Church and State, Zuni, and Assimilation

Sentiments of Frank Hamilton Cushing and others on Church and State, Zuni, and Assimilation

The following is evidenced for the most part based upon the research of others who had the opportunity to study the Zuni first-hand prior to the phenomenal acculturation that transpired in the last half of the twentieth century.

These writings may then be termed as dated or archaic in regard to certain aspects of the Zuni culture. To whatever extent that may be true, it is also true that the Zuni have resisted the offerings of the colonial cultures which sought to conquer them and which have been, as Frank Hamilton Cushing noted over a century previous, "as aught against the enduring genius of that ancient tongue and tone, and the philosophies and creeds framed in them a thousand years ago." (Green 1979: 175)

To that extent, the Zuni remain one of the most unique cultures on earth.

The plural inflection of the term "culture" as a signification of a set of customs and values relative to a certain group of people as a coherent entity in itself is a usage in anthropology which is wholly attributable to Cushing, and was distinct from the Victorian employment as an absolute which was current among his colleagues. The influence upon Cushing by the English anthropologist E.B. Tylor(1) on this matter is not disputed, but Tylor’s employment of the term "culture" was limited to a "concept of culture as accumulated customs" and he had "little or no sense of cultural pluralism…of cultural relativism, or of cultures as integrated coherent units." (Mark 1976: 466-467) The determinates of cultural plurality or relativism were notions added later by Cushing when he suggested "that a society is perhaps structured around what he called a guiding "Idea."" (Mark 1976: 468) As Mark indicates, Cushing's idea of cultures was reflected in the writings of his journalist friend, Sylvester Baxter. It was Baxter who referred to Cushing as the father of the Zuni Kultur in his article "The Father of the Pueblos," originally published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1882, "indicating Baxter's awareness of the German origin and meaning of the term "culture" as Tylor and now Cushing were using it – as customs in general, not refinement and cultivation." (Mark, Ibid.)

That Cushing was also familiar with the German culture and language is evident, but to what extent he was knowledgeable in this area is uncertain. However, his conceptualization of the Zuni society and philosophy and the terminology he used to describe it bears an uncanny resemblance to that implemented in Kant's Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. If Cushing had read this work it would have been in Kant's native German. Even if he had only secondary knowledge of the work it would explain his use of the terminology which was instrumental in Kant's explanation of the distinction between semblance (Schein) and the appearance (Erscheinung)(2) and his discussion of the confusion and conflict of subject and object in regard to primal thought as analogous to motive as a practical (moral) matter. This information can, for the most part, be found on a single page of the above title. (Kant 1798: 22) and is used by Cushing in his descriptions of Zuni philosophy in Zuni Fetishes and elsewhere.

The pragmatic point of view is that while morality is absolutely universal and a metaphysical body of moral principles must be a priori, the anthropologist can only deal with practical knowledge as an empirical science and therefore in anthropology there is no basis in the strict a priori for morality to become a science.

The anthropologist can, intensively and comparatively, analyze a culture, but a culture's morality in particular cannot be a science of its own accord. A moral anthropology can only contain the subjective conditions in human nature which represent only that which is not attained because there can be no precepts founded upon a priori principles. (Kant 1797: 17) In other words, precepts are simple semblances of absolutes and are therefore "accidental." (See Cushing, 1966) It is the intent of the anthropologist then to analyze a group of people in its own terms as a culture in itself; yet explanation of the accidental dictates that absolutes must be kept in view, at least for the purpose of comparison. The accidental can only be accidental in contrast to universal. Since the absolute may also be grounded to a degree in the subjectivity of the observer, no culture can be considered as absolute. This is, in essence, the very spirit of Kultur. It was Cushing's belief that the culture of the Zuni was driven by the "Idea" and that it was completely self-determined.

