Saturday, November 19, 2016
NEW MEXICO DIARY - M Spukbare Fernwirkung (II)
Joachin Archuleta was a little boy when the warriors went away to fight in the Great War in Europe. He recalled that the old men danced in the plaza. A cedar pole twelve feet tall and studded with short, sharp branches was set in the earth near the kiva. The Country Chief responsible for the pueblo’s foreign affairs ordered that the "Old Things" be brought forth from where they were hidden. "Old Things" was a circumlocution – the Country Chief did not want misunderstandings with the White people or the Spanish villagers and so an euphemism was used for the relics. The "Old Things" were knots of hair attached to pads of smoked or mummified flesh. They had been cut long ago in battles with Navajo and Jicarillo Apaches and belonged to all of the people. The "Old Things" were hung from the sharp branches on the cedar pole and the old men danced and sang to them. Then, the men who had enlisted as soldiers approached the cedar pole and danced themselves. They offered the Things a paste of corn meal and water and, then, asked them to help the warriors show bravery in facing the enemy.
When it came time for Joachin Archuleta to enlist to fight the Germans and the Japanese, the Governor of the Pueblo was a Mormon convert and he was very strict about religious affairs. Joachin asked about the ritual involving the Things that belonged to all the people. The Governor told him that the Things had been destroyed, cleansed first by being left on anthills for several days, and, then, buried in caches located in each of the four directions. Joachin was not certain that this was the proper way to dispose of Things invested with such powerful medicine. He asked the Governor if he was afraid of being haunted by ghosts. "There are no such things," the Governor proclaimed, but Joaquin could see that he was not so sure of his confident words.
In the Ardennes forest, on a very cold morning, Joachin’s platoon ambushed a column of German soldiers. The tanks pivoted their great guns and fired them, knocking down trees. Men floundered through the deep snow and were killed by bullets, fire from explosions, and bayonet. Joachin cut a scalp from an enemy that he had killed. He wrapped the scalp in a blanket and carried it with him for the rest of the campaign. He was relieved that he didn’t have to cut any more scalps.
When he returned to the pueblo, the Mormon governor was absent –he was serving as a legislator in Santa Fe. Joachin consulted with an old man about the scalp that he had cut in Belgium. The old man said that no one could remember exactly how to perform the scalp ceremony and that, certainly, the scalp could not be displayed on a cedar pole in the plaza as had been the custom many years before. "You must keep the scalp nourished by feeding it a paste of water and corn meal," the old man told Joachin. "If the scalp is not nourished, the warrior from which you cut it, will hang around the pueblo and haunt you and cause sickness in the children and women." Joachin massaged corn meal into the scalp and, then, took it into the desert to be purified by the ant soldiers. Then, he went into the mountains alone and fasted for ten days, living only water and corn meal.
Luiz Archuleta was Joachin’s nephew. Joachin showed him the scalp several times when he was a little boy and teen-ager. He showed him how the scalp had to be fed with a paste of ground corn and water. Joachin said that it was a great honor to possess a thing like the German soldier’s scalp and that it burdened him with many responsibilities. Joachin kept the scalp in a small iron box with his war medals, some bullets, and a German hand-grenade that had been defused.
Luiz Archuleta volunteered to fight in Vietnam. The people danced in his honor before he left for Basic Training but there was no display of scalps. Joachin, who was ill, invited Luiz to his trailer house and showed him the scalp cut from the German. "I’ll ask him to help you," Joachin said. "The Germans were great warriors." "How will he understand me?" Luiz asked. "Don’t you have to speak to him in German." "He will understand," Luiz said.
In Basic Training, the other troops called Luiz "Geronimo" or "Chief." Luiz didn’t mind "Chief" but chaffed under the nickname "Geronimo" – "Geronimo was an Apache war-chief," Luiz told the other men. "My people are the enemies of the Apaches." The other soldiers didn’t understand the distinction and kept using the nickname and, after a while, Luiz became accustomed to being called "Geronimo."
In a firefight, Luiz shot and killed an enemy. His comrades sometimes cut off the ears and toes of dead enemies for souvenirs and they asked Luiz if he was going to take the dead man’s scalp. Luiz thought of how his uncle had fed the German’s scalp on corn meal and water at least once a week and how he had massaged the paste of cornmeal into the mummified flesh and he recalled that if these things were not done, the ghost of the dead warrior would loiter and be vengeful and, even, perhaps, sicken women and children. "It’s too great a responsibility," Luiz said and he left the body of the dead soldier alone.