Nambe Pueblo – Native Americans of the Southwest

Published on April 23, 2014 by Amy

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Nambe Pueblo tribe
Nambe Pueblo tribe

Nambe is a Spanish rendition of a similar-sounding Tewa name, loosely interpreted as “rounded earth.” 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.

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Location Nambe Pueblo is located about 15 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Population In 1993 there were 487 enrolled tribal members living on Nambe Pueblo, out of a total enrollment of 630. The total number of Pueblo residents in 1990 was about 1,400. Roughly 350 people lived there in 1600.

Language Nambe people spoke a dialect of Tewa, a Kiowa-Tanoan language.

Historical Information

History All Pueblo people are thought to be descended from Anasazi and perhaps Mogollon and several other ancient peoples. 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.

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. Much ceremonialism is also based on medicine societies, and shamans who derive powers from animal spirits use their supernatural powers for curing, weather control, and ensuring the general welfare. Especially in the eastern pueblos, most ceremonies are kept secret.

Government Pueblo governments derived from two traditions. Offices that are probably indigenous include the cacique, or head of the Pueblo, and the war captains. These officials are intimately related to the religious structures of the pueblo and reflected the essentially theocratic nature of Pueblo government. At Nambe, summer and winter caciques were the religious and the political leaders of the pueblo.

A parallel but in most cases distinctly less powerful group of officials was imposed by the Spanish authorities. Appointed by the traditional leadership, they generally dealt with external and church matters and included the governor, two lieutenant governors, and two sheriffs. The authority of their offices was symbolized by canes. Nontraditional positions also included a ditch boss, who was in charge of the irrigation ditches, as well as a town crier and sacristan. 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. The dead were prepared ceremonially and quickly buried with clothes, beads, food, and other items. A vigil of four days and nights was generally observed.

At Nambe, in contrast with most other pueblos, seasons were traditionally delineated not so much by the solstice as by the actual change in seasons. Formerly a summer and a winter cacique, appointed for life, oversaw the pueblo. Society was divided into two groups, summer (associated with the Squash kiva) and winter (associated with the Turquoise kiva); membership in a group was patrilineal. These groups were further divided into clans. A number of secret societies also existed. For instance, the warrior society was concerned with hunting, war, crops, fertility, and curing. Each society had its own dances and ritual paraphernalia.

Dwellings Nambe people built small, irregular dwellings clustered around a central plaza. The buildings were constructed of adobe (earth and straw) bricks, with beams across the roof that were covered with poles, brush, and plaster. Floors were of wood plank or packed earth. Pit houses, or kivas, served as ceremonial chambers and clubhouses. The village plaza, around which all dwellings were clustered, is the spiritual center of the village where all the balanced forces of the world come together.

Diet Before the Spanish arrived, people from Nambe Pueblo ate primarily corn, beans, and squash. They also grew cotton and tobacco. They hunted deer, mountain lion, antelope, and rabbits and gathered a variety of wild seeds, nuts, berries, and other foods. The Spanish introduced wheat, alfalfa, chilies, fruit trees, grapes, sheep, cattle, and garden vegetables, which soon became part of the regular diet.

Key Technology Musical instruments included various rattles, drums, and flutes. Irrigation techniques included canals, dams and ditches, and gravity flow. Pottery was an important technological adaptation, as was weaving baskets and cotton. Farming implements were made of stone and wood. Corn was ground using manos and metates.

Trade All Pueblos were part of extensive Native American trading networks. 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. 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 manufacture of weaving and pottery declined and nearly died out.

Notable Arts In the Pueblo way, art and life are inseparable. Nambe artists specialized in making embroidered dresses. 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 Nambe Pueblo in the sixteenth century.

Dress Men wore cotton and buckskin shirts and kilts. Womens’ traditional dress featured spun cotton dresses and sandals or high moccasin boots. Rabbit skin was 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.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations Nambe Pueblo consists of roughly 19,000 acres. Like most other pueblos, Nambe has no written constitution. An elected governor and four other officials serve for two-year terms. Voting on tribal decisions is restricted to a group of past governors. Children of male, but not female, members of the tribe who have married outside the pueblo are automatically enrolled.

Economy Wage work may be found primarily at Los Alamos, with local businesses, or with the tribe or the government. Nambe Falls is a tourist attraction, although few craftspeople cater to the tourist trade. The tribe also operates a trailer park. There is some subsistence farming as well as grazing on leased lands. In addition, the tribe earns interest on land claims compensation funds.

Legal Status Nambe Pueblo is a federally recognized tribal entity. The people are currently seeking the return of roughly 45,000 acres of land near the Santa Fe Ski Basin.

Daily Life Since the Tewas retain fewer traditions than most other pueblos, they are not always successful in preserving a palpable and intentional continuity with the past. Most people, especially the younger ones, speak English and Spanish but little Tewa; the trend is toward only English. Children are bused to schools in nearby towns.

Most Nambe Pueblo Indians are at least nominally Catholic. The festival of Saint Francis, in October, is the only ceremony still performed at Nambe (not including one for the tourists in July at Nambe Falls). The last cacique died in 1970. No medicine or other societies remain extant. Clans have virtually disappeared; the basic social unit is now the nuclear family. There is a very high rate of marriage with non-Indians; few marry within the Pueblo or even Tewa Indians. Virtually all people complete high school. 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.

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