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Keres Pueblo Indians

Keres Pueblo Indians

ETHNONYMS: Keresans, Qqueres, Queres, Queresans


Identification. The name "Keres" refers to seven present-day Keresan-speaking Pueblo Indian tribes of New Mexico. Acoma and Laguna are commonly designated as Western Keresans as contrasted with the Eastern Keresan villages, or pueblos, of Santa Ana, Zia (Sia), San Felipe, Santo Domingo, and Cochiti. Each pueblo, together with its satellites, constitutes an independent tribe with its own political, Ceremonial, and social structures.

Location. The Western Keresan villages, Acoma and Laguna, lie, respectively, some sixty and forty miles west of Albuquerque, in west-central New Mexico. Santa Ana and Zia are located on the Jemez River some miles above its confluence with the Rio Grande and twenty-seven and thirty miles north of Albuquerque. Cochiti, Santo Domingo, and San Felipe are on the Rio Grande and lie, Respectively, twenty-five, thirty, and thirty-five miles southwest of Santa Fe.

Demography. The Keresan Pueblos, individually, have varied in size and also in comparison with one another at any particular time through the historic centuries. Dutton gave the following population figures for the Keresan tribes as of the census of 1980: Acoma, 3,592; Laguna, 6,233; Santa Ana, 517; Zia, 645; San Felipe, 2,145; Santo Domingo, 2,857; and Cochiti, 918.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Keresan language is regarded as standing alone by most linguists; connections with other linguistic stocks are not generally accepted. Within the group of seven Keresan Pueblos, there are significant differences Between the Western and Eastern subgroups. Communication between the subgroups is commonly regarded as difficult at best. Within each of the two subgroups, minor dialectic distinctions are generally recognized. Members of the several tribes chide other Keresan speakers for speaking strangely. Under the impact of television, increasing numbers of Marriages with non-Keresan spouses, and the overall influence of outside relationships, the smaller Keresan tribes are currently greatly concerned over the imminent loss of their native language: without this language, the ceremonial or religious life of the tribe suffers, and without a viable religious life, the way of life of the entire native culture is threatened with extinction.

History and Cultural Relations

Laguna Pueblo was founded by refugees from various Rio Grande Keresan villages and from Acoma in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The other six Keresan Pueblos of today, along with at least some of their satellite Villages, are in approximately the same locations where the Spaniards first contacted them in the sixteenth century. The Keresans have occupied a central position along the Rio Grande and the Jemez River between other Puebloan tribes to the north and also the south; they have served as something of a cultural filter between these Rio Grande, or Eastern, tribes and the Western Pueblos of Zuni in New Mexico and Hopi in Arizona.

Settlements. As noted, the Keresans have remained, for the most part, where the Spaniards first found them. Some tribes have shown a tendency to divide and establish new Villages as a result of abandoning an old site that had become unhealthful (bewitched) or depleted of resources (deforested, or increasingly desiccated and unable to support the needs of their rudimentary agriculture). Archaeological findings reveal a slow but continual reoccupation of sites where conditions had improved with the passage of years or decades. For the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there are documented instances in which economic and/or political considerations have caused segments of tribes to migrate en masse to villages where other languages are spokenfor example, the Laguna migration to Isleta (Tiwa speakers) and a group of San Ildefonso Pueblo Indians (Tewa speakers) moving to Cochiti. Apparently, the overriding factor was the availability of arable land at the new home or a greater compatibility in the political or some other phase of life in the new Community. Size of the migrant group, in itself, does not seem to have been important in arriving at the decision either to move or to receive newcomers into the community.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. For centuries prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in the area, the Keresans depended for the most part on an agricultural economy. Among the Western Keresans, herding was a significant addition to the economy; this was less true of the Eastern Keresans. All Pueblo tribes, however, benefited from the introduction of sheep and cattle by the Spanish. Oxen, mules, and horses were also involved, but in lesser numbers in the Beginning. Of essentially equal importance were the metal-tipped agricultural implementsshovels, hoes, rakes, plows, and other toolsthat enabled the Pueblo Indians to improve their relatively primitive ditch systems and expand the acreage of fields served by these ditches. New cropsa variety of grains and alfalfawere also important additions to the agricultural scene.

