Shalako Ceremonial at Zuni, New Mexico (1924?) – Frederick W. Hodge and Owen Cattell.

The ‘shálako’ masks are considered embodiments of ‘kokko’, ancestral spirits. Framegrab from the film.

29 mins., b&w, 35mm stock. Silent, English intertitles. 

Production: This film was shot in 1923 around the same time and by the same film-makers as a series of films on Zuni life produced by the Museum of the American Indian (MAI).

However, it is reported to have been made at the request of the curator of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), Clark Wissler (1870-1947) and may not therefore have formed part of the MAI series. It seems likely though that it would  have been released in the same year as the series, i.e. 1924.

Source: Some evidence for its independence from the broader series of Zuni films is that whereas the latter is held by the National Museum of the American Indian, the successor institution to the MAI, the original copy of Shalako Ceremonial is held by the AMNH. Its catalogue number in the AMNH Film Collection is 273, but due to its cultural sensitivity, viewing is restricted.

Background:  Like the other Zuni films, this film was made as part of the MAI’s Hawikku project, directed by the ethnologist Frederick W. Hodge (1864-1956). This ran from 1917 to 1923, and although primarily archeological, also involved ethnographic research and in the last year, ethnographic film-making. 

As director of the Hawikku project, Hodge is often considered to be the director of the films associated with it. He is not mentioned in the film credits of Shalako Ceremonial and it is not clear whether he was present during the making of this particular film. But he was instrumental in gaining permission for the making of the film while the intertitles certainly appear to have been written by an ethnologist. 

Although Hodge may have been the director, the cameraman and principal practical film-maker was Owen Cattell (1897-1940). Although they do not receive credits, Cattell was assisted by Donald A. Cadzow (1894-1960), an MAI archeologist, and Lorenzo Chávez, a Zuni.

Permission to make the films had been negotiated by Hodge with Lotario Luna, the governor of the Zuni pueblo, and also a leading priest, Komosana. This included permission to film religious ceremonies, which among the Zuni generally involve a great deal of dance.

Hodge believed that a film record of the ceremonies would prove their genuinely religious nature. As such, they could serve to undermine a federal government proposal to ban Native people’s dances since religious freedom was and is guaranteed by the US Constitution.

The shálako ceremony constitutes the climax of the complex Zuni annual ritual cycle. It takes place shortly before the winter solstice and involves the arrival of six large masked figures, the shálako, who are considered to be embodiments of kokko, ancestral beings (see image at the head of this entry).

The shálako are received by two other groups of masked figures, the sayatasha, the so-called ‘council of deities’, and the grotesquely costumed koyemshi, clownish trickster figures who orchestrate the ceremony. Although the shálako leave the village after one night, the ceremony continues for another four nights, culminating in the ritual welcoming of ten young girls, the Corn Maidens, into the village plaza.

The filming of the more general MAI series, which primarily concerned traditional crafts, does not seem to have caused any tensions within the Zuni community. But the filming of the shálako ceremony, the most sacred of all Zuni religious ceremonies, was a different matter.

In view of the sensitivity, it was agreed that Cattell should shoot from a considerable distance. Even so, some Zuni were incensed by his filming of the ceremony, particularly of those parts that should normally be witnessed only by initiated men. 

The filming also got caught in the midst of a deep-seated division within the Zuni pueblo between Protestants and Catholics. The governor who had given permission was a Protestant, as was  Lorenzo Chávez, Cattell’s assistant.

One version of the dispute is that the Catholics argued to Robert Bauman, the local representative of the federal Indian Bureau that in giving permission to film ceremonies, the governor had not consulted with the community, thereby violating its trust in him and requiring his removal from office.

Another version, not necessarily incompatible with the first, is that the governor had not shared out the $300 that Hodge had paid in order to be allowed to film the ceremony.

Stories of Cattell’s camera being smashed and of him and Hodge being peremptorily expelled from the pueblo are probably exaggerated. But they were certainly not allowed to film the final day of the ceremony. And since then, no film-making of any kind has been allowed of Zuni ceremonies. 

Content: The film follows the development of the ceremony chronologically in a series of sequences interspersed with explanatory intertitles.

The first 12 minutes of the film – that is, approaching half of its total duration – cover a phase of the ceremony in which only initiated men may participate. Those who will wear the masks are shown praying and making offerings to the katsina spirits whom they will personify.

Then, after a four-minute sequence showing the building of the houses in which the katsina will dwell during the ceremony, the sayatasha masked figures are shown crossing the river that lies outside the village.

At this point, a man comes and stands in front of the lens. Contemporary accounts suggest that he was only one of several people who attempted to prevent the making of the film.

As the sayatasha dance in front of the houses built for the spirits, the camera keeps its distance.

However, the filming continues, showing the sayatasha dancing in front of one the houses built for the spirits. They are observed by women and children, and seemingly by some non-Natives. The women bless the dancers by sprinkling them with cornmeal.

Later that afternoon, 19 minutes into the film, the giant shálako masks appear in the distance, outside the pueblo. They are filmed from very far away, but even so, as an inter title explains, one of the six masks refused to appear  because it “objected to being photographed”.

The ‘shalako’ dance in front of the houses built specially to house them during the ceremony.

After “a night spent in ceremony”, the shálako are shown, in a highly dramatic sequence, running at high speed back and forth in swirling snow in front of the houses built for the spirts.

The sayatasha dance before the shálako, who then leave. Now it is the turn of the koyemshi, the “delight-makers”, to dance in front of the spirit houses. 

Throughout these sequences, the camera has kept its distance. But all to no avail. As announced in an intertitle, permission to film the final phase of the ceremony, in which the Corn Maidens arrive in the village plaza, was withdrawn.

The last shot of the film is rather forlorn: it is taken from far outside the village. On top of the houses one can see the backs of spectators looking down, presumably watching the Corn Maidens making their entrance. 

Remaking: In 2012, a group of Zuni religious leaders and some of the staff of the AAMHC were shown the film during a collection review at the AMNH. They were particularly concerned about the initial lengthy sequence that shows a scene that only initiated Zuni men should see. They also identified errors in the intertitles and in the sequencing of events. 

More generally, they felt that the film should never have been made. But recognising that as it is now in the public domain, its circulation is impossible to restrict absolutely, they decided instead to collaborate with the AMNH to produce a new version, entitled The Shalako Film Remade. 

In this remaking, the sequences that should not be viewed by the uninitiated were omitted and new intertitles and a voice-over in Zuni were added to correct what they considered to be the misrepresentations of the original.

But the more fundamental aim of this remaking was to regain control over the representation of Zuni culture. Further details available here.

Texts: Anon 1924, Pandey 1972: 331-332, Tedlock 1983, Lyon 1988: 246, 264-265, Wenger 2009, Anderson and Montenegro 2017.

© 2018 Paul Henley