Thursday, December 17, 2009


Rituals of the Modern Maya

Rituals of the Modern Maya Volume 50 Number 4, July/August 1997
by Angela M.H. Schuster

A strong undercurrent of Precolumbian belief pervades much of today's religious practice.

The murmur of chanting filled the Church of San Juan Chamula; the fragrance of pine needles crushed underfoot mingled with the scent of candles and burning copal incense. Pilgrims moved slowly from station to station, beseeching saints for health, wealth, and luck in love. An elderly woman had come with a shaman bearing fresh eggs and a chicken. Egg in hand, the shaman traced the woman's body several times, praying aloud as he worked. He then broke the egg into a bowl, the pattern of its yolk revealing the affliction. With further incantations and offerings, the shaman "transferred" the illness to the chicken, which he then sacrificed by breaking its neck. A three-foot-tall Colonial period polychrome figure of John the Baptist stood near the altar, dressed in layers of embroidered garments--tokens of gratitude from those whom he had helped. Patron saint of this Tzotzil Maya church in highland Chiapas, Mexico, the Baptist was responsible for bringing rain and ensuring the fertility of crops and animals. Had he assumed the mantle of Chak, the Classic period water god?

[image] Naj Tunich, a cave in the southeastern Petén of Guatemala, began attracting pilgrims sometime in the first century A.D. (James Brady) [LARGER IMAGE]

Despite Catholic trappings, the rites I witnessed in 1996 were rooted deep in antiquity. In recent years, archaeologists and anthropologists have opened a dialog with those who practice the old ways, and are coming to realize just how much Precolumbian ritual has survived. "Considering that 500 years have elapsed since the Spanish Conquest," says Harvard University ethnologist Evon Z. Vogt, "I am impressed with the enduring nature of Classic Maya religious concepts and beliefs."

In the Chol town of Tila, in highland Chiapas, Nicholas Hopkins and Kathryn Josserand of Florida State University have documented the cult of a "Black Christ" known as the Señor de Tila, an amalgam of Christ and Ik'al, a Precolumbian cave-dwelling earth deity. Each January and June, tens of thousands of pilgrims come to the town to seek the support of the Señor de Tila, who is venerated both in the local church and in a nearby rock-shelter, which contains a large soot-blackened stalagmite believed by townspeople to be a representation of Christ. According to local tradition, Ik'al is a manifestation of "Earth Owner," the master of souls who holds the key to health and wealth and must be petitioned and rewarded through prayers and sacrifice. "For the people of Tila," says Hopkins, "the Precolumbian idea of making sacrifices to ensure the well-being of one's family and loved ones echoes Christ's giving of his life to pay for the sins of the world."

"Modern Maya see little conflict in merging the two faiths," says Robert M. Laughlin, an anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution who has lived among the Tzotzil of Zinacantan for more than 30 years. "It is common on feast days for a procession to begin at the Church of San Lorenzo with a mass for Christ the Sun God and his mother the Moon Goddess, and then proceed to a nearby hill for the veneration of ancestors and Maya gods, including Chauk, an earth and water deity."

Dark, secretive, and full of exotic geological formations, caves have played a key role in Mesoamerican religion for more than 3,000 years, serving as portals to the Otherworld--the realm of deities, demons, and ancestors. There are more than 25 known painted caves in the Maya world, the earliest being Loltún in Yucatán, whose paintings have been dated to the Late Preclassic, ca. 300 B.C. James Brady of George Washington University has documented the continued veneration of Naj Tunich, a two-mile-long painted cave in the southeastern Petén region of Guatemala. Naj Tunich began attracting pilgrims early in the first century B.C., when stone platforms were erected just inside the cave's entrance. Offerings such as ceramics and jadeite pendants were deposited atop platforms adjacent to several large stalagmite columns. The majority of the cave's painted inscriptions, some 40 in all, were executed during the seventh and eighth centuries.

Three verbs associated with pilgrimage--hul (to arrive), pak (to return), and il (to see or witness events at a foreign place)--pervade the Naj Tunich texts, according to Andrea Stone of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who has studied the inscriptions. The presence of emblem glyphs from a number of cities suggests that the cave was used by people living throughout the region. One inscription notes that lords from the Lowland Maya city of Caracol, 30 miles to the north, performed a k'ak' kuch, or "burning" ritual in the cave in A.D. 744. Burning incense may have served to appease local gods and guarantee safe passage for dignitaries traveling through foreign territory. Brady and his team have recovered potsherds encrusted with the charred resin of the copal palm spanning the entire Classic period (ca. A.D. 250-900), attesting the prolonged practice of such rites.