In the years following World War II, there has been a steady growth in nonagricultural pursuits. Some of these involvements have taken the Keres to such Anglo-Spanish centers as Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Grants, and other communities, some at considerable distances, where wage-earning has assumed increasing significance. Another important economic development has occurred in the area of arts and crafts, or, as some observers have noted, fine arts. This has involved painting and the making of pottery, jewelry, drums, leather goods, and other creations. Potters have expanded their products to include figurines such as the famous "Story Tellers" introduced by Helen Cordero of Cochiti Pueblo and now widely made, both among other Cochiti potters and potters elsewhere. With the unexpected and disastrous seepage from the recently completed Cochiti Dam on the Rio Grande a mile north of Cochiti Pueblo, agriculture at that pueblo has virtually ceasedbeing replaced by wage-earning and a variety of arts and crafts.

Trade. Through the centuries, the trading of agricultural produce and other material goodspottery, baskets, woven belts and blankets, jewelry, and other itemshas served to establish relations between pueblos and also to reinforce these ties over time by repeated visits, generally reciprocal in nature.

Division of Labor. From aboriginal times until at least the post-World War II period, the division of labor between the sexes was rigidly observed. In recent decades, however, the line between male and female activities has been all but obliterated. Pottery making and decorating are no longer exclusively the bailiwick of women; jewelry making and other crafts have become essentially bisexual endeavors. Artists of both sexes have achieved wide recognition for their paintings, sculptures, and other creations.

Land Tenure. Traditions in land tenureland and crops in the field belonging to the man, and harvested produce and the house belonging to the womanhave remained little changed. There has been, nonetheless, a gradual shift away from the old customs. In such cases, there has been a tendency to switch to Spanish-Anglo practices when the situation seems better served by such changes. Rules of Inheritance, as an integral facet of land tenure, have shown a similar tendency to switch when circumstances indicate the advisability of making changes.


Kin Groups and Descent. The kinship systems of the Western Keresans differ from one another and also from the systems of the Eastern Keresans. Matrilineal exogamous clans prevail in both the Western and Eastern tribes. Both Acoma and Laguna lack the patrilineal moieties, or kiva organizations, that are found among the Eastern Keresans. Laguna shows a tendency to link clans in what can be considered rudimentary phratries. Among the Eastern Keresans, clans and kiva groups operate independently; it has been suggested that the kiva groups were once endogamous, making the clans in each moiety distinct. Today, where moieties, or kiva groups, are concerned, each moiety normally contains a number of clans that are also present in the other group. A major distinction between the Keresan clan and the moiety is the ease with which a kiva affiliation may be changed; adoption from one clan into another still involves considerable ceremony. The literature on Santa Ana Pueblo suggests a unique relationship between clan and kiva that is found in no other Keresan tribe. Kiva membership, because it may be easily switched, is sometimes discussed under the heading of nonkin associations. Marriages can occur within the kiva group; if not, the wife shifts to the kiva of her husband. Later, under certain circumstances, the couple may change their Memberships to the other kiva.

Kinship Terminology. The Western Keresans show greater variability between themselves and also when compared to the Eastern Keresans. Terms of kinship tend to be similar among the several Eastern Keresan tribes. Distinctions are commonly made between terms of address used by the two sexes, and recognition of age-generational differences has also been noted.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Keresan marriages have always been Monogamous, and they have traditionally occurred in accordance with the rule of clan exogamy. Upon marriage, each spouse retains his or her affiliation, and children belong to her clan. As noted above, the wife changes to the kiva of her husband if she is not already a member of the same kiva group. Children take their kiva affiliation from their father. Occasionally, when a clan is numerically strong, a marriage between clan members may occur; here, the rules of Catholicism concerning incest are followed. Most marriages are performed by a Catholic priest, with native rites usually following. With Catholicism present in all villages and observed to varying degrees of faithfulness by families and individuals, divorce tends to be unusual. When it does occur, it is commonly a matter of the couple no longer living together rather than any formal procedure. The man often leaves the village and takes up Residence elsewhere.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family continues to be the basic domestic unit. In addition, within the household, there are often unmarried siblings of the couple, usually the wife, present. Single grandparents are often included. Extended family units may occupy adjacent or nearby houses, although this practice is being followed less and less.

Inheritance. The passing of real and/or personal property from one generation or individual to another continues to be somewhat traditional. There is, however, an increasing tendency to pass possessions on by sex and by more personal considerations than strictly adhering to traditional ways.

