RIDING THE RAINBOW
It was a night when breathing becomes painful-when words freeze in the thin air of the high valley. The full moon illuminated every mesa and mountaintop, picking up the snow covered brightness, and casting deep shadows. Clouds were hurrying from the west, carrying more snow. The only visible movement in the adobe village came from a column of gray piñon-scented smoke which rose, straight up, from the kiva, the ceremonial chamber in the center of the sleeping pueblo.
Through the purifying veil of smoke, the figure of a man rose from the very earth itself. He made his way slowly up the ladder from the center of the kiva and then down the stairs on the outside of the circular ceremonial structure to the snow specked ground. The man stood in the sub-zero temperature clad only in a deerskin breechclout. Like the earth around him he was suspended in place and time. His skin was leather; no flesh was left to fill the hollows of his bones and sinew. His hardened hide was tanned with eighty-seven burning summers and as many freezing winters. His hair fell loose, coming to the small of his back in waves set by years of braiding. It was white streaked, but still, after all of his seasons, black hair showed through the white. From a leather pouch suspended from a thong around his waist, he sprinkled sacred cornmeal in his path.
“Eh ya, eh ya, eh ya, eh ya....” the chant spread then froze into the stillness.
The snow had silenced footsteps. Stefano didn’t notice his great grandson, Okhuwa Munu, Turbulent Cloud, come into the plaza. The young man heard the chanting and ducked behind a wall so he wouldn’t be observed. Cloud watched the old man, silhouetted against the angry sky, and heard his blessing of the people. The old man’s chant carried through the night and yet it didn’t move the young man.
“Eh ya, eh ya, eh ya, eh ya....” The old cacique’s voice tore through the passage of time as he faced to the north, the blue green direction from which the snow came. Stefano, also called Oekhowa Sawin, could see the outline of the Bear Mountain, Kepin, its’ snow-covered slopes glistening in the moonlight. He sang the blessing to the first cardinal direction, scattering the sacred meal before his every step. A cloud suddenly obscured the moon’s brightness and the snow came as if called. The old man’s steps elevated him, just as the sacred eagle that flew from this direction. They took him to the land of the bear whose spirit signified north. He faced west, to the yellow direction, tseje. Then he faced the Obsidian Mountains that had given birth to this land. Time was gone, lost in the prayer of the cacique. He was given a holy vision and beheld the beginning of his world:
Stefano watched the mountains cut and rise from the plain below—twenty-seven thousand feet into the blue unclouded sky. It belched a fiery cloud and then lay still, building up the force that would explode and bring forth a new land. The volcano had been forming for millennia. It rose between the ancient rocks later to be called the Rocky Mountains, whose southern end extend into northern New Mexico in two parallel prongs; the world of the Tewa would lie in the valley between.
The rocks that made up the ancient backbone of the mountains were formed in times so ancient even Stefano, with his mystic sight, could not know their beginning. They formed at a time when only algae lived on the earth. Stefano saw the towering mountains rise and with them, lived the long reach of time. He saw the shallow sea which deposited the sandstone and quartz rock beds and watched the seething volcanic flows form gigantic mountains which grew before his eyes and were worn down again.
In the Shaman’s vision the first true plants appeared on the land. The scape covered with forests and the lowlands were lush with ferns. Stefano smelled the dank forest and reached to touch the rotting vegetation. Then a mighty upheaval appeared before him as the peaks thrust through the plains and the mountains again were birthed.
He observed the animals appear upon the plain as the amphibians crawled from the water to occupy the land. And then the earth claimed the mountains again and another layer thickened the crust of the earth. Stefano heard the wash of a new sea covering all.
During the millions of years of change through which he lived in his holy vision, the valley that was to become the Rio Grande claimed the mountains time and time again, filling with mineral deposits from mountain range upon mountain range. The weight of the sediments increased; the pressure pressed the old man and along with the valley. He felt himself sink further. He was carried aloft with the new mountains which rose even higher than before and felt himself soar over the peaks like an eagle.
Hidden still, his great grandson Cloud caught his breath. It was as if a weight had been lifted and he was raised into the air. Unknowingly, the old man’s vision was becoming a part of him, too. In Stefano’s revelation, on the mesa to the west, the pre-Cambrian grandmother rocks were at five thousand feet below sea level, buried beneath the valley. In the mountains to the east, on the tops of the peaks on the other side of the valley, the grandmother rocks appeared at the top of a thirteen thousand foot peak. The convulsions of the earth that Stefano was witnessing were ever-changing.
The pressure on the newly forming earth brought forth the magma from below the fissures in the crust. Stefano observed the flow forming basalt layers hundreds of feet thick. As the basaltic hills rose, the ancestral Rio Grande lay down another sedimentary layer that was to become the valley in which his people, the Tewatowa, would flourish.
Between the fire and flood of ancient times the valley teamed with life. Horses, deer, camels, rhinoceros, and other ancient mammals grazed within sight of the holy man. When in the future he was to take life, only fossil evidence would prove their existence.
He saw the Western Mountains, later to be called the Jemez, formed, and their ancient magnificent peaks rise to their full height. No other man had ever seen the grandeur of its glacier-topped beauty. Cutting into the sky, it towered over the continent, the tallest peak to have ever been formed on the North American land mass.
