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Yale University Press
Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian / Edition 2

Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian / Edition 2

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First published in 1942, Sun Chief is the autobiography of Hopi Chief Don C. Talayesva and offers a unique insider view on Hopi society. In a new Foreword, Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert situates the book within contemporary Hopi studies, exploring how scholars have used the book since its publication more than seventy years ago.

Editorial Reviews

Armin W. Geertz

Sun Chief is one of the great ethnographic autobiographies of Native American studies. Don Talayesva’s story is dramatic, humorous and insightful. This second edition contains a foreword written by Hopi scholar, Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, known for his excellent historical work on Hopi culture and education. He situates Sun Chief in the context of Hopi and white interaction and conflict, and raises important issues from a Hopi perspective.”—Armin W. Geertz, Aarhus University

Sheilah Nicholas

“Sun Chief is a seminal contribution to Hopi studies.  It has and continues to inform and inspire today’s emerging Hopi scholars who can expand on its relevancy to critical issues and events in contemporary Hopi society. More importantly, Gilbert points out that the field will benefit from “a new direction” in the developing scholarship that promises to forefront the Hopi view, experience and voice.”—Sheilah Nicholas (Hopi), University of Arizona

Tisa Wenger

"This is an indispensable new edition of the classic Hopi autobiography. Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert’s foreword brilliantly situates Talayesva’s story in scholarly as well as Hopi contexts, providing fresh insights into the achievements and limitations of the text—and of Hopi scholarship since its publication."—Tisa Wenger, author of We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom.

Peter M. Whiteley

Don Talayesva’s Sun Chief remains one of the most remarkable “as-told-to” Native autobiographies: an incisive (self-)portrait of early 20th century Hopi life. Matt Sakiestewa Gilbert’s critically-nuanced foreword sensitively reinscribes the text within and against an emerging canon of autochthonous Hopi scholarship.”—Peter M. Whiteley, Curator of North American Ethnology, American Museum of Natural History

Robert Warrior

"In sharp and wonderful ways, Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert's new foreword provides a fresh perspective on how Hopi people regard this classic autobiography. His compassionate but critical reading of a fellow Hopi writer's work is eminently teachable and deeply thoughtful."— Robert Warrior (Osage), author of The People and the Word: Reading Native Nonfiction and Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300191035
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 10/13/2013
Series: The Lamar Series in Western History
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 520
Sales rank: 1,114,437
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sun Chief

The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian



Copyright © 1942 Yale University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-19103-5


Twins Twisted into One

* * *

WHEN WE WERE WITHIN our mother's womb, we happened to hurt her. She has told me how she went to a medicine man in her pain. He worked on her, felt her breasts and belly, and told her that we were twins. She was surprised and afraid. She said, "But I want only one baby." "Then I will put them together," replied the doctor. He took some corn meal outside the door and sprinkled it to the sun. Then he spun some black and white wool, twisted the threads into a string, and tied it around my mother's left wrist. It is a powerful way to unite babies. We twins began, likewise, to twist ourselves into one child. My mother also helped to bring us together by her strong wish for only one baby.

My mother has described how carefully she carried me. She slept with my father right along, so that he could have intercourse with her and make me grow. It is like irrigating a crop: if a man starts to make a baby and then stops, his wife has a hard time. She had intercourse only with my father so that I could have an easy birth and resemble him.

She refused to hold another woman's child on her lap and took care not to breathe into the face of small children and cause them to waste away. She had nothing to do with the tanning of skins or the dyeing of anything lest she spoil the goods and also injure me. When she grew big, she was careful to sit in such a way that other people would not walk in front of her and thus make my birth difficult. She would not look at the serpent images displayed in the ceremonies, lest I turn myself into a water snake while still in her womb and raise up my head at the time of birth, instead of lying with head down seeking a way out.

My father has related how he took care to injure no animal and thus damage my body. If he had cut off the foot of any living creature, I might have been born without a hand or with a clubfoot. Any cruel treatment of a dumb beast would have endangered my life. If he had drawn a rope too tightly around the neck of a sheep or burro, it might have caused my navel cord to loop itself about my neck and strangle me in birth. Even if I had been able to free myself from the cord, I might have remained half choked and short of breath for a long time.

