Thursday, May 9, 2013

Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico

Well, Trisha got back to ABQ Tuesday evening, and the carhouse now feels right again!  So happy she got the chance to be with her Beach Girlfriends, but even happier that she's back!  Anyway, yesterday we spent  a good part of the day back at Camping World, waiting on them to install some new rear shocks on the RV.  In several of the user groups and blogs for our model RV a number of folks talked about how this particular model rear shocks makes a significant difference in cornering, keeping down the rocking and shaking stuff in the cabinets.  And today, we really noticed a big difference in the way it handled as we were driving--really happy we did this. But as the day wore on yesterday, Trisha began to feel a bit sick--think she probably picked up some bug on the plane on the trip back to ABQ , so we ended up just coming back to the campground so she could get to sleep--had to cancel our plans for the Sandia Peak Tramway and dinner at the top.  But the good news is that after sleeping for 12 hours straight, she woke up feeling raring to go.

So this morning we headed out toward Flagstaff, AZ and the Grand Canyon.  But our local ABQ "guidian angels" Julie and Brian had suggested we should definitely stop to tour Acoma Pueblo, about 65 miles west of ABQ.  Boy, was that a tremendous tip!  We thoroughly enjoyed visiting this ancient site, where some 15 native families still live year round up on the mesa, over 350 feet above the canyon floor, and many more families who live a few miles away on the reservation come to their other homes up on the mesa during religious feast days and other times of celebration.  Acoma Pueblo is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America.  By oral history, the Acoma people came into the world from a place called shipapu, "some place somewhere north of here," settled in Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and eventually on this mesa.  Legend says they were told they would find "the place that has been prepared for you" by standing on high ground, shouting "Haak'u, Haak'u, Haak'u" and when they heard an echo back, this was the place.  They first settled on another nearby mesa, now called Enchanted Mesa, but eons ago, a violent thunderstorm wiped out the only way up to the top of the mesa, so they moved to the present location.

You start out at the Cultural Center, where they lay out the rules for photography:  no video/audio recording, no photos inside the mission church, no photos of or within the cemetery, and no photos of tribal members without first asking and receiving permission.  They take you on a shuttle bus up to the top of the mesa, and a walking tour is led by a native guide.  Our guide, Dakota Chino--in his description that's his "modern english name given him;"  he told us his name in his native Keresan language, but there's no way I could attempt that.  He was very good, and told us much about the history of his people, from ancient times when the only way to the top of the mesa was by a stairway cut into the rocks, to the 1600's when the Spaniards came and enslaved the Acoma for over 80 years, forcing them to build a Catholic mission and other buildings.  The original mission was destroyed long ago, but the current structure was rebuilt years later and resembles the original building, San Esteban, or St Stephen.  Because they wanted these massive ceiling beams made from Ponderosa pines, which had to come from Mt. Taylor, 30 miles away, and because the beams could not be allowed to touch the ground as they were to be used in a sacred building, relay teams of men hand carried these beams, running, the 30 miles!  The church is one large room, 40 feet across, so the beams were something over 40 feet each.

The Spaniards, in typical fashion of most colonial powers, not only enslaved the natives, but tried to force them to abandon their own religion and adopt their own brand of Christianity.  They destroyed the kivas, sacred houses where the Acoma held their religious services and ceremonies.  The original kivas had been round, but in order to continue practicing their own religion in secret from the Spaniards, the locals built new kivas in square buildings, so their occupiers could not distinguish a kiva from a regular house.  They used ladders on the outside of all the buildings to ascend to the roof, then enter the building through a hole in the roof, climbing down an inside ladder to the living space or the meeting space of the kivas.  This was a matter of defensive security, to not have ground level entrances for enemies and to give them advance warning if enemies tried to come in over the ladders.  After some 80 years of slavery, a number of different pueblo tribes banded together and revolted against Spanish enslavement and won their independence.

As is often the case with religion, eventually there was some merging of the practices of the Acoma native religion and Catholicism, and now in September, on the feast day of St. Stephen it is celebrated with Acoma native dances.  Trisha asked Dakota what of the Catholic practices are still part of the native religion and he said not much more than the celebration of St. Stephen's feast day.

Beautiful decorative pottery has been a staple of these people forever, and they continue to make it today, with lots of black and orange decorations, along with some other, brighter colors.  We got a small bowl with a spiritual theme, and the potter explained the significance of all the colors.  A woman on the tour who is from the area told us this particular potter was from a long line of very well known local artists--lucky us!  Anyway, we saw some truly beautiful people, particularly some of the older men and women--just fascinatingly beautiful in deeply lined and wrinkled, weather beaten faces, one man in particular had the most beautiful long white hair.  But I could not bring myself to approach people even to ask permission to take their picture--made me feel too much like a voyeur and intrusive--same feeling I had had when I visited a very small mountain village in Honduras, so we just have our memories of their faces.  Dakota had told us at the outset that we were free to take his picture,  but asked us not to put it on the internet.  He talked a lot about the struggles they have trying to carry on the traditional ways of the people, but also to live in the modern world.  Up on the mesa there's no running water, no electricity, though they do have a few gasoline powered generators to provide limited electricity for certain purposes.  More young people, like Dakota, are going on to college, and getting jobs/careers off the reservation, but others, like him, are coming back to help preserve their traditional way of life.

