1902: Zuni clowns drink urine, tear apart live animals

The Zuni are a Native American tribe whose ancestors lived along the Zuni River in what is now New Mexico. Like other American tribal groups, the Zuni had a rich cultural heritage, particularly in the production of arts and crafts.

They were also known for their lively communal events which included games, rodeos and entertainment by a group of clowns called the Koyemshi. Performances by the Koyemshi began with jokes and slapstick, much as one might expect from Western circus clowns. But Koyemshi clowns didn’t stop there, as government researchers reported in 1902:

“Each [Koyemshi clown] endeavours to excel his fellows in buffoonery and in eating repulsive things, such as bits of old blanket or splinters of wood. They bite off the heads of living mice and chew them, tear dogs limb from limb, eat the intestines and fight over the liver like hungry wolves… The one who swallows the largest amount of filth with the greatest gusto is most commended by the fraternity and onlookers. A large bowl of urine is handed to a Koyemshi, who … after drinking a portion, pours the remainder over himself by turning the bowl over his head.”

Today there are approximately 10,000 descendants of the Zuni (but no active Koyemshi) living in the United States.

Source: Bureau of American Ethnology, 23rd Annual Report, 1901-1902. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.