In the story of Edward Proctor Hunt’s family, Nabokov (World Arts and Cultures, American Indian Studies/Univ. of California, Los Angeles; Where the Lightning Strikes: The Lives of American Indian Sacred Places, 2006, etc.) reveals the history of the Pueblo Indians.
Named “Day Break” when he was born into the Acoma Pueblo, a “mesa-top village…in western New Mexico,” in 1861, Hunt lived the self-sufficient life common to the communal, insulated Pueblo. He was initiated into the Pueblo’s religious rites and, after a near-death experience, the secret Fire Society. Eventually, he became a shaman. Despite not including details “best left alone,” the author vividly explores the different ceremonies. Hunt spent three years being re-educated at the Indian Training School and there found his Anglo name in a Bible. He also became a Koshare, or sacred clown spirit whose laughter represented detachment and, thus, freedom. Hunt “knew something about himself,” making him one of the strongest members of the community. He also remained a closeted Christian. Nabokov’s deep feeling for this civilization is obvious in his descriptions of the land and the Pueblo’s strong ties. Hunt’s entrepreneurial spirit, his ease with outsiders, and his financial success eventually led to his departure from the Pueblo. With the help of his wife and sons, he dictated the Acoma creation myth at the Smithsonian Institute over nine weeks in 1928. They explained the myths, legends, and history through the genres of prayer, chant, tale, myth, legend, and song. His family made a life selling tribal art and pottery and as “show Indians” touring Europe and the United States. The pull of the Pueblo was always powerful, and the familial ties and love of ceremony and song were sufficient to bring them back often.
The lure of the Land of Enchantment is irresistible, as Nabokov draws us into the simple, cooperative life of the Pueblo Indians and their magnificent territory. A great choice for lovers of the Southwest.