Land of the Zuni and Community Work series (1924) – Frederick W. Hodge and Owen Cattell

A series of 11 films, of variable lengths, but totalling approx. 2 hours.  Originally shot in 35mm b&w stock. Silent, English intertitles. [Not viewed]

Production: These films were made as part of the Museum of the American Indian (MAI)/ Heye Foundation expedition to Hawikku, New Mexico, a prehistoric Zuni settlement. This project ran from 1917 to 1923, and although its principal objectives were archeological, it also involved ethnographic research, and in the last year of the project, ethnographic film-making. 

Sources:  National Museum of the American Indian/Smithsonian; the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC), in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico.

Background: These films were made by what was then the Museum of the American Indian (MAI), funded by the Gustav Heye Foundation. As director of the Hawikku project, Frederick W. Hodge (1864-1956) is often credited with the direction of these films also. But the practical film-making was actually carried out by Owen Cattell, assisted by Donald A. Cadzow (1894-1960), an MAI archeologist, and a Zuni man, Lorenzo Chávez.

In addition to the 11 films listed below, Cattell also shot another film, also in 1923, Shalako Ceremonial, which at 29 minutes is much longer than any of the films in this Land and Community Work series, and appears to have been an autonomous venture.

The Museum was very pleased with the work of Cattell and his colleagues and in an announcement in 1924 in its new journal Indian Notes, it foresaw the widespread use of the films for educational purposes. 

While Shalako Ceremonial has caused great controversy among the Zuni, both at the time of its making and now, most the Land and Community Work series is freely exhibited at the AAMHC, the museum set up in Zuni pueblo by members of the A:shiwi (Zuni) community in 1992.

Content: These films were not viewed for the Silent Time Machine project but their titles and running times are listed by the Smithsonian Museum as follows:

  • Land of the Zuni and Community Work – 16:52 mins. (at 16fps). This film is evidently intended as an overview of the other films in the series.
  • Deerskin Tanning and Wrapping the Leggings – 9:39 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Hairwashing  – 3:48 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Making Adobe Bricks and House Building – 8:43 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Oven Building and Bread Baking -14:58 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Paper Bread (Hewe) Making and Corn Grinding – 11:53 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Pottery Making  – Parts I & II, total duration 26:23 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Rain Ceremony, The – Parts I & II, total duration 19:20 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Salt Lake Ceremony, The – 14:13 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Santo Ceremony, The – 5:37 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Weaving a Blanket – 7:30 mins. (at 18fps).

The AAMHC gives a similar listing, though it gives a different title to the film covering the Salt Lake, i.e. Gathering Salt from Zuni Salt Lake and expands on the title of the Santo Ceremony film, adding: (Dancing for the Santo Niño). It also offers an additional film, Hawikku/Kechiba:wa Excavation (Stick Races), though this may not be part of the MAI series. 

In the Smithsonian catalogue, the three ceremonial films are identified as ‘restricted’, but in the AAMHC, the only film from this list that is restricted isThe Rain Ceremony. Lyon reports that this film shows the pilgrimage and summer ceremonies of the rain priests, including the dancing of the ‘longhair’ katsinas. The AAMHC restricts the viewing of this film to A:shwi (Zuni) people only.

Texts: Anon 1924, Lyon 1988: 264-265.

Wenger, Tisa (2009)

We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Cattell, Owen (1897-1940)

Owen Cattell, right, and Charles Phillips, a fellow opponent of conscription, at the time of their arrest in 1917. Library of Congress, photograph in the public domain.

The contribution of Owen Cattell to the history of early ethnographic film consists of the series of films that he shot in Zuni pueblo in 1923. At the time, he was a member of staff of the Museum of the American Indian (MAI) in New York, and he made the films as part of the MAI’s Hawikuh project, which although primarily archeological, also fostered ethnographic research among the Zuni. This project ran from 1917-1923 and was directed by Frederick W. Hodge (1864-1956), also then of the MAI.

As director of the project, Hodge was also, in effect, the director of the Zuni films, but Cattell appears to have made the films largely in his absence, with the assistance of Donald A. Cadzow (1894-1960) an MAI archeologist and later Arctic expeditionary, and Lorenzo Chávez, a Zuni. This seems to have been particularly the case in the making of Shalako Ceremonial, Cattell’s best known and also most controversial film. 

Outside this period working for the MAI, it is difficult to discover a great deal about Owen Cattell’s career.

His father was Professor James McKeen Cattell (1860-1944), a leading psychologist in the US in the first half of the twentieth century. His mother, Josephine Owen Cattell (1865-1948), who was of British origin, also became a distinguished figure, but in science publishing rather than academic life.  

Cattell senior became a controversial figure when he was dismissed from his post at Columbia University in 1917 for speaking out against US conscription for the First World War. His son, who was then a general science student at Columbia, shared his views, and the same year was arrested and charged with obstructing conscription. The photograph at the head of this entry derives from that event. 

Shortly afterwards, Owen Cattell appears to have left university and followed his parents into science publishing. But by 1921, he is reported to have been taken on as photographer on an expedition to the headwaters of the Amazon led by Henry H. Rusby (1855-1940), a Professor of Botany at Columbia and a leading figure in this field. 

it is unclear how Cattell came to be employed at the MAI. Nor is it clear under what circumstances he left, though he appears to have returned to work in science publishing. He died, of pneumonia, in New York in 1940.


© 2018 Paul Henley