The Eagle Dance.
—In his dramatizations the Pueblo Indian represented birds as well as animals. He watched the eagle soaring overhead. This was the one bird which, with his great, strong wings, could fly out of sight in the blue upper distances. Certainly he must fly to the very sun, and surely he had direct intercourse with the Sky Powers and told the Great Father all that befell his human children! Hence, the Eagle impersonation has become very important and is often connected with medicine and curing.
This dance drama expresses the supposed relationship between eagle and man and the deific powers.[*] It is performed by two young men, who, costumed to represent eagles, faithfully imitate the birds' movements.
The keynote of the eagle dress is stylized realism (pl. 23). The gleaming brown-black of the upper body is interrupted by a vest-shaped patch of bright yellow on the chest. This is outlined with eagle down. The lower arms, legs, and bare feet are as yellow as the legs and talons of an eagle, and the face is yellow with a brilliant red patch across the chin. The smart, soft, buckskin kilt, the color of cream, displays through the center an undulating snake design, and at the bottom of the kilt are strips of blue, yellow, and black, while the tinklers, made of tin and forming the fringe, click together throughout the dance. This garment is held in place by a leather belt of turquoise blue banded by a string of sharp-toned brass bells; the body beneath is painted white. Sprays of spruce stick up above the waist. A sweeping, fan-shaped tail of eagle feathers is attached at the back, and perfectly fashioned wings of long eagle feathers, bound to a strip of heavy buckskin, cover the arms and shoulders from finger tip to finger tip. The hair hangs loose, and the head is covered with white down or raw cotton, forming a deep, snug cap, to which a long, yellow beak is fastened so that it protrudes just above the wearer's nose.
It is obvious that the dancers have made a close study of the eagle's flight, so exact are they in the reproduction of the movements. They
create the illusion of soaring through the clouds, hovering over the fields, and perching on high aeries. Again, they strut along the ground, or fiercely swoop, or circle wildly—their bells tinkling like rain—as if disturbed by an approaching storm.
When women accompany the Eagle men in the dance, they are beautifully garbed in snowy white dresses, fringed sashes, and moccasins, accented with jet black embroidered bands, skunk fur, and gleaming hair. Black and white eagle feathers are carried in each hand, and form an ornament at the back of the neck where the only relief in color harmony is the long, tapering points of yellow macaw feathers set at equal distances around a plaque and showing like a halo behind the head.
A further step in the process of impersonation is the masked being. We do not know whether this grew out of the animal and bird characterizations, but it is interesting to contrast the masked and unmasked representation of the same character in two villages so similar in material ways of life. The Rio Grande Eagle appears real and natural beside the Hopi Eagle (pl. 24), yet their origin is the same. They were nurtured on the same beliefs, and they developed with similar objectives. The Rio Grande Eagle wore a kilt of buckskin because the beautiful, soft-tanned hides from the plains were accessible to him. The Hopi Eagle, on the contrary, wore a kilt of native cotton which the Hopi cultivated and wove into cloth. The distinguishing body paint, kilt, brocaded sash, woven red belt, and pendent foxskin are the conventional items of dress for the masked supernatural, and the anklets, wound in colored yarns, are typical of Hopiland. The Hopi eagle wings are more carefully designed and have greater perfection of finish. The rough leather, where the quills of the long wing feathers are fastened, is covered with white down. On the back is a long, flat plaque or shield of buckskin edged in red horsehair, for "the eagle is the chief of birds, and so he wears the shield on his back." At length there is the mask, a distorted object which does not resemble man, and which resembles a bird in nothing but the yellow hooked beak in
front. The helmet of leather, painted the sacred turquoise blue, has large projecting red tab ears and round black and white wooden eyes. The black chevron above the snout is always found on the masks of certain birds of prey. Around the crown is a green yucca fillet tied in front, and from the top wave long, downy white eagle feathers and red and yellow parrot feathers. At the back, two tall black and white eagle feathers stand upright from a great pompon of small black and white feathers which is a part of the full and beautiful collar of like material.
Introduced from Hopi to Zuñi, the Eagle Dance in both villages is a prayer that the eaglets in the nests on the rocky mesa ledges may be increased in number, so that there will be a plentiful supply of fine feathers for the garments of the supernaturals in the other world.