The story of Sky City

Peter Nabokov reads from How the World Moves: The Odyssey of an Amer­i­can In­dian Fam­ily

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Ori­gin myths can have a deep im­pact on peo­ple’s per­cep­tions of the world. Some be­lieve lit­er­ally that the world was cre­ated in seven days and can­not square this with the the­ory of evo­lu­tion. Oth­ers read their myths as po­etry and fo­cus on the spirit of the myth rather than its let­ter. The Ori­gin Myth of Acoma

Pue­blo (Pen­guin Clas­sics) can be read in dif­fer­ent ways: As a myth, it is star­tlingly ac­ces­si­ble and seem­ingly whole; as a prose poem, its nar­ra­tive is mus­cu­lar and its lan­guage is di­rect and even con­tem­po­rary.

To­day, the Smith­so­nian Castle in Washington, D.C. is a visi­tor cen­ter for tourists, but in 1928, the Bureau of Amer­i­can Eth­nol­ogy was on the sec­ond floor. That year, for rea­sons that aren’t en­tirely clear, sixty-seven-year-old Ed­ward Proc­tor Hunt knocked on the door and en­riched world mythol­ogy by nar­rat­ing to some green­horn eth­nol­o­gists his Pue­blo’s cre­ation and mi­gra­tion story. In an in­tro­duc­tion to this book, editor Peter Nabokov ex­plains the lim­i­ta­tions of this ver­sion of the myth. Hunt’s son trans­lated his fa­ther’s phrases into English sen­tences as they went along. Be­cause no tran­scrip­tion was made of the el­der Hunt recit­ing the mythol­ogy in his na­tive Kere­san, not only was some of the po­etry lost, but scholars also don’t have a Kere­san ver­sion to ref­er­ence. The staff didn’t no­tate Hunt’s rhythms or ges­tures while he was nar­rat­ing, and so it’s hard to dis­cern where the pauses are in the nar­ra­tive.

While these are losses, it is some con­so­la­tion that the lan­guage in which the myth is told is clear and it gives us a taste of the oral tra­di­tion: At times, it feels as though some­one is telling us the story dur­ing, say, a camp­ing trip. And there’s still enough fla­vor in the lan­guage to en­gage the imag­i­na­tion. The Ori­gin Myth

of Acoma Pue­blo is a jewel of a book, and Nabokov has edited with sen­si­tiv­ity, in­tu­it­ing the rhythms of the sec­tions, and thus al­most mak­ing up for the mark­ers the Smith­so­nian didn’t tran­scribe. The book gives us a sharp pic­ture of the mytho­log­i­cal world­view of the Acoma peo­ple and gives a ca­sual reader a deeper un­der­stand­ing of fig­ures such as the Katsina and the Koshari (sa­cred clown).

For the Acoma peo­ple, two supernatural sis­ters are the moth­ers, so to speak, of the world. Iatiku, the el­der sis­ter, is a sym­pa­thetic fig­ure — she cre­ated an or­derly and func­tion­ing world for her peo­ple, with the guid­ance of a spirit, Thought Woman. Iatiku then de­vised games and dances for her peo­ple so they could also en­joy them­selves. Some of the younger peo­ple made fun of her and in­stead de­vised their own games. She was hurt, and some time later, she van­ished. She rightly re­al­ized that her legacy would best be pre­served as a dis­tant fig­ure. The story of the War Twins il­lus­trates what hap­pens when strength and power run amok. In the end, like Iatiku, the twins also dis­ap­pear and be­come the stuff of leg­end.

