Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ceremonial Corn

Weather: Winds and clouds; last snow 1/1.

What’s still green: Juniper, piñon, and other evergreens, yuccas. Rose stems; leaves on grape hyacinth, Japanese honeysuckle, alfilerillo.

What’s gray: Salt bushes, winterfat, snow-in-summer.

What’s reddened: Cholla, twigs on peach, apricot and apple; purple aster leaves; sandbar willow wood is getting more orange.

What’s yellowed: Young stems on globe and weeping willows; more arborvitae have browned.

What’s blooming indoors: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: The most archaic agricultural ritual embedded in Soyal is the use of corn meal. Kivas are opened to the kachinas by leaving meal paths outside the hatches. When the spirits arrive, they are fed corn meal: they only need the essence of food to survive. Their impersonators are sprinkled with meal.

During the ceremonies at Oraibi only white corn was used. Heinrich Voth said the sun representative at Oraibi, who later was attached by the stars, the shield bearers, carried a "white corn ear" with his bow and arrow. Before the hawk impersonator appeared, three women entered dressed in white. Each carried a "white corn ear." The three mana danced with the hawk.

When the altar was built, the staffs of four chiefs were added. They had "two large turkey feathers and a white corn ear fastened to them." After the Mastop kachinas left on the eighth day and before the messengers were dispatched to the sacred spring, the officiating priest again donned the apparel of the sun representative. "In one hand he held a white corn ear (to which was fastened a corn husk packets) an the six old eagle wing feathers used in his war ceremony."

On the final day at Walpi, before the altar was completely dismantled, the Pátki clan chief distributed "fragments of white wafer bread," according to Andrew Stephen. In the afternoon, just before the corn was brought out from the kiva, two women appeared. One was given a "black corn ear," the other a "white ear."

The ceremonial use of colored corn must have come long after new varieties were introduced. The seed corn sent to the Pátki kiva mound was multicolored, but the number of ears in a bundle varied from three to six. No obvious attempt was made to combine one of each color into a bundle tied with yucca. More likely, each woman included a sample of each type of corn her husband would plant. Elsie Clews Parsons said the blessed ears were placed on top of the seed corn, to be used first in the summer.

Niman, the summer ceremony, used more overt color symbolism. Alexander Stephen said, on the fourth day at Walpi in 1893, the ritual chief brought "the six ears of corn of the directions." As he sang, he handled the six ears in order, sprinkling them with water, then with corn meal.

He later tied the six ears into a bundle that was hung on the west wall of the kiva until the eighth day when he used them to make the Directions Altar. He set an ear in each direction with stones of the same color: opaque quartz with yellow, green agate with blue, red spar with red, white spar or tooth with white, clear quartz with black, pinkish annular beads of spar with sweet corn.

Initiation ceremonies also used the six colors of corn. During Naash’naiya in 1891, Stephen saw six ears of corn laid with different hued skins of birds and pebbles in the appropriate locations at the base.

He happened to be in Walpi in 1893 during the rites attending a girl’s first menses. He said, on the first day, the girl ground white corn, which had been shelled by the women. On the second day she ground blue corn and red on the third. On the morning of the fourth, yellow was ground, and black in the afternoon. A feast followed attended only by women.

Notes: See the last six posts for the history of corn varieties, the identity of towns, the ceremonies and their elements. Spar is a form of gypsum.

Stephen, Alexander. Notebooks, 1882-1894, edited as Hopi Journal, 1936, by Elsie Clews Parsons.

Voth, H. R. and George A. Dorsey. The Oraibi Soyal Ceremony, 1901.

1. Common white corn meal, Tennessee Red Cobb; Paramount Food Grains, Quinter, Kansas.

2. When corn is ground, the hard shell breaks into large pieces than does the interior. Medium grind white whole grain corn meal, Bob’s Red Mill, Milwaukie, Oregon.

3. Same corn meal as #2 in mass as it would be in a bowl.

4. The differences between outer and inner parts of the corn kernel are more obvious with medium ground whole grain yellow corn meal, Bob’s Red Mill.

5. Same corn meal as #2 in mass as it would be in a bowl. The camera software exaggerates the yellow.

6. Much commerical corn meal has the center germ removed so it won’t spoil. Aunt Jemima degerminated yellow corn meal with added nutrients, sold by Quaker Oats, Chicago.

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