Today's pilgrims, mostly from the Kekchi villages of Tanjoc and Alta Verapaz, ten to 15 miles away, come to the cave before the rainy season, which begins in late May and early June, to burn incense and light candles to ensure a good harvest. "Though some ritual aspects have certainly changed," adds Brady, noting the singing of Christian hymns and the participation of women, "cave worship continues to figure prominently in Maya religion."

According to Vogt, there are five classes of sacred topography among the Tzotzil of Zinacantan--vits (mountains), ch'en (holes in the ground such as caves), hap 'osil (mountain passes), ton (rocks), and te' (trees)--geographic features rife with spirit activity. "For Zinacantecos," says Vogt, "mountains are the most important features on the landscape, being places of contact between heaven and earth." The veneration of mountains, he believes, stretches deep into the Precolumbian past, serving as the impetus behind the building of pyramids. "Pyramids are artificial mountains," says Harvard University epigrapher David Stuart, "both represented by the glyph wits" (the Classic period form of the Tzotzil word vits). According to Stuart, there are numerous references to buildings as mountains in the epigraphic record, perhaps the best example being temple 22 on the Copán acropolis. "The building is actually labeled 'mountain,' its doorway, the gaping maw of the earth monster, a metaphor for a cave," he says. "One would have entered the 'cave' of temple 22 to converse with the ancestral spirits, surely in association with all sorts of ritual activities, including incense burning and bloodletting."

As caves and mountains occur together in the landscape, both serve as doorways to the Otherworld. To journey through them and return alive, however, requires the special talent of a shaman. In antiquity, Maya kings interceded with the gods and ancestors on behalf of their cities. Today, in many Maya communities, mayors and healers are one and the same, responsible for their people's physical and spiritual health. "Shamans are specialists in ecstasy, a state of mind that allows them to move freely beyond the ordinary world-beyond death itself-to deal directly with the gods, demons, ancestors, and other unseen but potent things that control the world of the living," says David Freidel of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who has participated in shamanic rites at a ch'a-chak or "bring rain" ceremony in Yucatán. "When we began our summer field season at Yaxuná in 1989," recalls Freidel, "the nearby community was in the midst of a crisis. A severe drought had destroyed two plantings and measures were needed to ensure the success of a third." With the help of the villagers, Don Pablo, the local shaman, built an altar of young saplings, baby corn plants, and hanging gourds--a portal between this world and the next through which he could summon chakob, or rain gods. For three days, he chanted and prepared offerings of corn bread, incense, stewed meats, and honey wine. "At the climax of the ceremony," says Freidel, "Don Pablo, aided by copious amounts of aguardiente, a sugarcane brandy, entered a trance state in which he remained for more than ten hours. It is in sleep, whether a trance or dream state, that Maya spirits communicate with shamans. Shortly after the ceremony, we heard the deep rumble of thunder. Had the chakob heard the shaman's prayers?"

According to Freidel, such an altar, known as a ka'an te' or "wooden sky," represents the cosmos. The leafy green saplings, tied together several feet above the table's center, symbolize the arching of the Milky Way across the night sky. Thirteen gourds suspended from the saplings represent the constellations of the Maya zodiac. The building of the ka'an te' can be traced back as early as the Classic period, from which there are depictions on several stone vases, including one from Escuintla in southwestern Guatemala.

Shamans are also traditional healers--bone setters, midwives, and herbalists. The most skilled are the h'men, doctor-priests who treat the minds, bodies, and souls of villagers. For the Maya, physical and spiritual health are one and the same. According to the late Mopán Maya h'men Don Elijio Panti, ailments could be brought on by a restless soul or profaned gods and ancestors. To cure an illness took not only prescribed remedies but spiritual reconciliation.

