Southwest Native American Religion
Southwest Native American Religion
Pueblo. When the Spanish moved north from their Mexican strongholds into present-day New Mexico in the late seventeenth century, they encountered the many apartmentlike villages of the Pueblo. These farming people eagerly adopted the agricultural technology of the Spaniards and welcomed the Franciscan friars, according respect to these spiritual leaders as they did to their own. Religion was at the center of these people’s lives as they irrigated the land, developed drought-resistant corn, and, in short, sought to control nature for their own purposes. They accomplished this through rituals led by their spiritual leaders, as the gods who brought them to the earth directed them to do before departing.
Creation Myth. The Pueblo believed that they had once lived in the center of the earth, which was the middle cosmos, with their mother and all living creatures. When it was time to leave, she gave them corn to take the place of her nourishment and appointed a priest to care for them. Helped by the birds, insects, and animals, they and their gods climbed up to the surface of the earth and entered the White House, from which they could view the sky, the third level of the cosmos. There two sisters contended to see who was the stronger. It was a draw, so one went to the east and became the mother of white people; the other became the mother of the Indians. The Pueblo remained at the White House with their gods who taught them how to farm and how to honor the gods by performing the sacred rituals and ceremonies that integrated humans into the forces of the cosmos. Then the people left the White House and established their villages.
Kiva. The kiva was the most sacred place in each of these villages, for it represented the hole in the earth through which they came, a hole which extended even to the underworld, the first level of the cosmos. It was through the kiva that they could communicate with their mother and the gods. The kiva was the center of each village from which all else was measured—the apartments, fields, and boundaries of the village. In this circular, semisubterranean room were held all of the ceremonies that marked the phases of the year when it was necessary to enlist the help of the gods and the cosmic forces. Next to it was a room where the sacred masks and other religious paraphernalia were stored. A chief priest cared for these and oversaw the rituals, aided by trained assistants.
Christianizing. Grafting Catholicism onto their religion was relatively easy, for the Pueblo considered the white friars to be the priests or assistants of the eastern sister. The Christian god took his place among their own gods; kneeling in prayer was added to the bodily movements; Catholic chants joined the other ritual sounds in their worship; and chalices were included among objects in the sacred warehouse. The Pueblo also saw similarities between crucifixes and their prayer sticks and between the use of incense and their smoking rituals. At first the friars were tolerant of this eclecticism, even creating boys’ choirs to perfect their chanting. In periods of intense religious zeal, however, when the Spanish did battle with Satan by erasing any vestiges of pagan ritual, the Pueblos fought back and returned to their pure traditional religious practices.
Rebellion. In 1680 El Pope led the largest revolt against Spanish Catholicism. Five years earlier the Spanish began to raid the kivas, where no outsider was to venture, confiscate the sacred masks, burn prayer sticks, and execute the priests. This coincided with droughts and hostile attacks by other Native Americans. El Pope told the Pueblo that their god was stronger than the Spanish god and was punishing them for their inattention. He was able to unite most of the villages in burning churches, defacing statues of the Virgin Mary, destroying chalices, and driving the Spanish out. After more than fifteen years the Spanish returned, but the humbled Franciscans allowed the Pueblo to continue their traditional religious practices.
Ramon A. Gutierrez, When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1991);
Andrew L. Knaut, The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995);