Tewa Pueblos

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Tewa Pueblos

ETHNONYMS: T'owa, Teguas (Spanish), Tano-Tewa


Identification. The name "Tewa" refers to linguistically related American Indian peoples who live in seven distinct communities referred to as "pueblos," the name applied to them by the Spanish colonists in the late 1500s.

Location. The Tewa-speaking Pueblo peoples live, as they have since aboriginal times, in the southwestern United States. Six Tewa pueblos are located adjacent to the Rio Grande in central/north-central New Mexico and one is located on a mesa in northeastern Arizona. The New Mexico Tewa pueblos are San Juan Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo, San Ildefonso Pueblo, Tesuque Pueblo, Pojoaque Pueblo, and Nambe Pueblo. The Arizona Pueblo, referred to as Hopi-Tewa because their culture is similar to the Hopi on First Mesa, is Hano at First Mesa. The Hano Tewa lived in New Mexico until they fled following the 1696 Pueblo Revolt (see Hopi and Hopi-Tewa for more information).

Demography. In 1988, the total enrolled membership of the New Mexico Tewa reservation populations was 4,546. Individual pueblo enrollments were San Juan Pueblo, 1,936; Santa Clara Pueblo, 1,253; San Ildefonso Pueblo, 556; Tesuque Pueblo, 329; Pojoaque Pueblo, 76; and Nambe Pueblo, 396. In 1975, there were 625 enrolled Hopi-Tewa at Hano. Most Tewa live on or near their home pueblo, but others live in urban areas throughout the United States. In 1630, or about ninety years after Spanish contact, there were about 2,200 Tewa living in the six New Mexico pueblos. In 1900 an estimated 1,200 Tewa lived on these reservations.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Tewa language is one of three Tanoan languages; the other two are Tiwa and Towa. There are dialectical differences among the seven Tewa Pueblos.

History and Cultural Relations

Tewa culture shares many features with other Southwest Pueblos and derives from the pre-Pueblo peoples and cultures known as Anasazi, whose origins are found in archaeological sites at Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado and extend southward following the courses of the upper Rio Grande and Chama Rivers in New Mexico and the San Juan River in Arizona. In 1598, the Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate established the Spanish capital of New Mexico at Yungue, a Tewa village located across the river from San Juan Pueblo. The capital was subsequently moved to San Juan Pueblo. From this locale, Oñate and his men subjected the Tewa and other Pueblo peoples to extraordinarily harsh rule in an attempt to force their conversion to Catholicism. Missions were established in all the pueblos. The capital was moved to Santa Fe in 1609 when Pedro de Peralta replaced Oñate. By 1680, the Pueblo peoples had developed a plan to remove the yoke of colonial oppression, successfully forcing the Spanish south of the Rio Grande in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. In 1692, Diego de Vargas began the reconquest of the Pueblos, securely reestablishing Santa Fe as the Spanish capital in 1694. In 1696, a second Pueblo revolt occurred but was quickly put down. Apache and Navajo raids for food and captives, which had increased during this period, intensified and soon the Pueblos were taking advantage of Spanish military assistance.

When Mexico gained independence from Spain, Christianized Indians were granted citizenship. In 1858, when the United States acquired New Mexico and other Southwestern regions, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo promised citizenship to all Mexican citizens of the region who wished it, Including the Pueblos. In 1912, it was necessary for the Pueblo of San Juan to sue the U.S. government in order to gain the status of American Indian so that native land and water rights and religious and individual rights could be protected. Hispanic and Anglo-Americans had moved onto Pueblo lands, and many Pueblos had lost their best agricultural areas. In 1920, the United States established the Pueblo Lands Board to settle disputed claims. Eventually, the Tewa gained full citizenship status while retaining indigenous rights to land, water, and religious expression, which, however, have most often been secured only through litigation in federal courts.


At the time of Oñate's arrival at Yungue, there were unknown numbers of villages occupied by the Tewa. In 1630, Fray Alonso de Benavides is reported to have listed eight Tewa pueblos with a total population as high as six thousand. Today, hundreds of Pueblo ruins in north-central and Northwestern New Mexico have been identified by archaeologists as ancestral sites for contemporary Rio Grande Pueblos; at least sixty pueblos were abandoned in historical times. The number of these that can be directly tied to Tewa villages is uncertain because most of the sites have not been fully investigated. Between the arrival of the Spanish and up to the early 1900s population densities within the pueblos fluctuated, with periods of severe decline in numbers owing to diseases first introduced by the Spanish, warfare, and total abandonment of villages as the peace-loving Pueblos sought to escape the pressures brought on by European expansion.