Among the Quiché of highland Guatemala, says Barbara Tedlock, a State University of New York, Buffalo, anthropologist and trained shaman-priest, "some illnesses can even be a call to serve gods and ancestors." There are six such illnesses--snake, horse, twisted stomach, dislocated bone, inebriation, and money loss--all of which incapacitate a patient. To cure them requires becoming a daykeeper, one who burns incense and offers prayers at shrines on designated days of the tzolkin, the 260-day sacred calendar.

The Quiché believe that when great shamans die, their souls congregate at lineage shrines where they worshiped during their lives. As the shamans' souls accumulate, the shrines--known as warab'alja, literally "sleeping places"--are endowed with increasing power. Each lineage group has four such shrines built in the form of small stone boxes where prayers are offered on specific calendar days and to commemorate births, deaths, marriages, plantings, and harvests.

"These shrines are also used to demarcate lands owned by a lineage group," says Dennis Tedlock, also a trained Quiché shaman-priest. "When a property is sold in the Quiché region, new landowners remember previous landowners in prayers at recently acquired shrines. The location of each shrine is dictated by the landscape, there being a distinct preference for mountains, caves, lakes, and springs."

Linda Schele of the University of Texas at Austin believes that warab'alja is a derivation of the Classic Maya phrase waybil, which also means "sleeping house." Waybilob are well known from Classic period sites. In 1989 Juan Pedro Laporte of Guatemala's Instituto de Antropología e Historia was excavating a large compound of houses and temples at Tikal in the Petén when he came across just such a shrine embedded in a later altar platform. An open-sided stone box, the structure was filled with burnt offerings. Two particularly fine miniature stone shrines, labeled waybil in hieroglyphs, were found in a cache behind structure 33 at the Classic Maya city of Copán in Honduras.

By studying modern Maya religious practices, archaeologists and anthropologists are beginning to gain critical insight into rites often depicted in ancient Maya art. "We still have much to learn about Classic Maya religious practices," says Vogt, "but the progress made so far is astounding. The next decade promises to bring even more discoveries as scholars continue their cooperative work on Maya culture."

Angela M.H. Schuster is an associate editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America


Sunday, November 15, 2009


Maya - Painted Pyramid- Public Life

Maya "Painted Pyramid" Reveals 1st Murals of Daily Life

November 12, 2009—A series of unusual Maya wall murals, complete with hieroglyphic captions, are providing archaeologists with a priceless look at day-to-day life in the empire circa A.D. 620 to 700.

Previously known Maya murals all depict the ruling elite, victories in battle, or religious themes. (Explore a map of Maya ruins.)

But exterior walls on a "painted pyramid" buried for centuries in the Mexican jungle (pictured, a corner of the pyramid undergoing excavations) have shown Maya scholars something completely different.

The murals—discovered in 2004 at the Maya site of Calakmul—depict ordinary people enjoying much more casual pursuits, according to a new, detailed description of the wall art.

"There's really nothing like this in any of the [known] murals. These are totally unexpected," said Maya expert Michael D. Coe, curator emeritus at Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History and editor of the new paper.

"This is everyday life with people who are not upper-crust Maya but rather people engaged in everyday activities."

Maya Food and Fashion

The colorful artwork shows the clothing and jewelry worn by various social classes in Calakmul, one of the largest cities of the Classic Maya period, which lasted from A.D. 300 to 900. (Take a Maya quiz.)

During this era, Calakmul was likely the capital of the Kan (Snake) Kingdom, which held great sway over the Maya world.

The murals also depict common foodstuffs as well as people involved in food preparation and distribution, including a "salt person" and a "tobacco person," as they are labeled in the hieroglyphs. (Related: "Ancient Farm Discovery Yields Clues to Maya Diet.")

Other scenes depict corn products that were essential to the Maya diet: A woman distributes a platter of tamales to a crowd in one panel, while a man and woman in another scene serve maize gruel.

What's more, the Calakmul murals' exterior location surprised experts, since other murals were found secreted away inside pyramids.

"In other words, they were public," Coe said of the Calakmul paintings. "They were to be seen by everybody." Luckily for Maya scholars, the painted pyramid's long burial helped preserve the unusual artwork.

Findings published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

—Brian Handwerk

Picture courtesy PNAS



Head Shrinking - plus Video

Video-Head Shrinking


November 13, 2009—What could be the only footage of an actual human headshrinking ceremony in South America--which shows heads being boiled and dried--may be real, says an explorer in a new documentary.

