By Bruce Bernstein
Eighty years of waiting ended for the Pueblo of Zuni in New Mexico on August 10, 2001, when the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) brought Zuni pottery, brimming with cultural patrimony, home to the Pueblo.
Zuni elders still have childhood memories of questioning what was being taken from their community in the procession of horse-drawn wagons filled with tarp-covered crates. Today we know the contents of those wagons: They were laden with 20,000 objects excavated by the Museum of the American Indian - Heye Foundation's 1917 - 1923 Hendrick-Hodge archaelogical expedition from Hawikku, a Zuni ancestral village. Their destination was New York City.
There they were added to the fabled collections of the Museum of the American Indian - Heye Foundation but never displayed until now. In the 1980's Heye Foundation staff members worked to organize the collection and make it more accessible. Despite these efforts very few of the objects were ever seen by the general public, let alone Zuni people. It is fitting that the first public display of these objects is at the Pueblo of Zuni.
From this collection, Zuni people selected 75 pieces. These were retuned to Zuni this past summer to be placed on exhibition as well as to be handled by Zuni people. Hawikku: Listening to Our Ancestors is a project of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center and will remain open to the public for approximately one year. The return of the physical and spiritual essence of Hawikku to Zuni people is the heart of the project and a demonstration of NMAI's important collaborations with Native communities. The opening of the exhibition marks a beginning of Zuni public discussion and understanding of Hawikku and its place in their history and consciousness. The exhibition will also stimulate and contribute to the discussion of Zuni's unique place in our nation's history and cultural heritage.
Scholarship at NMAI is inclusive, seeking to empower Native people to tell their own stories and histories. A guiding principle of the Museum's collection and curatorial work is the creation of partnerships and collaborative work. Our research goals and results, as depicted in our exhibitions, programs, projects and publications, acknowledge that expertise about Native people resides with native peoples.
As Zuni Governor Malcolm Bowekaty reminded the Pueblo at the exhibition opening, "We have waited over 80 years to bring back the pots. Theses pots are finally home. We consider this a blessing, that our ancestors are coming to bless us." Jerome Zunie, a tribal archaeologist, said, "We have quite a hstory in these pots, and it's a blessing to get some of these pots back."
Occupied by Zuni people from the 1400s to 1680, Hawikku is the site at which Europeans first entered and encountered indigenous peoples in what today is the American Southwest. This Zuni pueblo made famous by the Spanish explorers of the 16th century, was one of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola and was first visited by Spanish explorer Franscisco Vasquez de Coronado in the summer of 1540. Coronado found a flourishing town, with hundreds of people growing corn, beans and squash in their irrigated fields. In addition, Hawikku was a trading center. At this important population center, the Spanish established a mission in 1629. Following the pueblo Revolt and removal of the Spanish from New Mexico, Zuni people left Hawikku in 1680.
From the summer of 1916 to 1923, museum curators and anthropologists excavated the village of Hawikku. The archaeological work included the excavation of 370 rooms, some to a depth of 15 feet.
We remain grateful and honored to be a part of the Hawikku:" Listening to Our Ancestors" exhibition. Projects such as this are most welcome because they help the Museum fulfill its mission. But more importantly, it empowers Zuni people and acknowledges to the world Zuni political and cultural sovereignty and continued cultural integrity.
Bruce Bernstein is the National Museum of the American Indian's assitant director for cultural resources. Article & photo published by ZUNI SPIRITS with permission from the SMITHSONIAN, National Museum of the American Indian, Fall 2001.