All through Stefano’s mystic vision, his great grandson Cloud, hidden behind an adobe wall, watched and listened, becoming one with the past. The young man felt strange. He, too, was experiencing the magic. But as drawn as he was to the moment, he saw and felt very little the old man was experiencing. Yet despite the sub-zero cold, he felt compelled to stay.
“Eh ya, eh ya, eh ya, eh ya....” Stefano’s voice sounded in the night as, through the vision, he remembered. The mountain exploded fire. His ancient memory recalled the time it spewed out its inner furnace and covered twenty-five square miles of land to its east with ash to form the Pajarito Plateau. He felt the pressure as the earth compacted with time and the old man felt the wind tear away at the soft volcanic ash. Then he was wet with the pelting rain as it sculpted the pink-orange tufa mesa to which his people eventually came.
In the southern faces of the volcanic pink ash, he helped them carve their new homes, bringing trees from the mountains and setting them into holes set above the rock-hewn outer walls to support the roofs of the cliff houses in the canyons. It was Tserege he envisioned, the bird place—he place from which his people, the Tewatowa, had come.
He joined the early people who came, roaming. They were the rootless hunters who went on their way leaving only fragments of their tools to history. The old man was with the ancient ones, the Anasazi, who came to the area where now four states join, to the northwest corner of New Mexico. In his mystic vision, Stefano shared their rich life in the mesa country as he helped shape the stone and build the magnificent cliff-houses in the naturally carved rock caves. Drought brought their forced migration and they came south to the Pajarito Plateau. Trudging with them, Stefano struggled south. No one, not even Stefano in his holy vision, really knew where the people had originated; if they were from the land bridge from Asia millennia before, as some believed, he could not remember. Nor did the people wish to really know, for all wished to believe the people rose from the earth itself. Drought brought their forced migration and they came to the south to the Pajarito Plateau. Trudging with them Stefano struggled south.
To the people of the plateau of the villages of Yunque Yunque, Shupina, Pinnikankwi, and Tserege, it mattered little.
This place was good. Water flowed the year around; the cliffs offered protection, the floor of the canyons and mesa tops could be farmed, and there was sufficient game. Life was good!
“Eh ya, eh ya, eh ya, eh ya....” It was good to live in these days. The corn grew tall and was harvested and the game was plentiful. But now there was trouble. From the west and east roaming bands of hostile strangers were raiding the cliff dweller’s stores. Many women had been captured and carried off, and too many men were killed. Then, as if the gods were abandoning their people, the rains did not come and the dry mesa tops could not be farmed. So the cold winters had come, and with them little snow; there was not enough moisture to ease the thirst of the land or its people.
Now, for four times four days, the Cacique Ahkon Tsay and his war chiefs met in the kiva. The entire population of Tserege awaited the council of Ahkon Tsay, their foremost religious leader. All watched as he, and the war priests emerged from the kiva on the sixteenth day. He was a small man, lean and hard. The holy man stood high above his people, in the natural cave that housed the large ceremonial chamber, on the highest rung of the ladder that led to the sacred place and then he spoke. As he said the necessary words his voice became taut. “It is a sad time for the people of Tserege.” The far wall of the canyon echoed his words. “For we must leave this place. Avanyu, the spirit of air and water, has left us. It is good no longer!”
Behind him, carved into the soft tufa wall of the cliff was the image of Avanyu, the Feathered Serpent, who had once had come to bless the people who dwelled here.
He pointed his chin in the direction of the impressive petroglyph. “Avanyu, the Feathered Serpent, has left us for his home in the heavens.” They all looked at his image, carved seven feet long, deep into the stone so it would last. Although the sacred image stood within their sight, Avanyu did not hear their prayers. The prayer to the serpent god had gone unheeded, but once more Ahkon Tsay, whom they called Father Old Man, prayed:
Old Man Storm Serpent,
Now come here.
For here we are dancing.
Now you arrive
Laden with rain!”
Still Avanyu would not hear his pleas. He had deserted his people and gone to his home in the sky.
The war priests painted themselves and dressed for the journey to find a new home. Akhon Tsay and his men solemnly started off the mesa to the river valley below.
How could this be? Cloud wondered as he was drawn into Stefano’s vision. He felt as he was splitting in two, both here in the present, watching Stefano, and yet also becoming the young man Pokwi—living long ago and watching the twelve men leaving the village. Pokwi, through whom Stefano and Cloud lived in this time, was not chosen to go. His wife, Bepovi, was with child and he was needed at home; strong young men were needed to guard the cliffs from invaders. What was left of their stored supplies had to be protected.
The sparse mountain snows in the mountains had not yet melted when Ahkon Tsay and his party left Tserege. They had to find a new home quickly if they were to have time to plant a crop this year. It was almost time for the summer clan, the Squash people, to take over the ceremonial duties for that year. It was Wapo, the wind month, February, a time of unpredictable, boisterous weather in the plateau country. Soon it would be time to prepare the earth for planting, but not in this place—not this year or ever again.
Pokwi sat on a high ledge overlooking the mesa and canyons of the home he would soon be leaving. He could not imagine living anywhere else, but Ahkon Tsay had said Avanyu had gone into the sky, forcing the people to find another place. He wrapped himself tighter in his worn woven rabbit blanket and crouched, waiting for danger. Pokwi was average in height for a man of his tribe. He carried no extra fat; partly because of the active life he led farming and hunting, but mostly from hunger. He was sun-browned, wore his hair cut in bangs across his forehead. Tied into a knot behind his neck, a cotton band, dyed yellow with a chamisa flower’s color, was wound ‘round his head. He had fashioned the arrows in his quiver himself; the points were made of the obsidian from the mountains to the west. He was often asked to make arrowheads for those who did not possess the skill.