Population density for the Tewa Pueblos began to rise slowly in the early 1900s and showed a steady climb after the Pueblo Lands Board settled the land claims in 1920. Between 1950 and 1964, population in all six of the Tewa Pueblos nearly doubled. Maternal and infant mortality rates were reduced through better health care. Improved nutrition (largely due to an increase in economic opportunities) and water and sewage systems also contributed to lower morbidity rates. Today housing is of several types. Some families live in the center of their pueblo in homes built originally by their ancestors as long as 350 years ago; they retain their original adobe walls but have been modernized with new roofs, windows, electricity, and water and sewage systems. These homes are built in clusters around central plazas where ceremonial activities take place. Other people live in homes built as singlefamily dwellings at some distance from the pueblo center and are made of cinder blocks covered with stucco, wood, or stabilized adobe. The kivas, or religious centers, are also located near the plazas, as are the tribal offices and Catholic church. All six New Mexico pueblos have most of the following, which may be located in the same area on a given reservation: arts and crafts store, senior citizen center, schools, recreation center, library, and health clinic.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tewa were horticulturalists who developed hydraulic irrigation to water their principal crops of maize, beans, and squash. They also hunted deer, bison, elk, rabbit, birds, and other animals, and gathered berries, piñon nuts, wild greens, roots, and other fruits and vegetables. They made tea from several herbal plants. The introduction of new crops and animals by the Spanish enlarged their farming activities to include raising cows, pigs, chickens, chili and other spices, wheat, tomatoes, apples, pears, peaches, and other fruits. Iron kettles and pots were readily accepted for cooking, although pottery remained the main form of storage and eating vessels until the early 1920s. In the recent past, and still today, some people, make and sell pottery as their primary source of income; for other people, making pottery, jewelry and woven goods supplies supplemental income. Today, most people depend on wage labor, welfare, or Social Security or other pensions for their income.

Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts included pottery making, weaving, and wood carving. Painted pottery was used for storage, cooking, and eating, as well as for trade with other tribes. Hides from deer, rabbits, and other game were made into clothing and shoes; cotton was woven for clothing. After a period of decline in pottery making, it was revived as a Commercial craft in the early twentieth century. Today, needle-work, pottery, jewelry, and woven garments (such as belts and leggings) are made for sale or trade, ceremonial or other Personal use, or decoration.

Trade. An extensive trade network existed throughout the Southwest prior to Spanish contact. Items from as far away as California, central Mexico, the lower Mississippi Valley, the Great Plains to the east, and the great basin to the north appear in old Pueblo ruins. Salt was traded into some pueblos. Trading with people of the plains, the great basin, and Mexico as well as with non-Indians continued to take place well into the twentieth century. Basketry from the Apache and Papago are highly prized; feathers, shells, and beads from Mexico are highly prized for religious and decorative purposes. Trading with other tribes continues today at the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Arts and Crafts Show, the Santa Fe Indian Market, and other such events held each year.

Division of Labor. Women were responsible for building and maintaining the homes until the mid-1970s. They gathered plants and insects, processed and stored the harvest, prepared the meals and made pottery. Men were responsible for planting, tending, and harvesting the crops and for hunting. They wove cotton for clothing and carved wooden utensils and ceremonial objects. Although women were primarily responsible for child care, it has regularly been noted from the earliest accounts to the present that men also engage in child care on a daily basis. Since World War II, women and men have sought employment in diverse occupations, and many have held professional positions, both on and off the reservations. Men hold most political and religious offices, but both women and men are involved in community political and Religious affairs.

