by Matilda Coxe Stevenson
Anthropologist Matilda Coxe Stevenson, who visited the Southwest in the late 1800s, describes how the Zunis made he'we, a paper-like bread made of corn.
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Though not indigenous to the United States, corn was the staple food of the inhabitants of the Southwest long before the coming of the Spaniards in the middle of the sixteenth century, having been brought to this section either by peoples migrating from the south or by aboriginal traders. It is found, charred, in almost every cliff-house of the Southwest. Corn is made into a great variety of dishes and is also employed in liquid form. “Untitled,” Ignacio Moquino [Waka Yeni Dewa] (Artist)
He‘we, a paper-like bread, is made of corn crushed on the coarsest milling stones and then toasted in a bowl supported on stones in the right-angle fireplace. The corn is stirred continually with a bunch of osiers. The toasted meal is passed through a mill of the next degree of fineness and afterward through a third mill, the final product being a very fine flour. A quantity of this meal mixed with cold water is stirred into a pot of boiling water, and the mixture is stirred constantly during the cooking.
After the pot has been removed from the fire and the mush has cooled sufficiently, it is placed on the floor by the side of the bread maker. A bowl of thin batter made of uncooked meal and cold water is put by the side of a large bowl. If the he‘we is to be of a bluish-green color, the water from slaked lime is poured into the batter. The woman at the baking stone deposits in the empty bowl a double handful of the mush, adding a handful of batter.
When the two are thoroughly mixed she dips a quantity with her hand and passes it rapidly over the heated slab, which is supported on stones at one end of a long fireplace provided with a Chinese-like awning hood. The hand is passed from right to left, beginning at the far side of the slab, and by the time the slab is covered the gauzy sheet is baked; the bread is lifted from the slab and laid on a straw mat, and it soon becomes cool and crisp. After a number of sheets are baked they are laid together on the baking slab and heated sufficiently to allow the bread to be folded. This bread is usually served in basket trays.
He‘we is the staple article of food carried on long journeys, especially when one travels on foot. It is very light in weight and a sufficient quantity can be carried in a cloth tied around the waist to nourish a man for days. Occasionally the Zuni color he‘we red with Amaranthus, which they raise in their gardens around the village. “The Origin of Corn,” Barton Wright (Artist)
A variety of this bread is sometimes made with cold boiled native beans; these are pounded into a paste with the addition of cold water, which is mixed with the batter instead of mush. Salt is added to the mixture....
He‘yahoniwe is made of corn-meal mush; after being ground twice the corn is mixed with cold water and salt and boiled; water from slaked lime is added to produce a bluish-green color. A handful of the mush is added to a quantity of batter sufficient for a sheet of he‘we, and this mixture is made into cakes about 10 by 12 inches and many times thicker than the he‘we sheets; these are baked two on a slab similar to that used for baking he‘we. This bread is in common use at Zuni.
Mu‘tkapawe is another favorite dish of the Zuni. To meal twice ground a sufficient quantity of boiling water is added to make a stiff dough, and water from slaked lime to give the desired color; enough cold water is then added to give the mush the proper consistency to enable it to be shaped into large oval balls, which are cooked in a pot of boiling water. Mu‘tkapawe is eaten cold.
Mu‘tkaliwe, another variety of mush, is prepared in the same manner as He‘yahoniwe, except that the mush is rolled into rope-like strips from which fragments are broken and made into balls an inch or more in diameter; these are dropped into a pot containing just enough boiling water to cook them. The mush thickens in the water and the mixture is eaten with a ladle or spoon.
He‘pachiwe is made by pouring diluted lye over corn, which is left until the hulls are shed, after which the corn is thoroughly washed and dried and then ground. The meal, mixed with water (no salt is used), is made into cakes 6 or 8 inches in diameter and about two-thirds of an inch thick; these are baked on He‘pachiwe slabs.