It was not for Pokwi to question Ahkon Tsay’s decision to leave, but he did ask, ‘why?’ Pokwi was not wise enough to know all of the reasons they must leave. He pulled out a piece of jerked venison and gnawed at the problem and the meat until the sun rose higher and warmed the chill of early morning.
Everyone was busy gathering belongings for the move. The carefully guarded seed corn was placed first so that life could continue. They could carry little and had to choose carefully what would be taken and be left behind. Bepovi, his wife, keened over the beautiful water jug she had fashioned and must leave behind. The image of Avanyu carefully curved around the jar, painted with loving care and great skill was unusual for its time. “You will make another, more beautiful, in our new home,” Pokwi assured her.
Bepovi was not crying only for the loss of the jar. It was for the life on the mesa that they were leaving. Her unborn child would never know the secret recesses of the caves, the pine covered mesas, and the sweetness of the willows on the canyon floor. He would not play, as she had, in the beautiful weathered outcroppings of sculptured rock that clung to the canyon walls.
After two weeks had passed and Father Moon had begun another journey through the sky, Ahkon Tsay returned. The crier stood on the highest of the cliff houses and called the people together. “We have found a new home—a place by Po’osoge, the big river. We will call it Po hege, where the water cuts through.”
The exodus began. They moved the distance from the cliff houses on the slope of the volcanic mesa, to the valley through in which the river flowed. They reluctantly moved to the banks of the river whose flow was constant and who could give them the promise of a long and fertile future.
In the sacred place, carefully chosen by Ahkon Tsay, the cliff dwellers built their new homes. They built them of the earth, mixing the pink adobe clay with grasses, tamped into walls and plastered with the clay soil. The fields were located toward the river, close to the banks from which the life-giving water came. Irrigation ditches to the fields were hurriedly dug and the planting begun before it would be too late for the crop to mature, because the growing season in the high valley was very short. As soon as the seed was sown, work began on the excavation for a kiva. The spiritual life of the people had to be fed as well.
“When the first house was finished, Bepovi’s time had come. The midwife, Muwa, was called, and Pokwi stood outside the newly constructed house awaiting the birth of his first child. It was a new beginning for all of them, for this, his child, would be the first child born in this new place. Bepovi carefully let her hair fall loose, combing out the braids so that the strands did not entangle; she loosed her clothing so there were no knots about her. In this way she prepared, as all women did, for her child to come easily into the world. The girl child entered the world just as the day ended. Muwa cut the cord with a sharp obsidian knife and then wiped the baby’s eyes so that they would be clear. She raised the child and put her kicking feet into freshly ground cornmeal to assure she would be a proper woman. The midwife then handed her to her mother’s mother as was proper.
Muwa wrapped the placenta in a small hide and took it to the river where she placed it in a swiftly flowing eddy, giving it back to the water from which all life comes. This child, born in the new place, would bring forth generations into their clan—for through the women all life came. It was a good sign because it was the women who owned all of the property and from whom the children took their lineage. This birth, the first in the village of Po hege, was especially important. The gods had given them a woman—a promise of a fruitful future.
Pokwi’s mother, Tay Kaa, performed the next required ritual. Carefully, she drew four parallel lines on each of the four walls of the room. Then she approached the newborn child and said, “Now I have made you a house and you will stay here.” She placed the baby in a blanket of woven rabbit-skins, and then put a perfect ear of corn on either side of the infant to guard her until she could be named. It would be a month before the ceremony would take place. One moon to assure that the child would live.
The month between the birth of the child and her naming moved very quickly; there was much to do. The village grew, out of the earth itself. Long pine logs were dragged from the mountains for roof supports. The rooms they built were small, each family living in a cluster entered from above through a ladder in the roof. Mixing the life-blood of the animals they consumed with the adobe mud, created a permanent black polished surface that hardened the floors of the houses.
The corn, pumpkins, and beans were beginning to sprout. It was a busy time for all in this new place. Pokwi joined the other men in building the permanent irrigation ditches from the river to the new, hastily-prepared fields. He was aching and tired, but this was a good place, the place where his first child was born.
On the proper passing of the moon, Bepovi was up before dawn. The entire household awoke to her cry. “Natampie! The dawn is coming! Natampie!” she called as she took the child up and wrapped in her warm fur blanket. Paapovi, the baby’s sponsor, had arrived minutes before to help her with the baby. Tay Kaa arrived almost at the same time to participate in the naming of her grandchild. Together the women took the child outside into the darkness to await the coming of the sun. “Natecho! It is beginning to get light!” Bepovi said with anticipation, as she watched the first light turn the mountains from dark gray to blue. The three women stood on the roof and faced to Father Sun. T’an rose as they dedicated the child. Bepovi said the words all used for this happy occasion:
My Morning Star.
Help this child to become a woman.
I name her
Ku Tsawa, Blue Corn,
I name her
Kaiye Pokwi, Spirit Lake!”
