Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pueblo Corn

Weather: A little snow on Monday, but warm afternoons melted it in most places.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, piñon, and other evergreens, yuccas; leaves on bearded iris, honeysuckle, vinca, sweet pea, violet, golden-spur columbine, beards tongues, winecup mallow, alfilerillo, purple aster; needle, June, pampas, and other grasses.

What’s gray: Winterfat, snow-in-summer; four-wing salt bushes are gray-green; buddleia, pinks and catmint leaves are blue gray.

What’s reddened: Cholla, twigs on peach and apricot.

What’s yellowed: Young stems on globe willow; leaves on fernbush and bouncing Bess yellowing.

What’s blooming indoors: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: The pueblos grow a number of types of corn. The Hopi had terms for twenty-two in 1935. The diversity was probably more a defense against an erratic climate than a deliberate attempt to appease the cloud spirts with the six sacred colors.

While each family treated its seed as an heirloom to be guarded, some were open to new varieties. Memories of the drought of 1864 lingered. Then famine forced many to flee to other pueblos. When rains returned, so did the Hopi, with borrowed seed corn. They were still using a white variety that brought back from the Río Grande area when Alfred Whiting visited them.

He said they grew one variety "obtained from the Havasupai at the San Diego exposition in 1915." As mentioned in the post two weeks ago, the Hopi had long traded with the Arizona tribe.

In the depression years, softer corns were replacing the harder ones like flint, because they were easier to grind. The harder ones had been preferred when corn weevils threatened the grain supply. Changes in storage technology made women’s lives easier.

White corns were the Hopi dietary mainstay, but blues were nearly as important, especially for piki. A soft blue type, sakwa’pu, was associated with the southwest.

Their yellow corn was a short season variety that had a strong flavor. Whiting said, it tended to be used for mush, and was associated with the northwest.

Much of sweet corn crop was baked in the fall and eaten. The remainder was strung to dry in the sun. It represented the nadir.

A purple corn, koko’ma, wasn’t eaten. Instead, it was used to dye baskets and fibers, and was associated with the zenith.

Hopi tried to keep their strains pure by not planting obviously mixed kernels. The only seed they considered disposable was on the mixed ears they ate before they matured. They also distributed it during the spring ceremonies as Kachina corn, katci'nqa'’3. [3 represents a vowel sound like that found in her, girl and turn.]

Whiting says red corn wasn’t grown as a species, but appeared in fields of white corn. It was associated with the southwest.

Other pueblos shared the same desire to have six colors of corn, but differed in their attitudes toward obtaining seed from other pueblos. Those closest to the powers of Santa Fé before the Pueblo Revolt of 1688 were conservative. Tesuque punished those who imported seed. The Tewa speakers at Hano, who had left Galisteo, suspected the intent of those who would offer them seed. The older men at San Ildefonso knew they could get seed from other pueblos, but refused. Barbara Freire-Marreco was told, "they want to keep the very corn of the pueblo, because the corn is the same as the people."

Santa Clara considered itself more liberal in 1912. Freire-Marreco said it needed six colors for ceremonies, but mainly grew blue and white. Its black had a "dusty, gray-back surface." It did not grow yellow, but obtained it from Tesuque. One man had gotten a dark red seed mottled with black from Jémez in 1908. Another got his red corn from Taos and was considering trying a Taos white. He reasoned corn that grew in a colder area would ripen sooner in the valley.

It should be noted, modern transportation and communication were having an influence. Improved roads made it easier to visit other pueblos.  The availability of wheat in stores made it easier to be fussy about sources of corn. Families no longer were forced to choose between cultural values and starvation.

Freire-Marreco, Barbara, William Wilfred Robbins, and John Peabody Harrington. Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916; includes the other pueblos mentioned.

Whiting, Alfred F. Ethnobotany of the Hopi, 1939.

Photographs: Seeds from Native Seeds Search of Tucson and Seed Savers Exchange of Decorah, Iowa

1. Seneca Red Stalker, Seed Savers; it’s the stalks and husks that are red
2. San Felipe Blue, Native Seeds
3. Nambé White, Native Seeds
4. Navajo Yellow, Native Seeds, Gamerco, New Mexico
5. Navajo Copper, Native Seeds, New Mexico
6. Aztec Black, Seed Savers, introduced by James J. H. Gregory in 1864

7. San Domingo Posole, Native Seeds

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