Warning: Video contains graphic images.© 2009 National Geographic; Video from Nat Geo Channel

Unedited Transcript:

The National Geographic Channel has obtained what may be the only existing footage of an actual human head-shrinking ceremony in South America.

SOUND: Deep within the worlds largest rain forest live a people that once practiced the infamous ritual.. of head-shrinking.

In its special, author and explorer Piers Gibbon set out to find out if the film is genuine.

The film was made in 1961 by Polish Explorer Edmundo Bielawski, who, with a team of seven, set out to explore and document the worlds largest rain forest: The Amazon.

Head-shrinking was only practiced by one portion of the Amazon jungle-dwelling population- the Shuar. Headshrinking was a form of summary justice carried out on enemies. The shrinking process was deemed necessary to stop the victims evil spirit from seeking revenge.

Gibbon describes the process with a re-creation:

SOUNDBITE: Gibbon Firstly the back of the head would be opened. The skin is sliced free from the skull. Care is taken not to damage the facial features. The skull and remaining flesh is removed. The skin is then boiled in water for half an hour. Any longer and the hair may fall out. After being dried in the sun, the skin is turned inside out.

The process is repeated and can take up to six days, until the head is a quarter of its original size.

SOUNDBITE: Firstly the eyes are sewn shut, preventing the victims spirit from seeing out. Wooden pins are placed through the lips and lashed together with string. This stops the soul from asking for their death to be avenged.

Gibbon speaks with a Catholic missionary who has lived there since the 1960s.

SOUNDBITE: How did you explain the the Shuar that they must stop taking vengeance themselves?

He confirms head-shrinking was still occurring during that time, making it possible Bielawski filmed a genuine ceremony.

And, he meets the alleged only surviving warrior from the period. He shows him the film, and the old man confirms his own brother is in the footage.

SOUND: GIBBON He and his brother were separated by the war, but he does know that this brother was involved in Tsantsa ceremonies. After speaking with Tsanimp it seems that Bielawski did filming in this area, but I cant be certain he shot the head-shrinking scene in Tukupi. But having confirmed that Kampurims involvement, it really is possible that Bielawski filmed the only existing footage of a head-shrinking ceremony in progress.

The special, Search for the Amazon Headshrinkers, premieres on the National Geographic Channel Sunday November 15th, 9pm Eastern.


Monday, November 9, 2009


Incan Temple Ruins

Ancient Temple Discovered Among Inca Ruins

Kelly Hearn in Buenos Aires, Argentina
for National Geographic News
March 31, 2008

A temple thought to have once housed idols and mummies has been unearthed near an ancient Inca site in Cusco, Peru.

The temple was discovered outside the ruins of a stone fortress known as Sacsayhuaman, which is thought to have been built by a pre-Inca culture called the Killke around 1100 A.D.

The remains of an ancient temple, pictured here, have been discovered outside the ruins of a stone fortress known as Sacsayhuaman near Cusco, Peru, archaeologists say.

The site is thought to have been built by a pre-Inca culture called the Killke around 1100 A.D. and later occupied and expanded by the Inca.

REUTERS/Andina Agency/Handout (PERU)

The fortress was later occupied and expanded by the Inca, experts say, and its ruins are now a UN World Heritage site.

Scientists who found the temple say its discovery upends theories that the Sacsayhuaman complex was used strictly for military purposes.

"We are in the process of investigating, but we are very excited about what we have found," said Washington Camacho, director of the Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park.

"We believe that the temple we have found was used for ceremonial purposes."

The temple covers some 2,700 square feet (250 square meters) and contains 11 rooms thought to have held idols and mummies, Camacho said.

The temple contained "funeral structures," he added, and was found next to "an enormous rocky formation" that researchers speculate was used as a "sacred place" prior to the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

Early Inca Clues

Christina Conlee, an anthropologist at Texas State University who was not part of the excavation, said that the team's theory about the site's ceremonial use seems valid, based on evidence cited in recent media reports.

"I think the discovery is potentially important, because although we know quite a bit about the later Inca Empire, the early Inca and origins of their culture are less well known," she said.

"The finding of an earlier temple near Sacsayhuaman seems to suggest this was a sacred area in pre-imperial times."