Bepovi took a live coal she had plucked from the fire just before ascending to the roof with her newborn child, and threw it to the sky. As was customary Tay Kaa sprinkled the sacred corn meal. With the ceremony complete, the three women descended the ladder into the warmth of the house. When Bepovi had placed the baby in the cradle that swung gently from a viga, she gave Paapovi a gift of a basket of meal. Paapovi, in turn, gave the child she sponsored a perfect ear of corn to assure her a life of plenty. With what little they had, they feasted that day in celebration of the birth of the new little woman, Ku Tsawa-Kaiye Pokwi. Ahkon Tsay built a shrine in their new village; its four rocks were planted in a mound of earth near the village’s center, signifying the earth’s navel.
The beginning of the village of Po hege near the great river was good. “Eh ya, eh ya, eh ya, eh ya....”The old man, Stefano, continued his prayer for his people.
Stefano turned to the south and spread the sacred meal. South, whose color was that of a hot summer’s day—red! The garland of cowry shells he was wearing around his neck, identified with this direction, rattled, brittle in the cold. From this direction the red-tailed hawk took flight, and the badger came up from the earth.
“Eh ya, eh ya, eh ya eh ya....”
Time faded again and the old man Stefano, now became his ancient ancestor, the boy, Awa P’in. It was a summer’s day. The rain had passed, and with it, the heat. Awa’ P’in, with his sixteen years of energy hardly expended, was hunting the succulent robins. His mouth watered as he looked forward to a feast of the tender young birds. He already had four birds tied to a thong to his waist and was setting a trap for more when he heard a strange sound from behind the hill. He scurried up the rise to see what disturbed the quiet of the mesa near the river. Mounted on beasts he had never seen before, and wearing garments of a strange shiny material, were men filing in a single column along the narrow, sandy ledge beside the river. They were coming fast - much faster than a man could move without the beasts. Awa P’in was torn between watching the unusual men and their animals and returning to the village to warn the others. He was a man now; he knew his duty. With one last lingering look back, he turned and ran to tell the war chief what he had seen.
The rain-washed plaza was drying in the hot sun. A mud puddle near the center of the plaza had attracted a group of children who were splashing noisily in the red, clay ooze. Awa P’in saw them out of the corner of his eye as he dashed, breathless, to the war chief’s home to report his news. Today I am too full of a man’s business to join children, he thought proudly. The birds bobbed from the thong at his waist as the tall, lean boy rushed to tell of the men who were approaching their home. Awa’ P’in excitedly described what he had seen. “Men, strange men—riding on odd animals—coming along the river!”
“Navajo?” Thakheh, the war chief asked hurriedly and with concern.
“No! Different! They sit on the backs of their beasts and are carried along!”
“You are imagining these things. I have no time for a boy’s dreams.”
“I am a man,” Awa P’in protested. “Come, I’ll show you.”
The war chief, not convinced the boy had not let his imagination take sway, thought a moment before he gathered his bow, quiver, and paint. “Go! Call the war chiefs. We will see what you think is so strange.”
Awa P’in led the band of hastily gathered warriors to the hill from which he had seen the men. When he returned with the small band, evening had settled in. The strangers had dismounted and had begun to set up camp. They had chosen a spot near one of the four sacred springs where an artesian well gushed clear, cold water that drained directly into the river. The area was a widened, sandy stretch just at the entrance of the deep, black basalt canyon from which the strangers had just emerged.
The five warriors watched silently as the men watered and picketed their beasts. They observed as the men took off their shiny metal breastplates and set them aside for the night. They did not miss seeing the guard set up around the stranger’s camp. It was obvious the strange men did not yet know about the village hidden behind the mesa so near their camp, but, if they continued as they were, they would come to it early the next day. Awa’ P’in was sent back to the village to warn them of the coming danger. Thakheh and his men stayed behind to study these most interesting and different men.
In the morning the Spaniards took up their journey, now followed by five unseen, alert warriors. The strange men halted their beasts when they topped the nearest set of hills. Seeing the village of Po hege they turned their mounts toward the pueblo.
The men and their horses came to the center of plaza and then stopped. They were instantly surrounded by the warriors of the village, fully prepared to defend against the invaders at all cost. But these men did not come to attack; they were an advance party sent to scout the banks of the river. The priest who traveled with the survey group was interested in finding converts. They seemed too few to be dangerous. Once it was established that the unusual visitors were not openly hostile, the hospitality of Po hege was extended. It was the very first contact the Tewa had with the Spanish explorers.
It wasn’t long after the arrival of these first Spanish explorers that more arrived. This time they stayed. They started a settlement of their own, north of Po hege, on the banks of Po’osoge, across from the village of Yunque Yunque. They called the place El Pueblo De San Juan de Caballeros. It was a fort more than village, and from it the Spaniards spread all over the valley and up the mountains, into small villages surrounding the Indian communities. They considered San Juan the capitol of their new empire.
Awa P’in was pressed into service in building the new God building—the church. In the north western edge of the plaza the large adobe structure grew, bigger than any other building Awa P’in had ever seen. Those who did not help were punished by the conquerors. It was a bad time in which to live.
Grown to manhood Awa P’in, drawing on a ceremonial clay pipe, sat on a ledge along the inside circular wall of the kiva. “Why have the gods deserted their people?” he asked sadly.
