Zia Pueblo (Native Americans of the Southwest)

Zia from the Spanish spelling of its Keresan name. The word "pueblo" comes from the Spanish for "village." It refers both to a certain style of Southwest Indian architecture, characterized by multistory, apartment like buildings made of adobe, and to the people themselves. Rio Grande pueblos are known as eastern Pueblos; Zuni, Hopi, and sometimes Acoma and Laguna are known as western Pueblos.

Location Zia Pueblo is located on the Jemez River, 30 miles north of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Population At least 5,000 and as many as 20,000 Indians may have lived on the pueblo in 1540, although fewer than 300 remained in 1690 and fewer than 100 in 1890. In 1990, 637 Zia Indians lived on the pueblo, with perhaps as many living outside of it.

Language Zia Indians spoke a dialect of Keresan.

Historical Information

History All Pueblo people are thought to be descended from Anasazi and perhaps Mogollon and several other ancient peoples, although the precise origin of the Keresan peoples is unknown. From them they learned architecture, farming, pottery, and basketry. Larger population groups became possible with effective agriculture and ways to store food surpluses. Within the context of a relatively stable existence, the people devoted increasing amounts of time and attention to religion, arts, and crafts.

Keresans have been traced to an area around Chaco Canyon north to Mesa Verde. In the 1200s, the Keresans abandoned their traditional canyon homelands in response to climatic and social upheavals. A century or two of migrations ensued, followed in general by the slow reemergence of their culture in the historic pueblos. Six thirteenth-century archaeological sites have been identified with Zia. Five of these were occupied between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Antonio de Espejo, who visited in 1583, called these sites Punames and described a large city with eight plazas, over 1,000 two- to three-story houses, and a population of at least 5,000 and perhaps as many as 20,000.

In 1598, Juan de Onate arrived in the area with settlers, founding the colony of New Mexico. Onate carried on the process, already underway in nearby areas, of subjugating the local Indians; forcing them to pay taxes in crops, cotton, and work; and opening the door for Catholic missionaries to attack their religion. The Spanish renamed the Pueblos with saints’ names and began a program of church construction; the mission at Zia was built about 1610. At the same time, the Spanish introduced such new crops as peaches, wheat, and peppers into the region. In 1620, a royal decree created civil offices at each pueblo; silver-headed canes, many of which remain in use today, symbolized the governor’s authority.

The Zians participated in the 1680 Pueblo revolt against the Spanish. For years, the Spaniards had routinely tortured Indians for practicing traditional religion. They also forced the Indians to labor for them, sold Indians into slavery, and let their cattle overgraze Indian land, a situation that eventually led to drought, erosion, and famine. Pope of San Juan Pueblo and other Pueblo religious leaders planned the revolt, sending runners carrying cords of maguey fibers to mark the day of rebellion. On August 10, 1680, a virtually united stand on the part of the Pueblos drove the Spanish from the region. The Indians killed many Spaniards but refrained from mass slaughter, allowing them to leave Santa Fe for El Paso.

Zia suffered a bloody military defeat by Spanish forces in 1687: Six hundred were killed, and many were held captive for ten years. In 1689 Zia received a royal land grant from Spain. In 1692 Zia accepted mass baptism and collaborated with the Spanish in their campaigns against other pueblos throughout the rest of the decade.

The Pueblos experienced many changes during the following decades: Refugees established communities at Hopi, guerrilla fighting continued against the Spanish, and certain areas were abandoned. By the 1700s, excluding Hopi and Zuni, only Taos, Picuris, Isleta, and Acoma Pueblos had not changed locations since the arrival of the Spanish. Although Pueblo unity did not last, and Santa Fe was officially reconquered in 1692, Spanish rule was notably less severe from then on. Harsh forced labor all but ceased, and the Indians reached an understanding with the Church that enabled them to continue practicing their traditional religion.

In general, the Pueblo eighteenth century was marked by smallpox epidemics and increased raiding by the Apache, Comanche, and Ute. Occasionally Pueblo Indians fought with the Spanish against the nomadic tribes. The people practiced their religion but more or less in secret. During this time, intermarriage and regular exchange between Hispanic villages and Pueblo Indians created a new New Mexican culture, neither strictly Spanish nor Indian, but rather somewhat of a blend between the two.

Mexican "rule" in 1821 brought little immediate change to the Pueblos. The Mexicans stepped up what had been a gradual process of appropriating Indian land and water, and they allowed the nomadic tribes even greater latitude to raid. A political rebellion by Indians and Hispanic poor in 1837 over the issue of taxes led to the assassination of the New Mexican governor and the brief installation of a Plains/Taos Indian as governor. As the presence of the United States in the area grew, it attempted to enable the Pueblo Indians to continue their generally peaceful and self-sufficient ways and recognized Spanish land grants to the Pueblos.

