Acoma, Sky City – Pueblo Indians

Acoma the Sky City

and the Pueblo Indians

Acoma, the Sky City, sits atop a 365-foot tall, vertical-sided mesa 60 miles west of Albuquerque. Acoma shows us what life was like atop the cliffs at Chaco Canyon and in the caves of Mesa Verde.

Coronado made first contact in 1540 and in 1598 Conquistador Juan de Oñate came with colonists. His brother tried to enter Acoma up the steep trail and paid a heavy price. Oñate arrived with more men and assaulted and conquered the citadel losing 11 men in the process. Hundreds of Acomans died. Oñate punished the survivors by cutting off the left foot of all males over 25 years-of-age and sending them into slavery in Mexico.

Franciscan missionaries sent to stay at Acoma found the people difficult to deal with. The friars suppressed and harshly punished native worship as witchcraft. The brothers thought they had stamped it out, but it was only hidden from them.

Kivas, subterranean worship centers, were carefully concealed within the Acomans three-story apartment houses. Traditionally, homes had no windows or doors and were entered via a ladder through the smoke-hole in the roof.

Pueblo Tribes. Today there are 21 Pueblos. When Oñate arrived there were 77. The reduction in number is not all accounted to massacre and disease. The Spanish forced the people to consolidate in large villages in order to better control them. They also forced a people, who would naturally have abandoned a site after 50 or 100 years to seek cleaner ground, to stay in one place and have the boundaries of their ownership defined.

The move toward larger pueblos, a word meaning village in Spanish, was not all due to the Spanish. It had begun after 1250 when the Four-Corners was abandoned and it suggests that an entirely new system of government and social control had come into being. Before this, except perhaps for Chaco, villages consisted of a few clans. After 1250 they grew to as much as 3000 people. There was a new religion as well. Kachinas, masked gods and the idols representing them, began to appear.

All Puebloans suffered under the Spanish Franciscan friars who lived in their villages and forced the people to build churches and conventos, large structures where the priests dwelt. The brothers had rights to Indian labor and to their produce and even to keeping Indian servants. Everywhere native religion was suppressed. Pueblo religion already hidden in kivas was secretive making use of the sudden appearance of the ‘gods’ from within the kivas. Young men were initiated into the secrets of one kiva. No one else was allowed to know them. Already secretive, persecution made them reticent and even more secretive.

Experience with early anthropologists who probed and published and seemingly ridiculed Indian beliefs set the stage for it being very difficult to gather information about Pueblo religion. Here is a link to the New Mexico Pueblos and to Hopi in Arizona.

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