Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Mile High and On a "Pedestal"

The oral heritage of Acoma tells of the origin and migration of Acoma people in search of HaaK’u. The story goes that their ancestors were told that a place had been prepared for them in which to live. As the ancestors traveled through the lands that now make up Colorado and New Mexico, they would stop and call out "Haak'u." When, at last, that call returned to them, the ancestors knew they had found the place that was their destiny. They are a people who believe in having a plan and a purpose.

Legend describes Acoma as a "place that always was" but native verbal history says it was first inhabited about 700 A.D. Archeologists believe that Old Acoma was inhabited at least from 1200 A.D. to the present.

Strategically built atop a 357-foot sandstone mesa for defensive purposes, the Acoma Pueblo is more familiarly known as Sky City--appropriate, given that it is 6604 feet above sea level. It is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States.

The pueblo itself covers about 75 acres atop a 357-foot high sandstone mesa overlooking the valley floor. Today, fewer than 50 people live atop the mesa--"mainly the elders, the church leaders, and those who want peace and quiet," according to Gerri, our guide. (Nearly 3000 other Acomans live in the villages below the mesa.) There is no electricity or running water in the village, as evidenced by the portable toilet behind the home on the right in the photo above.

"However, some residents bring in generators for special ceremonies--and the Super Bowl," Gerri admitted.

She also pointed out the oven that is used mainly for bread (over a dozen can be baked at a time).

Thanks to a film crew from Paramount, a dirt road was established in 1929 so the crew could move people and equipment to the top of the mesa to shoot Redskin . Hollywood still uses the area. Scenes of Acoma can be seen in Flap, My Name is Nobody, Showdown at Big Sky, and Way Out West as well as a number of television commercials.

The road to the village was paved in 1993 and water can now be brought in by truck, but the roads through the village are still dirt

and driving around the narrow streets still involves occasional duels with some very large rocks embedded in the earthen roads.

The pueblo's kiva, a large, underground ceremonial chamber either a rectangular or a circular structure, is entered through a hatchway by means of a ladder. The ladder's three main logs point North and the bar holding the logs together has arrows on each end pointing East and West. There is a dais at one end of the kiva, a fire pit in the center, and an opening in the floor at the other end. This orifice represents the entrance to the lower world and the place of emergence through which life came to this world. Women are traditionally restricted from entering a kiva.

Men traditionally ran the government; women owned and inherited the property of the family.

Photographing the pueblo requires a camera permit and taking photographs of the residents requires their permission. The residents prefer just to stay inside until the tour groups pass.

The people in the photo were members of our very small group. I think Kate and I missed a lot of information, because we lingered to enjoy the beauty and creativity of the pueblo.

The San Esteban del Rey Mission is the center of the pueblo, and its history is wrapped in discovery of Acoma by Coronado's army, friendship with Acoma people and Spanish, fears of being conquered by the Spanish, a battle, retaliation, Acoma almost ceasing to exist, and a miracle that led to a Catholic priest (and the Spanish influence) being accepted into the community.
Under Father Ramirez's guidance, the villagers undertook the construction of a great mission church on the top of their barren mesa. Over 11 years (1629-1640), they hauled 20,000 tons of earth and stone on their backs, up the trail from the plain, to raise walls 10 feet thick. They carried dozens of timbers, or vigas, 40 feet in length, 14 inches in diameter, from the flanks of Mount Taylor, 40 miles to the north, to construct the roof. They hauled up soil for the churchyard, which lies at a walled edge of the Mesa, before the structure’s massive twin bell towers.

The cemetery has been built up over the centuries so that there are actually four or five "layers" of burials that have taken place in the cemetery.

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