I have lived near the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo for almost three years now but, until accepting an invitation to watch their Turtle Dance with Pollen and her family, I’d never been there, nor did I know anything about it. Although fewer than 1000 people currently live on the Pueblo, it once had nearly 6,000 residents. According to New Mexico Magazine, “… San Juan Pueblo (O’ke in Tewa) was the center of an Indian meeting ground, its people so powerful that only an O’ke native could declare war for the Pueblo Indians. Although called a Taoseno, Pueblo Revolt leader Pope actually was a San Juan native.” I had no idea. My “Pueblo universe” has been very tied to Taos. I want to change that by exploring the other 18 Pueblos in my area.
So we headed off in several cars to watch the dances at Ohkay Owingeh. On the drive down Pollen talked about the ancient languages of the two Pueblos—Tiwa (pronounced Tee’ wah) in Taos and Tewa (pronounced Tay’ wah) in Ohkay Owingeh. Tiwa is not written, but spoken only. The languages embody much about the sacred and ceremonial practices of the Pueblos and, for that reason, are never to be taught to outsiders (however, it has been called to my attention that Tewa is both written and taught in the schools). Tiwa and Tewa share links and commonalities that create a sense of community between the Pueblos using them, influencing many of their traditions and infusing their cultures with similarities. There is some suspicion of the Towa (pronounced Toe’ wah) language and its people. It is used only by the Jemez Pueblo Indians, and because it is completely separate, and shares no common threads with Tiwa and Tewa, there is no bond between these Pueblos. Their lives and ceremonies lack the same connecting concordance as the other villages because of this.
A difference between the Pueblos that Pollen pointed out is in Ohkay Owingeh, men are allowed to dance with short hair. As she put it, their Pueblo is more progressive than Taos. Taos, being very traditional, requires that all dancers have long hair. She explains that some Pueblos modernize for various reasons. Many people in Ohkay Owingeh, for instance, work away from the Pueblo and many have joined the military, so they have to cut their hair. They are not punished for doing so. Taos has the luxury of a steady tourist trade, which allows more people to earn livings on the Pueblo, thus permitting more traditions to be upheld.
It is considered disrespectful to describe the dances. They are spiritual ceremonies intended to be experienced in the moment. I highly recommend a visit to any of Ohkay Owingeh’s dances, to experience them in person. A schedule of events can be obtained from the Pueblo offices.
After the final dance we walked across the ancient plaza to the equally ancient adobe home of my friends’ friends. I don’t even know their names; I wasn’t formally introduced. I was a total stranger to them, and Anglo. Yet I was welcomed into their warm, ancestral home, unquestioningly, and offered a place at their feast table. As far as I’m concerned, these Pueblo people know how to keep Christmas. I will take them into my heart and practice their generosity of spirit. There could be no greater gift.
Photos are not allowed during the dances at Ohkay Owingeh so I include, here, pictures of the Pueblo on a non Feast Day.
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