In its ceremonial organization every pueblo has at least traces of two esoteric orders of Clowns, the most potent of priest groups, who appear with the Kachinas and at the Rain Dances. As "Delight Makers" they contribute the comedy interludes to the solemn religious dramas, and
they also perform theatrical entertainments of a secular nature. These secret orders differ in name, membership, and duties in the various pueblos.
—One order, the "Chiffoneti" (pl. 39), is called the Black Eyes at Taos and Isleta, Kossa among the Tewa, Koshare by the Keres, Tabösh at Jemez, Newekwe at Zuñi, and Paiakyamu at Hopi. The members of the different groups of this order impersonate, without the use of a mask, a certain kind of supernatural. For the concealment of their identities they depend entirely upon the painting of their bodies and faces and the arrangement of their hair and headdresses. These extraordinary beings are striped from head to foot in horizontal black and white earth colors. Their faces are white with circles of black around their mouths and eyes.[*] They wear breechclouts with the ends hanging to midthigh. These are held in place by a narrow belt around the middle. The hair is parted in the center and bound in two bunches which stand upright on each side of the head and are trimmed with bristling rosettes of cornhusks. Among the Tewa, this cornhusk is called "mist." Short hair necessitates a two-pointed cap in imitation of the horned hairdress. This cap is striped in black and white, carrying out the general decorative scheme. Sometimes strips of black cloth are tied around the neck and knees. Branches of evergreen are worn in the belt, or in a bandoleer over the right shoulder, or carried in the hands.
The comic action of these entertainers is impromptu, and it occurs between the appearances of the main drama dance. For subject matter they make use of incidents in village gossip, or they mimic spectators in the crowd. Erna Fergusson, speaking of the Koshare at a Santo Domingo Tablita Dance, says that "a fat one, one day, caught sight of a plumpish matron watching the dance. She was trim and erect, and with a dignity that would have abashed any white clown. But not the Indian. Approaching her, in her full sight and knowledge, he minced, swinging his ample
hips, extending a condescending hand, caricatured her so exactly, but with such complete good humor, that the dowager herself laughed and made friends."
Again, these black and white clowns may entertain a crowd by dramatizing an incident. At Taos, on St. Geronimo's Day, a greased pole is set up in the middle of the plaza. From the top a sheep and various other spoils are hung, a reward for the one who successfully climbs that high. On a particular occasion, "one of the Delight Makers walked up under the pole on which the sheep was hanging and made sheep tracks with his fingers in the dust. ... Another strolled by and, discovering sheep tracks, began trailing the animals eagerly, looking everywhere until, glancing up, the dangling sheep caught his eye. Then with tiny bows and arrows the actors began shooting at the sheep with great glee and horseplay. Afterwards they went through the performance of climbing the pole. When the first man slipped down they put earth on the shaft, and when he climbed part way the others dropped on all fours, acting the part of furious bulls ... to discourage the climber's descent."
When the influence of the Church made itself felt among the Rio Grande villages, many Catholic ceremonies were burlesqued. This would indicate that in prehistoric times the 'play' was also about local matters, such as a caricature of some secret ritual which had been performed previously in the kiva.
—Of the many groups comprising the second order of clown priests, the Mudheads (pl. 40) are the most active. Known locally at Zuñi as Koyemshi, and among the Hopi as Tachuki, they entertain between the dances with comic and often obscene interludes, or play their favorite games of beanbag, tag, and leapfrog, to the great interest and amusement of the spectators on the housetops. Representing childish, immature characters in both action and appearance, they wear knobbed, soft masks of cotton cloth colored with pink clay from the Sacred Lake. The knobs, in various distorted shapes, are filled with raw cotton, seeds, and earth
from the footprints made by the inhabitants in the streets around the pueblo. By using this earth, the Mudheads are supposed to acquire a magical power over the people and can demand from them respect and reverence. Sometimes feathers flutter from the knobs. The lower border of the mask is finished with a strip of black homespun tied at the throat. Concealed under this is a small bag of seeds from the native crops: squash, corn, and gourd. The body is painted all over with the sacred pink clay, and the only garment is a short kilt of black native cloth. The leader often wears a scant tunic caught over the right shoulder, and he is distinguished by this. At Zuñi this group always comes in a full company of ten representing brothers of one family, but each member of the group has a different personality which is discernible in the expression on his welted face and by the antics he performs.
These Mudheads play an important part, as illustrated by Mr. Fewkes, in a "theatrical performance" enacted at Hopi. In March the drama of the Plumed Serpent is performed by various groups not ceremonially related. On one of the evenings a series of several acts of the drama makes the rounds of the various kivas, at which the members of each clan are assembled. The principal theme of this drama centers about the mythical Great Serpents, symbolizing wind and flood, who come from the sky or from holes in the earth. The Serpents destroy the corn and other provender of the human race. The Spirits of the Ancients, the Mudheads, with superhuman powers which cause the corn to grow, struggle with these monsters in an attempt to overcome their destructive forces.
When these scenes are performed at the kivas, the audience sits at the raised end. In the middle of the room two men tend the fire which is the only source of light. Upon hearing the first group of actors at the hatchway above, these fire tenders rise and hold their blankets about the fire in order to darken the room. Behind this 'curtain' the scene is set. Some
of the backgrounds are large screens of thick cotton cloth painted with symbolic designs of rainbows, clouds, and lightning. There is a row of circular holes covered by disks of deerskin with borders of plaited cornhusks. Through these holes, Serpent effigies, made of cloth with gourd heads, are thrust to squirm and wriggle. The Serpents eventually sweep over a miniature cornfield and knock down the green sprouts set in clay balls in front of the screen. In one of the scenes the Serpents struggle with the ugly masked spirits who attempt to thwart their movements. In another scene two large jars are used, the effigies emerging from the tops as if from the earth.
These Serpent acts are interspersed with dances by masked figures and with interludes which deal with the Corn Maidens and the grinding of the corn into meal. The latter scene is sometimes enacted by marionettes, set in wooden frames and manipulated, as were the Serpents, by men concealed behind the screen.
The main purpose of this series of scenes is to instruct and entertain. Based upon legendary events, a combination of history and myth, they originated from ceremonial procedure, but they employ few of the sacred objects generally found in Hopi rites. Mr. Fewkes believes that these facts justify the application to them of the title, "theatrical exhibitions."
This mythical Serpent phase is found in other pueblos, but at no other village has the ceremonial procedure given way to so secular a performance.
The scope of theatrical entertainment among the Pueblo Indians includes all these phases which appear between the simple, physical prayer, danced to climax a period of ritual and worship, and the pseudoreligious drama which has character impersonations and paraphernalia of ceremonial origin, but which disregards the demands of a patterned form.
As a phase of theatrical practice, the native Pueblo drama had its origin in the worship of supernatural powers and its development in the coercing of those powers and the instruction of its followers through story,
impersonation, and action. It had approached the sphere of religious drama. Its death knell was sounded when an invading culture corrupted its beliefs and perverted its believers. Today the surviving practices indicate little of what might have been the full flowering of its maturity.