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“Who Is Chakwaina?”

Southwest Crossroads Spotlight

Home Chakwaina“Home Chakwaina,” Duane Dishta (Artist)

In 1529, Spanish explorer Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Baca and three companions survived a shipwreck at the mouth of what is now known as the Mississippi River. Esteban, a black Moorish slave, was among the survivors. For seven years, the four Spaniards wandered across the continent living among native groups. In 1536, they straggled into the Spanish settlement of Culiacán in northern New Spain.

Cabeza de Baca and his men related their adventures to the Viceroy in Mexico City. During their wanderings, they had heard of Indians who traded in turquoise and lived several leagues to the north in large houses.

Kwelele (Black Katsina)“Kwelele (Black Katsina),” Duane Dishta (Artist)

The following year, eager for gold and converts to Catholicism, Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza chose Esteban the Moor to accompany Fray Marcos de Niza on an expedition north. Dressed in skins and exotic apparel, carrying a gourd and a copper rattle, Esteban traveled ahead of Fray Marcos de Niza. His mission was to prepare the native inhabitants for the approaching Spaniards, who would need food and shelter.

But according to Zuni oral history, Esteban violated a sacred boundary. He crossed a line of corn pollen their priests had sprinkled around the pueblos during a sacred ceremony. Zuni warriors killed Esteban at Hawikuh. When Fray Marcos heard about Esteban's death, he hurried back to Mexico City with the bad news.

Today, a black monster katsina named Chakwaina appears in the pueblos of the Southwest during ceremonies. Might Chakwaina be a representation of the way Zunis and others remember Esteban and the first Spanish expedition into their world?