Exploring the Traditions of Southwestern NativeAmericans
By Jerry Janda Long before settlers began to migrate west across the United States—long before Europe- ans even set foot on this continent—what is now known as Arizona and New Mexico was the exclusive domain of peoples such as the Zuni, Hopi, Navajo and Apache.
For centuries, the day-to-day lives of these Native Americans have been replete with rituals that reflect their respect for their land, families and clans. On many reservations, these old traditions still exist.
Living in Balance: The Universe of the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and Apache, a long-term exhibi- tion at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, examines these traditions, detailing the sacred and cultural connection the Southwestern Native Americans share with their environment.
Dr. Dorothy Washburn, guest curator, spent four years preparing the exhibit. Her primary goal was to depict how the indigenous peoples of the Southwest live in balance with their surroundings—hence the exhibit’s name.
“They see themselves as one part of nature, one cog in the wheel,” Dr. Washburn pointed out. “They don’t see themselves as superior to nature.”
Southwestern pieces, most of which were gathered at the turn of the cen- tury. This was both a benefit and a drawback: There were plenty of pieces, but picking the most appropriate was a difficult, often frustrating, task.
Rather than select the artifacts on her own and risk limiting the exhibit’s scope, Dr. Washburn Photograph by Candace diCarlo Dr. Dorothy Washburn with Zuni and Hopi household furnishings turned to the Native Americans represented in Living in Balance for assistance. “I wanted them to help formulate the exhibit,” she explained. objects sealed in glass cases. In a small theater, visitors can gaze up in wonder at the celestial bodies that signaled sacred ceremonies and planting season. An interactive map leads view- ers through the grueling Zuni kick stick race.And a video presentation shows how “piiki,” a bread important to the Hopi way of life, is made. Four guest curators—a Hopi, a Zuni, an Apache and a Navajo—lent their expertise in choosing the displayed pieces; and their contri- butions didn’t end there.
Funding for the exhibit came from Ruth and Earl Scott and Melissa C. Freeman. The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Com- mission provided grants, and the Women’s Committee of the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the Members of the University of Pennsylvania Museum offered additional support.
According to Dr. Washburn, the University Museum boasts an extensive collection of
“I reviewed and assessed all the text materi- al” accompanying the displays, noted Edmund Ladd, Zuni consultant. “I wanted a cohesive, accurate presentation from the Zuni perspective, and I think that’s what we accomplished.”
The curator of ethnology at the laboratory of anthropology, the Museum of Indian Arts and Crafts, Santa Fe, N.M., Mr. Ladd added that he is “very happy” with the exhibit.
Artifacts play a pivotal role in Living in Balance, but the exhibit isn’t limited to ancient
Dr. Washburn hopes that Living in Balance’s authentic portrayal of cultures that hold the family and environment in such high esteem will give museumgoers a fresh outlook on the lives of Southwestern Native Americans. She also hopes that the exhibit’s numerous photographs will help clear up some modern misconceptions.
“[Native Americans] don’t all live in tipis or wear feathers,” she said. “They wear jeans and drive Ford trucks, too.”
Hearing Native Voices
Starting on Sept. 9, the University Museum will present Native Voices: A Celebration of Native American Cultures, a collection of exhibitions, lectures, films, performances and workshops exploring the cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples of North, South and Central America.
In addition to Living in Balance: The Universe of the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and Apache, exhibits will include Moving the Fire: The Removal of Indian Nations to Oklahoma, Birds and Beasts of Ancient Latin America, Raven’s Journey: The World of Alaska’s Native People, Time and Rulers at Tikal: Architectural
Sculpture of the Maya, Mesoamerican Gallery and Plains Indian Gallery.
Guest lecturers scheduled to speak are Dr. Anthony Wallace, professor emeritus of anthropology at Penn and author of “The Long Bitter Trail”; George David, an artist and Nuu-chah-nulth native; Dr. Tsianina Lomawaima, associate professor, department of American studies at the University of Arizona; Ernestine Cody Begay, an Apache and curator of Harvard’s Peabody Museum; and Maximo and Eric Catori, experts on the construction of ancient balsas.
For more information, contact the Museum at (215) 898-4000.
ALMANAC September 5, 1995