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Maidens & Figurals

Corn Maidens and Other Figurals

Corn is the only foodcrop that gives milk (when a freshly-picked ripe kernel is squeezed). Corn is identified with women, who also care for the plants. And fertility and the creation of life...

The Zunis have a myth about the six (or seven or eight) maidens who left because they were not being properly cared for. After a long search, the twin sons of the sun father brought them back to Zuni where they are now properly cared for with an annual ceremony. Details are probably best found in Cushing.

On maiden carvings, corn kernels represent fertility. Small children on the same carving or women carrying unborn infants are another way to show fertility. Women's hair and corn silk are symbolically connected. Women past menopause are shown more formally with fancier dress and no corn kernels. Some maidens have grandmother, (fertile) mother, and children in the same carving. Corn is an offering carried by some, often in turquoise. Note that native corn kernels come in six colors, namely, yellow, white, red, blue, black and speckled, the colors of the six cardinal directions.

Corn is a very important plant and formerly the most productive of food for the Zunis. Note that in the variety of corn cultivated in the Southwest since circa 1000 AD can only propagate with human (normally female in Zuni) cultivation and protection.

The protection offered by eagles, bears, and other animals is indicated by making these animals part of the same carving.

Dragonflies symbolize rain, and water creatures also symbolize fertility. Dragonfly symbols are carved on many maidens. Clissa Martin uses dragonfly mosaic overlays.

Olla maidens are quite a different thing. These represent the real Zuni women of the past that went back and forth from the spring to the home carrying large jars of water on their heads, a practical and simple way to perform this chore. Food grains and fruits were also carried this way. There is now a troupe of Zuni female dancers that practice this feat and do dances, give demonstrations, and march in parades.

The meaning of the other human figurals is not as clear. Some simply represent people. Others may represent priests or other personages from Zuni ceremonies.

The differences among the many maidens and figurals have more to do with artist and family styles than anything else.