Land Tenure. Land belongs to the tribe but is assigned to Pueblo members on the basis of need for farming or housing. Once a piece of land has been assigned to an individual, it may be passed to offspring for their use or traded to a pueblo member or to the tribe in exchange for another piece of land or other recompense; the tribe may reclaim it for reassignment if it goes unused. Pueblo land cannot be sold to nontribal members.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Tewa of New Mexico reckon kinship bilaterally, while the Hopi-Tewa of Arizona are matrilineal. The kinship grouping of the New Mexico Tewa reflects their dual social organization, which consists of nonexogamous nonunilinear moieties: every Tewa belongs to either the Winter or Summer moiety. These moieties are the largest kin groups for the Tewa; however, moieties are more than kinship entities (see Social Organization and Religion below). Hopi-Tewa society is divided into exogamous Matrilineal clans.

Kinship Terminology. Tewa kinship terms are mostly descriptive and generational and designate the precise relationship to a speaker. Hopi-Tewa terms follow the Crow system.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage within one's own moiety is preferred by many Tewa, but in any case a spouse may not be closer than a fourth cousin. The marriage ceremony usually includes a native ritual as well as a church or other nonnative ritual (such as marriage by a justice of the peace). Marriage is monogamous and sexual fidelity is expected, although divorce and infidelity have been known since the time of first contact. There is no official postmarital residence rule, but in some families pressure is put on the couple to spend the first year of marriage in the home of the husband's mother before establishing a neolocal residence.

Domestic Unit. Small extended families have been the predominant household composition until recently. Since the late 1970s increased numbers of single-family housing units on most Tewa reservations have resulted in younger families establishing homes away from their parents' house. Economic conditions for some families lead to maintenance of a three-generation household, with many older Tewa preferring such an arrangement.

Inheritance. Inheritance, like kinship reckoning, is bilateral with a preference for dividing property equitably among all offspring. Lands left intestate (that is, without a written or verbal statement or will having been left by the person to whom it was assigned) may be recovered by the tribe, but Usually will be divided among the children by a tribal official. Personal property may be divided among relatives and friends following the funeral of a deceased person or it may accompany the deceased to the grave. Traditionally, daughters Inherited their mother's house, but this has changed in recent years on some reservations.

Socialization. Socialization takes place well into the Middle years. From birth to middle age, specific rituals move Individuals through various states of being and becoming Tewa. Children are raised relatively permissively until about age six. By age ten girls and boys have been separated into two groups for instruction in the kivas for fulfilling their responsibilities as women and men in their pueblo. Children of Catholic families also send their children to the church for instruction and preparation for First Communion. Today, families also place great emphasis on education for their children and may begin sending them to school in the Head Start program as early as age four. Tribal encouragement for higher education in public or private colleges is noted in educational grants and subsidies available through the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council. Both women and men are responsible for child-rearing activities, including nurturing and protecting them, as are all adults residing in the community.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Tewa social organization is centered around two nonexogamous nonunilinear complementary moieties: Winter and Summer. People become members of either one through a series of rituals that take place from birth to their early twenties. Tewa place high value on equality and humility. There are, however, differential statuses accorded individuals on the basis of their degree of ascension, through ritual, and placement within the life and spiritual hierarchies. Equality between the sexes is expressed through the complementarity of women's and men's roles and responsibilities: women are responsible for the homes and the inner portions of the pueblo; men are responsible for the fields and the outer portions. Men are also responsible for village decision making, although women participate, too.

Political Organization. Since aboriginal times, the core Tewa governmental structure has been a theocracy, with Political and sacred authority vested in the heads of the two moieties and the religious sodalities. In the early 1600s, the Spanish instituted a secular political structure consisting of the following officers who are selected by the tribal council on advice from sodality and moiety heads in all but Santa Clara and Pojoaque Pueblos: governor, first lieutenant governor, second lieutenant governor, war chief, assistant war chief, sheriff, and fiscales. These officers are responsible for daily management of tribal affairs, as well as for special community events. Santa Clara Pueblo has a constitutional government with public officers elected by adult enrolled members. Most Tewa reservations also have tribal managers who are responsible for programmatic and economic maintenance and Development on their reservations. The six New Mexico Tewa pueblos are part of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, a sociopolitical organization that facilitates sharing of economic, political, educational, and development resources among the Pueblos.

