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America's History in the Making

Resource Archive: Search Results

Zuni Tsa'Kwayna Katsina Doll

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Shannon L. Parker, ZUNI TSA'KWAYNA KATSINA DOLL (n.d. [collected in 1890]). Courtesy of the School of American Research, catalogue number SAR.1999-9-512

Creator Zuni Artist
Context Esteban, an African guiding a Spanish expedition, encountered and was killed by the Zuni in 1539.
Audience Zuni, present and future
Purpose Religious instruction

Historical Significance

The details of Esteban's spring 1539 encounter with the Zuni—an agricultural, sedentary society living in what would become New Mexico—are difficult to discern. The dark-skinned Moroccan had been among the few survivors of the ill-fated Narváez expedition that had wandered from Florida to the Rio Grande River. Though still considered a slave, he was now guiding a Spanish contingent searching for the fabled Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. Esteban was accompanied by Pima, Papago, Opata, and Tarahumara Indians, who regarded him as a potent healer, and he "wore bells and feathers on his ankles and arms, and carried plates of various colors." [Fray Marcos de Niza, "Relacion del viaje a Cibola, reino de las siete ciudades" (1539)]

Esteban evidently sent word to the Zuni cacique or chief that "he was coming to establish peace and to heal them," [letter to Mendoza from Francisco Vasquez de Coronado (1540)] and he was undeterred by messages telling him to turn back. Esteban reportedly arrived in the village, told its leaders that white gods were coming, and demanded gifts. The details of what transpired vary, but it is thought that the Zuni killed Esteban soon after his arrival.

Native Americans remembered the Esteban in their oral traditions and by creating katsina figures, representing spirit beings. Katsina figures were used to frighten disobedient children, suggesting that the Pueblo peoples associated Esteban with calamity.

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