn title is Shee-eh-whíb-bak. 1 Its population, according to the census taken in 1891, is a little less than twelve hundred. It is nearly surrounded by fertile vineyards, orchards of peaches, apricots, apples, cherries, plums, pears, and quinces, and fields of corn, wheat, beans, and peppers, all owned by my dusky neighbors. The pueblo owns over one hundred and ten thousand acres of land, the greater part of which is reserved for pasturing horses and cattle.
The people of Isleta are, as a rule, rather short in stature, but strongly built. All have a magnificent depth and breadth of chest, and a beautifully confident poise of the head. Most of the men are very expert hunters, tireless runners, and fine horsemen. Besides ordinary hunting they have communal hunts--for rabbits in the spring, for antelope and deer in the fall--thoroughly organized, in which great quantities of game are killed.
Their amusements are many and varied. Aside from the numerous sacred dances of the year, their most important occasions, they have various races
which call for great skill and endurance, quaint social enjoyments, and games of many kinds, some of which are quite as difficult as chess. They are very fair weavers and pottery-makers. The women are good housewives, and most of them excellent seamstresses.
Yet, with all this progress in civilization, despite their mental and physical acuteness and their excellent moral qualities, the Tée-wahn are in some things but overgrown children. Their secret inner religion 1 is one of the most complicated systems on earth. Besides the highest deities, all the forces of nature, all animals, as well as many things that are inanimate, are invested by them with supernatural powers. They do not worship idols, but images and tokens of unseen powers are revered. They do nothing without some reason, generally a religious one, and whatever they observe they can explain in their own superstitious way. Every custom they have and every belief they own has a reason which to them is all-sufficient; and for each they have a story. There is no duty to which a Pueblo child is trained in which he has to be content with the bare command, "Do thus"; for each he learns a fairy tale designed to explain how people first came to know that it was right to do thus, and detailing the sad results which befell those who did otherwise.
It is from this wonderful folk-lore of the Tée-wahn that I have learned--after long study of the people, their language, customs, and myths--and
taken, unchanged and unembellished, this series of Indian fairy tales. I have been extremely careful to preserve, in my translations, the exact Indian spirit. An absolutely literal translation would be almost unintelligible to English readers, but I have taken no liberties with the real meaning.
The use of books is not only to tell, but to preserve; not only for to-day, but for ever. What an Indian wishes to perpetuate must be saved by tongue and ear, by "telling-down," as were the world's first histories and poems. This oral transmission from father to son is of sacred importance with the-natives. Upon it depends the preservation of the amusements, the history, the beliefs, the customs, and the laws of their nation. A people less observant, less accurate of speech and of memory, would make a sad failure of this sort of record; but with them it is a wonderful success. The story goes down from generation to generation, almost without the change of a word. The fact that it is told in fixed metrical form--a sort of blank verse--helps the memory.
Here in Isleta, the quaint pueblo of the Tée-wahn, I became deeply interested not only in the folk-stories themselves, but also in the manner of handing them down. Winter is the season for story-telling. Then the thirsty fields no longer cry for water, the irrigating- ditches have ceased to gnaw at their banks, and the men are often at leisure. Then, of an evening, if I go over to visit some vecino (neighbor), I am likely to find, in the great adobe living-room, a group of very old men and very young boys gathered about the queer little
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''AS I COME IN, KINDLY OLD TATA LORENSO IS JUST BEGINNING A STORY''
corner fireplace with its blazing upright sticks. They, too, have come a-visiting. The young men are gathered in another corner by themselves, eating roasted corn, and talking in whispers so as not to disturb their elders, for respect to age is the corner-stone of all Indian training. They are not required to listen to the stories, being supposed to know them already.
If in the far, sweet days when I stood at my grandmother's knee, and shivered over "Bluebeard," or thrilled at "Jack the Giant-killer," some one could have shown us a picture of me as I was to be listening to other fairy tales twenty-five years later, I am sure that her eyes would have opened wide as mine. Certainly neither of us ever dreamed that, thousands of miles from the old New England fireplace, when the dear figures that sat with me before its blazing forestick had long been dust, I would be sitting where I am to-night and listening to the strange, dark people who are around me.
The room is long and low, and overhead are dark, round rafters--the trunks of straight pine-trees that used to purr on the sides of the most famous mountain in New Mexico. The walls are white as snow, and you would never imagine that they are built only of cut sods, plastered over and whitewashed. The floor is of adobe clay, packed almost as hard as a rock, and upon it are bright-hued blankets, woven in strange figures. Along the walls are benches, with wool mattresses rolled up and laid upon them. By and by these will be spread upon the floor for beds, but just now they
serve as cushioned seats. Over in a corner are strange earthen jars of water, with little gourd dippers floating, and here and there upon the wall hang bows and arrows in sheaths of the tawny hide of the mountain lion; queer woven belts of red and green, and heavy necklaces of silver and coral, with charms of turquoise--the stone that stole its color from the sky.
There is a fireplace, too, and we are gathered all about it, a dozen or more--for I have become an old friend here. But it is not like the fireplace where the little sister and I used to roast our apples and pop our corn. A wee hearth of clay rises a few inches from the floor; a yard above it hangs the chimney, like a big white hood; and a little wall, four feet high, runs from it out into the room, that the wind from the outer door may not blow the ashes. There is no big front log, but three or four gnarled cedar sticks, standing on one end, crackle loudly.
Some of us are seated on benches, and upon the floor. His back against the wall, squats my host, who is just going to begin another fairy story. Such a wee, withered, wrinkled old man! It seems as though the hot winds of the Southwest had dried him as they dry the forgotten last year's apples that shrivel here and there upon lonely boughs. He must be a century old. His children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren are all represented here to-night. Yet his black eyes are like a hawk's, under their heavy brows, and his voice is musical and deep. I have never heard a more eloquent story-teller,
and I have heard some famous ones. I can tell you the words, but not the impressive tones, the animation of eye and accent, the eloquent gestures of this venerable Indian as he tells--what? An Indian telling fairy stories?
Yes, indeed. He is the very man to tell them. If this dusky old playground for wrinkles, who never saw the inside of a book, could write out all the fairy stories he knows, Webster's Unabridged Dictionary would hardly hold them. His father and his father's father, and so on back for countless centuries, have handed down these stories by telling, from generation to generation, just as Tata 1 Lorenso is telling his great-great-grandsons to-night. When these boys grow up, they will tell these stories to their sons and grandsons; and so the legends will pass on and on, so long as there shall be a Tée-wahn Indian left in all New Mexico.
But Lorenso is ready with his story. He pauses only to make a cigarette from the material in my pouch (they call me Por todos, because I have tobacco "for all"), explains for my benefit that this is a story of the beginning of Isleta, pats the head of the chubby boy at his knee, and begins again.
3:1 Spelled Tigua by Spanish authors.
4:1 The name means "Knife-laid-on-the-ground-to-play-whib." Whib is an aboriginal foot-race in which the runners have to carry a stick with their toes. The name was perhaps suggested by the knife-like shape of the lava ridge on which the pueblo is built.
5:1 For they are all devout, if not entirely understanding, members of a Christian church; but keep also much of their prehistoric faiths.