Episode 26 New Mexico 1966
It has been said that 'Spider Woman' taught the Navajo to weave their extraordinary blankets, but I believe that knowledge was pulled down eons ago from somewhere beyond the clouds.
High above the desert plain lies the village of Acoma, called Sky City.
We drove up the steep winding road where men with rifles slung across their arms stopped us and forced us to go back. The dance we had hoped to attend was open only to residents of Acoma, and we were strongly encourage to return another day.
Acoma, New Mexico “Sky City”
Georgia and Emmett had been teachers in Acoma after graduation from Baconne, and when we arrived, she was warmly greeted by former students who had grown up and become parents themselves in the ensuing years.
According to tribal tradition, Acoma has been occupied for 2,000 years, though by local maps it is only 800 years, much of that time only accessible by climbing up the mesa with foot power.. An arial view shows similarity to Masada in the Judean desert, where the Jews committed mass suicide rather than being captured by the Romans. People have always sought protection by building up into the hills. Today Acoma is an active thriving community, but in the ’60’s it was just beginning to get a modern identity.
“Mesa Verde” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen Another stone village hidden in the rocky hills of northern New Mexico.
Isleta, a small farming village situated about five miles from Albuquerque, is Georgia’s home village, and would be one of our bases while staying with various relatives throughout the area. In spite of being an only child, we would discover many “cousins”.
We were invited to help make the bread early one morning. Dragging ourselves out of sleeping bags to the heat of a July morning, we found ourselves late to the job, as the bread was all ready to pop into the oven.
Cousin Rejas was one of the the bread makers for the village, where her bread was famous. When the baking was done, the loaves were spread out on a blanket on the floor to cool.
The two room house house was made of adobe with a hard packed mud floor, solid as cement. A sofa divided the room which suddenly filled with a number of village women who came to sit and visit and stare at the newcomer. When they determined that I was OK, they dressed me in their native clothes and draped me with their turquoise jewelry. While admiring my “Pueblo” self, I fell backward onto the loaves of bread cooling on the floor. It was there I experienced the most profound spirit of graciousness when our hostess told me it was “OK, we have to break it up anyway.”
Our next stop was Georgia’s cousin Diego and his wife where we would spend the night. They lived in quite a nice house, larger by far than the others. They had been featured in a Hollywood movie several years before and were considered a little famous. Diego was a poet and promised to read some of his poetry to us after dinner. His wife was busily whitewashing the walls of their living room, but paused to ask if I liked chili. Anticipating a pot of California chili beans I said of course, but when dinner arrived, it was a plate of stewed hot chilies! We cooled it off a little with cantaloup and Kool-aid, but I thought twice before I said I liked anything unrecognizable again.
Their daughter was a published writer as well, so Diego read from her book along with his own after dinner, while telling us stories from their days in Hollywood. He was not well-liked in the village as many people who rise above their “station” are not.
Diego’s wife told us to put our sleeping bags close to the wall under the open windows in the living room, as some of the men in the village had imbibed a bit too much alcohol and often shot off their guns and shouted bad things about Diego, who had long since fallen into an easy sleep.
She didn’t seem too worried, so we did as told and stretched out on our sleeping bags under the open window. Shortly thereafter, the boys, having worked up their jealousy over the unfairness of life, arrived in full force to taunt the sleeping Diego and use up a little ammunition. Scary? Yes indeed, though they didn’t come close to the house or the open window, but slowly drifted away to their own beds, and an undoubted hangover the next day.
My own thoughts spurred on by Diego’s poetry:
CANTALOUP AND KOOL-AID
by kayti rasmussen
Where is the door to the story?
Can we all walk through it?
A story lives on the lips of
Diego from Hollywood days.
Far from this dusty village
where nothing happens.
Cantaloup and Kool-Aid
and a bedroll on the floor.
In this stone village
where he tells his stories.
The soft nicker of
curious Indian ponies
offer a lullabye sleepsong.
Even the tree outside our windows
seemed to listen with ruffled
leaves tipping and cooling.
