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The Pueblo Dwellers

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


ONE of the most interesting and curious groups of people, not only of North America but of the world, is composed of the Pueblo dwellers of New Mexico and Arizona. The Pueblo Indians get their name (given them by the Spaniards) from the fact that they live in compact villages, or pueblos, of stone or adobe houses, which in some instances rise to a height of five storeys. These villages suggest huge communal dwellings, or labyrinthine structures like the "house of Minos," but in fact each family possesses its own abode, the form of building being partly an economy of construction, but mainly for ready defence; for the pueblos are islets of sedentary culture in the midst of what was long a sea of marauding savagery. For this same protective reason sites were chosen on the level tops of the mesas, or villages were built in cliff walls, hollowed out and walled in (the "cliff dwellings" of the desert region have been identified as former, and probably the earliest, seats of Pueblo culture) ; but under the influence of their modern freedom from attack many of the villages are gradually disaggregating into local houses. Anciently the Pueblo territory extended from central Colorado and Utah far south into Mexico; now about three hundred miles separate Taos in the east from Oraibi in the west, while the north and south distance, from Taos to Acoma, is half of this. Within the modern area the pueblos fall into two main groups : those of northern and central New Mexico, clustered along the Rio Grande, and those of the Moqui or Hopi reservation in Arizona; between these, and to the south, are the large pueblos of Laguna, Acoma, and Zuņi, all in New Mexico.

The Pueblo tribes are of four linguistic stocks; three of them, the Tanoan, Keresan, and Zuņian, are unknown elsewhere; the fourth constitutes a special group of Shoshonean dialects, the language of the Hopi of Arizona, related to the Ute and Shoshoni in the north and perhaps to the Aztec far to the south. But if there is divergence in language, there is little difference in the degree of aboriginal evolution (though power to pre-serve it under the pressure of white civilization varies greatly). The most astonishing feature of this development is that it is based primarily upon agriculture. The Pueblo culture is located, and apparently has evolved, in what is agriculturally the least promising part of North America south of the Arctic barren lands. The South-West is an arid plateau, watered by scant rains and traversed by few streams. Its one favourable feature is that where water is obtainable for irrigation the returns in vegetation are luxuriant; but irrigation, even where feasible, requires both toil and intelligence, and it seems truly extraordinary that the most varied agriculture of the continent, north of Mexico, should have developed in so unpromising a region. It is not, however, surprising that the religion of the Pueblo agriculturists should be found to centre about the one recurrent theme of prayer for rain; to few other peoples is a dry year so terrible.

But it is not alone in agriculture and housing that the Pueblo dwellers show advancement. In the industrial arts of basketry, pottery, weaving, and stone-working they were and are in the forefront of the tribes, and it is altogether probable that it is to the Pueblos that the neighbouring Navaho owe their skill in these industries. In decorative art they display an equal pre-eminence, both geometric and naturalistic design being pleasingly adapted to their elaborate symbolism. Socially the Pueblo dwellers form a distinctive group. Each village is a tribal unit, with a republican system of government, formed of a group of clans, originally exogamous and frequently, though not invariably, with matrilinear descent. There is no inferiority of the women to the men, though there is a division of privilege: the family home is the property of the wife, but in each pueblo there is a type of building — varying in number from one, in the smaller, to a dozen or more in the larger villages — called the "kiva," which is characteristically the men's house. The kiva is partly temple, partly club-house or lounging room; the more primitive type is circular, the later rectangular, like the houses; sometimes it is subterranean. In the kiva men gather for work or amusement, and in the kiva occur the secret rites of the various fraternities and priesthoods. Women are rarely admitted, except in those pueblos where they have a kiva of their own, or rites demanding one. It is regarded as probable that the kiva is the original nucleus of the pueblo — the primitive "men's house," converted into a temple, around which first grew the fortified refuge, and later the settled and permanent town.

Where the pagan religion of the Pueblo dwellers persists — and in matters of belief they have shown themselves to be among the most conservative of Indians — their elaborate and spectacular rites are in charge of fraternities or priesthoods, each with its own cult practices and its proper fętes in the calendar. These festivals are devoted to the three great objects of securing rain, and hence abundant crops, healing the sick, and obtaining success in war. Practically all Pueblo men are initiates into one or more fraternities, to some of which women are occasionally admitted. In certain pueblos, as the Hopi, the fraternities appear to have originated from the warrior and medicine societies of the various clans, such societies being found in almost every Indian tribe; in others, clan origin cannot be traced if it ever existed, admission being gained either by the exhibition of prowess (as formerly in the warrior societies), by the fact of being healed by the rites of the fraternity, or by some such portent as that to which is ascribed the Zuņi Struck-by-Lightning fraternity, which was founded by a number of Indians, including, besides Zuņi men, one Navaho and a woman, who were severely shocked by a thunderbolt. In many of the fraternities there are orders or steps of rank, and the head men or priests of the societies hold a power over the pueblo which sometimes amounts, as at Zuņi, to theocratic rule. In spite of differences of language and origin, the general resemblances of the Pueblos to one another, in the matter of ritual and myth as in outward culture, is such as to make of them an essential group. At least this is indicated from the results which have been recorded for Sia, Zuņi, and the Hopi towns — of Keresan, Zuņian, and Shoshonean stock respectively — which are the only groups as yet deeply studied.

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