Message #27
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: The Return of the Ahayu:da
Date: Fri, 23 Jan 1998 18:00:10 -0700

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :

[Factoid just found -- SASIG Ed.]

Abya Yala News
Vol. 10, No. 2, Summer 1996 

Reversing the Flow of Traffic in the Market of Cultural Property


The Return of the Ahayu:da
An early and important repatriation effort in North America
was the struggle of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico to return the
sacred Ahayu:da figures to their traditional resting places in
tribal shrines. Figures representing the twin war gods, Uyuyemi
and Maia’sewi are placed in shrines to harness their potentially
destructive powers. The Zuni believe that when Spanish and US
agents stole the communally owned figures from their designated
resting places, it caused the spiritual imbalance that the world
is suffering in this century. The return of the figures to their
shrines is necessary to restore harmony and protect the Zuni

Anthropologist T.J. Ferguson, a member of the Ahayu:da
repatriation effort, warns, "It is extremely important that both
tribes and museums recognize that the amount of time and money
required to assemble information and reach an agreement can be
substantial." This was the case for the Zuni people, for whom the
saga of the Ahayu:da lasted nearly a century. The first objects
were removed to the Smithsonian in 1897. In April of 1978, Zuni
leaders began repatriation efforts by meeting for the first time
with representatives from the Denver Art Museum. By 1992 the
Zuni secured the return of 69 Ahayu:da from 37 different sources,
representing all known US copies. 

Most of the efforts of the Zuni to repatriate the Ahayu:da were
accomplished without any legal backing from NAGPRA, which was not
passed until November of 1990. The struggle of the Zuni to mount
their repatriation campaign was intense, but in the end they
prevailed. Their success is due mainly to dedication and
cooperation. The museums were not, at that time, required by law
to cooperate with the Zuni requests, nor did the Zuni
representatives seek a legal confrontation. Instead, the Zuni
approached the matter by presenting a solid case to museum
officials and embarking on a series of friendly negotiations.
Cooperation and respect kept the negotiations from becoming
adversarial. Although the museums stood to lose valuable portions
of their collections, they respected the sincerity and legitimacy
of the Zuni appeals.

One of the concerns the Smithsonian raised before agreeing to
return cultural artifacts was the security of the figures. The
Zuni developed elaborate measures, including surveillance of
the shrines, to protect the Ahayu:da from repeated theft.
"Indian tribes requesting repatriation of human remains and
artifacts should be ready, as the Zunis were, to address
questions from museums about the security of artifacts after
repatriation," says Ferguson.

Repatriation appeals can even begin a friendly cooperation
between museums and Indigenous peoples. The Zuni provided
valuable information to the museums regarding the nature and
significance of items in the museum collection and the museum
provided a secure record of cultural artifacts and history that
they shared with the Zuni Pueblo. Zuni artists and ceramics
students benefited from studying pottery in the Smithsonian
collection. Zuni religious leaders also guided the museums’
curators in appropriate handling procedures for those sacred
objects that remain in museum collections.

"The power and continuity of Zuni culture and religion have
been reinforced by the return of the Ahayu:da to their shrine
on the Zuni Indian Reservation, and that is good," says curator
of ethnology and Zuni anthropologist, Edmund Ladd.