Interestingly, property is passed down generation to generation through the women, not the men--a house is passed to the youngest female child in a family, and so on.  Dakota showed us his mother's home on the mesa, where he stays when he is doing religious ceremonies, which she owns because she was the youngest female child in her family, and which will eventually pass to Dakota's 6 year old sister.  Trisha thought this was a splendid way of doing things!

The landscape is just stunningly beautiful, with incredibly intricate formations of massive rocks, seemingly balanced on virtually nothing, mountain ranges in the distance, many mesas throughout the canyon floor, and a sky perfectly blue.  The mesa's average annual rainfall is only 12 inches or so, and they have a couple of community cisterns to gather rain when it does come.  They, like so much of this area, are suffering drought condition, and during the tour a few sprinkles began to fall--well Dakota underwent a transformation!  He told us how spiritual and special the rain is to these people, and told us that since we had experience some rain up on the mesa, many blessings would come our way.  But probably the most remarkable thing that happened was an encounter with an old man, a vendor of some jewelry he makes, as we passed his table.  I was wearing my Santa hat, and Dakota told the old man as we passed that Santa was here, so he better behave to stay on the nice list.  The man exchanged a joke or two, then walked up to me, took off his hat, took my hand in his, and while looking me straight in the eye, gave me a little speech that stopped me dead in my tracks and moved me to tears.  I can't remember it word for word, but he said something like Santa, may you bring all the children who are all over the world defending our country home safe to their families, may domestic violence leave every household, may all the people prosper and not know poverty, and may you go from this place with our thanks for the blessings you have brought to our people by visiting us today.  Then he let my hand go and gave a little bow--there was much more to it, that I can't remember, but what I'll always remember is the look on his face.  I was stunned and could hardly move.  The connection with this man was just indescribable, and a very moving experience.  Just amazing!

At the end of the tour, Dakota gave us the option of riding the bus back down to the cultural center or to walk the sacred steps of Acoma, the stone steps that used to be the only way up or down the mesa.  Trisha and I opted to walk the steps and it was amazing.  The original natives had fashioned these steps so that the path was hidden by the natural faces of the rock, to hide from enemies, and, while there were a couple places so steep we had to basically sit from step to step, it was a remarkable experience to walk these steps.  After we got down, we ate some traditional Acoma food at the cafe in the cultural center--fry bread and tamales!

We made our way to Holbrook, AZ, near the Petrified Forest National Park, where we're spending the night.  Tomorrow we'll go through the park and then head on to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.

Some pics:

Views along the drive on I-40 between ABQ and Acoma:

We began to see red colors in mesas and mountains, much more than what we'd seen thus far

These boulders appear to have been formed as a layer of a mesa crumbled, maybe as a result of some seismic activity

Stopped here at the Acoma Post Office to mail some cards--if you enlarge the picture you may be able to make out the faded sign.
A view of Enchanted Mesa, on the drive from the highway to Acoma Pueblo
 Some of the fascinating rock formations as we approach the Cultural Center

Mission San Esteban, up on the mesa

 The Mexican bell the Spaniards wanted for the mission church, and for which they gave eight Acoma children!  No one knows what happened to the children, but in the wall of the cemetery they made a hole, which Dakota described as the way for the souls of the children to have made it back to rest in peace among the graves of their people.

 Some of the houses on the mesa, showing many varied materials used in construction

 Here, adobe bricks, then walls of Acoma adobe mortar
 Hard to make out, but the faded blue paint around the doors was a holdover from the Spaniards, who, borrowing from the Moors, believed blue paint around doorways and windows kept evil spirits out
 The Acoma adobe mortar, up close--you can see the straw--Dakota says that this has to be reapplied several times a year

One of the kivas, with a massive ladder leading to the rooftop entrance.
Some views of the surrounding landscape, shot from the edge of the mesa

An orno--oven--used for baking, introduced by the Spaniards

The central plaza, where ceremonial dances are held
 Dakota explained that this was the VIP seating area, for religious leaders to watch the dances, so thought it appropriate that we have this religious leader in this photo!!
A traditional quarzite window, about 3 inches thick--not completely transparent, but it did let some light in; when you got up real close you could see dimly into the dwelling.
 First one is shot with regular setting from about 40 feet away, the second was from the same spot, but with the telephoto focusing on the roof decoration--at first I thought it might have been Blitzen!

Couple shots of Enchanted Mesa, shot from the edge of the Acoma mesa

Just fascinated by these rocks!

 The Sacred Steps of Acoma, first shot is of the beginning, at the edge of the mesa
 Looking down the steps, you can see my shadow taking the picture, and the shadow of the one other guy who elected to go down the steps
 Looking back up the steps as we're about 3/4 of the way down

 As you can see, in modern times, they've shored up some of the lower steps with some leveling stones and mortar
Some shots as we walked along the road from the bottom of the steps to the Cultural Center

 One of many "faces" you begin to see, the longer you look at the rock
 See the laughing guy in the middle?

 Ruins of an old house
Statue in the garden of the Cultural Center, of a family with corn, such an important part of their existence

Looking up at the mesa pueblo, shot from the window of the cafe down below
 One last shot of Enchanted Mesa
 Some of the gorgeous red rocks we began to see as we drove into Arizona, the eighth state we've been in since we left!

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