Different strokes: The Pueblo peoples of the American southwest

Women own all property and there is localism in their fashion
Black-on-Black pottery bowl by Maria Martinez. Photo: Cullen328, CC BY-SA 3.0

The so-called Pueblo peoples do share at least a couple of characteristics: Women own all property, which is inherited by their daughters. All of them also seem to have kachina dolls, which represent the spirits. Their pottery is 900 years old as an art and craft. It was only in 1919 that Julian Martinez invented a matt black-on-polished black design for the now-famous pots made by his wife Maria.

That said, there are differences. It is the Hopi and Zuni whose kachina doll carving was the most highly developed.

Women’s fashion was fabulously interesting in its localism. The squash blossom coils for Hopi girls of marriageable age, for instance, were obviously a nod to what that people knew best, the staple it grew and cherished.

The Hopi hunted rabbits and used bows and arrows for ceremonial rituals to mark the kachinas’ return to the spirit world along with prayers for rain.

Distinct in the American southwest were the Apache and Navajo. Both learnt about horses from the Spanish colonists.

The Navajo may have migrated from the far northwest in the 1400s, first raiding their pueblo neighbours, then the colonising Spanish. Both their victim groups helped them learn agricultural skills so that the Navajo were able to combine sheep-raising, farming and raiding until local American forces (under Kit Carson) forced their surrender in 1864. They subsequently added silver-working to their skills.

The Navajo have become famous for their weaving but these skills are less than 500 years old. They learnt weaving from the Pueblo peoples in the late 1600s and by the mid-1800s, their textiles were traded all over the western part of the United States. Their beliefs say that Spider Woman (a spirit being) first taught women how to weave.

Unlike the Navajo, the Apache primarily remained hunter-raiders and were “feared by other tribes and Europeans as the fiercest warriors in the Southwest”. They were finally defeated in the mid-1880s.

Also unlike the Navajo, the Apache did not become known for weaving and silverwork. But their women made beautiful baskets. And they remained a matrilineal society.

One of the more interesting illustrations I’ve seen about the Apache shows the hide clothing on a rag doll. There is one glass bead on the doll, which denotes European influence. Its hair is arranged in the Hopi style worn by an unmarried girl. Apparently Apache girls, like their Hopi counterparts, also ran a ritual race to prove their strength and courage and thereby, readiness for marriage.

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac

Also read:

The southwest: Snake sticks and ‘America’s first apartment house’

Native wisdom: The North American Indian

Prepping for the American southwest