Whenever I made movements in the womb, my mother was encouraged to expect an early and easy birth. She worked hard at cooking, grinding corn, and bringing water, so that her body would be in trim for labor. My father fed her the raw flesh of a weasel and rubbed the skin on her body so that I could be active and come out swiftly, in the way that sly little animal slips through a hole.

I have heard that I had a hard birth. It began in the early evening of a day in March, 1890. Since the exact date was not remembered, I could never have a birthday. When my mother's face darkened and she felt the expected pains, she settled down on the earthen floor in the third-story room of her Sun Clan house. She had sent my five-year-old sister Tuvamainim with my little brother Namostewa to a neighbor's house. Namostewa was about two years old and still nursing.

My grandfather (mother's father, Homikniwa of the Lizard Clan), who lived in the same house with my mother and father, has told me how he climbed the ladder to the third floor where my mother lay. There he rubbed her belly and turned me straight to come out. The power in his hands helped her womb. His presence encouraged her, too, because he was the best medicine man in Oraibi. My father, Tuvanimptewa of the Sand Clan, also came in to help, which was rather unusual for a Hopi husband. He soon sent for Nuvaiumsie, an experienced old midwife and a member of his father's linked Water-Coyote Clan. As soon as she came, she heated water in a clay pot over coals in an old-fashioned fireplace in the southwest corner of the room.

In labor, according to all reports, my mother moved over on a pile of sand which was especially prepared for my birth, rested herself on hands and knees, raised her head a little, and began to strain downward. My father and her father took turns standing over her with their arms around her belly, pressing down gently and trying to force and shake me out. If I had refused to come, more and more pressure would have been applied, but no Hopi doctor would have opened her body to get me.

I was a big baby. I caused a lot of trouble and took a long time coming out—head first. Old Nuvaiumsie is said to have taken me fresh and crying from my mother. She cut my navel cord on an arrow to make me a good hunter, folded back my end of the cord, and tied it about a finger's length from the navel to keep out any fresh air. She used a piece of string from my mother's hair, which was the proper thing to do. If she had not tied the cord securely, fresh air would have entered my belly and killed me. My mother was given some small twigs of juniper to chew and some juniper tea, in order to strengthen her and to hasten the discharge of the afterbirth.

My grandfather, my father, and Nuvaiumsie examined me closely. Sure enough, I was twins twisted into one. They could see that I was an oversize baby, that my hair curled itself into two little whorls instead of one at the back of my head, and that in front of my body I was a boy but at the back there was the sure trace of a girl—the imprint of a little vulva that slowly disappeared. They have told me time after time that I was twice lucky—lucky to be born twins and lucky to just miss becoming a girl.

Wrapping me in a cloth, they laid me near the fire and waited for my mother to free herself from the afterbirth. Nuvaiumsie is reported to have taken hold of the free end of the placenta cord and pulled gently, while my father stood behind my mother, held her around the waist, and shook her. She was told to stick her fingers down her throat and gag until she expelled the afterbirth. Finally it came out. Then my mother was placed near the fire in a squatting position on a low stool—perhaps the Hopi birth stool—so that the blood could drip upon the sand. She was given a drink of warm juniper tea to clear out the womb. A little later Nuvaiumsie bathed her in warm yucca suds, wrapped her in a blanket, fed her some warm corn mush, and had her lie on her side before the fire so that the bones could fit back into place. The old lady carefully swept up the sand and blood from the floor with a little broom, placed them with the placenta, the dirty rags, and the broom in an old basket, sprinkled the whole with corn meal, and gave them to my father to throw on the placenta pile. This he did at a special place near the southeast edge of the village, so that no person would step upon them and cause his feet to become sore and chapped, his eyes yellow, and his urine thick.