Researchers also discovered an ancient footpath or roadway that Camacho said was built during the period of Inca occupation.

"The path connected the fort at Sacsayhuaman with Lake Cochapata," Camacho said.

The roadway was lined with walls of mud and ran approximately 0.25 to 0.3 mile (400 to 500 meters) throughout the complex, Camacho said.

Archaeologists also detected traces of an ancient but simple aqueduct system, a type of gutter that ran alongside the road, possibly supplying water to the ancient city of Cusco.

Brian Bauer, an expert on the Inca at the University of Illinois, Chicago, said the newfound temple expands the known size of the Sacsayhuaman complex.

"The [National Institute of Culture] in Peru has been conducting a series of large scale excavations at Sacsayhuaman for several years," he said.

"This was one of the most important areas of ancient Cusco, and we know that there are early Inca remains there as well.

"The exact function of those earlier remains is unclear, but it is exciting that the complex appears to have been larger than previously thought."


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Teotihuacan, Mexico - Pyramid of Moon, Street of the Dead


Golden Eagle Sacrifice

Pyramid of Death

At the Pyramid of the Moon in central Mexico, humans and animals were buried alive. Excavations reveal the remains of sacrifices once witnessed by thousands of spectators.

By A. R. Williams
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Even the ferocious Aztec were awed by their first glimpse of Teotihuacan. By the 13th century when the Aztec swept into central Mexico, the once teeming city—which reached its zenith around a.d. 400—had been long since abandoned by its mysterious builders. Its grand ceremonial center, where tens of thousands of people had gathered amid sacred monuments of stone, lay under thick green overgrowth. The Aztec gave the site its name and identified its most imposing features according to their own beliefs—the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. Assuming that some of the buildings were tombs, they called the main thoroughfare Street of the Dead.

They were, as it turns out, uncannily accurate. Burials both rich and gruesome have recently been discovered in the Pyramid of the Moon during excavations headed by Rubén Cabrera Castro, of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, and Saburo Sugiyama, of Japan’s Aichi Prefectural University. Tunneling deep into the 140-foot-tall stone structure, the archaeologists located five burial sites. After most of the dirt and debris had been dug out, each site was reinforced with steel beams for safety. Supplied with fresh air pumped in from the outside, the archaeologists scraped the last layers of earth from the floor to reveal scenes of carnage: disembodied heads and the remains of foreign warriors and dignitaries, carnivorous mammals, birds of prey, and deadly reptiles.

Evidence indicates that all the victims were ritually killed to consecrate successive stages of the pyramid’s construction (illustration below). The earliest sacrifice, from about a.d. 200, marked a substantial enlargement of the building. A wounded foreigner, most likely a prisoner of war, was apparently buried alive with his hands tied behind him (opposite). Animals representing mythical powers and military might surrounded him—pumas, a wolf, eagles, a falcon, an owl, and rattlesnakes—some buried alive in cages. Finely crafted offerings included weapons of obsidian and a figurine of solid greenstone, perhaps a war goddess to whom the burial was dedicated. Each subsequent burial was different, but all had the same aim: “Human sacrifice was important to control the people,” says Sugiyama, “to convince them to do what their rulers wanted.”

Teotihuacan was one of the first true urban centers in the Western Hemisphere, covering nearly eight square miles at its heyday. Precious artifacts recovered from the Pyramid of the Moon and other structures reveal that this was a wealthy trade metropolis with far-reaching connections. Inexplicably, the city suffered sudden and violent collapse in about a.d. 600 and much of the population fled. They left few written records, just the ruins of their city and intriguing clues about a once powerful culture.


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Did You Know?
In Did You Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.

No, aliens did not design Teotihuacan, nor is it related to the lost city of Atlantis. Ever since the first aerial photographs of Teotihuacan were taken in the 1960s, the city's specific and precise layout has confounded scientists and scholars. The entire city is organized in a rigid grid system based on its central avenue, the Street of the Dead. This main street, however, is not oriented on a true north-south axis, but is offset by an exact 15.5º east of true north, a curiosity that has perplexed scholars and led to a variety of explanations throughout the years.