“We are not forgotten, P’in,” Oekhuwa, the wise, elderly cacique answered softly. “In the kiva we have our ways. No one may take them from us. These other gods, the saints and Jesus, they will join our Kachinas to strengthen us. But you must not tell this to anyone. It would be misunderstood. We must never replace the old with the new. It must appear so to the Spanish. But it will never be so.”
“I think the new gods will overtake the old,” Awa P’in said glumly. “I see no way to fight these new ways.”
“We will endure, P’in. When Avanyu left our people to live in the sky, did we not leave the mesas to live here? Did we not thrive in this new place? You are my successor. You must see to it that the people hold to our own Tewa ways. You must fight to keep our people strong and in balance with the elements.”
“The children speak Spanish almost as well as they do Tewa. Soon we will lose our language and our ways.”
“No!” Oekhuwa insisted. We are strong. You, most of all, must understand we can keep our beliefs.”
“The new church grows bigger each day. Soon it will be finished and we will be forced to go to mass. Even now they are building a house for the priest and his people.”
“Go now and greet the dawn, P’in. Pray for the new day and our people. Pray for strength. It will be you who will keep the people to our beliefs. I am old. Soon I will become part of the earth again. It will be your turn.” Awa P’in wrapped the woolen blanket about his shoulders, took up the pouch of sacred meal, and went out into the clear, dawn to greet the coming day. As the morning light rose above the mountains to the east, he could see the entire village clearly. Its adobe walls were beginning to pick up the gold of the rising sun. The central plaza was empty, except for a dog that trotted through and paid no attention to the man atop the kiva. He could see the new church, almost finished now, standing alone toward the mesas to the west of his home. He resented the days of labor he was forced to spend in the building of the structure that he knew could destroy his people’s beliefs forever.
It must be destroyed! So, it was with thoughts of hate Awa P’in began the prayer for his people. He, too, had learned the language of the conquerors; he had learned of their gods and the guns. He could see no defense from their growing numbers, strength, and influence. The prayers he chanted that morning were for the continuance of his people and for the death of the Spaniards.
In his fifty-sixth year, Awa P’in met secretly with other men who felt as he did. Their leader, Popé, from Oke Oweenge, now San Juan Pueblo, had been driven from his home and had gone to Taos where he had gathered an army of men from all of the Pueblos along the Rio Grande. It was time to strike against the invaders—to drive them from TewaTowa land.
After a great deal of bloodshed on both sides, the pueblo revolt was initially successful. Churches were burned and the villages returned to their old religion and ways: Popé was a hero. Claimed to have come from San Juan, and also declared by Taos as one of theirs, no one was sure which pueblo the leader of the uprising really came from. The Spanish were finally driven from the land of the Tewa. Forced on a terrible march through fields of volcanic rock, heat, and death, they returned to Mexico to regroup. For fifteen years the valley of the Rio Grande Del Norte once more heard only sounds of prayers to the ancient gods.
Then the Spanish returned more determined than ever. It was with mixed feelings that Awa P’in and his war chiefs greeted them back. During that time the Spanish were driven out and their return, a new enemy had invaded the valley of the Big River—an enemy fiercer than the Navajo. He was known by the name of Apache. The Pueblo warriors found they were unable to defend against the marauders; they knew the Spanish, with their weapons of iron, could. The hunter-gatherers had been raiding the stores of the farming villages along the Rio Grande, finding a source of food and slaves. It was a doubly hazardous time for the people living on the banks of the Rio Grande.
The aged Awa P’in witnessed the chapter that would change the village of Po hege forever. The cacique and his assistants were not pleased with the bounty asked by the Spanish crown and the new religion was an affront to the old ways. However, twelve years after Popé and his allies had driven the invaders from their land the Spanish were back in force. Their leader, Don Diego DeVargas, called it a bloodless re-conquest. It was not at all bloodless for the pueblos or people of the village of Po hege.
In Acoma, southwest of the great river, the men rebelled against the Spanish conquerors when they returned and the right foot of each was cut off as punishment. As the Spanish came to the village of Po hege to prove their strength and dominance, many of the people fled to their ancestral homes on the mesa. Led by the younger war chiefs, a number of the strongest men from the village took a stand on Tunjopin, Black Mesa, the sacred fire-mountain that dominated the landscape north of Po hege. The mesa was a religious monument with shrines atop to which pilgrimages were made. Now it became a fortress. It stood, the skeleton of a volcano from ages past, rising dramatically from the valley floor. From this place the twin gods, Masaw and Oyeowi chased the monster from the land of the Tewa; it was sacred, and to it they fled. After a siege of seven months, Awa P’in, now aged and considered no danger, watched the defeated men march back into the village. But that was not to be the last of their rebellion. The aged shaman, who felt from his first contact with the invaders their threat to his peoples’ heritage, plotted to destroy his enemies once and for all.
The early summer dances had not yet begun when the men of Po hege rushed into the church, killing two priests and three Spanish women. They burnt the church to the ground. Before his death Awa P’in could stand upon the kiva and greet the coming sun without seeing the ceremonial building of the alien god.
The Spanish reprisal was severe. After five months of pursuit into the plains to the east, DeVargas finally caught up with the rebellious Indians punishing them severely; thus ended the pueblo revolt. The village of Po hege was no longer called by its ancient name. From that time, when the Spanish forced their will upon the people and the Catholic religion was accepted at least nominally in the valley, the pueblo of San Tomás came into being. Now, Po hege, the sacred name chosen by Akhon Tsay in ancient times, was spoken only quietly and in secret by its people.