During the nineteenth century the process of acculturation among Pueblo Indians quickened markedly. In an attempt to retain their identity, Pueblo Indians clung even more tenaciously to their heritage, which by now included elements of the once-hated Spanish culture and religion. By the 1880s, railroads had largely put an end to the traditional geographical isolation of the pueblos. Paradoxically, the U.S. decision to recognize Spanish land grants to the Pueblos denied Pueblo Indians certain rights granted under official treaties and left them particularly open to exploitation by squatters and thieves.

After a gap of over 300 years, the All Indian Pueblo Council began to meet again in the 1920s, specifically in response to a congressional threat to appropriate Pueblo lands. Partly as a result of the Council’s activities, Congress confirmed Pueblo title to their lands in 1924 by passing the Pueblo Lands Act. The United States also acknowledged its trust responsibilities in a series of legal decisions and other acts of Congress. Still, especially after 1900, Pueblo culture was increasingly threatened by Protestant evangelical missions and schools. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also weighed in on the subject of acculturation, forcing Indian children to leave their homes and attend culture-killing boarding schools.

Until World War II, however, much of Zia’s traditional life remained substantially unchanged. Almost all Zians lived on the pueblo, and all adult members participated in community events. Herding dominated the economy in the mid-twentieth century, although there was a shift from sheep to cattle. Since the late nineteenth century, but especially after the 1960s, Pueblos have had to cope with onslaughts by (mostly white) anthropologists and seekers of Indian spirituality. The region is also known for its major art colonies at Taos and Santa Fe.

Religion In traditional Pueblo culture, religion and life are inseparable. To be in harmony with all of nature is the Pueblo ideal and way of life. The sun is seen as the representative of the Creator. Sacred mountains in each direction, plus the sun above and the earth below, define and balance the Pueblo world. Many Pueblo religious ceremonies revolve around the weather and are devoted to ensuring adequate rainfall. To this end, Pueblo Indians evoke the power of katsinas, sacred beings who live in mountains and other holy places, in ritual and dance. Zia Pueblo contained two circular kivas on its south side, religious chambers that symbolize the place of original emergence into this world. The kiva societies were Wren and Turquoise.

In addition to the natural boundaries, Pueblo Indians have created a society that defines their world by providing balanced, reciprocal relationships within which people connect and harmonize with each other, the natural world, and time itself. According to tradition, the head of each pueblo is the religious leader, or cacique, whose primary responsibility it is to watch the sun and thereby determine the dates of ceremonies. Religious societies were central to the Pueblo’s social structure; they helped to ensure the fertility of crops and people, triumph over evil, success in hunting, physical and spiritual curing, and good relations between the living and their dead ancestors. Shamans also used supernatural powers for curing, weather control, and ensuring the general welfare. Especially in the eastern pueblos, most ceremonies are kept secret.

Government Pueblo governments derived from two traditions. Elements that are probably indigenous include the cacique, or head of the Pueblo, and the war chiefs. These officials were intimately related to the religious structures of the pueblo and reflected the essentially theocratic nature of Pueblo government. The tiyamunyi were the supreme priests of Zia from legendary times until about 1900. Since then, proper installation rituals have been forgotten, and this office has been replaced by the former first assistant, who is now called cacique. Freed from other work, he mostly meditates and invests annual officers.

A parallel but in most cases distinctly less powerful group of officials was imposed by the Spanish authorities. Appointed annually by the traditional leadership, they generally dealt with external and church matters and included the governor, lieutenant governor, captains, and fiscales (church officials). There was also an advisory council of principales, composed of former officeholders. In 1863, President Lincoln presented Pueblo leaders with ebony canes, which were then used with the older Spanish canes as symbols of authority. The All Indian Pueblo Council, dating from 1598, began meeting again in the twentieth century to assert rights and help solve problems.

Customs One mechanism that works to keep Pueblo societies coherent is a pervasive aversion to individualistic behavior. Children were raised with gentle guidance and a minimum of discipline. Pueblo Indians were generally monogamous, and divorce was relatively rare. The dead were prepared ceremonially and quickly buried with clothes, beads, food, and other items; their possessions were destroyed, and they were said to become katsinas in the land of the dead. A vigil of four days and nights was generally observed. Matrilineal clans existed but were not linked to memberships in kiva or religious societies. Various other groups acted to hold the pueblo together, including medicine and other religious societies. In modern times photography by outsiders is discouraged.

Dwellings In the sixteenth century, Zia Pueblo featured two- to three-story, apartment-style dwellings arranged around eight plazas. The buildings were constructed of adobe (earth and straw) bricks, with beams across the roof that were covered with poles, brush, and plaster. Floors were of wood plank or packed earth. The roof of one level served as the floor of another. The levels were interconnected by ladders. As an aid to defense, the traditional design included no doors or windows; entry was through the roof. Two pit houses, or kivas, served as ceremonial chambers and clubhouses. The village plazas, around which all dwellings were clustered, was the spiritual center of the village where all the balanced forces of the world came together.