One of the more popular hypotheses suggests that the setting sun is at a 90º angle to the Street of the Dead on the days of the zenith (when the sun passes directly overhead). Some scholars, however, dismiss this hypothesis, stating that the math just doesn't add up. In the early 1970s, Colgate University astronomer and archaeologist Anthony Aveni suggested that a point 90º west of the Street of the Dead marked the setting position of the Pleiades, a star cluster linked to the Mesoamerican calendar, at about the time Teotihuacan was founded. However, Vincent Malmstrom, professor emeritus at Dartmouth College, argued a few years later that a point 90º west of the Street of the Dead marks the spot where, twice a year–on April 30 and August 13–the sun sets directly opposite the Pyramid of the Sun. Malmstrom believes this to be significant because the latter date is the day the ancient Maya believed the world began.

No conclusive explanation of why the founders of Teotihuacan oriented their city in such a specific way exists. Scientists and scholars are baffled and will, without a doubt, continue to look for clues to this one mystery among many that Teotihuacan holds.

—Agnieszka Siemiginowska


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Monday, September 21, 2009


acoma indian reservation, brief history

church of st. stephen (re-constructed)
church of san sebastian
mesa top
acoma seed pot. Seeds are saved in pot; pot is broken when seeds are needed for planting.
acoma water girls

mesa top

pueblo reflection in pool of water
enchanted mesa

Acoma Indian Reservation

The Acoma Indian Reservation is located in parts of Cibola, Socorro, and Catron counties, New Mexico, USA, and covers 1,541.033 km² (594.996 sq mi). The number of tribal members is about 6000. The reservation borders the Laguna Indian Reservation to the east and is near El Malpais National Monument due west. A total of 2,802 people were living on the reservation's lands, as reported in the 2000 census.

The Acoma Pueblo is the heart of the reservation and is held as the oldest continuously inhabited place in the United States.[1]


Acoma Houses on mesa top

The Pueblo (village) of Acoma was built on top of a 300 foot mesa in the state of New Mexico. The pueblo was built on top of the mesa for defensive purposes, keeping neighboring tribes from raiding food and other supplies. Archeologists have found evidence that the tribe had been in the area since 1200 A.D. Tribal legends and stories have placed its occupation to a time before Christ. The village continues to be occupied to the present day. The Acoma People came from the north and are believed to be related to the inhabitants of Mesa Verde (Colorado). The first recorded contact between Acoma and Europeans occurred on August 29, 1540. Capitan Hernando de Alvarado and Fry Juan Padilla along with an escort of soldiers arrived at the foot of the Acoma village. Capitan Hernando described Acoma as�The strongest ever seen, because the city was built on a high rock. The ascent was so difficult that we repented climbing to the top. The houses are three and four stories high. The people have of the same type as those in the province of Cibola (Zuni Pueblo), and they have abundant supplies of maize, beans, and turkeys, like those of New Spain�. Initial contact between both parties was peaceful, uneventful and remained this way for several years. Along with the arrival of the Spaniards came change for the pueblos of New Mexico. Spanish explorers had brought different beliefs and traditions with them. The Acoma people were introduced to Catholicism and were slowly forced to take the religion on as their only religion. The Acoma people were defiant to the beliefs and customs of the church. Incidents of fights and other skirmishes have been recorded by both the Acoma and Spanish people.

Mesa Top

The biggest confrontation between the Acoma people and the Spaniards started on December 4, 1598. Juan de Onate had started to move settlers into New Mexico. He was being followed by his brother Captain Juan de Zaldivar. Along with 30 men Zaldivar had camped near the Acoma village. An incident occurred in the Acoma village which led to a battle between the Acoma and Spaniards. Zaldivar and 12 of his men had been killed in the fighting.

Zaldivars brother Vicente de Zaldivar assembled a company of 70 men to punish the Acoma people for what they did. On January 21, 1599 Zaldivar attacked the village from the valley floor. The battle lasted for 3 days until the Spanish soldiers finally ascended the mesa and took control of the village.

Acoma men and women were taken prisoner and tried in court at the Pueblo of Santo Domingo. The Spanish court ruled that the Acoma people had been guilty of murdering Juan de Zaldivar and his men. The Acoma were dealt a sever sentence, men over 25 years of age were sentenced to have one foot amputated and were sentenced to serve 20 years of slavery. The women (12 to 25 years old) were also sentenced to serve 20 years of slavery. Children and elder tribal members were released, but had to live under the guidance of Spanish officials and Spanish priests.