When all bloody traces of the birth were removed, my father hastened to the house of his mother's sister, Masenimka. He would have fetched his own mother, had she been alive. Masenimka came quickly, bringing a bowl of water, some corn meal, a piece of yucca root, two white corn ears, and some baby wrappings. She came with a smiling face and a happy heart, hoping thereby to bring me good luck and to insure my having a cheerful spirit.

Masenimka has related how she greeted me with tender words, washed my head in warm yucca suds, rinsed it with clear water, and bathed me from head to foot. She rubbed the ashes of juniper or sage bush over my skin to make it smooth and to cause hair to grow only in the right places. Then she pulled up her black dress (manta) to her thighs, rested me on her naked knees, and announced that I was her boy and a child of her clan. Chewing some juniper twigs, she spat upon my ear lobes and rubbed them to numbness. Then she pierced them with a sharp instrument and passed a thread through the holes to keep them open. She placed my arms by my sides, wrapped me in a warm baby blanket, and laid me on a wicker cradle made of a frame of bent juniper branches which was filled in with a network of small lemonberry stems and other twigs. There was a face guard of the same material. The cradle was padded with cedar bark or old clothes. A larger blanket was wrapped about me and the cradle and bound tightly with a string. Masenimka sat before the fire with me in the cradle upon her knees for a long time. Then she placed me on the floor near my mother and put an ear of corn on either side, one to represent me and the other my mother.

In the early morning hours when the cocks began to crow, Masenimka took a little finely ground corn meal and rubbed four horizontal lines, one inch wide and six or seven inches long, one above the other, on the four walls of the room. Then she resumed her seat by my mother and me and said, "Now, thus I have made a house for you. You shall stay here while we wait for you twenty days." Soon after she went to her own home and brought over some corn which she cooked with a few small twigs of juniper. This food was to make my mother's milk flow freely. Masenimka might have given her some unsalted gravy and some milkweed for the same purpose, since when that weed is broken the milk runs out.

Before the eastern sky had turned gray, the Sun Clan women propped two poles against the door that faced the rising sun and draped a blanket over them. This was to keep out the sun's rays from the birth chamber, for they were considered harmful until I had been properly presented to the Sun god. By breakfast many neighbors are said to have dropped in, taken a little food, looked me over, congratulated my mother, and expressed best wishes for my life.

I was bathed again by my godmother, Masenimka, who rubbed me anew with juniper ashes or the powder of a special clay found near the village. After my bath I was fastened back in my cradle and given the breast. My brother may have thought that I was stealing his milk, but he could do nothing about it. If my mother had been dry, I would have received the breast of a relative, fed upon finely ground sweet corn mixed with the juice of stewed peaches, been given a little gravy without salt, or perhaps some milk from the cows of the missionaries. If I had taken the breast of another woman, her own nursing baby might have discovered the theft of milk, worried, and even become nervous or sick. Babies are pretty wise about these things and quickly learn what is going on. I could not have taken the breast of another pregnant woman, for that might have caused my death.

For twenty days my mother was not allowed to eat or drink anything cold or salty, lest blood clot in her womb. All her food was cooked with juniper leaves. The fire in our room was kept going. No one was permitted to kindle other fires from it, for this fire belonged to me and such a theft would have made me unhappy. If it had become extinguished through accident, it would have been rekindled immediately, and that day would have gone uncounted. No food could be cooked on the coals themselves, although it might be cooked in a vessel over the fire. Neglect of this rule would have made me a "fire meddler" and caused me to play with fire carelessly in childhood. My father could not have intercourse with my mother during those twenty days, nor for twenty days thereafter. If he had done so before all the blood had drained from my mother's womb, a new baby would have been started which would have worried me, brought on sickness and nervous spells, and perhaps spoiled me for life. Had he attempted intercourse, the sisters and clan sisters of my mother would have interfered. If he had had intercourse with some other woman and then had an argument with my mother over it, that would have been almost as hard on me, for I would have sensed that something was wrong.