17 thoughts on “THE SOURCE Kate’s Journal”
Yikes, that doesn’t sound like a very reassuring sleep environment. I think I would’ve slept with one eye open!
I’m sure we did, although I had brought a small pistol for the times we camped out. My husband had given me some target practice before we left home.
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A great story. Do you still have that small pistol?
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It wasn’t mine to keep, so I gave it back to its rightful owner.
I have never heard that story. You look so gorgeous in that native garb. I love you, and what a fine writer you are. At an Indian art show in Litchfield Park earlier this month, we met a sculptor from Acoma. We also saw an Indian painter’s work. One of his paintings was titled NDN Chief. I asked who is NDN? Say it outloud…
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Politically correct Native American humor! Wish I could have been at the art show with you.
The difference between Southwest art and Northwest native art is immense. Both can be beautiful, but while the art of the northwest is more linear and depicts animal and mystic beings, the southwest emphasizes the beauty of the people. Someone asked me a long time ago why I didn’t paint the landscape, but I’ve always found people more interesting.
Can you hear me laughing? Listen a little more closely. I woke the cat, after all.
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I heard that loud cackle. No wonder Dixie Rose jumped up.
Wonderful story. Love the nicker of the ponies especially. All so vivid. Your painting of them calling down the blankets from the sky is exceptional. xx
I have a Danish plate with them pulling their flag down from the sky. I thought if it was good enough for the Danes it’s good enough for the Navajo. Glad you like it.
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I love the bread-baking story. The graciousness of people certainly does blossom from time to time.
This line brought to mind a story of my own, and a lesson learned: “The dance we had hoped to attend was open only to residents of Acoma, and we were strongly encouraged to return another day.”
A blogging friend of mine has been in the Arizona/New Mexico area. In a blog entry, he mentioned visiting a certain pueblo, which engages in a certain practice at a particular time of the year. I thought it was so interesting that I wanted to write about it, too, but it seemed curious that I could find only one other reference to it on the internet.
So, I called the pueblo, and talked with someone directly, asking if the practice still was going on, and how I could find more information about it. The horror in her voice was palpable. “Oh!” she said. “You cannot write about that. How did you hear about it?” When I explained, she repeated again, “You must not write about that. What were you going to write? Are you writing about any other customs?”
When I assured her that I hadn’t yet written, and wouldn’t write anything, she calmed down a little, and explained that what I’d come across was meant only for people of the pueblo. Apparently my friend, who spends enormous amounts of time there and who is trained in history and other fields, didn’t know, or thought a casual mention would go unnoticed.
The whole thing certainly was a lesson to me. And really — it’s rather amazing that, apart from one internet mention, they’ve managed to keep it from the world at large. I like the thought that there still are secrets in this world of no secrets.
I’m not surprised at your story. the NDNs are wary of us white eyes and history has shown we can’t be trusted with secrets. I will be including a similar story in my next episode. My mother-in-law’, and need to behave accordingly. reaction to my sharing our rebuff at Acoma was typical; “This is American land! They had no right to do that!” It was impossible to convince her that this is Indian land, NOT ours. Unfortunately, many seem to think the Pueblos are more entertainment venues like Magic Mountain, etc. We are the guests/trespassers, and need to behave accordingly.
Sorry. Poor editing.
That’s putting it just right: entertainment venues. I’ve noticed very clear announcements on some pueblo sites that certain ceremonies are closed to the public, and reminder after reminder that we are visiting peoples’ homes. Of course, in a world filled with people who feel they’re entitled to this or that, there always are going to be those who feel they’re entitled to be entertained, and entitled to access what they’ve been denied.
It’s a pity that so many like my MIL think it’s OK to take a peek into someone else’s home. They wouldn’t stand for it if the situation were reversed. They don’t get that it is really another country.
What a fascinating voyage you are taking us on. I’m pleased to be a part of it. Your words are informative and interesting and the photographs unique.
Thank you so much Janet. I’m happy you are enjoying it.