Socialization. In contrast to the pre-World War II period, when most children were born at home in the pueblo with the aid of midwives or, in difficult cases, the assistance of Medicine men, such births are almost unknown today, the mother being able to reach the hospital in most instances. Upon arrival in the pueblo, infants today experience varying blends of traditional and modern practices. Cradle boards are still used, but cribs are sometimes favored by mothers or families with a tendency to emulate modern ways. Young children are Commonly raised by the extended family, the members of which still enjoy participating in feeding, watching, and generally caring for and interacting with these newest members of the household.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The typical family continues to consist, in most cases, of the father, mother, and children. Variations would include single-parent units, families with stepchildren and stepparents where remarriages have occurred, and households with relatives who share in much of the activities. As explained above the family's kin affiliations are shaped by the wife's (mother's) clan membership and by the couple's kiva membership. In families where a non-Cochiti is a parent, there are obvious deviations, particularly when the spouse is not only non-Cochiti but non-Indian. If the alien spouse is from another Pueblo, especially a Keresan tribe, the adjustments are easily made. If the spouse is a non-Pueblo person, or even a non-Indian, accommodation is not as readily made.

Political Organization. For the Eastern Keresans, the Political structure reflects the general Puebloan pattern of dualism. The political organization is balanced against the Ceremonial organization. In the political organization, presumably largely implanted by the Spaniards, there are the war captain, lieutenant war captain, governor, lieutenant governor, fiscale, and lieutenant fiscale. The captains are assisted throughout the year by eight young men, the alguacilitos; similarly, the governors and fiscales are aided by eight fiscalitos. These assistants are chosen for their potential and are essentially on trial vis-à-vis their possible future service as major officers. A common feature of these offices is that the senior officers are all from the same kiva, and the junior officers are from the other kiva. Senior and junior officers are Traditionally appointed by medicine men, who are prominent in the ceremonial organization of each tribe. The selections for these offices are made anew at the end of each calendar year and announced to the tribe. The senior and junior positions alternate every year, again a feature of the characteristic balance maintained between the two kivas. Traditionally these officers serve without monetary compensation, their rewards coming from the fact that each has served to the best of his ability and the community acknowledges this fact. But in Recent years, several of the tribes have begun to pay some of these officers for their efforts in behalf of all the people.

For many years, the tribal council was composed of the major officers. Once a man became a council member, he served for the remainder of his life. In recent years, younger men who have some particular experience and knowledge have been invited to serve on the council even though they have not yet served in a major office. Governing has long been conducted by the council. Unanimous decisions once were required, but majority votes have begun to be recognizeda result of the need to reach decisions more rapidly, time-consuming debate no longer being affordable. Decisions by the major officers often are made in accordance with council decisions made in past times. When precedents are not feasible, the matter in question is taken up by the Entire council. Common law has been satisfactory over the years, but some tribes have become increasingly interested in the possible advantages of a written constitution. Beyond the boundaries of the respective tribes, there are such bodies as the All-Indian Pueblo Council, in which the various Puebloan tribes participate without exception.

Social Control. Traditionally, social controls have been those employed in many small societiesgossip, ridicule, and ostracism. From time to time, more drastic measures such as public whippings or confiscation of property have been employed. Trials held before the council convened to hear allegations of misdeeds have led to such penalties as whippings, or sentences of so many hours or days of community labor. Here, the larger pueblos have been able to be more rigid or stringent. In the smaller villages, however, matters must be carefully weighed. If an imposed penalty is deemed too harsh, the guilty person may take offense to the extent that he leaves the village, either alone or taking his family with him. This is something the tribal officers try to avoid. It is a delicate balancing actmaking the punishment sufficient to serve as a deterrent and yet not running the risk of driving one or more people from the tribe. As acculturation progresses with the changing times, maintaining the tribe's numerical strength is a genuine concern. The old ways of dealing with deviations have proved less and less effective in recent years; often the officer attempting to enforce a judgment is, in effect, penalized as severely as the wrongdoer.

