Published on April 23, 2014 by Amy
Laguna, Spanish for “lake,” refers to a large pond near the pueblo. The word “pueblo” comes from the Spanish for “village.” It refers both to a certain style of Southwest Indian architecture, characterized by multistory, apartmentlike buildings made of adobe, and to the people themselves. The Pueblos along the Rio Grande are known as eastern Pueblos; Zuni, Hopi, and sometimes Acoma and Laguna are known as western Pueblos. The Lagunas call their pueblo Kawaika, “lake.”
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Location Laguna Pueblo is made up of six major villages in central New Mexico, 42 miles west of Albuquerque.
Population Roughly 330 people lived on the pueblo in 1700, plus about 150 more in four nearby villages. In 1990, 3,600 Lagunas lived on the reservation, with perhaps almost as many living away.
Language The people spoke a Keresan dialect similar to that of Acoma Pueblo.
History All Pueblo people are thought to be descended from Anasazi and perhaps Mogollon and several other ancient peoples, although the precise origin of the Keresan peoples is unknown. From them they learned architecture, farming, pottery, and basketry. Larger population groups became possible with effective agriculture and ways to store food surpluses. Within the context of a relatively stable existence, the people devoted increasing amounts of time and attention to religion, arts, and crafts.
In the 1200s, the Anasazi abandoned their traditional canyon homelands in response to climatic and social upheavals. A century or two of migrations ensued, followed in general by the slow reemergence of their culture in the historic pueblos. Laguna and Acoma Pueblos have a unique descent. They have lived continuously in the area since at least 3000 B.C.E. Tradition has it that their ancestors inhabited Mesa Verde. In any case, Laguna’s prehistory is closely connected with, if not identical to, that of Acoma.
In 1598, Juan de Onate arrived in the area with settlers, founding the colony of New Mexico. Onate carried on the process, already underway, of subjugating the local Indians; forcing them to pay taxes in crops, cotton, and work; and opening the door for Catholic missionaries to attack their religion. The Spanish renamed the Pueblos with saints’ names and began a program of church construction. At the same time, the Spanish introduced such new crops as peaches, wheat, and peppers into the region. In 1620, a royal decree created civil offices at each pueblo; silver-headed canes, many of which remain in use today, symbolized the governor’s authority.
The Pueblo Indians, including Laguna, organized and instituted a general revolt against the Spanish in 1680. For years, the Spaniards had routinely tortured Indians for practicing traditional religion. They also forced the Indians to labor for them, sold Indians into slavery, and let their cattle overgraze Indian land, a situation that eventually led to drought, erosion, and famine. Pope of San Juan Pueblo and other Pueblo religious leaders planned the revolt, sending runners carrying cords of maguey fibers to mark the day of rebellion. On August 10, 1680, a virtually united stand on the part of the Pueblos drove the Spanish from the region. The Indians killed many Spaniards but refrained from mass slaughter, allowing them to leave Santa Fe for El Paso.
Although Pueblo unity did not last, and Santa Fe was officially reconquered in 1692, Spanish rule was notably less severe from then on. Harsh forced labor all but ceased, and the Indians reached an understanding with the Church that enabled them to continue practicing their traditional religion. Still, the pueblos of Cochiti, Cieneguilla, Santo Domingo, and Jemez rebelled again in 1692. Over 100 people sought refuge at Acoma and Zuni and then some continued on to found the present village of Old Laguna at the very end of the century. Peace with Spain was finally achieved in 1698. At that time, the Spanish officially recognized Laguna Pueblo, but questions of boundary, especially with Acoma Pueblo, persisted for over two centuries.
The Pueblos experienced many changes during the following decades: Refugees established communities at Hopi, guerrilla fighting continued against the Spanish, and certain areas were abandoned. By the 1700s, excluding Hopi and Zuni, only Taos, Picuris, Isleta and Acoma Pueblos had not changed locations since the arrival of the Spanish. In general, the Pueblo eighteenth century was marked by smallpox epidemics and increased raiding by the Apache, Comanche, and Ute. Occasionally Pueblo Indians fought with the Spanish against the nomadic Athapaskan and Plains tribes. The people practiced their religion but more or less in secret. During this time, intermarriage and regular exchange between Hispanic villages and Pueblo Indians created a new New Mexican culture, neither strictly Spanish nor Indian, but rather somewhat of a blend between the two.
Mexican “rule” in 1821 brought little immediate change to the Pueblos. The Mexicans stepped up what had been a gradual process of appropriating Indian land and water, and they allowed the nomadic tribes even greater latitude to raid. By this time, sheep, horses, and mules had become important economically at Laguna. As the presence of the United States in the area grew, it attempted to enable the Pueblo Indians to continue their generally peaceful and self-sufficient ways and recognized Spanish land grants to the Pueblos. Land disputes with neighboring Acoma Pueblo were not settled so easily, however.
