First, I’d like to thank all of you for the overwhelming “likes” on yesterday’s hummingbird photo post.
I’m very flattered.
Last Saturday we were in New Mexico and visited Taos Pueblo. If you’ve not read my previous entry out our trip, check it out here
. And, watch for additional posts in days to come.
We arrived at Taos Pueblo around 9:30 am. It was chilly. Just like every morning on our trip. We paid the entrance fee and were told that the next tour started in about 10 minutes. The tours are done by young members of the tribe. Our tour guide was a friendly guy, obviously passionate about the culture and history of Taos Pueblo. The information that I’m going to share is taken from what he shared with us as well as from the brochure we received with our admission.
Taos Pueblo is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the US. The two main structures of the Pueblo are the North House (Hlaauma) and South House (Hlaukkwima). These structures are believed to be well over 1000 years old. The buildings are actually many individual homes built side-by-side and in layers with common walls and no connecting doorways. At one time, the only entryway into the homes was by ladder through an opening in the rooftops. This served as a source of light and a safeguard against intruders. If an enemy was approaching, the ladders were pulled from the ground levels to the rooftops.
The buildings of Taos Pueblo are made entirely of adobe. To maintain the integrity of the structure the exteriors need to be re-plastered annually. Our guide explained that the Pueblos have been handed down within families from generation to generation. There are currently 20-30 people who still live in the Pueblos on a full-time basis. Not surprising considering that there is no electricity and no running water. He further explained that, as families have moved and died, that some of the Pueblos have fallen into disrepair, which endangers the entire structure. He said that they are currently coordinating a restoration project to allow for repair of damaged Pueblos. Some families, though they no longer live on site, return to the area annually to re-plaster their family Pueblo.
I was captivated by the adobe ovens scattered about the Pueblo. They were/are used mostly to bake bread and pastries by the women of the Pueblo. Our guide told us that the base of the ovens are built with adobe bricks. The plaster exteriors need to be maintained annually like the Pueblos. He told us about his Grandmother using an adobe oven when he was a child: she would light the fire and once it had burned to a certain point the wood would be removed. She tested the heat of the oven by holding a rolled up piece(s) of paper inside the mouth. She assessed how hot the oven was by how quickly the paper browned or burned. He said that the ideal temperature for the oven was 350 degrees and that the oven could maintain that constant temperature for 4-5 hours.
One of the first things we saw upon entering the Pueblo was the San Geronimo Church. It was built in 1850 and is one of the “youngest” buildings in the village. The Natives had their own established belief system when early Spanish missionaries arrived. They incorporated some of the practices of Catholicism and what emerged was a combination of the two religions. For instance, the central altar figure in the church was the Virgin Mary. However, our guide explained that she represents Mother Nature in their religion. A symbolic casket was also near the altar, which were placed in missions to convert the natives to Catholic funeral practices. When asked what their funeral practices are like our guide politely explained that these details are considered sacred to the Pueblo and not shared.
Today about ¾ of the population (there are quite a few members of the tribe that live in the community surrounding the Pueblo) shares in some Catholic practices, while the Native rituals perseveres 100% in daily life. Mass is conducted each Sunday by a priest that is shared with the Catholic church in Taos.
There’s a beautiful stream that runs straight through the Pueblo. It served as the main source of water for the people living there.
There are many shops and vendors located throughout the village, which allowed for a look inside the Pueblos. It also allowed for some shopping. I am a fan of pottery and found that made by the Pueblos of New Mexico to be…well, I had to have some. The celebration of our anniversary also helped in the acquisition of some pretties. I brought two pieces home with me. The first was made by a woman from Taos Pueblo. The Pueblo owns quite a bit of land in the hills above their village and the clay is taken directly from their land. The clay has “fools gold” in it, which adds an attractive shimmer.
The other piece I purchased was made by a woman from Acoma Pueblo. The artist, Earlene Antonio, specializes in hand-coiled, traditionally fired pottery. And it’s beautiful. Acoma Pueblo is located 60 miles west of Albuquerque.
I left Taos Pueblo both awed and saddened. Such a beautiful place. Such a rich history. But a struggling society. On one hand, we had our guide…a young man, passionate and proud and intent upon carrying on the traditions of his people (though not in the Pueblo living lifestyle, as evident by his Oakley sunglasses and comment that he did not live on-site). On the other hand, we saw crumbling Pueblos, many in desperate need of restoration. I could get into a whole socio-economic-political discussion here, which I’m not prepared to delve into. I guess my hope is that that young man, and others like him, keep the fire lit in that beautiful Pueblo so that visitors for many years can come and see and learn.
Yes, that’s snow. On the same day. We returned later in the afternoon to buy the pottery and when we came out of the Pueblo shop (it took me a while to choose) it was snowing.