The Ori­gin Myth of Acoma Pue­blo is be­ing pub­lished along­side a bi­og­ra­phy of Hunt and his fam­ily by Nabokov, who will read at Col­lected Works Book­store (202 Gal­is­teo St.) on Thurs­day, Sept. 24. How The World

Moves (Vik­ing) is a for­mi­da­ble ti­tle for any au­thor to live up to, and what Nabokov gives us is a com­pre­hen­sively re­searched bi­o­graph­i­cal epic. There was some­thing un­con­ven­tional about Hunt right from birth. It’s not clear who his fa­ther was — maybe he was a His­panic man. Hunt was named Day Break and was brought up by a step­fa­ther, a medicine man in Acoma Pue­blo. When Day Break was ini­ti­ated into the Katsina So­ci­ety and the Koshari So­ci­ety, he was also told por­tions of the Pue­blo’s ori­gin myth. Though he had a tra­di­tional child­hood and was os­ten­si­bly be­ing trained to fol­low his fa­ther’s vo­ca­tion, in 1880, a Pres­by­te­rian mis­sion­ary re­cruited him, among 30 chil­dren of the poor­est mem­bers of the Pue­blo, to at­tend a new In­dian board­ing school in

Top left, Acoma street with lad­ders, bread ovens, dry­ing meat, and fire­wood, circa 1890, photo Ben Wittick; cour­tesy Palace of the Gover­nors (NMHM/DCA), Neg. No. 01644 Top right, Acoma sym­bolic land­scape; Shirin Ra­ban Right, Hunt’s store, Acomita; Hunt Fam­ily-Peter Nabokov Col­lec­tion, Cen­ter for South­west Re­search, Univer­sity Li­braries, Univer­sity of New Mexico Bot­tom left, En­trance to Acoma Pue­blo, circa 1880, photo Ben Wittick; cour­tesy Palace of the Gover­nors (NMHM/DCA), Neg. No. 01644 Left, In full re­galia, the Hunts at the Smith­so­nian, 1928, from left, Philip Sanchez, Wil­bert Hunt, Ed­ward Proc­tor Hunt, Marie Hunt, and Henry “Wolf Robe” Hunt; Na­tional An­thro­po­log­i­cal Ar­chives, Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion Al­bu­querque. Day Break’s par­ents were re­luc­tant to send him, but ap­par­ently he vol­un­teered to go, and the de­ci­sion changed his life.

Ed­ward Proc­tor Hunt isn’t an av­er­age name for a Pue­blo man. From a box of do­na­tions sent to his school, Day Break got a coat: In its pocket was a Bi­ble with a note that who­ever re­ceived this book could take its donor’s name. From then on, Day Break be­came Ed­ward Proc­tor Hunt. He stud­ied and also helped build the schools he at­tended, from the board­ing school in Al­bu­querque to St. Cather­ine’s in Santa Fe. His time in school ir­re­vo­ca­bly shaped him. As a child, he’d been ini­ti­ated into the sa­cred so­ci­eties of his Pue­blo, but af­ter his school years, he seems to have leaned mainly on the Bi­ble for spir­i­tual guid­ance.

When he re­turned to Acoma, he wasn’t the same youth. He was chas­tised — and beaten — in a kiva by el­ders, but that only wors­ened mat­ters. He lost faith in his Pue­blo re­li­gion. It is easy to see how the pol­icy of ed­u­cat­ing Pue­blo chil­dren in the Western tra­di­tion tore the fab­ric of Pue­blo life from the in­side out, di­vid­ing mem­bers into con­ser­va­tives and pro­gres­sives. As an adult, Hunt would be­long to two worlds, and not fully to ei­ther one.

Hunt is an in­ter­est­ing enigma. At his heart he seems to have been a prac­ti­cal man. As a young man, he was in the com­pany of pioneers, men like his brother-in-law Solomon Bibo, who opened a trad­ing post that be­came a com­mu­nity hub. Hunt learned store-keep­ing from Bibo, and af­ter Bibo left for Cal­i­for­nia, Hunt opened his own trad­ing post near Acomita and be­came a greeter and sto­ry­teller for the out­side world, in­clud­ing the leg­endary pho­tog­ra­pher Ed­ward S. Curtis. His suc­cess­ful store at the junction of Acoma Pue­blo aroused the envy of his cash-poor Pue­blo neigh­bors. That he didn’t par­tic­i­pate in kiva cer­e­monies, or al­low his sons to do so, made him an ob­ject of sus­pi­cion. Even­tu­ally, a witch at­tack— a witch-in-train­ing tried to kill his youngest daugh­ter, Josephine — con­vinced him it was time to move on. In essence, Hunt and his fam­ily were all but kicked out of Acoma Pue­blo.