A routine was set up for me. Every morning I was unbound, bathed, rubbed with "baby ashes," and put back on the cradle. A little pad of cloth was placed at the back of my neck to keep me from becoming bull-necked and soft cedar bark was placed under my buttocks to drain off the urine. Someone probably cleaned me three or four times a day. I was always fed in the cradle and could move only my head a little in nursing. I do not know that anyone took saliva from my mouth and rubbed it on the nape of my neck to conceal my crying from the evil spirits, as is done with many Hopi babies.

When my navel cord dried and dropped off, it was tied to an arrow and stuck beside a beam overhead in the room. This was to make me a good hunter and to provide a "house" for my infant spirit in case I died, for my soul could then stay by the arrow in the ceiling and quickly slip back into my mother's womb for an early rebirth.

On the fifth morning I was bathed as usual, but with a special application of yucca suds to my head. My mother's head also was washed with the suds, and her body bathed with warm water in which juniper leaves had been boiled. Her clothes were changed and the soiled ones were taken to a near-by rock cistern and washed. After our bath my mother scraped off the lowermost of the four lines of meal from the walls of the room. She took the scrapings in her hand, and going to the edge of the mesa, held them to her lips, prayed for my long life, and sprinkled the meal to the rising sun. On the tenth and fifteenth days the same ceremony of bathing and prayers to the sun was repeated. If I had been the first baby, my mother could not have gone out before the sun on the fifth day and thereafter. Had she been too sick or weak to go, my godmother would have gone for her. The water with which our bodies had been bathed was carried to the placenta pile and emptied there.

On the twentieth day of my life I was named according to strict custom. About four o'clock in the morning Masenimka and her sisters, Kewanmainim and Iswuhti, and many other clan aunts—any woman of my father's clan and linked clans—came to our house to wash our heads again. Masenimka first washed the two "mother corn" ears in the yucca suds, rinsing them with fresh water. These were the ears that had been by my side since the night of my birth. Then she washed my mother's head, as did all her sisters in turn. Fresh water was poured over it, after which her hair was wrung out dry. They also bathed her arms and shoulders with warm water which had a few sprigs of juniper in it. Sweeping a little sand from the corner into the center of the room, they heated a stone, set it upon the sand, and laid yucca roots and juniper leaves on top of it. My mother stood with her right foot and then her left resting upon this heap of sand, stones, roots, and leaves while Masenimka bathed them. The entire heap was then placed in a tray along with the broom that was used to sweep the floor. The last of the corn-meal lines from each wall was scraped off and the dust thrown on the tray. A live ember from the fireplace was put on top and the fire permitted to go out. One of the women took the tray and its contents and some of the bath water and carried them to the placenta pile.

Within a few minutes the customary naming ceremony began. Masenimka unfastened the wrappings that bound me to the cradle, stripped me bare, and washed my head in a bowl of yucca suds. Then she bathed me from head to foot, rubbing on the "baby ashes." My head was rinsed in fresh water and each of my many aunts bathed me in the same manner, one after the other. The last one handed me back to Masenimka, who wrapped me in a blanket that had been warmed by the fire. My bath water—like my mother's—was handled with care and carried out to the placenta pile. During so many baths I probably cried a little, but no one has reported it.

Masenimka took me again on her left arm, picked up my "mother corn" ears with her right hand, waved them forward over my chest, and said, "May you live always without sickness, travel along the Sun Trail to old age, and pass away in sleep without pain. And your name shall be Chuka." Chuka means mud, a mixture of sand and clay. Masenimka and my father are of the Sand Clan, which made my name appropriate. This name was a sign to everyone that although I was born into the Sun Clan of my mother I was also a "child of the Sand Clan" and that my father and all his clan relatives had a claim on me. Each aunt repeated the ceremony and each gave me another Sand, Lizard, Earth, or Snake Clan name, but they have been forgotten. Even if I had never been told these things about myself I could be sure that they happened, for there is no other way for a new child to get a good name among the Hopi.

Excerpted from Sun Chief by DON C. TALAYESVA, LEO W. SIMMONS. Copyright © 1942 Yale University Press. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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