THE SOURCE Kate’s Journal


Episode 26 New Mexico 1966

How the Navajos Got The Blanket
<img src="https://pachofaunfinished.files.wordpress.com

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.

488px-Acoma_Pueblo_Sky_City_2 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.

Indian ruins “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.

Reyes Abeita Isleta
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.”

Kayti Isleta

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.

TRANSLATORS


georgia (2)“Georgia Abeita” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmusse

The job of a translator is to interpret, explain or even to change into another language, and taken in that context, we are all translators. Every day we are trying to reach common ground with someone, to convey something that we know, but which they do not.

Many years ago, my Native American friend Georgia Oliver, teacher of my children, invited me to spend the summer with her as she visited her family in New Mexico. I jumped at the chance, looking forward to learning more about the Pueblo people and thus about Georgia herself.

We traveled across the country, with Georgia driving and me navigating, passing Navajo hogans in Arizona, and visiting Indian traders along the way which Dr.Advice and I were to visit often for the next forty years. So much of what we passed on our way to Laguna where we would be staying briefly, was nostalgic to Georgia.

When we arrived at the village of Laguna, New Mexico, we stayed with Georgia’s two elderly aunts and an uncle, who lived in an old building which was once an old mission. Georgia’s grandfather, George Platt, a white engineer came to survey the land with two other white engineers, all of whom married Indian girls and settled in this same mission building! They each raised families of ten or twelve children. Surrounded by a stone fence, the home overlooks the dry bed of the San Jose River and the mesas beyond. There are ancient pueblos dotting the hillsides around.

The village consists of mud houses some of which are at least 300 years old. A path meanders over the pitted rock which forms the entire hill behind the house. It is worn in places a foot deep from the footsteps of hundreds of years. Gives one the chilling feeling of connecting with thousands of people who made this their home. You have the sensation that ancient faces are watching and hoping you will not destroy their legacy. The old church founded by Franciscan fathers, has been in continuous use since 1699.

We continued on to Isleta, the home of Georgia’s father, where Georgia Oliver became Georgia Abeita, the name of her father, who had been chief of the village. We spent much time in Isleta, using it as our base from which we traveled to places where my Indian American education continued to give rich rewards. We stayed with Georgia’s cousin, Diego and his wife where I was asked if I liked chili. Being a Californian, I expected chili beans, but got chili stew, hot and spicy, along with cantaloup and Kool-Aid. We were rewarded with stories of their past experience at the San Francisco World’s Fair, as well as a period in Hollywood where they were in a couple of movies.

Indian ruins
“Mesa Verde Ruins” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We tramped around Chaco Canyon, and visited many Anasazi ruins throughout the area including this one of Mesa Verde in Colorado, which is one of the most famous ruins. To stand and paint this place of the past, is an awe inspiring feeling, and one which places the artist in each of the dwellings, along with the ancient ghosts. You begin to wonder if they really want you to intrude upon their privacy, and it makes your brush travel a little faster.

We spent some time at the village of San Ildefonso, where Georgia’s mother had taught school. It is the home of Maria Martinez, who was one of the most famous of Pueblo potters. She and her husband Julian, were also part of the San Francisco World’s Fair, which introduced the black on black Indian pottery to many people. I am fortunate to have several of the black pots, including one of Maria’s. We spent a lovely day with their family, and Maria and I “talked” pots!

black pot2

Driving through Navajo country, I was thrilled with the wonderful rugs, and was fortunate to find a lovely Two Grey Hills rug which I have hanging over my computer. A much larger version hanging in the La Fonda Hotel in Albuquerque, caught the eye of a tourist who wished to buy it. When told it would cost him $25,000 he asked to meet the “Two Grey Hills” assuming that it referred to two old women, and not a place!

2 grey hills

The summer passed too quickly, and I felt I had made many new friends, along with a number of paintings of these very kind people, who on another visit would honor me with a naming ceremony, teach me to make bread, and give me a greater appreciation of a people who were “different” from me. Translation: We are all alike in many ways.