Social Control. Social control is exercised through gossip, teasing, mockery by clowns and abuelos at public ceremonial events, and formal visits by officials to homes of individuals who seriously violate social norms. Crimes against property or individuals are adjudicated in tribal or local courts, depending on the nature of the crime. Serious crimes, such as homicide, are tried in a federal court. Accusations of witchcraft (rare today) may be handled by the medicine man or through the tribal court.

Conflict. The Tewa have a reputation for nonviolence and peaceful settlement of disputes. In aboriginal times and until the U.S. government designated the Tewa pueblos to be Limited and bounded reservations, internal conflict that resulted in fissioning could be resolved by a group leaving their natal Pueblo and establishing a new one elsewhere. Movement of a whole community to a new locale could also follow severe externally induced conflict (for example, the Hopi-Tewa of Arizona; see Location above). Overall, most Tewa abhor conflict and will avoid it at all cost, although in recent years, domestic and other forms of interpersonal violence seem to have increased. Internal conflict is usually arbitrated or adjudicated by the tribal council or tribal court. Conflict with outsiders is generally resolved through the local court systems, but some cases have gone as far as the U.S. Supreme Court for settlement.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Religion is the pervading aspect of Pueblo life; it encompasses mythology, cosmology, philosophy, and worldview for the Tewa. It is the life-way through which people aspire to live. It is also one of the most sensitive areas of Tewa life, with only the religious sodality leaders in each pueblo knowing details of their respective systems of belief. Some aspects of religious beliefs that have come to be known outside of the sodality environments involve attribution of the sacred to, and respect and reverence for, the earth (from which all people come and to which all people return), the mountains (where dwell the spirits of the Towa'e, or founding brothers of the Tewa), the hills, water, and certain animals, birds, and plants. Polytheism is present in the form of belief in a range of supernatural spiritual forces and entities; because of this, Catholicism over the past two hundred years or so has come to fit easily within the native religious framework.

Religious Practitioners. The principal religious practitioners are the Winter and Summer moiety heads and the sodality heads, as established by the Tewa origin story. The sodalities are referred to in English as the Hunt Society, the Medicine Society, the Clown Society, the Scalp Society, and the Women's Society.

Ceremonies. Ritual ceremonies are performed following a calendrical cycle. Some rituals are specifically associated with subsistence, and others are concerned with individual and community developmental cycles. Each ritual is the responsibility of a particular sodality head, and most are not public. Rituals that are public and may be viewed by outsiders are held in the pueblo plazas. A list of dates for such ceremonies is published each year by the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, located at San Juan Pueblo.

Arts. Tewa art includes highly prized black-on-black Pottery made by artists at Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos and red pottery made at San Juan and Santa Clara pueblos, silverwork, silver and turquoise jewelry, paintings, sculpture, and fabric art made by artists at all the pueblos. Ceremonial songs, dances, and clothing are attended to with great aesthetic care.

Medicine. Herbal teas, poultices, massage, and food taboos (observed during various phases of an individual's development cycle) are all part of routine health care and Maintenance. A person who becomes ill or suffers an injury may, as has been true since before contact, ask for assistance from one of the medicine men or from a woman healer, or they may go directly to a local Indian health clinic or physician's office for treatment. Often people use a combination of diagnostic and treatment sources.

Death and Afterlife. Death occurs as a result of old age, disease, accident, maltreatment of one's own body (such as misuse of alcohol or other drugs), and evil spirits. Funerals are held for the deceased as soon as possible, following a day or more of lying in state. During this time, family and friends visit the deceased and their close kin to pay their respects. The funeral ceremony usually combines native and Catholic religious elements, and burial usually takes place in the graveyard at the pueblo where the deceased lived. The spirit of a deceased person is thought to stay close to the pueblo for Several days following death. Various measures are used to protect the living from untoward response to such spirits. On the fourth day a releasing rite is held by family and community elders so that the spirit of the deceased is freed and encouraged to join other departed spirits.


Dozier, Edward P. (1966). Hanoi A Tewa Indian Community in Arizona. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Dozier, Edward P. (1970). The Pueblo Indians of North America. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Ortiz, Alfonso (1969). The Tewa World: Space, Time, Being and Becoming in a Pueblo Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ortiz, Alfonso, ed. (1972). New Perspectives on the Pueblos. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

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

Sando, Joe S. (1976). The Pueblo Indians. San Francisco: Indian Historian Press.