Conflict. As the forces of acculturation gather momentum and most of the Keresan Pueblos become involved with residents whose origins are from outside the particular tribal Culture, there are increasing numbers and varieties of conflicts. Such clashes also arise when different generations are involved. More exposures to the mainstream educational System and its different values have led to dissonance that sometimes results in alienation and at least a temporary departure from the tribal culture.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Keresan Pueblos, both Western and Eastern, practice a blend of their native religious practices and beliefs and those of Roman Catholicism. Some Protestant sects are present, but they have remained relatively insignificant in the overall religious picture. Because of stringent requirements in terms of time, energy, and dedication, the numbers of members in the various secret societies are slowly declining rather than growing. As these societies lose members, there comes a time when one or another disappears from the ceremonial scene. Subsequently, some of its practices may be taken over by another society. If not, the tribe simply carries on without the services of the defunct society. In time, however, if there is sufficient interest, members of that tribe may go to another tribe where there is such a society and learn what is necessary to reinstate the society in their own tribe. There are still widespread beliefs, especially among the older people, in the supernaturals traditionally respected in the tribe. These are commonly revered along with the Christian beliefs acquired through contacts with the Franciscan priests who have served the Keresan Pueblos since the Spanish reconquest in the 1690s. The feast days of the various patron saints associated with the missions, the Christmas season, and the Easter season are all celebrated. Variations in the intensity of these observances are found when pueblos are compared; similarly, the degree of intensity varies among the residents of any one villagethe same as one would find in mainstream communities or among families within a Community. Among the Keresans, Christian practices are often combined with dances and other activities from the native Religious life. No conflict is seen in this blending of the two religious traditions.

Religious Practitioners. As explained above, religious Duties are carried on at present much as they have been performed traditionally. There are, however, continual losses among personnel with the result that portions of the old ways have been lost to the tribe. Newcomers in the religious Structure may have sufficient training to continue; in other instances, these apprentices may not have had time to learn their roles completely. Accordingly, content is lost unless it can be made up with the aid of society members in another tribe.

Ceremonies. The ceremonial observances referred to in the previous section may occur as separate and distinct activities, or they may be combined, as noted. Outsiders are usually welcome to attend and observe such ceremonies; exceptions are in the cases of secret dances or rites, at which time the performers may be either masked or unmasked. Although the Hopi and Zuni Pueblos allow outsiders to witness aspects of such masked dances, the Keresans rarely, if ever, do. Unlike the Tewa Pueblos to the north of Santa Fe, the Keresans permit no photography, sketching, recording, or note-taking at their ceremonies even when they do allow the ceremonies to be watched. Ceremonial information is jealously guarded from the non-Indian, or nonbeliever; one can detect some erosion and loss of knowledge over the years. It is claimed that if there is knowledge of a ce"remonial, or any part of it, it cannot be termed extinct. But there are increasing instances in which the qualified personnel or necessary paraphernalia can no longer be called into play, despite the fact that the ceremony, at least in its broad outlines, can be recalled.

Arts. As is the case in essentially all cultures having a nontechnological base, the Keresans have made their material items from wood, bone, leather, clay, stone, feathers, and various fibers. For items not easily handcrafted, trading networks were established among the Keresans themselves or with other Puebloan and non-Puebloan groups. At times, trade involved travel to the Gulf of California, the Pacific coast, or the Gulf of Mexico; if not actually covering such distances, tribes living in the intervening areas often served as middlemen, facilitating the exchanges between the Keresan villages and the more distant sources of desired goods. In the years since World War II, Keresan Indians have been among the leaders from the pueblos in general in the conversion of these former utilitarian products to objects aimed at the tourist and collector trade. Many of these have been termed "objects of fine art rather than 'arts and crafts.'"

Medicine. Traditionally, illnesses and injuries were treated by medicine men or medicine societies, usually those present in the particular village. If circumstances permitted, such practitioners would be sought in neighboring pueblos. In cases of childbirth, midwives usually took care of matters; however, if the birth were difficult, the assistance of a Medicine man was sought. In recent times, since about 1950, more and more use has been made of hospitals, trained nurses, and doctors. At present, the health and health care enjoyed by the people are greatly improved over what existed prior to mid-century. Today, very few babies are born away from the hospital and modern medical care. Older people still have a tendency to consult the native medicine men for more psychological problems or what might be termed psychosomatic ailments.

Death and Afterlife. When death occurs with little or no warning, the body is prepared by the family or medicine men, and burial (in a blanket rather than a casket) takes place in a matter of hours. Time usually does not permit the summoning of the Catholic priest, and the sacristan will officiate. The priest blesses the grave when he is next in the village. The Keresan Indians, if one may generalize, vary in their beliefs between the teachings of the Catholic church or other Christian faiths and the traditional ideas of the soul going to live with the ancestors and/or becoming a kachina, in some cases returning to the pueblo in the generic form of rain-bringing clouds. Much of this has to do with the degree of acculturation attained by individual Indians and by the pueblos in which they live.


Dozier, Edward P. (1983). The Pueblo Indians of North America. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press. Originally published, 1970.

Dutton, Bertha P. (1983). American Indians of the Southwest. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Ortiz, Alfonso, ed. (1979). Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 9, Southwest. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Parsons, Elsie Clews (1939). Pueblo Indian Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


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