The tribe remained under Spanish control for several years until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. This was led by a medicine man named Pope of the San Juan Pueblo. 22 pueblos in the state of New Mexico organized a secret plan to take back the lands in which the Spaniards had settled on. The revolt began on August 11, 1680 and lasted for several days, tribes attacked settlements through out the southwest (state of New Mexico), most of the fighting took place in the city of Santa Fe. The Acoma and surrounding tribes from the county of Cibola forced settlers to move back into Mexico. The Pueblo People (of New Mexico) held the Spaniards off for 12 more years. The alliance of the tribes began to break up because of infighting. Slowly the Spanish government reclaimed the land (New Mexico) establishing permanent settlements in the early 1690�s.

Acoma Today

The Pueblo of Acoma and the people have gone through many adversities and continue to preserver. Today the Acoma Indian Reservation has grown to 365,000 archers. There are currently 6,104 tribal members in and out of the reservation. The Estaban del Ray Mission was designated a historical landmark by the U.S. Government. The pueblo is occupied by 13 families year round. The rest of the tribal members live in surrounding communities (Acomita, McCartys, Anzac and the Sky Line subdivision). The entire pueblo (old Acoma) is reoccupied several times out of the year annually to celebrate religious and feast day ceremonies. Acoma now has several businesses that provide income for the people. The Sky City Casino (the biggest business), Flower Mountain Travel Plaza (gas station), Acomita lake (closed), Bar 15 cattle co., Big Game Hunting, and the Acoma Tourist Visitors Center (the oldest business). The Tourist Center is changing it's name to the Sky City Cultural Center once a new building is constructed (the last building burned down in May of 2000). The Acoma tribe continues to adjust to the times and will endure whatever the future holds. Our heritage and traditions will continue to be passed down from generation to generation.

Home / Acoma Pottery / Acoma Artists / Artists Gallery / Forward Information / Compare Pottery / Sky City Cultural

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Acoma Sky City Pueblo and Haak'u Museum

This post is about a people located in the Southwestern part of the U.S.A., not mesoamerica. However, as some of the peoples of mesoamerica at times also inhabited the areas now known as Arizona and New Mexico, and are rumored to be related to the Zunie, this history is included here. Historically, the Acoma traded with the Aztec and Maya.
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Acoma Pueblo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Acoma Pueblo and its reflection in a pool of water. Ansel Adams, c.1941
Location: Cibola County, New Mexico, USA
Nearest city: Grants, New Mexico
Built/Founded: circa 1100
Architect: vernacular
Architectural style(s): Pueblo, Colonial
Governing body: Pueblo of Acoma
Added to NRHP: October 15, 1966
Designated NHL: October 9, 1960[1]

Mission San Esteban Rey, c.1641. Photo by Ansel Adams, c.1941
More recent view of the same building: architectural modifications are apparent.
Acoma seed pot. Seeds were stored inside, and the pots broken as needed.

Acoma Pueblo (pronounced /ˈækəmə/; Western Keresan: Aa'ku; Zuni: Hakukya); Haak'ooh in Navajo, also known as "Sky City", is a Native American pueblo built on top of a 367-foot (112 m) sandstone mesa in the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.

[edit] History

The pueblo, believed to have been established in the 12th century or earlier, was chosen in part because of its defensive position against raiders. It is regarded as one the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States,[3][4] along with Old Oraibi, Arizona, as both communities were settled in the 11th century.[5] Access to the pueblo is difficult as the faces of the mesa are sheer (a topographic map shows this best). Before modern times access was gained only by means of a hand-cut staircase carved into the sandstone.

There are several interpretations of origin of the name "Acoma". Some believe that the name Acoma comes from the Keresan words for the People of the White Rock, with aa'ku meaning white rock, and meh meaning people. Others believe that the word aa'ku actually comes from the word haaku meaning to prepare; a description that would accurately reflect the defensive position of the mesa's inhabitants.

Acoma Pueblo comprises several villages including Acomita, McCarty's, Anzac and the newer subdivision of Sky Line. Acoma people dry-farm in the valley below Aa'ku and use irrigation canals in the villages closer to the Rio San Jose.