“Eh ya, eh y, eh ya, eh ya....” Through the winter’s night the people of the Pueblo of San Tomás were blessed by their Shaman. Tonight it was Po hege once more.
Stefano turned toward the east; it’s color white — the brightness of the dawn. From it the wolf stalks its prey and Okupin, the Turtle Mountain in the distance could be seen. Time once more flowed through Stefano as he lived another’s life. It was from the east they first came. These men were different from their Spanish predecessors. These were men who were noisy, robust, and uninhibited. They were men who searched for treasure, and finding no gold, went on. Soon more of them arrived, merchants who came to the beautiful country of the Rio Grande. When they found it good and profitable, they stayed.
In his vision, Stefano now became Tomás Maestas. For Tomás it was wonderful treat to be allowed to make the trip to Santa Fe for supplies. He was twenty-three years old, had a three-year-old daughter, a two-year-old son, and another child coming. His wife, Serafina, was all he could wish her to be. He put on his best shirt, the one he wore when he sang in the chorus on ceremonial days, and the hat he had traded for a month before. He knew he looked handsome in his finery. His braids were carefully wound with blue yarn; not a strand was out of place. Tomás felt the chill of the early morning fall air as he watched his friend, Juan, approach. Juan was carrying a gunnysack of fresh picked yellow corn. He dumped it into the wagon, brushed off his pants, and started helping Tomás hitch up the team.
“Soon it will snow,” Juan Cata commented, sniffing the cold starting to drop off the mountains.
“Tonight, maybe tomorrow,” Tomás agreed. The horses, too skinny to be very strong, breathed the cold and snorted. Their coats had already begun to become shaggy with winter hair.
“Bring the wagon to my house,” a call from across the plaza broke the quiet of the village, turning their attention, “We can load the pumpkins now.” It was Khan Tsay Montoya, the third man in their party. Tomás took the lead reign and steered the horses toward Khan Tsay’s house. They had the pumpkins loaded quickly and threw the last of their blankets and food for the trip into the wagon just as Tomás set the horses on the road leading east.
Ya’e yawe yo’o ha
Ya’a ya’e ya’e wi h e na yo
Ya’e -Yo’o yoyo wi ha
Wi ya ya wi ya ya ya.”
The melody of the Oklahoma round dance song and the clop of the horses combined in an odd cadence as the two straggly beasts trotted along the dusty road. The three men in the wagon became quiet when they passed through the Spanish village of El Rancho, three miles from the central plaza of San Tomás. The houses were set far apart along the road linearly and were not attached to each other as the pueblo homes were.
Maybe the Spanish don’t like each other” Tomás thought. It’s a strange way to live—so far apart.
Hanging from the vigas of the houses along the way, ristras of red chile brightened the monotone of the adobe buildings and the like soil. The chiles’ bright red color would soon darken as they dried, but now they were at the height of crimson. They left the village of El Rancho behind and dropped into a deep, dry arroyo. The cottonwoods along the watercourse were sparkling gold; their bright yellow foliage glittered against the deep blue of the late October sky. Tomás relaxed his hold on the reigns, stretched, and enjoyed the beauty of the landscape. It’s good to be alive, he mused contentedly as he prodded the horses up and out of the arroyo and back onto the dirt path that served as a road. The horses balked at the climb out of the valley onto the piñon studded hills leading to Santa Fe. The trip was two days long and the road rose two thousand feet in altitude before they would reach their destination.
This was Tomás’ first opportunity to go to Santa Fe since the Americanos had raised their flag a year before. He had been told of the changes, but this time he would see for himself. He bristled with anticipation. The Americans coming didn’t seem bad. Tomás, as young as he was, was permitted to sit in the council. He was, after all, the cacique’s heir and someday would hold the most important office in his community and therefore be privy to tribal politics.
The American government had already made changes in the lives of the people of San Tomás. His uncle, Pu’ay, who led the council this year of 1874, had been informed that the Spanish land grants were no longer in effect. The Indian people could once more claim the land as their own. That was good—at least it seemed so. The surveyors had begun to draft maps in preparation for the United States to recognize Indian land holdings at the foot of the Pajarito Plateau. It would take time—maybe ten years, but the Tewa were a patient people. All of this did not concern Tomás this day on his way to Santa Fe. He was looking for his first chance to meet the strange Americano white men who had taken over the government and had started to change the atmosphere of the region.
He pulled the wagon to the top of the hill overlooking the city. Smoke from cook-fires and fireplaces drifted up toward the hill, and he could smell the familiar sweet scent of burning piñon. They planned on camping on the hill before going into town early the next morning. Juan gathered some dry piñon and cedar and started a fire as Tomás and Khan Tsay spread the blankets and unloaded the supplies for their meal. Tomás offered the horses some grain and the young men chewed on stewed jerky that they had mixed with cornmeal and a few chiles. They talked of the coming of winter.
The three pueblo men rose with the sun, ate a quick breakfast of cornmeal mush, loaded the wagon, and were on the road again. Even as the wagon approached the plaza, Tomás could see obvious signs of change. The sound of loud voices and boisterous chatter now joined the sleepy Spanish graciousness.
