Bow Priest

Encyclopedia Article


Chosen by the Pekwin or head priest, the Bow priests are a warrior society linked to the cult of Ahayuda, the Zuni twin war gods. The Bow Priests care for the shrine of Ahayuda and are responsible for any depictions of the gods. The Bow Priests are conspicuous in Zuni cosmology and in the first world, it was the Bow Priests who planted the prayer stick that allowed the people to climb out into daylight, provided corn for eating and carved the hands, feet, mouth and anus of the newly emerged people. During the full moon in March, the Bow Priests honor Ahayuda by making prayer sticks. In the past, two Bow Priests were assigned to the Pekwin priestly hierarchy, to the kachina society, to the medicine society: 12 esoteric fraternities in all. As the Ahayuda are always portrayed as twins, the Bow Priests are paired as their representatives on earth. The Bow Priests organize the ceremonial calendar and choose the people marked to impersonate gods during the year ahead. They guard the secrets of rituals and act as hosts for ceremony, sprinkling sacred corn meal and leading the masked gods into the plaza.

The Bow Priests are the only priests in Zuni who attend to the civil problems of war and internal aggression, and are responsible for punishing intruders and for regulating adherence to the Zuni faith and moral codes. The Bow priests continue to be influential into modernity. In the early 1970s, two Bow Priests, Victor Niihi and Dexter Cellicion realized that A'hayuta stolen from shrines were on exhibit in the Denver Museum and attempts at reparations were made. The Bow Priests were chosen for this task because of their role as mediator between the mundane and the sacred, and over 100 sacred Ahayuda objects have been returned to the Zuni nation.

Photo Credit: 

"Smithsonian Portrait of Zuni men with Naiyutchi, senior Bow Priest in back left, and Kaisiwa, junior Bow Priest in back" by John K. Hillers, 1882 in Smithsonian National Archives (NAI 523634) is licensed under Public Domain.

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