In 1598, Spanish conquistador Don Juan De Oñate, under orders from the King of Spain, invaded New Mexico, and began staging raids on Native American pueblos in the area, taking anything of value. Upon reaching San Juan Pueblo, Oñate had all the Native Americans who were living there removed from their homes and used it as a base to stage more raids on other Native American pueblos in the area. In response, the Acoma fought back, and several Spaniards were killed in the battle to re-take the pueblo from the Spaniards. During the battle, the Spaniards brought a small cannon up the back of Acoma Mesa, and began firing into the village.

According to Acoma oral traditions, the average Spaniard at the time weighed much more than the average Acoma, and the Spaniards also brought with them attack dogs, which were believed to be fed on human flesh and trained to eat humans alive. The Acoma people lost the Battle of Acoma, and the indigionous population of the pueblo, which had been approximataly 2,000 people before the Spanish attacked, was reduced to approximately 250 survivors; as women, children, and elders were killed by the Spaniards in that battle as well.

After the survivors were herded to Santo Domingo Pueblo, all the surviving children under the age of 12 were taken from their parents, and given to Spanish missionaries to raise; but most of them and the other survivors were sold into slavery. Of the few dozen Acoma men of fighting age still alive after the battle. Oñate ordered a foot chopped off of each one. Oñate was later tried and convicted of cruelty to Indians and colonists, and was banished from New Mexico. However, he was cleared of all charges on appeal and lived out the rest of his life in Spain.

[edit] Culture

Tracing their lineage to the inhabitants of ruins to the west and north, the Acoma people continue the traditions of their ancestors. Acoma people practice their traditional religion and some also practice the Catholic religion that came with Spanish settlers in the 1500s. Acoma people have traded and interacted with their neighbors for centuries, some of which extended beyond the local Pueblos. Trade between Aztec and Mayan people was common prior to European settlement. Only more recently has trade and interaction with other tribes been hampered by international boundaries. Traditional alliances still exist between the Pueblos who often speak different dialects or different languages. The Acoma Pueblo and Laguna Pueblo have many ties, including location, language and a shared high school. Throughout the year feasts are held in celebration of historic occasions. Visitors are allowed to attend these feasts but are encouraged to be respectful and aware of local protocol.

The Spanish settlers had the mission church of San Esteban del Rey built at the pueblo from 1629 to 1641, under the direction of Friar Juan Ramírez.[6] Its 30-foot beams were carried 30 miles from Kaweshtima or Mount Taylor Mountain, and the dirt for its graveyard was carried up the mesa from the valley below. Both the mission and the pueblo are registered National Historical Landmarks. In late 2006 the Acoma Pueblo was also named as a National Trust Historic Site.

Like other pueblos, Acoma and the surrounding area are considered federal trust land, administered by the federal government for the pueblo. Several families still live on the mesa itself year-round, while others elect to live in nearby villages (Acomita Village, New Mexico, among them). The 2000 US Census lists 2,802 inhabitants of the Acoma Pueblo and off-reservation trust lands, which encompasses territory in parts of Cibola, Socorro, and Catron counties.

Today Acoma's culture is practiced almost the same as before the 1589 invasion. The traditions are always oral traditions, in which dancing, music, art, theology, astrology, philosophy and history are taught. The traditional foods that are planted there are beans, pumpkins, corn, chili, onions and fruits like apples, apricots, peaches, plums and cherries. All of the sowing is done as a group.

The pueblo is located 60 miles (100 km) west of Albuquerque on Interstate 40 and 12 miles (20 km) south on Indian Route 23. The pueblo is open to the public only by guided tour. Photography of the pueblo and surrounding lands is restricted. Tours can be arranged and $10 camera permits obtained from the recently renovated Sky City visitor center at the base of the mesa. However, videotaping, drawing and sketching are prohibited, with big signs warning visitors not to do any of them (but especially not to videotape)[7][8].

Haak'u Museum

Take a journey into Acoma’s past and present. The Haak’u Museum showcases the southwest Native American culture of the Acoma Pueblo Indians. Intriguing museum exhibits chronicle the history, highlight Native American artwork and explore traditional customs in modern Acoma life.

Located within the 40,000-square-foot Sky City Cultural Center the Haak’u Museum also serves as an education and research institute focusing on the preservation of Acoma history, the revitalization of lost art forms, and the retention of traditional language.


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