Pojoaque Pueblo – Native Americans of the Southwest

Published on April 23, 2014 by Amy

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Pojoaque Pueblo
Pojoaque Pueblo

Pojoaque is an adaptation of the Tewa Posuwaegeh, meaning “drink-water place.” 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. Rio Grande pueblos are known as eastern Pueblos; Zuni, Hopi, and sometimes Acoma and Laguna are known as western Pueblos.

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Location Pojoaque Pueblo is located 16 miles north of Santa Fe; it is the smallest of the six Tewa villages.

Population In 1990, 177 Indians lived on the pueblo out of an overall population of roughly 2,500; 79 lived there in 1712 and possibly as many 500 in 1500.

Language Tewa is 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. Occupation of the Pojoaque area has been constant since about 900, and it grew to be a major political and cultural center.

In 1598, Juan de Onate arrived in the area with settlers, founding the colony of New Mexico. Onate carried on the process, already underway in nearby areas, 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.

Pojoaque took an active part in the 1680 Pueblo revolt against the Spanish. 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.

Pojoaque suffered greatly in the aftermath of the revolt. Spanish recolonizers took much of their best land. The tribe became decimated and scattered but was able to reestablish itself in 1706. However, by then most of their population had been absorbed by other pueblos. 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.

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 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. A political rebellion by Indians and Hispanics in 1837 over the issue of taxes led to the assassination of the New Mexican governor and his brief replacement by a Plains/Taos Indian. 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.

During the nineteenth century the population at Pojoaque became so small (it was recorded as 32 in 1870) that the people could no longer hold their ceremonies. A steady loss of their land base contributed to the tribe’s degeneration. Many people left to live at other pueblos or to make their way in the outside world. At the same time, documents attesting to Spanish land grants and water rights were lost, although the United States did confirm their holding in 1858; shortly afterward, leaders traveled to Washington to receive the patent as well as a silver-headed Lincoln cane. Paradoxically, the U.S. decision to recognize Spanish land grants to the Pueblos denied Pueblo Indians certain rights granted under official treaties and left them particularly open to exploitation by squatters and thieves.

By the early twentieth century, Pojoaque Pueblo was all but abandoned, although it had become a small Spanish-American settlement by the 1930s. At that time a handful of Pojoaque families returned, evicted non-Indians, and fenced the land. Antonio Jose Tapia was instrumental in reestablishing the pueblo during this period. Government payment for losses suffered over the years acted as an incentive for other Pojoaques to return. Partly because of lobbying from the All Indian Pueblo Council, 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, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) forced Indian children to leave their homes and attend culture-killing boarding schools and in general tried its best to undermine Indian identity and survival.

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 masked dance.

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. Pojoaque had both summer and winter caciques.

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 often 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 Pojoaque, 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 Most Pueblos (possibly including Pojoaque) originally featured multistory apartment-style dwellings constructed of adobe (earth and straw) bricks, with pine beams across the roof that were covered with poles, brush, and plaster. Floors were of wood plank or packed earth. 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. Pit houses, or kivas, served as ceremonial chambers and clubhouses. The village plaza, around which the church and all dwellings were clustered, was the spiritual center of the village where all the balanced forces of the world come together.

Diet Before the Spanish arrived, people from Pojoaque Pueblo ate primarily corn, beans, and squash. They also grew cotton and tobacco. They hunted deer, mountain lion, antelope, and rabbits. They also 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 Pojoaque people used irrigation ditches from a time well before the arrival of the Spanish.

rade 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 exchanges 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 American manufacture of weaving and pottery declined and nearly died out.

Notable Arts In the Pueblo way, art and life are inseparable. Traditional arts at Pojoaque include weaving, songs, dances, and dramas. 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 Pojoaque 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 Pojoaque Pueblo consists of roughly 11,600 acres, with some still in dispute. The governor, who may be—and has been—a woman, is elected annually. The tribal council, which may also contain women, meets at least every two weeks.

Economy Many people work for wages in Santa Fe or Espanola. The tribe owns valuable frontage on U.S. Route 285 and is planning long-term commercial development. It also operates La Mesita restaurant, Nambe Mills (pottery), the Poeh Cultural Center and Museum, and several other businesses, including a shopping center. It owns forestry leases in addition to commercial ones. Uranium is found on the pueblo. Income is divided among all tribal members. To limit excessive development, the council has insisted on ten-year leases; it also insists that Indians have the top priority for jobs. There is very little farming or livestock activity, but there is some craft activity, especially pottery. Pojoaque Pueblo boasts relatively low unemployment.

Legal Status Pojoaque Pueblo is a federally recognized tribal entity.

Daily Life Pojoaque is largely assimilated into the local Hispanic-Anglo culture. Nothing remains of the old pueblo. Nor do any traditional ceremonies or the office of cacique remain (the last cacique died around 1900); cultural identity is maintained through participation in other pueblos’ ceremonies, particularly those at Santa Clara.

Most people, especially the younger ones, speak English and possibly Spanish but little Tewa; the trend is toward only English. Most Pojoaque Indians are at least nominally Catholic. An excellent school complex educates both local Indian and non-Indian children, and the tribe provides some scholarships for postsecondary education. Health care is available in Espanola and Santa Fe. Despite the lack of traditional cultural attributes, Pojoaque is slowly regaining its former position as a center of Tewa culture.

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