He‘paloka is usually made of yellow or black corn when wheat is not used for the purpose. The corn is ground twice and the meal is sifted through a very fine sieve. A quantity of meal is placed in a large bowl, boiling water is added, and the mixture is well stirred; then about a cupful of meal which has been held in the mouth of several young girls to sweeten it is also put into the vessel. As each girl finds it necessary she ejects the meal into a small bowl. Nine or ten slabs, each about 10 by 10 inches, are stood on end in a cavity in the same fireplace in which the He‘we is cooked, and cedar wood is placed around each slab and kindled.
When the wood is reduced to embers and the cavity and surfaces of the slabs are adequately heated, the slabs are laid to one side while the embers are removed and the fire bed is thoroughly swept. Dried corn husks are dampened and laid flat and the batter is spread over them. Husks are then placed along the edges of the stiff batter to a depth sufficient to prevent the overlying slab touching it. The arranging in layers of the sheets of batter and the slabs continues until all but one of the slabs are in use. Then the remaining slab is laid over the whole and a fire is kindled upon it. The heat from the slabs below and the fire above is sufficient to cook the He‘paloka, which remains overnight in the improvised oven.... “Hopi Woman Shelling Corn,” Unidentified (Photographer)
A more modern way of making He‘paloka is to cook the mixture in an iron pot placed in the outdoor oven used for baking light bread. The oven having been properly heated, the pot is allowed to remain in it overnight....
Portions of He‘paloka spread on cloths are dried in the sun when the weather is clear, otherwise the cloths are spread by the fire in the house. When thoroughly dried they are ground in the finest mill. The meal is eaten mixed with cold water; it is also eaten dry, as one eats bonbons. In the past it was common to see an old man with a quantity of this meal in a bowl beside him, taking a pinch every little while as he worked on his beads or moccasins.
Mush made in a variety of ways is often mixed with meat wrapped in corn husks, and boiled or baked. The boiled preparation is a favorite dish of the Mexicans, which they call tamales. “Hominy prepared by the Zuni housewife cannot be surpassed.”
Chu‘tsikwanawe (corn without skin), hominy, is one of the staple articles of food of the Zuni. Corn removed from the cob is put into a large pot of cold water containing wood ashes previously dampened. After the corn has boiled a short time it is stirred with a slender stick. After boiling three hours, during which time it is constantly stirred, the corn is removed from the pot to a basket, tray, or bowl and carried to the river, where it is thoroughly washed. Then the hominy, which does not require soaking previous to cooking, is ready to prepare for the meal. Hominy prepared by the Zuni housewife cannot be surpassed.
Mi‘lowe (roasted sweet corn) is regarded as a great delicacy. An excavation 10 or 12 feet deep and 3 or 4 feet in diameter is made in the cornfield. Cedar branches are thrown into this pit and on them are heaped hot embers; then more cedar wood is added until the pit is filled to a quarter of its depth. As soon as a mass of live embers has accumulated the corn in the husks is deposited in the oven and covered thick with stones, upon which are heaped hot embers.
The corn remains in the oven from late in the afternoon until after sunrise the following morning, when the owners of the field, with their families and friends, enjoy the feast. What is not consumed in the field is hung up in the storage room to dry, each ear having the husk pulled back, exposing the corn. Corn preserved in this way remains good for months. When it is to be eaten the husks are removed and the corn is boiled.
Ta‘kuna (bead bread), popped corn. The corn is toasted in bowls balanced on stones in the fireplace, the grains being stirred constantly with a bunch of slender cottonwood sticks until they pop and become as white as snowflakes. The corn is sprinkled with salt while hot.
Gruel made of white or blue meal is constantly whipped during the boiling, so that it is light and frothy when ready to eat. “A native drink which the Zuni claim is not intoxicating is made from sprouted corn.”
Ta‘kuna ka‘we (bead water) is made of popped corn ground as fine as possible. The powder is put into a bowl and cold water is poured over it. The mixture is strained before it is drunk. While this beverage may be drunk at any time, it is used especially by the rain priests and personators of anthropic gods during ceremonials.
A native drink which the Zuni claim is not intoxicating is made from sprouted corn. The moistened grain is exposed to the sun until it sprouts; water is then poured over it and it is allowed to stand for some days.