National Geographic : 1991 Oct
Now the name was given. It was not the name at the head of this story. It was my Tewa name, a thing of power. Usually such a name evokes either nature-the mountains or the hills or the season-or a ceremony under way at the time of the birth. By custom such a name is shared only within the community, and with those we know well. Thus, in the eyes of my Tewa peo ple, I was "brought in out of the darkness," where I had no identity. Thus I became a child of the Tewa. My world is the Tewa world. It is different from your world. Consider the question of the origin of Native American peoples. Archaeolo gists will tell you that we came at least 12,000 years ago from Asia, crossing the Bering land bridge, then spreading over the two American continents. These archaeologists have dug countless holes in the earth looking for spearpoints, bones, traces of fires; they have subjected these objects to sophisticated dating analysis-seeking to prove or disprove a hypothesis or date. I know of their work. I too have been to Soviet Asia and seen cave art and an old ceremonial costume remarkably similar to some found in America. But a Tewa is not so interested in the work of archaeologists. A Tewa is interested in our own story of our origin, for it holds all that we need to know about our people, and how one should live as a human. The story defines our society. It tells me who I am, where I came from, the bound aries of my world, what kind of order exists within it; how suffering, evil, and death came into this world; and what is likely to happen to me when I die. Let me tell you that story: Yonder in the north there is singing on the lake. Cloud maidens dance on the shore. There we take our being. Yonder in the north cloud beings rise. They ascend onto cloud blossoms. There we take our being. Yonder in the north rain stands over the land. . . . Yonder in the north standsforth at twilight the arc of a rainbow. There we have our being. Our ancestors came from the north. Theirs was not a journey to be mea sured in centuries, for it was as much a journey of the spirit as it was a migra tion of a people. The Tewa know not when the journey southward began or when it ended, but we do know where it began, how it proceeded, and where it ended. We are unconcerned about time in its historical dimensions, but we will recall in endless detail the features of the 12 places our ancestors stopped. We point to these places to show that the journey did indeed take place. This is the only proof a Tewa requires. And each time a Tewa recalls a place where they paused, for whatever length of time, every feature of the earth and sky comes vividly to life, and the journey itself lives again. T THE BEGINNING of all beginnings our ancestors came up out of the earth, until they were living beneath Sandy Place Lake to the north. The world under the lake was like this one, but dark. Spirits, people, and animals lived together; death was unknown. Among the spirits were the first mothers of all the Tewa, known as Blue Corn Woman Near to Summer and White Corn Maiden Near to Ice. These mothers asked one of the men present to go forth and explore the way by which the people might leave the lake. After many adventures and struggles he returned to the people, announcing his arrival with the call of a fox. He came now as Mountain Lion or Hunt Chief. The people rejoiced, saying, "We have been accepted." They left the lake and entered the land. That the Tewa see all life as beginning within the earth, like the corn plant In a distant time and place-a lake "farto the north"-our ancestors originated, the Tewa tell their children. Artist Felipe Davalos transformed the vivid oral tradition into this imagina tive painting. The story proceeds: In the dark within earth, Blue Corn Woman Near to Summer and White Corn Maiden Near to Ice ask a man to explore how the people might emerge. When he travels to the "above," predatory birds and animals attack but then befriend him. With their gifts of weapons and clothing, he returns to his people as the Hunt Chief and cre ates a Summer (Blue Corn) Chief and a Winter (White Corn) Chief, here flanked by war gods. Each chief will lead the people part of the year. (And so it is today.) Next, pairs of brothers are sent to explore in all directions: The two who move upward find a rainbow and guide their people to the light. But the people must return to the lake for essential help: a medicine man to counter evil, sacred painted clowns to banish sadness, and a scalp chief for success in war, with a wom en's society to assist him.