Cushing's sentiments in regard to previous attempts at assimilation of the Zuni are opposed by several schools of thought. Andrew Knaut points out in his essay the school which is representative of Robert Ricard’s work La "Conquête Sprituelle" du Mexique (1933). This work is based upon the assumption that the success of the Spanish military virtually eliminated the pre-contact religion of the Pueblos and as a "classic interpretation" is one "of Pueblo-Spanish cultural interaction as one of complete native submission to the perceived superiority of a new faith promoted by European military might." (Knaut 1995: 54, 199 n.1) Knaut also specifies the school of thought where the Pueblo and Catholic belief systems merged into a synthesis which is practiced contemporaneously in the Pueblos (Ibid 53) and this view "permeates much of the anthropological work on the American Southwest." (Ibid, 200 n.2)

Knaut's position however is that in the first instance the Pueblos sought military protection, most notably from the nomadic Athapaskan groups, and were forced into the acceptance of Christian baptism primarily for this reason as well as the avoidance of hunger, for the Spanish had control of scarce resources and trade routes. This did not, however, prevent the Pueblos from practicing their rituals behind the "closed doors of native ceremonial chambers." (Ibid, 54) It is, in fact, these clandestine practices that are ignored by adherence to a view that contemporary Pueblo religious practices are a synthesis, "for such a perspective ignores the fact that…to engage in traditional ceremonies and practices behind a façade of Christian piety thus took on a deadly seriousness for those dedicated to preserving the old ways." (Ibid, 55) If there was a synthesis then perhaps there would be no motive for clandestine practices.

Knaut presents the thesis that the long time conflict between the colonial church and state provided many opportunities for the Pueblo traditionalists to continue the old ways. In the efforts of the state to maintain power over the church the natives were allowed to continue the old ways as the church was held in abeyance. The natives simply bided their time until the balance of power between the "Francescan missionaries, the bureaucratic authorities appointed by the crown, and the permanent settlers" deteriorated as a result of denunciation, accusation and greed, and these factors eventually discredited one another. It was the Pueblos who had everything to gain from the tension between the church and state.

Knaut's thesis is supportive of Cushing and the notion that it was the volition of Zuni to remain determinedly Zuni. Prior to 1924 the church and state within the Zuni Pueblo was indistinguishable. The only noticeable factions were the Catholic and Protestant appellations with the majority of the population being Zuni. When Frederick Hodge received permission in 1923 to photograph the Shalako from the progressives, or anti-Catholic faction, the Catholics opposed. This conservative faction and their opposition to outside interference clearly supports the notion that Roman Catholicism was accepted in the Pueblo in order to protect the natives from other European religions. The façade of Catholicism allows the natives to discreetly practice their "idolatry." (Eggan)

Other schools have advanced their thoughts on possible influences or the lack of influences as well. The Book of Mormon lectures by Nibley assert that the Spanish found Old and New Testament teachings pre-existing in the Pueblo rituals.

This is contrasted by the writings of Nancy Davis in The Zuni Enigma, a presentation of a distinctively Eastern, most likely Buddhist influence on the Zuni philosophy and religion and the claims of linguistic (3) and physical evidence. There are examples of pictorial symbolism of the Zuni and their possible religious significance and origins. Davis specifies the rosette (hepa’kinne) and its resemblance to the turning wheel of dharma in the Buddhist tradition whereas other anthropologists and ethnologists point to possible European origins where it was assimilated by the Zuni from Catholic alter cloths (4) . This symbol has also however, been recorded as decorations on St. John's polychrome which is in all probability pre-contact. There is also the resemblance of a set of Salado earrings (5) , c. 1200, which bear a strong resemblance to a Buddhist wheel of becoming. (Cerillo 1992: 11, plate 5)

It is unlikely that the Zuni, even in consideration of their remote western position in relation to the mainstream Spanish contact area of the eastern Pueblos, remained completely unaffected by the outside contact prior to Cushing's residency. But Cushing nonetheless detected a certain purity and in a letter to Frederick Ward Putnam, the director of Harvard's Peabody Museum, expressed his concern that the study of the Zuni could not be accomplished in a lifetime, but a lifetime was also too long a period of time for the study given his opinion that in the midst of vast acculturation the tribe and its culture would disappear. (Green 1990: 304) One can surmise the sense of urgency when he abandoned the tent he shared with Smithsonian photographer John Hillers and took up residence in the pueblo of the Zuni governor. (Cushing 1882)