“Look,” Tomás pointed with his chin as was customary with the Tewa. Watching a dirty, rumpled drifter spit tobacco juice onto the cobbles, Juan agreed. It was full of gun-carrying roughnecks shouting obscenities. The women, wives of traders and others with other things on their minds had come to settle. It would take time but they would eventually tame the drifters and soldiers who seemed to be everywhere and make this place home.
The young men from San Tomás stopped the wagon in front of the portal that ran the full length of the building that had served the Spanish as their Palace of the Governors. The sagging portal offered protection from the hot New Mexico sun and had become a market place. This was where they planned to sell the produce they had brought with them. Khan Tsay and Juan unloaded the pumpkins and corn while Tomás spread the trading blanket out under the portal. He placed some of his mother’s pottery on it hoping to sell it to the newcomers. He had been told that the Anglos sometimes bought pottery and he was counting on making enough money to buy Serafina some calico before returning to the Pueblo. It would be a surprise for her
A bewhiskered, unkempt trapper sauntered over to the porch and looked at Tomás’ display. “Thet’s pretty good lookin’ pot ye got there. Where ya from?”
Tomás hid behind his blanket as he answered, “San Tomás, Señor. “
“I ain’t no sinor. Just call me mister. Mister Jed Ames.”
“Meester,” Tomás repeated in the unfamiliar English.
“That’s it, kid. How much do ya want fer one a them pots?”
Tomás had no idea what to charge. He shrugged and looked helplessly at Juan who offered no assistance.
“Tell ya what I’ll give ya,” the dirty old man spit tobacco onto the packed adobe. “How about ten cents? And I’ll throw in some tobaccy.”
“Sí,” Tomás agreed.
The grubby trapper sifted through the pottery and selected a medium sized bowl decorated with cloud designs. He had no idea of what the designs meant, but it was pretty and would make a fair gift for a lady he knew. He tossed a coin onto the blanket and threw a plug of tobacco toward Tomás. Juan and Khan Tsay, wrapped in their blankets were waiting for the women of Santa Fe to venture forth to buy the produce they had brought with them. They planned on buying supplies for the winter with the money they made. The yellow corn and the green melons made a colorful display. By mid-morning they had sold most of the melons, and to Tomás’ delight, four pieces of pottery. He had enough money to purchase the calico for Serafina and then some.
As evening approached the three young men had loaded their wagon and were preparing to leave Santa Fe. They planned on camping on the hill north of town and getting an early start back to San Tomás the next morning. Snow was imminent.
Tomás remembered the dirty man who had purchased the first piece of pottery from him that morning. As the young Indian hitched up the horses, the man came toward the wagon. “Want a drink, boy? I got some mash here.” Jed held up a bottle of whiskey and swung it about, spilling a great deal of it before righting it and himself. Both Tomás and Juan perked up with interest. Neither of them had ever had any whiskey before. It was a gesture of friendship that could not be refused.
Khan Tsay held back. He was more conservative—his use of his Indian name in preference to a Spanish one, accented his feelings. Speaking in Tewa, so he would not offend Jed, Khan Tsay pleaded with his friends. When they would not listen to him he drove the wagon around to the side of the Palace of the Governors and through a gate into the courtyard inside the adobe wall. A place was always available for the Indian who found himself in Santa Fe for the night and a stable was available for the horses. It was here he planned to spend the night waiting for his friends.
Tomás and Juan each took a large gulp of the fiery liquid Jed offered. Choking appropriately at the burning sensation, Tomás reached again for the bottle and then passed it back to Juan.
Damned nice kids, Jed thought, as they finished the bottle and began chugging on a second.
Juan, having lost all of his inhibition, began to sing a trading song.
Khan Tsay came around the corner just as Juan dropped to the plaza cobbles. Tomás was clinging to Jed for support and had vomited his evening meal onto the packed adobe. When the Anglo trapper staggered off to a nearby bar, Khan Tsay rounded up his inebriated friends and guided them into the interior patio of the Palace of the Governors. He covered them with trade blankets and slept uneasily beside them for the remainder of the night. When Father Sun rose the next morning, both Tomás and Juan were feeling sick. It was Khan Tsay who drove the team back into the valley. The next day, they drove through the village of El Rancho, and through the first flakes of snow of the season.
Cloud, still watching, felt disoriented. Stefano’s vision had become one with him. He shrugged the vision off. Just the beer buzz, he thought as he headed around the plaza to his house to sleep it off.
“Eh ya, eh ya, eh ya, eh ya....” The snow was coming heavier now, but Stefano didn’t notice. He looked up into the sky, now covered completely with clouds. Old Man Moon had sunk into the underground lake on his journey through the earth. He would emerge through the water the next night when Potagi the full moon, would light up the heavens once again. Stefano looked up into the darkness envisioning all of the colors of the sky surrounding him, for this direction’s color, white, represented the entire spectrum of the rainbow. The strongest bird, the majestic eagle, took flight from this direction, and through the use of its sacred feathers, the messages of the people flew, like the eagle itself, into the heavens. From ok’uwa, the clouds came offering the water of life so necessary to pueblo farmers. In the clouds above Avanyu lived, watching and guarding the people. It was a most sacred direction and Stefano lifted his voice louder so he could be heard more clearly. He threw the corn meal to the zenith, but could not see or hear it drop in the darkness. In his left hand he carried a sprig of evergreen and four prayer feathers. It had taken a full day to wrap each quill with colored yarn, attaching the down messengers to the base and tips of the wild turkey feathers.
