Advanced Placement Literature and Composition



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Advanced Placement Literature and Composition

Zuni Culture and Huxley’s Brave New World




The Zuni are a tribe that lives in northern New Mexico near the Arizona border. They are one of several tribes of the Pueblo Indians. The pueblo village of Zuni has existed since about AD 1000. The Zuni are descended from a prehistoric group called the Anasazi. In 1539, the first Spanish expedition to enter New Mexico met the Zuni. Padre Marcos Nica and a group of explorers were searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, which were believed to be rich in gold. The Spanish adventurer Francisco Coronado heard tales of riches and came seeking the Seven Cities in 1540. The seven cities were called Kiakime, Matsaki, Halona, Apinawa, Hanipassa, Hawikkuh, and Kianawe. He found six Zuni villages and little wealth. As a result of the 1540 conquest by the Spanish, the Zuni were forced to construct mission buildings and churches. They were required to adopt the Catholic faith. This resulted in a blend of the Indian religion and Catholicism. The Zuni came under U.S. military authority after the Mexican War ended in 1848. That year, the United States acquired land from Mexico, including regions that later became parts of Arizona and New Mexico. In about 1882, Zuni became a reservation with the agency for Indian Affairs located in Santa Fe. Fort Wingate, forty miles northeast of Zuni, brought military rule of the reservation lands. Zuni, the largest of the Zuni pueblos, is located near Gallup, New Mexico.

Aldous Huxley had read Frank Hamilton Cushing’s writings on Zuni life and culture in his books My Adventures in Zuni, Outline of Zuni Creation Myths, Zuni Fetishes, and Zuni Folk Tales written between 1880 and 1884. Cushing, an anthropologist, lived among the Zuni for four and a half years adopting their ways. Like Hermann Melville who lived among the South Sea cannibals and then wrote Typee, and Henry David Thoreau in Walden, Cushing was writing nonfiction based on his own personal experience. Huxley named John’s love, the young Indian maiden Kiakime, after one of the fabled cities. Palowhtiwa, the eighteen-year-old boy who is whipped in the sacrifice in the novel is named after the governor of Zuni with whom Cushing lived. His Spanish name was Pedro Pino. Huxley bases all aspects of his Reservation on the Zuni pueblo as described by Cushing: the mesa (300 feet up), the silver bracelets, the necklaces of bone and turquoise were part of the artistic productions of this tribe as was the coiled pottery making. In the novel the native gods of Pookong, Awonawilona and Antelpe Kiva are based on the real Zuni gods of Paiatuma (god of dew), Poshiinkia (god of medicine), and the twin boy gods of war (Ahaiiuta and Matsailema) who were the sons of sun god. The twin gods according to one myth acted as guardians and guides who lead the people out of the underworld tombs and into the light. This is the very sort of mission John Savage tries to accomplish in Brave New World when he attempts to have the workers discard the soma which enslaves them. The mixture of religions used by Huxley is a replica of the blend of Catholicism and the older Indian faith. The major Catholic Church, The Lady of Guadalupe of the Sacred Heart, built in 1775 is the basis for the reference of Our Lady of Acoma in the novel. The spring renewal ceremony Huxley describes in the novel is directly based on a Zuni ceremony involving the Zuni’s reverence for snakes as symbols of rebirth. This ceremony was based on corn the main staple of the Zuni diet and way of life; their reverence for corn included a corn god. The whip of plaited leather and the drawing of blood is also part of a Zuni ceremony, but they more often used mesquite thorn branches. The Zuni myth of creation in Chapter 8 is accurate, as is the description of the wedding ceremony also in the same chapter. The Zuni tale of Mataski, told by the storyteller Waihusiwa to Cushing, is the basis for John Savage’s need to earn his woman. In the myth the deed doer earns the woman and a brave just accomplish some difficult task to be worthy of the woman. The Zuni used peyote to seek visions and to enhance spiritual quests. Huxley has the Reservation represent man’s past which includes both man’s primitive (pagan) origins as well the influence of Christianity. He condemns the sexuality (the married Indian men are more than willing to sleep with Linda), both the pagan faith and the Christian in their abuses and emphasis on pain and denial, and the asceticism. Against the past represented by the Reservation, he pits the equally unacceptable civilized future world of Brave New World.


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