Cushing was not a philosopher, but his participatory method and ability to understand the Zuni as "their own best interpreter" and his capacity to literally "translate the mind of the Zuni" (Green 1990, later quote from Alice Fletcher) enabled him to gain insights the value of which can be assessed as something more than merely "metaphysical glossings." It was his ambition to elucidate the primitive conception and polytheism, or at least to "record such facts as shall enable philosophers to do this." (Green 1990: 304)


1) Primitive Culture (London, 1871), and Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization (London, 1865)

2) These terms have been translated variously; Schein as "illusion" or "appearance" and Erscheinung as "phenomenon."

3) In Japanese, for example, anyone seeking enlightenment through vows to save all sentient beings is bosatsu. The Zuni name for the Ne-we-kwe, the highest of priests, is Bitsitsu. The phoneme 'b' is rare in Zuni. Bunzel, in several places, refers to bitsulia as the Zuni term for "circle". Newman’s orthography for "circle" is pizulliya. (1958) Bitsu is a term Davis cites for Buddha.

4) Matilda Stevenson proposes the sunflower as the source, and Bunzel seems to take this for granted. (Bunzel 1929:53)

5) These earrings resemble spoked wagon wheels, an object which is undoubtedly not what they were fashioned after.


Bunzel, Ruth L. The Pueblo Potter: A Study of Creative Imagination in Primitive Art. New York: Dover, 1929. ISBN 0486228754

______. "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," (1932a); "Zuni Origin Myths," (1932b); "Zuni Ritual Poetry," (1932c). In Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Pp. 467-835. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1932. Reprint, Zuni Ceremonialism: Three Studies. Introduction by Nancy Pareto. University of New Mexico Press, 1992. ISBN 0826313760

______. "Zuni Katcinas: An Analytic Study," (1932d). Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Pp. 836-1086. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1932. Reprint, Zuni Katcinas: 47th Annual Report. Albuquerque: Rio Grande Classics, 1984. ISBN B000WW7EVE

______. Zuni Texts. Publications of the American Ethnological Society, 15. New York: G.E. Steckert & Co., 1933. ISBN B00086F8QM

Cushing, Frank Hamilton. My Adventures in Zuni. 1882. Palmer Lake, CO: Filter Press, 1999 reprint. ISBN B000JF12JO

______. "Zuni Fetishes". Second Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1880-1881. Pp. 3-45. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1883. Reprint, KC Publications, 1966. ISBN B000TH8P4C

Davis, Nancy Yaw. The Zuni Enigma. Norton, 2000. ISBN 0393322300

Eggan, Fred and T.N. Pandey. "Zuni History, 1855-1970." In Handbook of North American Indians, Southwest,. Vol. 9. Ed. by Alfonso Ortiz. Pp. 474-481. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1979. ISBN 0160045797

Green, Jesse, ed. Zuni: Selected Writings of Frank Hamilton Cushing. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1979. ISBN B001KSKOX4

______. Cushing at Zuni: The Correspondence and Journals of Frank Hamilton Cushing, 1879-1884. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990. ISBN 0826311725

Kant, Immanuel. Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, 1798. Trans., Mary J. Gregor. The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974. ISBN B000VL5SOQ, Louden trans. 052185556X, Dowdell trans. 0809320606

Knaut, Andrew L. Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Norman, OK: University Oklahoma Press, 1995. ISBN 0806129921

Mark, Joan. "Frank Hamilton Cushing and an American Science of Anthropology." In Perspectives in American History. 10: 444-486, 1976.

Newman, Stanley. Zuni Dictionary. Indiana University Research Center Publication Six. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1958. ISBN B001F5KATA

Nibley, Hugh W. Teachings of the Book of Mormon. Transcripts of lectures presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988-1990. Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1993.

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