As Stefano approached the Earth’s navel in the center of the north plaza, to the sixth and last direction he chanted his prayer. He took one of the feathers and planted it in the mound of earth which surrounded the four sacred stones of the shrine; from there it could carry his message below to the blackness under the earth where the snake that dwelled there would carry it to the other beings of the underworld. The old cacique had completed his first round of prayers. Three more times Stefano would repeat his chant, completing the ritual when he touched the six cardinal points four holy times. The feathers planted in the earth’s navel were almost completely covered with snow when Stefano, also called Oekowa Sawin, Terraced Kachina, completed his prayers and stiffly climbed the kiva stairs, entering the ceremonial chamber through the cleansing smoke of the fire tended by his grandson, Milton.
He painfully made his way down the ladder into the earth again. Now he returned to the place of his people’s beginning-to the Sipapu from where, he knew all life had emerged. The small hole dug into the kiva floor represented that holy place. The old man sprinkled what was left of the cornmeal he carried into the depression in the floor. In these times it was difficult to hold to the old beliefs; the priest knew he must. Someone had to. While he warmed his old bones by the fire, the old man’s thoughts wandered through the years of his life. All of those years he had been trying to keep the legends and traditions of his people alive. He’d lost track of how many boys he had instructed in the legends and beliefs of the Tewatowa. Each time he told the story of the emergence, making sure the boy understood the importance of knowing and believing the true order of the universe.
He told of how the people were unprepared to live upon the face of the earth when they first came out of, Nankiwo, Earth Old Woman. He explained how the Kachinas taught the people how to survive; how they taught their special skills of farming, fire, the hunt, and the building of homes — all of what the people knew came from these supernatural beings. Then, as with all men throughout time, the humans fought with the Kachinas, for they believed they had learned all and didn’t need them anymore. The offended demigods returned to their homes beneath Earth Old Woman and to their cloud havens never to appear on earth again. But he also taught that the Kachinas did not abandon the proud Tewatowa totally. It was possible, on some occasions, to take on the personality of the god, and thereby attain his strength and skill. If the god was pleased, he would, for a short time, become one with the impersonator. One never knew; one always had to be prepared.
In the pueblos along the Rio Grande, the Kachina Societies had become hidden, never venturing openly from the kiva so they could be profaned and ridiculed by outsiders. And so it was with other societies in the pueblos. Hidden, some still functioned. Others, unable to sustain themselves, were lost forever. Even now, In San Tomás, the Society of Clowns, the Khossa, givers of life and law, had withered down to one old man. Stefano was saddened by the thought of such a rich and valuable tradition being gone forever. He thought the loss as bad as the death of a loved one and mourned as if it were a deceased child.
Milton attended his grandfather, draping a blanket over the old man’s painted shoulders. Stefano sat on the ledge on the outer circle of the chamber smoking sacred tobacco and chanting quietly. The orange glow of the fire picked up the ceremonial garments and paraphernalia suspended from poles across the ceiling. The sweet smell of piñon drifted through the smoke hole in the roof and into the center of the sleeping village. “Natampie, Pebe, Milton said as he helped the withered old man remove the blanket from his shoulders and prepare for the ceremony that would greet the new day.
“Ha’a hi’jo,” the old man responded.
“Very cold,” the younger man agreed, “the time before dawn is always coldest.”
Stefano picked up the pine boughs he would carry in his left hand and then the eagle feathers in his right. He sprinkled the sacred meal in his path and ascended the ladder into the pre-dawn cold. The old man stood on the roof of the kiva feeling the presence of the sleeping villagers before he began to greet T’ansendo, Sun Old Man, and the morning light. The smoke coming through the roof of the kiva misted his bent figure. Once again he faced north to begin the prayer to greet the dawn. He would be facing east when the sun broke over the peaks of the Sangre de Cristos. In the order passed down through the ages, he faced west, south, then to the east. The sky was beginning to show a glow over the mountains as he prayed.
A gentle lullaby mingled with the cacique’s prayer.
Stefano listened for a moment to the sound of life; it was the cry of his great, great grand-daughter—it was the cry of her ancestor Ku Tsawa-Kaiye Pokwi, the first woman child born in Po hege echoing in the cry of his grand-daughter’s daughter Bay Ts’ay. Stefano’s voice became stronger when he heard the child’s cry; it was the sound of life’s continuance; it was very good.
“Ma se sasayo hahe nivo
Mase koye wi ha’e na ha he
Wi yo ha ye wiha hena hene ya he’ena
Ha he ya heyena hi ye ni ye.”
Holy words chanted to the heavens to greet the day. The light had come and with it the snow stopped falling. The blanket of white that covered the plaza muffled all sound. No one heard the holy man’s feet as they pounded his prayer into the earth. It was not for them to hear — it was for the spirits. Before he descended into the kiva, Stefano-Oekhowa Sawin looked to the distant mountains, the mountains whose birth he had magically witnessed this holy night. He had completed his duties. Now, it was four times four days before the winter ceremonies were to begin. All were blessed by the powers he had called upon through the night.
He knew it was good.
Sample Chapters: Ch.1 Introduction Ch.7 Pueblo Life Ch.8. Cloud's Vision