Mixed Me­dia

Chip Col­well lec­tures on re­claim­ing Na­tive Amer­i­can cul­ture

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

“Plun­dered Skulls and Stolen Spir­its: In­side the Fight to Re­claim Na­tive Amer­ica’s Cul­ture” is the ti­tle of a Mon­day, March 13, talk in Santa Fe by au­thor Chip Col­well — and also the ti­tle of his new­est book. Pub­lished this month by Univer­sity of Chicago Press, it fo­cuses on four ob­jects, from cre­ation to repa­tri­a­tion: the scalp of a mas­sacre vic­tim, a cer­e­mo­nial blan­ket, a skele­ton from a tribe that some con­sider to be ex­tinct, and a sculp­ture that is thought to be a liv­ing god.

That last one is the ahayu:da, a large Zuni wood sculp­ture that is carved “typ­i­cally dur­ing the win­ter sol­stice,” Col­well said. “And they be­lieve that through the cer­e­monies, life is breathed into it, so the war god ac­tu­ally be­comes a liv­ing be­ing that pro­tects the Zuni home­land and keeps the uni­verse in bal­ance.” By an­cient cus­tom, the deities are placed on shrines on the Zuni land­scape.

In the 1880s, an­thro­pol­o­gists be­gan to col­lect the fig­ures, and in 1978, Zuni re­li­gious lead­ers started try­ing to re­claim them from Amer­i­can mu­se­ums. “The Zuni was one of the first tribes to sys­tem­at­i­cally seek the re­turn of a cer­e­mo­nial and sa­cred ob­ject, and they were really quite suc­cess­ful,” Col­well said. “In 1979, they re­ceived the first two from the Den­ver Art Mu­seum and then re­ceived dozens more from mu­se­ums, but it was not un­til the 1990 fed­eral Na­tive Amer­i­can Graves and Pro­tec­tion Act that Zuni ef­fec­tively got back ev­ery one — 106 so far.”

The next challenge for Zuni and Col­well, who is as­sist­ing the tribe, is the recla­ma­tion of ahayu:da fig­ures from at least seven mu­se­ums in Europe. There is no in­ter­na­tional treaty that com­pels those in­sti­tu­tions to re­turn them, and at this point only one, the Na­tional Mu­seum of Eth­nol­ogy in Lei­den, the Nether­lands, has se­ri­ously con­sid­ered repa­tri­a­tion. “These mu­se­ums that are thou­sands of miles away don’t un­der­stand the Zuni cul­ture and see them­selves as the pro­tec­tors of art on the world stage. But I do think it will hap­pen,” Col­well said. “It’s just a mat­ter of en­gag­ing the mu­se­ums and help­ing them un­der­stand that these are im­por­tant to the Zu­nis’ cul­tural sur­vival.”

Col­well is se­nior cu­ra­tor of an­thro­pol­ogy at the Den­ver Mu­seum of Na­ture & Sci­ence and found­ing edi­tor-in-chief of SAPI­ENS, an on­line mag­a­zine launched in 2016 with the mis­sion of bring­ing an­thro­pol­ogy to the public. His March 13 talk, which be­gins at 6 p.m., is part of the An­cient Sites and An­cient Sto­ries se­ries pre­sented by South­west Sem­i­nars (505-466-2775). Ad­mis­sion is $12 at the door, Ho­tel Santa Fe (1501 Paseo de Per­alta). — Paul Wei­de­man

Perry Tsa­di­asi leaving the Lab­o­ra­tory of An­thro­pol­ogy in Santa Fe with ahayu:da fig­ures fol­low­ing their repa­tri­a­tion. Tsa­di­asi is a Zuni bow priest who over­sees the care of the carved fig­ures, whose Zuni name means “keeper of the sky”; photo by T. J. Fer­gu­son

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