20 August, 2006

What Would The Santo Nino de Zuni Do?

Natasha Sealy
Her Word on the Street
What Would the Santo Nino de Zuni Do?
August 2006 and counting down

Twenty miles down the dirt road, and I was beginning to wonder if john biancini was crazy. We were somewhere in between Winslow and Zuni, which is not a point of reference unless you are a thunderbolt or Zuni. My diesel “rig” rattled down the dirt road while we made eyes at the ensuing monsoon clouds. Thunderbolts cracked the sky, knocking out fat droplets onto the windshield of the car. I closed the sun roof, and watched our sentences get sparse. It was like the exterior terrain was taking over the inside of my car, and stealing the words out of our mouths. My sister, Olivia rested her head against the back window and watched the show.
John, Olivia, and I were on our way to Zuni, New Mexico to visit the patron saint, Santo Nino de Zuni. Santo Nino is a baby Jesus statue stolen from the Nuestra Senora de La Candelara Church before it was burnt to the ground by the disgruntled Zuni people during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. After the thievery, Santo Nino de Zuni came to live with the Zuni people, and still does. I was fascinated by such a strange story, and wondered why generations of Zuni women watched over a crumbling Catholic relic with such adoration and commitment. It was like in their caretaking, they sit in as the Mother. I realized the symbolism in this ordeal ran deep, but was currently more concerned with getting rained into a ditch in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t want the shape shifters to get us.

We passed a few silly little railroad crossings and made our way onto a friends’ property. We needed to stop in and check on June. June is this persevering, old goat herder, back to the earth type, who recently fell and banged up her knee. John wanted to check
in and see that she was still alive I suppose. The rain threatened my general anxiety level as we entered into her Hogan shaped structure. We sat and listened to the rain hit her tin roof while she showed us photographs of her family amongst the evergreens. She filled us in on the current behaviors of her goat herd, and posed for some photographs. I realized that I could very well be like her when I reach the age of 77.

While John climbed up onto the roof and took photographs of June’s life. I threw out some smelly dead mice and fetched June a bottle of wine I had sentimentally packed in the trunk of the car. We bid June farewell, looking east towards Zuni.Only an hour and a half to the Santo Nino de Zuni, only an hour and a half to the saint who divinely fulfills promises to its pilgrims… We turned off at the Witch Well Bar and drove the last leg of our pilgrimage. Apparently people walk, cycle and sometimes crawl to Zuni, believing that a great sacrifice on their part will ensure reciprocation from the Santo Nino.
I had not come up with a personal sacrifice, and wanted to go along with the pilgrimages’ tradition. I didn’t want to get busted lacking reciprocity. But my bread baking supplies seemed silly and dry to me now. I found Olivia’s’ offering of plums to be more tempting and sacrificial.

We passed Downe Yalanne, Sacred Mountain, as the sun set golden on parts of stone. Dusk was coming, and we had had a full day. My eyes grew tired as we parked. I, grabbed the sack of flour, and followed after John.

Missy Yasattie greeted us from inside her pueblo. I inched into the room, immediately noticing 6 sofas and numerous pieces of religious artwork on the walls. I knew that the Santo Nino was at the far end of the room standing within a glass case, but I felt like I was not supposed to look at him yet, like my eyes would be staring too hard, too rudely. So I made my way over in a general circular fashion, eventually getting really close to look at the oddness of a figure dressed in a pink organza gown. People had left him gifts, prayers and photographs. The sundry notions from people who had come in hopes of having prayers answered touched me. I felt the immediate desire to go to sleep. John and Missy were talking in the background as I rested my eyes awhile. It seemed okay, I was a weary pilgrim, despite the way in which I had arrived.
Then my wrist started twitching. I thought that I needed to stretch, and raised my arms out to the side of me and placed them again on my chest. Then my wrist started twitching again. Pretty soon it started jerking. I wondered if my subconscious had created this to entertain myself, but dismissed that as too complex, as I removed the sand cast butterfly maiden bracelet from my wrist. No! No damn it! The bracelet is too precious. It’s like me defined.
Missy was telling Olivia and John that the Santo Nino is also known as the mother and daughter of the sun. That the Zuni had found him in a dress, and thought he was a she. I asked her if the Santo Nino de Zuni caused conflict due to its triumvirate identity. She said that there was no conflict whatsoever. She went on to saw that she always stayed with the Saint, and would put him in his own room at night. I wondered if that was because of burglars. I wondered if he had a little bed and pillow.
I put the bracelet back on my wrist. But it began to ache like someone had given me a rug burn. I looked over at Missy like she would know what to say. She smiled and laughed as she talked. As she raised her hand up towards me, I noticed that the color of her palm was much lighter than the tan of her arms. I smiled back and took the bracelet off
John and Olivia wanted to go see a 400 or so year old church, but I wasn’t about to leave the sofa. Something was going on here with my bracelet. If I didn’t deal with this I might be in trouble. So I bid them well, and continued with my half prayer, half internal argument, until I decided that I would give the baby Jesus my rad bracelet. Missy had gotten up to do something in the other part of the house, or maybe she had gone to answer the phone. So I quickly went up to the alter and put the bracelet in a pouch near the Santo Nino, then sat down again.
That didn’t feel right. It felt selfish to leave the precious bracelet there. I waited as long as I could, then quickly walked back up to the alter and reached my hand into the pouch. I didn’t want to be caught. I just didn’t understand what was going on, but since I was acting off of gut reactions, I had to get the bracelet back and give it to my younger sister as soon as she returned.
Just then Olivia and John came through the door. Olivia looked upset and sat on the edge of the sofa opposite me. Okay. Go. I quickly crossed the room and dramatically put the bracelet on her arm, telling her she could never give it back to me ever, that if she had to get rid of it she was to mail it directly to the Santo Nino de Zuni. She looked troubled, and said that something bad had happened, and that she would tell me latter. She said that the police had been called. I looked at my baby sister and didn’t get it. John told us in his nonchalant quiet tone that it was illegal to photograph sacred sites, and that the charge is prosecutable. Olivia got up, and stood at the screen door waiting for the BIA. It was dark out, and every car light caused us alarm. But after a long time it seemed that the police weren’t going to show up after all.
After our farewells, we walked out into the dust dark lot of the baby saint feeling bewildered. It was getting late, and we had long drive back to Cottonwood with a few oddball stops in-between.
As we were getting into the car Missy came out into the lot calling after us. She came to the car and asked us if we wanted to stay for supper. It was the least she could do she said. I obliged immediately, throwing my daily planner out the window, and linear caution to the wind.
The family ushered us into the kitchen where they were heating up some lamb stew in a microwave. Missy’s’ husband passed out a round of RC cola and we sat sipping from our cans quietly as the microwave made its slow rotations around and round, nuking the traditional lamb stew served at dances. We all seemed okay not saying a word for a long bit of time. I appreciated the silence after such a long, full day, and just wanted to go to sleep in the room with the Santo Nino. Missy told us that the saint had its’ own room that it was taken to every night. I wondered if the saint got the master bedroom, or if he/she was okay with an alcove. But mostly I wondered what sort of gift had been given to us just a few hours from home.
We stepped back out into the parking lot around eleven at night. The air was cool, and a little chilly for July.

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