Friday, January 16, 2009

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Albuquerque's Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, owned and operated by the 19 Indian Pueblos (or villages) of New Mexico, showcases a historical and contemporary look at the Southwest's first inhabitants.

The Center's mission is: "To preserve and perpetuate Pueblo culture and to advance understanding by presenting with dignity and respect, the accomplishments and evolving history of the Pueblo people of New Mexico."

The 19 Pueblos belong to three distinct language groups that are further differentiated to 5 separate languages (the Keresan, Tewa, Tiwa, Towa and Zuni Languages).

A number of murals surround the walls of the courtyard. This one is entitled "The Runaway" by Tommy Montoya of the San Juan Pueblo. "The Runaway depicts a figure in the Deer Dance, an important winter ceremonial in Pueblo life. Traditionally performed by male dancers, the animal impersonators carry short sticks, simulating the forelegs of the deer. After the last dance of the day, the deer attempt to run away, while the Pueblo women pursue them. When a deer dancer is caught, his captor takes him home for dinner. The Runaway wears a vivid blue and yellow headdress from which protrude feather-tipped antlers. As in most ceremonial dance costumes, eagle feathers are prominently displayed. The whole figure is charged with energy and emotion."

Near the main complex of the Center is the Pueblo House complex where educational programs and artists' demonstrations are held.

This mural is entitled "The Eagle Dance" by J.D. Medina of the Zia Pueblo. "The Eagle Dance dramatizes the relationship between man, the eagle, and the gods. The eagle is a powerful symbol for Pueblo people and is thought to be a messenger of the deities. The eagle is a great hunter, and since he travels far in all directions, he may bring rain. Plumed serpents, also important in prayers for rain, decorate the kilts of the dancers, and the soaring, leaping figures, with feathered arms extended, are caught in a moment of intensity and action. In the background, a small line of houses with a ladder raised to the rooftop, suggests the Pueblo."

This month the artists of the Jemez Pueblo were featured at the Center. The Pueblo of Jemez, whose traditional name is "Walatowa," is about 35 miles northwest of Albuquerque and has about 3000 tribal members living in the village. It has a closed village policy due to the lack of tourism facilities and out of respect for the privacy of those who live there. The village is therefore open to the public only on Feast Days, so it was rare that the public has the opportunity to see some of their dances. This dancer was preparing to perform the Eagle Dance.

Low light and the quick movements of the dancer seem to show the flight of the eagle.

The Pottery Dance was performed by two women of the Jemez Pueblo. They performed the dance while each balanced a pottery bowl representing water being carried from a water source back to the village.

In the background of the photo above is the mural "Indian Maiden Feeding Deer" by Tommy Montoya. "This mural is a simple and dramatic expression of the Pueblo peoples' gratitude to the deer, traditionally an important element of their diet. However, we have an interesting reversal of the usual roles, for here we have the maiden feeding the deer, instead of the usual situation in which the deer would serve as food for the maiden. The maiden's basket contains the other all-important staple of Pueblo life, the revered corn. The figures, painted in black, white and earth tones, are highly stylized, and the whole effect is one of elegance and restraint."

Most of the Jemez tribal members are farmers, ranchers, craftsmen and excellent artists. A few commute great distances each day to work in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

I thought it noteworthy that the ancestors of the Jemez Pueblo constructed some of the largest prehistoric architectural structures (made from wet-laid volcanic stone) ever built in what is now the United States with some pueblos containing well over 2500 rooms under a single roof that projected upwards of four and five stories high.

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