There is some sat­is­fac­tion in know­ing that one son, Wil­bert Hunt, was able to re­turn to Acoma Pue­blo in his old age. He died there, six weeks shy of turn­ing one hun­dred. Wil­bert was one of Nabokov’s chief sources, so it’s easy to see why the au­thor de­votes a gen­er­ous num­ber of pages to him, but the story me­an­ders when Nabokov be­gins to fol­low Hunt’s

sons. How the World Moves is not only Hunt’s story, it is also a history of the time he lived in and the so­cioe­co­nomic forces that shaped that time. Still, this would have been a more taut nar­ra­tive if some of the many de­tours had been edited out.

Hunt found his fam­ily a home in Santa Ana Pue­blo, but be­cause of his con­tin­ued re­luc­tance to par­tic­i­pate in cer­e­mo­nial ac­tiv­i­ties, the Santa Ana el­ders also found ex­cuses to push him out. Even­tu­ally, Hunt be­came an ur­ban In­dian and set­tled in Al­bu­querque with his fam­ily. “Set­tled” is the wrong word, per­haps, since he toured ac­tively with his fam­ily dur­ing his later years. The Hunt fam­ily joined a Wild West act in Ok­la­homa, where they learned to play Plains In­di­ans, and in this guise, they toured Europe. Later, they par­layed the know-how and savvy they’d ac­crued into their own fam­ily act, which they took to Boy Scout groups, church groups, and other venues across the coun­try.

Af­ter their re­turn from Europe, the Hunts stopped off at the Smith­so­nian, where Hunt re­cited the Acoma Pue­blo ori­gin myth. For­tu­nately, his fam­ily was with him. Two sons, Henry Wayne “Wolf Robe” and Wil­bert, helped with the trans­la­tion. An adopted son, Philip “Sil­ver­tongue” Sanchez, sang the songs, which were recorded on wax cylin­ders. The real mys­tery is why Hunt de­cided to tell his Pue­blo’s myth to the out­side world, and why at this time. These ques­tions are not tack­led as fully in the bi­og­ra­phy as one might hope, partly be­cause Hunt didn’t leave be­hind many clues.

We don’t know what went through Hunt’s mind when he de­cided to re­cite the ori­gin myth. Jour­nal-writ­ing was not a habit Pue­blo peo­ple in­dulged in. Hunt seems to have nar­rated an 11-page bi­og­ra­phy to an­thro­pol­o­gist Les­lie White in 1926. His daugh­ter typed up some mem­o­ries in 1947 be­fore his death, but those rec­ol­lec­tions are about the time when he left his Pue­blo to go to school. There are the rec­ol­lec­tions of his sons, but they per­tain mainly to Hunt’s life rather than his mind. And then there is the cre­ation story that he re­cited.

To un­der­stand how he put the story to­gether, imag­ine Hunt as a bril­liant film editor. The footage of the story was given to him dur­ing his ini­ti­a­tions into sa­cred Pue­blo life and also, pre­sum­ably, when he heard sto­ries from his medicine-man fa­ther. But what he made of these sto­ries, how he se­lected and spliced to­gether dif­fer­ent takes and se­quences into a co­her­ent nar­ra­tive, and how he was able to re­cite the myth whole to strangers over the course of a few days, is an in­cred­i­ble feat. At the time, Hunt may have been wor­ried about dis­pleas­ing his Pue­blo by di­vulging this myth to the world, but to­day, this story is un­doubt­edly a sig­nif­i­cant of­fer­ing to world mythol­ogy at large, and hope­fully, to the younger peo­ple of his Pue­blo.

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