By the 1880s, several factors had combined to create a cultural and political explosion at Laguna. These included Spanish settlement in 1700s, Anglo settlement in the 1800s, the proximity to railroad lines, and the presence of Protestant whites living and working on the pueblo as teachers, missionaries, surveyors, and traders. Some of these people married into the tribe. Impatient with Catholic and native traditions, they wrote a constitution and were soon serving as tribal governors. These changes inflamed simmering factionalism and led to charges and countercharges of witchcraft. An Anglo governor in the 1870s had the two big kivas torn down. In the late 1870s, a group of traditionalists moved away to the nearby location of Mesita; some relocated to neighboring Isleta Pueblo.
After a gap of more than 300 years, the All Indian Pueblo Council began to meet again in the 1920s, specifically in response to a congressional threat to appropriate Pueblo lands. Partly as a result of the Council’s activities, Congress confirmed Pueblo title to their lands in 1924 by passing the Pueblo Lands Act. The United States also acknowledged its trust responsibilities in a series of legal decisions and other acts of Congress. Still, especially after 1900, Pueblo culture was increasingly threatened by Protestant evangelical missions and schools. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also weighed in on the subject of acculturation, forcing Indian children to leave their homes and attend culture-killing boarding schools.
Following World War II, the issue of water rights took center stage on most pueblos. Also, the All Indian Pueblo Council succeeded in slowing the threat against Pueblo lands as well as religious persecution. Making crafts for the tourist trade became an important economic activity during this period. In 1950 the Laguna sheep herd stood at 15,000, reduced from 52,000 by government edict in the 1930s as a response to overgrazing. Since the late nineteenth century, but especially after the 1960s, Pueblos have had to cope with onslaughts by (mostly white) anthropologists and seekers of Indian spirituality. The Jackpile Uranium Mine opened at Laguna in 1953, creating an economic boom until it closed in 1982.
Religion In traditional Pueblo culture, religion and life are inseparable. To be in harmony with all of nature is the Pueblo ideal and way of life. The sun is seen as the representative of the Creator. Sacred mountains in each direction, plus the sun above and the earth below, define and balance the Pueblo world. Many Pueblo religious ceremonies revolve around the weather and are devoted to ensuring adequate rainfall. To this end, Pueblo Indians evoke the power of katsinas, sacred beings who live in mountains and other holy places, in ritual and dance. At Laguna, all boys were initiated into the katsina society. Laguna Pueblo featured two above-ground kivas, religious chambers that symbolize the place of original emergence into this world.
In addition to the natural boundaries, Pueblo Indians have created a society that defines their world by providing balanced, reciprocal relationships within which people connect and harmonize with each other, the natural world, and time itself. According to tradition, the head of each pueblo is the religious leader, or cacique, whose primary responsibility it is to watch the sun and thereby determine the dates of ceremonies. Laguna ceremonialism was controlled by shamans and medicine societies. Each had a specialty, though all participated in ceremonies. Particularly important ceremonies included winter solstice, fertility (which also ensured general health by clowning and making fun of evil spirits), reproduction of game animals and general hunting successes, war and precipitation, and curing.
Government Pueblo governments derived from two traditions. One was indigenous and included, at Laguna, the town chief—”holding the prayer stick”— or cacique (although Lagunas speak of all leaders as caciques). This official is the overall pueblo leader as well as the religious leader, reflecting the essentially theocratic nature of Pueblo government. Other indigenous officials included the “outside chief” or “white hands,” the war captains, and the hunt chief. A parallel but in most cases distinctly less powerful group of officials was imposed by the Spanish authorities. Appointed by the religious hierarchy, they generally dealt with external and church matters and included, at Laguna, a governor, two lieutenant governors, capitanes, and fiscales. In addition, the All Indian Pueblo Council, dating from 1598, began meeting again in the twentieth century.
Customs One mechanism that works to keep Pueblo societies coherent is a pervasive aversion to individualistic behavior. Children were raised with gentle guidance and a minimum of discipline. Pueblo Indians were generally monogamous and divorce was relatively rare. At Laguna, the dead were prepared ceremonially and quickly buried, heads facing east, with food and other items. A vigil of four days and nights was generally observed. Laguna Pueblo recognized seven matrilineal clans, important in marriage control and other secular activities. The clans also owned all farm land. As herd workers, Lagunas often used Navajo “slaves,” or people offered by their parents as children, raised with Laguna children, and freed as adults. In modern times photography by outsiders is discouraged.
Dwellings Laguna Pueblo featured multistory, apartment-style dwellings. The lower levels were reserved mainly for storage. The buildings were constructed of adobe (earth and straw) bricks, with beams across the roof that were covered with poles, brush, and plaster. The roof of one level served as the floor of another. The levels were interconnected by ladders. As an aid to defense, the traditional design included no doors or windows; entry was through the roof. Baking ovens stood outside the buildings. Water was primarily obtained from two natural cisterns. Laguna also features two rectangular pit houses, or kivas, for ceremonial chambers and clubhouses. Herders stayed in caves, small rectangular houses, logs in a horseshoe shape covered with brush, or dugouts. The village plaza is the spiritual center of the village where all the balanced forces of the world come together.
