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2/28/04: To Be or Not to Be... Eaten?

"Run, Bosworth!" was the first thing I heard as I opened my car door on a cold February morning in the village of Shungopavi at Second Mesa. Somewhat startled by the cry, I looked around to see who was calling my name and why I should be running. Out of the corner of my eye I saw hands dangling out of a partially open window waving me toward the adobe-brick home. Now I had my bearings but still could not see any imminent threat. Then I heard them - the deep voices of the Soyoko pressing their way down the alleyway between the two homes I was nearest. I finally caught on and made a mad dash for the door where my friends and "family" were. They were laughing as I scrambled inside. "Careful, or the Heyheyas will get you!" said one of the youngest girls. You could see looks of real concern on the faces of the even younger girls and boys who were holding onto the pant-legs of their mothers and watching the actions of the other adults in the room. One little boy was trembling, and his lower lip looked as though it would only be moments before he burst into tears.

Relatives were bustling about the house, getting ready for her arrival. Her shrill falsetto voice could be heard outside in the corridor behind the house. "Soyoko-u-u-u," she sang, as she came closer and closer to the home where we were hiding. The older children had seen her before and had obviously made a successful barter with her since they were still around! Their nervous anticipation of her arrival was accompanied with laughter and erratic behavior. They were practically under the feet of the adults who would later be the ones to intervene in their behalf. The kitchen table was piled high with baked goods - there were cakes and pies, and of course the traditional Hopi yeast bread. In addition, uncles and grandfathers had placed large sides of mutton in a cooler near the door. The girls prepared token offerings of ground cornmeal, while it was the boys' responsibility to have a jackrabbit or two ready for her when she came. Still they knew that it would not be enough to satisfy her and "her children" - the ogre monsters: nataska and wiharu.

Loud voices were heard outside the home. The screen door rattled with wild energy. We knew it was time - they were here. Just their appearance was enough to strike terror and fear into the hearts of all those present. Their long snouts and sharp teeth were menacing, but even more so were the cleavers, hacksaws, and other cutting instruments stained the color of crimson. Soyok Wuhti, the ogre woman, wore a thatched basket on her back - large enough for a small child to be carried back to the kiva if he or she did not produce a satisfactory offering or did not have any relatives who were willing to ransom them with an offering of their own.

The head of the household stood at the open doorway and bantered back and forth with the Soyok Wuhti in his native language. There was a lot of animated arguing going on between them. It was clear that he was making a case for the inhabitants of the house, but she would not relent. Her long crooked cane would occasionally reach past the threshold in an attempt to wrangle a stray child while her "boys" made wild gestures with their fists and other implements. The Heyheyas stood nearby, like a pack of hyenas waiting for scraps left over by the lions. The argument didn't last long, and the children were coerced to face the awful monster woman and make their offering. One by one they approached her with a fistful of meal or a straggly old jackrabbit. Clearly, she was not impressed and made frightening attempts to take this boy or that girl back with her to feed her children. Aunts and uncles were pleaded with and offerings were made in an effort to ransom the children from the threatening grasp of the Soyokos.

Nearly all of the baked goods were transferred from inside the house to the insatiable arms of the Soyok Wuhti and her family. Together with the offerings of mutton, the family eventually convinced the gluttonous crew to keep moving, and not one child was lost. Some of the children were delighted with what they had just seen and with what had just taken place - others were still wiping away the tears, but all had learned an important lesson and strengthened their relationships with their aunts and uncles - who are traditionally called upon to administer discipline during the routine of daily life. With each ransom offering, the aunts and uncles were entitled to the loyalty (and obedience) of the child and, unless they wanted to forfeit their ransom in the years to come, they were encouraged to behave.

With the Soyoko gone, there was reason to celebrate. A small portion of yeast bread had been withheld, and the lids were removed from the two large pots resting on the burners in the back of the kitchen. The rich aroma of hominy stew filled the room as steam rose into the air. A sack of green chilies was placed open on the table as we eagerly took our seats. Bowls were passed around, and jokes were still being told about the fearsome posse who had just visited the home. We ate heartily and enjoyed one another's company. The children were unusually well behaved at the table that day. I guess it was better to sit down and eat than to be eaten!

 See Soyok Wuhti and her "Boys" Depicted Here:

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