Taos Pueblo: A Beautiful Heritage from the American Indians

Name: Taos Pueblo (United States of America).
Location: northern part of the state of New Mexico, in the valley of a small tributary of Rio Grande.

Taos Pueblo

The state of New Mexico was, like the American continent, a place of settlement of diverse Indian cultures. The culture from Pueblo Indians covered a vast extension in the north from Mexico and in the southwest of the United States. Taos Pueblo is the best preserved spot of all Pueblo Indian settlements in the north of the boundary of Rio Grande.

The community of the Pueblo Indians, reduced to its minimum expression though, survives up to this day, containing a bunch of families from the Mexican state of Chihuahua and from the states of Arizona and New Mexico, in the United States. Taos Pueblo is a Pueblo settlement very well preserved.

The small town, located in the valley of a small tributary of Rio Grande, is composed of a collection of houses and six ceremonial centers with a circular shape, called kiwas, characteristic of a culture which inherits no few things from the tradition of the Anasazi Indians and from other cultures, even prehistoric ones, established in the limits of the actual Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. A mysterious recession, for causes that researchers have not been able to find out yet, forces the abandonment of important sites such as Mesa Verde and Chaco around 1300 (although some theories point to different climatic causes). Interestingly, their agricultural prosperity was due to plantations in lands, nowadays totally infertile.

The proliferation of small towns in the valleys of Rio Grande and its tributaries, added to the disappearing of the large Anasazi communities, is one of the continuity relations in the history of Indian settlements in the North American continent. These rustic and modest agglomerations, characterized by common social and religious structures and traditional agricultural practices with very well developed irrigation systems, appear perfectly embedded in the Pueblo Taos at the beginning of the 15th century. Due to the dryness of the surroundings, is very likely that the tribal organization was based in the mutual dependence of the individuals, with a large amount of cooperative work.

But, who are the Pueblos? First, we have to highlight that the name is a Spanish invention ("pueblo" means "town") given because of the appearance of the settlements. Second, it's important to differentiate the different tribes, each one with its respective language. For instance, the Moqui, the Queres, the Tano or the Zuni, all of them occupied different regions around Rio Grande. The cultivation of cotton and corn, the high skills in ceramic and gold work, the domestication of the turkey or the skull deformation, are some of the characteristics inherited from other Pre-Columbian sedentary cultures. To give you an idea, anyways, of their level of development, we have to compare the Pueblo civilization with the nowadays Inca or Aztec civilizations. One specific peculiarity was shared between the different traditions: their organization was matriarchal and matrilineal, being the woman the owner of the lands and houses. But the government of the family was exercised by the priests, speakers of a natural religion where the sun is the supreme being and the Earth and the Moon are the main divinities.

In fact, the secret ceremonies in the kiwas were quite often, and at the same time they were used as meeting places for the men. Practically, all kiwas have at least one of these features: a raised stone in the vent outwards, like a chimney, a hole for the fire, and a pit in the ground for the earth gods to enter their houses. In Pueblo Bonito, a community from the Pueblo and in New Mexico, exist 37 kiwas.

Resistance and Treason

The civilization of the Pueblo is deeply rooted in the traditions and at the same time is reluctant to innovations. A tenacious and admirable loyalty makes much of the past last for a long time. This is how is manifested when the first Spanish arrived to their lands, commanded by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, governor of Nueva Galicia, between 1540 and 1542. Since 1613, the inhabitants of Taos resist against the system of taxes imposed by the Spanish Crown in favor of their people. In 1634, the missionary fray Alonso de Benavides writes a formal complaint to the Pope talking about the attitude of defiance of the Indians after a series of evangelization attempts. Moreover, the Pueblo became much more influenced by other Indian races from the North American Plains at that time rather than by the Spanish.

In this way, the 18th century was a continuous conflict in Taos, who became a strong resistance against colonization. The appearance of new species of cattle and cereals to be shared at their agricultural occupations, adding a bad tolerance to christianization, hardly changes their traditional religious beliefs. In fact, the first Christian temple was fired in 1680. So, these contrary positions between some unredeemed principles and a slight and insignificant assimilation, result in the two following historical phases: the one that goes from 1821 to 1848, during the Mexican Administration and the one that starts in 1848 up to nowadays with the North American Administration.

The inhabitants in Taos obtain in 1970 the restitution of their lands, stolen by the government, which also allows the access to the holy territory of Lago Azul, where ritual ceremonies with processions like the one of Noel and Spanish and Mexican style dances like the matachines take place.

Adobe Cubes

Today, Taos Pueblo looks like the description made in 1775 by Francisco Atanasio Dominguez. But, although the earthen wall still subsists and, like Atanasio said in his memoirs, it looks as one of those cities described in the Bible, it has suffered different modifications in its inner part.

In the north, the convent of the missionaries is in ruins. The church destroyed in 1847 has been substituted by a 19th century building. The adobe houses, located at different levels, don't keep their traditional structure or their only access through a staircase to the terraces. Doors and windows, strange elements to the Pueblo Indians, have been added, as well as chimneys in the interior of the rooms and in the outdoor traditional ovens.

If the self-management of the town by an Indian community manages to keep their differences against the new town of Taos, founded near Taos Pueblo in 1786, two new dangers would come to threat that cultural community. One possibility is, Taos becomes a stationary ceremonies place, where only live a few old people and, on the other possibility, Taos becomes a tourist destination because of the arrival of a huge number of visitors who distort the entire complex of the town.

Anyways, Taos presents a great archeological, historical and ethnological coherence and, on the other hand, is a place in decent preservation conditions which must be compared with the ones from other centers in the Mexican state, like the Casas Grandes in Chihuahua.

Source: Taos Pueblo Website

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