Diet Before the Spanish arrived, Zians ate primarily corn, beans, and pumpkins, using the floodwaters of the Jemez River as both irrigation and fertilizer. They also grew sunflowers and tobacco. They hunted deer, mountain lion, bear, antelope, and rabbits. They gathered a variety of wild seeds, nuts, berries, and other foods. The Spanish introduced wheat, alfalfa, sheep, cattle, and garden vegetables, which soon became part of the regular diet.

Key Technology Precontact farming implements were wooden. Textiles were woven of cotton. Other items included baskets, pottery, and leather goods. The Spanish introduced metal tools and equipment.

Trade All Pueblos were part of extensive aboriginal trading networks. With the arrival of other cultures, Pueblo Indians also traded with the Hispanic American villages and then U.S. traders. At fixed times during summer or fall, enemies declared truces so that trading fairs might be held. The largest and best known was at Taos with the Comanche. Nomads exchanged slaves, buffalo hides, buckskins, jerked meat, and horses for agricultural and manufactured pueblo products. Zians traded for numerous daily and ceremonial items, including drums, tortoise rattles, buffalo robes, abalone shell jewelry, bows, arrows, quivers, pottery, and blankets. Trade along the Santa Fe Trail began in 1821. By the 1880s and the arrival of railroads, the Pueblos were dependent on many American-made goods, and the Native American manufacture of weaving and pottery declined and nearly died out.

Notable Arts In the Pueblo way, art and life are inseparable. Zia arts included pottery, baskets, and wooden masks. Songs, dances, and dramas are other traditional arts. Many Pueblos experienced a renaissance of traditional arts in the twentieth century, beginning in 1919 with San Ildefonso pottery.

Transportation Spanish horses, mules, and cattle arrived at Zia Pueblo in the seventeenth century.

Dress Men wore cotton kilts and leather sandals. Women wore cotton dresses and sandals or high moccasin boots. Deer and rabbit skin were also used for clothing and robes, and sandals were made of yucca.

War and Weapons Though often depicted as passive and docile, most Pueblo groups regularly engaged in warfare. The great revolt of 1680 stands out as the major military action, but they also skirmished at other times with the Spanish and defended themselves against attackers such as Apaches, Comanches, and Utes. They also contributed auxiliary soldiers to provincial forces under Spain and Mexico, which were used mainly against raiding Indians and to protect merchant caravans on the Santa Fe Trail. According to tradition, a Zian who touched a dead enemy or anything that belonged to him was required to scalp the corpse and bring the scalp back for purification; he then joined the warriors’ society. After the raiding tribes began to pose less of a threat in the late nineteenth century, Pueblo military societies began to wither away, with the office of war captain changing to civil and religious functions.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations Zia Pueblo occupies roughly 121,080 tribally owned acres. There are two all-male tribal councils: one concerned with secular matters, the other the more important and secret religious council. There is also an administrative staff.

Economy With wage jobs, sheep and cattle raising is the most important economic activity. Stock raising is conducted by cattle and sheep groups based on clan membership. Many people work in surrounding cities. Arts and crafts, especially wool kilts (men) and pottery (women) occupy an important economic niche. Agriculture is served by modern irrigation systems. Major crops include corn, wheat, alfalfa, oats, beans, chilies, melons, and fruits. Most produce is sold on the open market. The Pueblo contains geothermal, natural gas, and oil resources.

Legal Status Zia Pueblo is a federally recognized tribal entity.

Daily Life The project of retaining a strong Indian identity is a difficult one in the late twentieth century, yet Pueblo people have deep roots, and in many ways the ancient rhythms and patterns continue. At Zia, men must still participate in the dances, take care of the cacique’s field and food needs, sweep the village plaza, and clean and repair the irrigation ditches. Many Zia people still speak Keresan.

The older Pueblo now has ground-level entries and glass windows, and most homes have electricity and running water. Floors are of packed earth under linoleum. Interior walls are whitewashed. Each household owns a beehive oven. The seventeenth-century mission church is still standing. Modern houses have also been built along and across the river. As of the mid-1990s, a new village located to the east was under construction.

Zia religion and ceremonial and social structure are largely intact, though since World War II Zia has been marked by relatively increased social breakdown, with fewer people belonging to religious societies. The governor’s power has grown at the expense of the cacique’s. Increasing numbers of Zians live off-reservation. Some of the traditional societies, like the katsina, hunters, and warrior societies, now exist much devoid of their former knowledge.

The household is now the primary economic and social unit. Six modern clans still exist. Many Zians have fused pieces of Catholicism onto a core of traditional beliefs. They distinguish between Indian and Catholic marriages: The former are formed through cohabitation and are easily dissolved, whereas the latter go through the Church and are difficult to dissolve. There has been a written form of the Zia dialect of Keresan since 1990. Facilities include a community building, museum and cultural center, clinic, gymnasium, and offices.

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