Virginia More Roediger's Ceremonial Costumes of the Pueblo Indians: Their Evolution, Fabrication, and Significance in the Prayer Drama was first published in 1941 and reprinted, with black-and-white illustrations, in paperback two decades later. It soon went out of print. The reappearance of the classic original edition in full color is a welcome event.
The view of ritual and ceremony as a dramatic performance, currently fashionable in anthropology, was pioneered by Dr. Roediger in the 1930s. As a student of drama at Yale University, she was encouraged by Dr. Leslie Spier, then in the newly established Department of Anthropology and Linguistics, to study the costumes and dances of the Pueblo Indians found in museums and photographic collections and observed in the Pueblo villages of the Southwest during the mid-1930s. A student of drama, she was naturally interested in what went on "backstage" in the kivas and ceremonial rooms. Although there were restrictions on visitors even then, the dancers in their costumes could be seen in action in the plaza performances, and the construction of the costumes could be examined in museum collections and elsewhere.
Ceremonial Costumes of the Pueblo Indians is a book of value to a variety of people. It will be appreciated by the layperson or tourist who sees a Pueblo dance in one of the villages. It will also aid the technical historian and the scholar because of its careful research and clear descriptions. It will be particularly useful to the curatorial staff of the museum world,
and to the new exhibit staffs that are increasingly being employed in larger museums.
The illustrations are beautifully done, since the author is both an artist and a scholar—the twenty-five line drawings and the forty full-color plates both illuminate the text and dramatize the subject matter. In an introduction to the original edition, Dr. F. W. Hodge, then the director of the Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, wrote:
Roediger's book presents more than its title connotes. For not only are the evolution, fabrication, and significance of Pueblo costumes discussed, together with the body paint, dance paraphernalia, and other appurtenances, but by way of background, the history and present life of the Pueblos are summarized in all their ramifications, and the significance of the ceremonies in which they play a living part is likewise discussed. No researcher among the Pueblo Indians will fail to give this volume his hearty recommendation.
The background information on the Pueblos and the language used in describing them are, of course, dated in many respects, since archaeologists and social anthropologists have learned a great deal since the 1930s. The Basket Makers, for example, are now seen as the direct ancestors of the Pueblo peoples rather than as a separate group, and archaeologists have developed a more complex ancestry for the whole Southwest. After an early period when Stone Age hunters killed large Pleistocene mammals at water holes and elsewhere, changing climatic conditions brought in modern flora and fauna and new populations of hunters and gatherers known popularly as the Desert Culture and technically as the Desert Archaic.
In central Mexico agriculture gradually developed and spread northward as well as to the south. It was adopted early in the Christian Era by the Cochise peoples along the border of what is now New Mexico and by the Hohokam of southern Arizona. Further north, the Basket Makers—
hunters and gatherers—first adopted maize, or corn, and then pottery from the south, gradually settling down in agricultural communities that developed into the modern Pueblos. During the Pueblo period most of these populations gradually merged or became extinct. Today, they are generally known as the Anasazi, a Navajo word for "ancient ones."
Despite the superseded background and language, the core of Dr. Roediger's volume—the materials used in the costumes and their detailed analyses—is as relevant today as it was a half-century ago. Here we find the manufacture of cloth, the use of feathers and evergreens, the preparation of decorative materials, and their use in the production of garments, ornaments, and masks for a variety of costumes—mostly kachina figures from Hopi and Zuni and animal dance costumes from the Rio Grande region, where the masked dancers are not seen by outsiders. Leslie Spier, one of Dr. Roediger's mentors, wrote that "there is no other book on Pueblo ceremonial costume that is so complete ... and adequate in its descriptions," and in 1940, a year before its publication, he noted how valuable the manuscript was in staging the scenes of the Coronado Entrada pageant in New Mexico.
In her final section Dr. Roediger is concerned with the use of costumes in relation to the "prayer drama" and sees Pueblo worship as taking the form of a prayer expressed in action in the kachina dance. The cult of the kachinas is a central feature of religious activity in most of the Pueblos, and it is still possible to see masked kachina dancers in the western Pueblos of Zuni and Hopi, though the Spaniards forced such dances underground in their efforts to convert the Pueblo populations in the Rio Grande region. Here, social dances such as the Saint's Day Corn Dances, Buffalo Dances, and Animal Dances may be seen by visitors—they have costumes similar to those of the masked dancers, as well as similar choreography and songs. In the west the Hopi villages have masked kachina dances from the winter solstice to late July, when the Niman, or Homegoing Dance, sends the kachinas to their homes in the
San Francisco peaks; and the Zunis have kachina dances at various times throughout the year, culminating in the Shalako performances of December, in which ten-foot-tall masked figures dance all night, accompanied by various kachina groups and koyemci clowns, before returning to their homes in the Sacred Lake and elsewhere. Of the kachina dances, it has been said that "here is the best round of theatrical entertainment enjoyed by any people in the world, for religion and drama are here united."
For the Hopi, at least, the "prayer dramas" that Dr. Roediger envisaged as the central feature can be extended to most features of daily and ritual life. Individuals make prayer offerings throughout the year for their crops, their animals, and their relatives, but the major offerings are in the dances and ceremonies. There is still much to learn about the Pueblo peoples, but Dr. Roediger has shown us the way.
PROFESSOR EMERITUS, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO