“Broken promises to Indians. The cycle does repeat itself, doesn’t it?” ~Chief Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi~
Note: The Acoma Indian Reservation of the Acoma Pueblo peoples is located in parts of Cibola, Socorro, and Catron counties, in New Mexico, the Southwestern United States.
The location of the Acoma pueblo, believed to have been established in the 12th century or earlier, was chosen in part because of its defensive position against raiders. Access to the pueblo is difficult as the faces of the mesa are sheer (*see photo below) Before modern times access was gained only by means of a hand-cut staircase carved into the sandstone.
Acoma Pueblo comprises several villages including Acomita, McCartys, Anzac and the newer subdivision of Sky Line. Acoma people dry-farm in the valley below Aa’ku and use irrigation canals in the villages closer to theRio San Jose.
In 1598, Don Juan De Onate, Spanish conquistador, under orders from the King of Spain, invaded New Mexico, and began staging raids onNative American pueblos in the area, taking anything of value.
Upon reaching San Juan Pueblo, Oñate had all the Native Americans who were living there removed from their homes and used it as a base to stage more raids on other Native American pueblos in the area. In response, the Acoma fought back, and several Spaniards were killed in the battle to re-take the pueblo from the Spaniards. During the battle, the Spaniards brought a small cannon up the back of Acoma Mesa, and began firing into the village.
According to Acoma oral traditions, the average Spaniard at the time weighed much more than the average Acoma, and the Spaniards also brought with them attack dogs, which were believed to be fed on human flesh and trained to eat humans alive. The Acoma people lost the Battle of Acoma, and the indigenous population of the pueblo, which had been approximataly 2,000 people before the Spanish attacked, was reduced to approximately 250 survivors; as women, children, and elders were killed by the Spaniards in that battle as well.
After the survivors were herded to San Juan Pueblo, all the surviving children under the age of 12 were taken from their parents, and given to Spanish missionaries to raise; but most of them and the other survivors were sold into slavery.
Of the few dozen Acoma men of fighting age still alive after the battle, Oñate ordered the right foot chopped off of each one. Oñate was later tried and convicted of cruelty to Indians and colonists, and was banished from New Mexico. However, he was cleared of all charges on appeal and lived out the rest of his life in Spain.
Today Acoma’s culture is practiced almost the same as before the 1589 invasion. The traditions are always oral traditions, in which dancing, music, art, theology, astrology, philosophy and history are taught. The traditional foods that are planted there are beans, pumpkins, corn, chili, onions and fruits like apples, apricots, peaches, plums and cherries. All of the sowing is done as a group.
The pueblo is located 60 miles (100 km) west of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The pueblo is open to the public only by guided tour. Photography of the pueblo and surrounding lands is restricted. Tours can be arranged and $10 camera permits obtained from the recently renovated Sky City visitor center at the base of the mesa. However, videotaping, drawing and sketching are prohibited, with big signs warning visitors not to do any of them (but especially not to videotape).
Tribalpedia’s Questions for Comprehension and Discussion
1. What century was the Acoma pueblo established?
2. Why was this particular location chosen?
3. Who was Don Juan De Onate?
4. After the Spaniards attacked and captured them, where were the Acoma taken?
5. What did the Spanish soldiers do to the remaining Acoma men of fighting age? Why was this horrendous action taken?
6. Describe the Acoma culture today.
Acoma/Laguna Myth: The Origin of Summer and Winter
The Acoma chief had a daughter named Co-chin-ne-na-ko, called Co- chin for short, who was the wife of Shakok, the Spirit of Winter. After he came to live with the Acomas, the seasons grew colder and colder. Snow and ice stayed longer each year. Corn no longer matured. The people soon had to live on cactus leaves and other wild plants.
One day Co-chin went out to gather cactus leaves and burn off the thorns so she could carry them home for food. She was eating a singed leaf when she saw a young man coming toward her. He wore a yellow shirt woven of corn silk, a belt, and a tall pointed hat; green leggings made of green moss that grows near springs and ponds; and moccasins beautifully embroidered with flowers and butterflies.
In his hand he carried an ear of green corn with which he saluted her. She returned the salute with her cactus leaf. He asked, “What are you eating?” She told him, “Our people are starving because no corn will grow, and we are compelled to live on these cactus leaves.”
“Here, eat this ear of corn, and I will go bring you an armful for you to take home with you,” said the young man. He left and quickly disappeared from sight, going south. In a very short time, however, he returned, bringing a large bundle of green corn that he laid at her feet.
“Where did you find so much corn?” Co-chin asked.
“I brought it from my home far to the south,” he replied. “There the corn grows abundantly and flowers bloom all year.”
“Oh, how I would like to see your lovely country. Will you take me with you to your home?” she asked.
“Your husband, Shakok,the Spirit of Winter, would be angry if I should take you away,” he said.
“But I do not love him, he is so cold. Ever since he came to our village, no corn has grown, no flowers have bloomed. The people are compelled to live on these prickly pear leaves,” she said.
“Well,” he said. “Take this bundle of corn with you and do not throw away the husks outside of your door. Then come tomorrow and I will bring you more. I will meet you here.” He said good-bye and left for his home in the south.
Co-chin started home with the bundle of corn and met her sisters, who had come out to look for her. They were very surprised to see the corn instead of cactus leaves. Co-chin told them how the young man had brought her the corn from his home in the south. They helped her carry it home.
When they arrived, their father and mother were wonderfully surprised with the corn. Co-chin minutely described in detail the young man and where he was from. She would go back the next day to get more corn from him, as he asked her to meet him there, and he would accompany her home.
“It is Miochin,” said her father. “It is Miochin,” said her mother. “Bring him home with you.”
The next day, Co-chin-ne-na-ko went to the place and met Miochin, for he really was Miochin, the Spirit of Summer. He was waiting for her and had brought big bundles of corn.
Between them they carried the corn to the Acoma village. There was enough to feed all of the people. Miochin was welcome at the home of the Chief. In the evening, as was his custom, Shakok, the Spirit of Winter and Co-chin’s husband, returned from the north. All day he had been playing with the north wind, snow, sleet, and hail.
Upon reaching the Acoma village, he knew Miochin must be there and called out to him, “Ha, Miochin, are you here?” Miochin came out to meet him. “Ha, Miochin, now I will destroy you.”
“Ha, Shakok, I will destroy you,” replied Miochin, advancing toward him, melting the snow and hail and turning the fierce wind into a summer breeze. The icicles dropped off and Shakok’s clothing was revealed to be made of dry, bleached rushes.
Shakok said, “I will not fight you now, but will meet you here in four days and fight you till one of us is beaten. The victor will win Co-chin-ne-na-ko.”
Shakok left in a rage, as the wind roared and shook the walls of White City. But the people were warm in their houses because Miochin was there. The next day he left for his own home in the south to make preparations to meet Shakok in combat.
First he sent an eagle to his friend Yat-Moot, who lived in the west, asking him to come help him in his fight with Shakok. Second, he called all the birds, insects, and four-legged animals that live in summer lands to help him. The bat was his advance guard and shield, as his tough skin could best withstand the sleet and hail that Shakok would throw at him.
On the third day Yat-Moot kindled his fires, heating the thin, flat stones he was named after. Big black clouds of smoke rolled up from the south and covered the sky.
Shakok was in the north and called to him all the winter birds and four-legged animals of winter lands to come and help him. The magpie was his shield and advance guard.
On the fourth morning, the two enemies could be seen rapidly approaching the Acoma village. In the north, black storm clouds of winter with snow, sleet, and hail brought Shakok to the battle. In the south, Yat-Moot piled more wood on his fires and great puffs of steam and smoke arose and formed massive clouds. They were bringing Miochin, the Spirit of Summer, to the battlefront. All of his animals were blackened from the smoke. Forked blazes of lightning shot forth from the clouds.
At last the combatants reached White City. Flashes from the clouds singed the hair and feathers of Shakok’s animals and birds. Shakok and Miochin were now close together. Shakok threw snow, sleet, and hail that hissed through the air of a blinding storm. Yat-Moot’s fires and smoke melted Shakok’s weapons, and he was forced to fall back. Finally he called a truce. Miochin agreed, and the winds stopped, and snow and rain ceased falling.
They met at the White Wall of Acoma. Shakok said, “I am defeated, you Miochin are the winner. Co-chin-ne-na-ko is now yours forever.” Then the men each agreed to rule one-half of the year, Shakok for winter and Miochin for summer, and that neither would trouble the other thereafter. That is why we have a cold season for one-half of the year, and a warm season for the other.
Northwestern University Library:
Edward S. Curtis’s ‘The North American Indian’: the Photographic Images, 2001.
Terms / words from reading:
Acoma Pueblo [photo in tribalpedia]
Rio San Jose
Spanish conquistador Don Juan De Oñate
King of Spain
San Juan Pueblo,