Waíhusiwa, a Zuñi Kyáqimâssi, 1903
Kyáqimâssi (“house-chief”) is the title of the Shiwanni of the north, the most important of all Zuñi priests. Waíhusiwa in his youth spent the summer and fall of 1886 in the East with Frank Hamilton Cushing, and was the narrator of much of the lore published in Cushing’s Zuñi Folk Tales. A highly spiritual man, he is one of the most steadfast of the Zuñi priests in upholding the traditions of the native religion.
Print caption by Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Portfolio XVII, Plate no. 612, 1926.
Zuñi, lineal descendant of the glamorous Seven Cities of Cibola so eagerly sought by the conquistadores, occupies a portion of the site of Halona, one of those all but prehistoric towns, a site on the north bank of the Zuñi river in the extreme western part of New Mexico not far from the Arizona boundary. Tillable lands of considerable area border the river-course (which is almost dry during the summer), and smaller valleys of pleasing aspect are traversed by the affluent creeks, Nutria, Pescado, and Ojo Caliente. Away from the valleys the surface is broken by low hills and beetling mesas, and from an elevation one descries in the east the dark, shadowy outline of the pine-forested Zuñi range. The lower levels are characterized by semi-desert conditions, but in the mountains are dells and meadows which, favored by the stored moisture of a fairly heavy snowfall, afford a refreshing contrast.
A hearsay report of the existence of populous villages in the north was brought to New Spain in 1536 by Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions, who near the end of their stupendous eight-year wanderings from the Texas gulf coast to the Sinaloa shores of the “South Sea” were told about them by the natives of Corazones valley in Sonora…
Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Text XVII, 85, 1926.
Left: Waíhusiwa as a young man and contributor to the book, Zuñi Folk Tales.
Right: Title page of Zuñi Folk Tales, 1931.
"My friends" [said the story-teller], "that is the way we live. I am very glad, otherwise I would not have told the story, for it is not exactly right that I should - I am very glad to demonstrate to you that we also have books; only they are not books with marks in them, but words in our hearts, which have been placed there by our ancients long ago, even so long ago as when the world was new and young, like unripe fruit. And I like you to know these things, because people say that the Zuñis are a people having no knowledge."
Cushing, Frank Hamilton (1857-1900), collector and translator. Zuñi Folk Tales. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931.