Unlike Bandolier, which is inhabited only by the spirits that went before, Taos Pueblo is a living ancient village. This Pueblo is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the US, formally acknowledged as older than one thousand years.
However, the people of the Pueblo say, “The Native legends and detailed oral history trace our existence back to the beginning of the evolution of man and all creation. Our Native language, Tiwa, is unwritten, unrecorded and will remain so. The details of our traditional values are guarded as sacred and are not divulged. Understand that the past oppressions upon our culture have required us to keep the details unspoken.”
The Pueblo people are wise to guard their heritage. It is a stunning accomplishment that through all the onslaughts against them, not only does the village survive, but the rich culture of its people does as well. The Tribal Manifesto reads, “We have lived upon this land from days beyond history’s records, far past any living memory, deep into the time of legend. The story of my people and the story of this place are one single story. No man can think of us without thinking of this place. We are always joined together.”
UNESCO has inscribed the Taos Pueblo onto the World Heritage List as “The First Living World Heritage.” They recognize the Natives as having aboriginal status to this land and continent and that the culture reflects prehistory.
Interestingly, there is a Catholic mission church on the Pueblo. Built in 1850, it is one of the youngest buildings in the village. The original church, built in 1619 by Spanish priests using Indian slave labor, served as a religious center for “converting” the Indians. The people of the Pueblo were forced into Catholicism to be made “civilized”. It is no wonder that Taos became one of the leaders in the Pueblo Revolt of 1690. After that, they were left in peace until the re-conquest of the Spanish in the 1700’s.
The mid 1800’s found the area that is now New Mexico in continued upheaval. Previously governed by Spain/Mexico, it had recently been taken over by the US government, which was also at war with Mexico. In an effort to take back the land, some Taos residents, along with Pueblo Indians, killed Governor Bent, a US official who governed the territory and lived in Taos. Retribution was fierce. Numerous pueblo leaders were hung in the town square and the original Spanish church at the Pueblo, with people still in it, was destroyed by US troops. Many lives were lost.
A friend who lives on the Pueblo says it’s interesting how Catholic and Indian traditions have merged and that Christian dates are recognized, such as the Christmas holiday celebrations. Today about 75% of the population share in some Catholic practices while 100% of the village preserves Native rituals.
As the need for defenses relaxed, exterior doors and more windows were introduced to the buildings, which are actually many individual homes, built side by side and stacked, with common walls but no connecting doors. At one time the only entry into the homes was by ladders, through openings in the rooftops. If an enemy approached, the ladders were pulled up from the ground levels. Nevertheless, the two main structures of the Pueblo remain remarkable examples of traditional architecture from the pre-Hispanic period of the Americas. There is no running water or electricity within the village. The river, in its center, is the sole source of water, which is carried to the homes in pottery or buckets.
This holiday season I will visit the Pueblo for some of the celebrations. I choose to forgo the Christmas Eve procession, bringing the Virgin Mary out from the church. However, I will be there to watch the Corn Dance and the Deer Dance on Christmas Day, as well as the Turtle Dance on New Year’s Eve.
In later entries, I will write about three Taos Pueblo friends and artists whose life stories are nothing short of inspiring. The Pueblo lives on because of these people and others like them. It is an honor to call them friends.
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