Later anthropologists wondered at the male clothing We’wha was dressed in after her death. This is a puzzle only for those with a gender-binary mindset it seems, for the Zuni did not perceive this as anything unusual at all. According to Will, the Zuni Pueblo view the advance of life from a “raw” state to a “cooked” state. When We’wha was born, when she was raw, she was a boy, so into boy’s clothes they put her once again, closest to her skin. But in her cooked state, she was a woman, so her outer clothes were women’s styles.
Some lhamana changed their names to be more feminine, others did not. We’wha herself performed traditionally feminine tasks, such as cooking and caring for children, but it was also she who traveled to meet foreign presidents and physically threw soldiers out the door—certainly more traditionally masculine qualities to the white Western eye. But Zuni culture does not see a contradiction in a single person doing all these things. When asked by a researcher about the gender of lhamana individuals, a Zuni person is recorded answering quite simply, “She is a man.”
The active genocide of the Zuni way of life continued for several decades. Despite resistance from parents, many Zuni children were taken to be educated in white Christian residential schools, whose stated aim was to “take the Indian out of the child.” The Zuni culture’s easy embrace of lhamana was used in anti-indigenous propaganda to justify the violence of the white-led government. Will said, “In 1893, the Superintendent of Indian Schools reported that at Zuni ‘bastardy is a frequent occurrence, occasioning no comment. Boys and girls mingle freely, out on the sands, till late at night. Married life imposes no restrictions. Men are allowed to wear women’s costume, and work with the women in the house.”
It is a tragedy that the years following We’wha’s death saw the destruction of what she defended so staunchly during life, including the very definition of her identity—and yet, she is a significant part of why we know any of this violence happened at all. She was too known, too recorded; she was too celebrated in her visit to Washington, D.C., and her friendship with Matilda resulted in hundreds of pages of documentation of the Zuni Pueblo.
The A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, “for the Zuni people and by the Zuni people,” opened in 1992. In early June 2022, the tribe held elections for their tribal council. They still live on the same land where We’wha lived, the land they’ve called home for nearly 1,300 years. Their population numbers over 10,000. The Zuni, and We’wha, endure.
Library of Congress: The National tribune (Washington, D.C.), May 20, 1886
Will Roscoe, The Zuni Man-Woman
Wikipedia: We’wha, Lhamana
National Women’s History Museum: We’wha
Jstor: Testing Courage in New Mexico: Taylor Ealy and the Lincoln County War, 1878
Native American Roots: We’Wha, Zuni Berdache
Smithsonian: Terraced Bowl
Brittanica.com: Zuni people
New Mexico True: Zuni Tourism
Pueblo of Zuni: 2022 Election
The A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center