Diet Before the Spanish arrived, people living at Laguna Pueblo ate primarily corn, beans, and squash. They also grew sunflowers and tobacco and kept turkeys. They hunted deer, antelope, and rabbits and gathered a variety of wild seeds, nuts, berries, and other foods. Favorite foods as of circa 1700 included a blue corn drink, corn mush, pudding, wheat cake, corn balls, paper bread, peach-bark drink, flour bread, wild berries, and prickly pear fruit. The Lagunas also raised herds of sheep, goats, horses, and donkeys after the Spanish introduced these animals into the region.
Key Technology Lagunas practiced dry farming and ditch irrigation technology. They used mica for window lights. Fine white clay yielded excellent pottery, and wicker baskets were fashioned of red willow shoots.
Trade All Pueblos were part of extensive Native American trading networks that reached for a thousand miles in every direction. With the arrival of other cultures, Pueblo Indians also traded with the Hispanic American villages and then U.S. traders. At fixed times during summer or fall, enemies declared truces so that trading fairs might be held. The largest and best known was at Taos with the Comanche. Nomads exchanged slaves, buffalo hides, buckskins, jerked meat, and horses for agricultural and manufactured pueblo products. Pueblo Indians traded for shell and copper ornaments, turquoise, and macaw feathers. Lagunas traded black woolen dresses as well as curing fetishes. Trade along the Santa Fe Trail began in 1821. By the 1880s and the arrival of railroads, the Pueblos were dependent on many American-made goods, and the Native American manufacture of weaving and pottery declined and nearly died out.
Notable Arts In the Pueblo way, art and life are inseparable. Laguna women produced excellent pottery; men made fine weavings as well as silver necklaces. Songs, dances, and dramas also qualify as traditional arts. Many Pueblos experienced a renaissance of traditional arts in the twentieth century, beginning in 1919 with San Ildefonso pottery.
Transportation Spanish horses, mules, and cattle arrived at Laguna Pueblo in the seventeenth century.
Dress Men wore cotton kilts and leather sandals. Women wore cotton dresses and sandals or high moccasin boots. Deer and rabbit skin were also used for clothing and robes.
War and Weapons Though often depicted as passive and docile, most Pueblo groups regularly engaged in warfare. The great revolt of 1680 stands out as the major military action, but they also skirmished at other times with the Spanish and defended themselves against attackers such as Apaches, Comanches, and Utes. They also contributed auxiliary soldiers to provincial forces under Spain and Mexico, which were used mainly against raiding Indians and to protect merchant caravans on the Santa Fe Trail. After the raiding tribes began to pose less of a threat in the late nineteenth century, Pueblo military societies began to wither away, with the office of war captain changing to civil and religious functions.
Government/Reservations Laguna Pueblo consists of six major villages on 528,079 acres in central New Mexico, bisected by route I-40. Although part of a whole, the villages enjoy some autonomy. The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) constitution was most recently revised in 1984. Paid secular officials are elected annually.
Economy Lagunas still practice agriculture as well as sheep and cattle herding. Contemporary arts and crafts include fine embroidery, pottery, and yucca basketry. Wage work is provided by a nearby electronics factory, a commercial center, Laguna Industries, and programs paid for by the tribe and the government. The Pueblo owns coal, natural gas, oil, and uranium resources.
Legal Status Laguna Pueblo is a federally recognized tribal entity.
Daily Life Laguna is considered a relatively wealthy and highly acculturated pueblo. Most people live in new or remodeled homes. Although the project of retaining a strong Indian identity is a difficult one in the late twentieth century, Pueblo people have strong roots, and in many ways the ancient rhythms and patterns continue. Many Pueblo Indians, though nominally Catholic, have fused pieces of Catholicism onto a core of traditional beliefs. Since the 1970s control of schools has been a key in maintaining their culture. Health problems, including alcoholism and drug use, continue to plague the Pueblos. Indian Health Service hospitals often cooperate with native healers.
The Lagunas never replaced their religious hierarchy after the schism in the 1870s, although there is a growing interest in ceremonialism, and the people have built a modern “kiva.” Each village annually holds feast days honoring patron saints as well as sacred ceremonial dances. Facilities include an elementary school, public junior/senior high, outpatient clinic, and outdoor pool. The tribe also maintains a scholarship fund. From 1953 to 1982, the Anaconda Mineral Company (uranium) provided 800 well-paying jobs and brought much money to the tribe. However, yellow radioactive clouds drifted over the pueblo during those years, and people built roads and houses with radioactive ore and crushed rock from the mine. Today the groundwater is contaminated, and cancer rates are rising.